There’s not much difference between hemp and marijuana. Legally speaking, the classification comes down to a decimal point. The singular dividing factor between hemp and marijuana hinges on the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabis’s famous psychoactive molecule. So long as a cannabis plant carries no more than 0.3% THC in dry weight, it is considered to be hemp, and thus, federally legal. Anything above that threshold counts as marijuana and is a Schedule 1 drug. So why does the hemp-CBD industry allow or even want THC in its products? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep it out all together? Removing THC might make conversations about CBD more straightforward, but removing naturally occurring THC would have a negative impact on the hemp world and its users.
CBD and THC are the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Both are naturally occurring, and are almost identical on a molecular level. Despite those similarities, the difference in effects is profound. Thanks to its psychoactive properties, THC has been at the forefront of society for millennia. CBD, on the other hand, is just now becoming relevant as its long list of potential health benefits have generated its own market. However, even though the amount of allowable THC in hemp seems negligible, those native THC molecules are still having an effect on our bodies. Will you get high? No. But THC is far more than just a recreational cannabinoid.
Even though THC is has been listed as a Schedule I controlled substance for decades, medical textbooks now reference the cannabinoid's potential efficacy in numerous areas. As reported in Cannabis: A Clinician's Guide [edited by Betty Wedman-St Louis], the most commonly reported uses for THC ingestion (other than recreational joy) are...
THC’s properties are also strongly psychoactive and psychedelic (mind manifesting). The characteristic traits bolster the argument for full-spectrum hemp extracts versus THC-free options. Despite the very low concentrations of THC in hemp products (maximum of 0.3% by finished product weight), the potency of THC still makes a remarkable effect.
CBD actually works best in the presence of THC. This is due to what many are calling the Entourage Effect. Cannabis has over 100 cannabinoids, all of which are unique, but they do share multiple properties. Scientists have discovered that these cannabinoids have synergistic relationships meaning cannabinoids need each other to maximize their efficacy. Essentially, the chemistry of cannabis works better as a team rather than a solo performer.
While its best to bet on the entourage effect, there are products on the market that are CBD-isolate only. This option is for people who are regularly drug tested, because even trace amounts of THC can trigger a false-positive for marijuana use. While CBD isolate products can be effective, the subjective and observable effects usually come up short when compared to full-spectrum options. CBD isolates are known for their narrow bell-shaped response curve when it comes to efficacy. This description of CBD's effects means that its therapeutic window is considerably more narrow than that of full spectrum extract. The peak reported effectiveness for people using CBD isolate is also less than that of a full-spectrum product containing CBD, THC, and multiple other cannabinoids.
Pharmaceutical companies know that THC is a valuable molecule. But since it’s still federally illegal, they’ve created synthetic versions of the potent cannabinoid. THC made in a lab is called Dronabinol, which is found in Marinol and Syndros — drugs used to help the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Dronabinol itself is also used to treat a loss of appetite and weight loss in HIV and AIDS patients.
With pharma giants imitating THC, they have signaled that its effects have a place in modern medicine. Due to its success in medical settings, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana to give US citizens recent access to THC, despite the federal government's contrary stance. Clearly, society is embracing the positives of THC, and one day the stigma will disappear. In fact, Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill to triple the amount of allowable THC in hemp and hemp products.
While future 1% THC limits in hemp are a far less potent than existing 25+% THC levels in the marijuana market today, it is clear that our society is becoming increasingly open-minded about cannabis's most potent cannabinoid.