The differences between Hemp and Cannabis can be tricky to understand, especially when it comes to their medicinal potential. The cannabinoids inside these plants hold uniquely superior benefits that other pharmaceuticals can’t touch. We’ve all heard about hemp’s agricultural prospects, and perhaps even some of the buzz surrounding its many nutritional aids, but is hemp a drug? That all depends on your definition of the word.
Hemp and Cannabis: What’s the Difference?
Let’s start with the differences between these two subspecies of plants. When you hear the word cannabis, or even the slang term marijuana, you may automatically think THC, and understandably so. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive molecule in cannabis that causes you to feel high. The difference between hemp and cannabis mainly lies in the THC content of each plant.
Both are Cannabis sativa plants, or from the species Cannabis sativa L. Hemp therefore is cannabis, however industrial hemp is classified in the US as any Cannabis sativa plant that contains less than 0.3% THC. Anything higher is then classified as cannabis. The trace amounts of THC in hemp will never cause you to feel high, even when ingesting concentrated extracts from the plant.
Cannabis and Cannabinoids
So we know hemp has very little THC, but is it still beneficial to our bodies? Absolutely! Hemp contains all the other useful cannabinoids found in cannabis, including cannabidiol, aka CBD. Cannabidiol is non-psychoactive and has been shown to help with a slew of medical conditions including anxiety, seizure disorders, inflammation, autism, and even cancer. CBD interacts with and regulates our internal endocannabinoid system, which helps our body maintain overall balance. Add in the additional terpenes and plant-derived fatty acids, and you have the makings for a super-healing supplement.
But is it a drug? That’s up for debate. The dictionary has a few definitions for the term drug, but most boil down to this:
A drug is any substance other than food that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body.
According to these classifications, hemp and hemp extracts could be considered drugs, but never illicit ones. Industrial hemp is legal under the 2014 Farm Bill, and therefore cannot be ranked in the same category as its intoxicating sister Mary Jane. Hemp extracts contain the healing components of cannabis but without the gamble of getting high.
A True Multitasker
More and more uses for hemp’s internal components are found and researched every day. The FDA has even recently passed a cannabinoid-based prescription drug, Epidiolex, to be used for intractable epilepsy. This medication consists of a very high concentration of CBD isolate, which is cannabidiol that has been extracted on its own without any other components of the plant.
Under the societal standard of the word drug, when used to describe high-THC cannabis and other controlled substances, hemp is far from similar. Hemp can be used for all sorts of commodities, including plastic, building materials, rope, insulation, clothing, and biofuel. That’s a whole lot more than can be said for any mind-altering substance.
The Verdict on Hemp as a Drug
The simple answer: Hemp is useful in many ways, one of which can be medicinal. So yes, according to the definition, hemp is a drug, but one with no overdose potential, and almost zero side-effects. Hemp falls into all the positives of the category, without any of the negatives.
When you hear the word drug and think about medicinal advantages, then you could undeniably group hemp into that category. However, if you hear the word drug and think about controlled substances, you may be pretty far off. Either way, it can be confidently said that we have yet to find a plant with more potential.