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Although studies show that 67% of US adults are for marijuana legalization, public knowledge about weed is surprisingly low. An estimated third of Americans think hemp and marijuana are interchangeable, and Google searches about cannabis and cannabis derivatives are higher than ever.

Many people find it challenging to understand the distinctions between hemp, marijuana, and CBD (cannabinoids). The truth is that while the three are all related, there are significant differences that set them apart. Here’s what you need to know to understand what distinguishes hemp, marijuana, and CBD.

Difference in Composition

Hemp and cannabis both belong to the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, and share many visual similarities. Despite this, there is still substantial variation between the species. The defining difference that sets hemp and marijuana apart is their psychoactive component- THC. Hemp has extremely small concentrations of THC, containing 0.3% or less. This is far from enough THC to create the “high” generally associated with marijuana.

CBD, on the other hand, is a compound found in cannabis. Hundreds of these compounds, termed cannabinoids exist, including THC. Clinical research has shown that these active ingredients have potential medical benefits. For example, marijuana, which contains more THC and CBD than hemp, has proven to have therapeutic benefits and ease the symptoms of patients who have epilepsy, nausea, glaucoma, and more.

Legal Differences

Another significant disparity that sets apart hemp, marijuana, and CBD is how they are seen in the eyes of the law. Fifteen states, with New York being the most recent, have legalized recreational marijuana. Despite this, weed remains illegal on a federal level. Those caught with marijuana in their possession, even in a legal weed state, can still be technically punished under federal law, and crossing state borders in possession of cannabis is still prohibited.

In contrast, hemp was legalized for growing and selling in the US in the Farm Bill, passed in 2018. Therefore the assumption that hemp-derived CBD is federally legal in every state is logical, especially since the THC levels don’t surpass 0.3%. However, CBD is caught in a legally gray position. Several states still regulate CBD products as a Schedule 1 substance on the same level as marijuana.

Public Perception

In the public eye, studies show that Americans view hemp and CBD as mild drugs, such as over-the-counter medication. At the same time, THC is considered more similar to prescription medication. The average US citizen still doesn’t view hemp, CBD, THC, or even marijuana in a comparable light to heavier drugs such as meth or cocaine, despite the fact that both are classified as a lower risk for abuse than marijuana by the DEA.

The federal stance on cannabis doesn’t align with the public perception of this substance or its derivatives. Despite this, state-based legalization does show progress and a move by the government towards embracing the public’s view. Whether federal legalization will be swayed by public perception is yet unsure. Still, with a Democratic majority in Congress, the chances for federal legalization are higher than before.