The hemp revolution has introduced syllable-heavy terms that now appear in everything from face creams and shampoo to coffee and oils, but what do these terms mean? For those who struggle to grasp the difference between cannabinoid and cannabidiol, Hemp Info Guide is here to help with a beginner’s guide to the most common hemp terms and how to pronounce them.
Cannabis, one of the world’s first domesticated crops, is part of the cannabaceae plant family that includes hops and hackberries. The flowering plant originated in Central or South Asia, and it may have three different species — sativa, indica and ruderalis — though some argue they are all just subspecies of sativa.
Hemp is a type of cannabis sativa that contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a term we also define below. Smoking this type of cannabis will not get people high. However, the different parts of the plant have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of practical uses. For example, hemp seeds are a valuable source of vegan protein, and their essential fatty acids are a prized ingredient in luxe beauty products, while the stalk can be used to make fabrics, paper and building materials. The flowers and leaves contain cannabidiol (CBD), also defined below, which have medicinal properties.
The human body contains an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that includes receptors in the central nervous and immune systems. Cannabinoids are chemical substances that act on these receptors. The body naturally produces its own such chemicals, which are called endocannabinoids. Cannabis plants contain many different cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. Researchers are in the early stages of studying the ECS and how different cannabinoids interact with it, but it may play a role in everything from the immune system to cognitive processing.
Found primarily in the flowering buds of cannabis plants, THC is a cannabinoid with psychoactive properties that binds directly to ECS receptors. These properties produce what users commonly call a “high,” and any product or plant that contains .3 percent THC or less is considered non-psychoative. Preliminary research suggests THC may have medicinal properties.
CBD, also found in the flowering buds, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that does not bind directly to ECS receptors. Rather, it appears to increase endocannabinoid activity and act on other receptors like serotonin 1A. Studies suggest CBD might also increase cannabinoid receptor density and coupling efficiency. In 2018, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD-based medicine, making history as the first government-approved cannabis-based pharmaceutical. Expectations are that ongoing studies will confirm other medical applications for both internal and topical use.
Certificate of Analysis (COA)
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Belief in CBD is so high that the public isn’t waiting on the current studies to buy CBD products, and a Certificiate of Analysis (COA) confirms that the THC level is under .3 percent and that other undesirable elements (e.g., pesticides, metals) are “ND” or “not detected.” Third-party labs provide the COA report, and consumers can look it up on the brand’s website using the batch number typically found on the bottom or side of the product. Do not buy any CBD product that lacks third-party analysis.
Terpenes belong to a class of compounds known as aromatic hydrocarbons, and they give cannabis plants their naturally occurring flavor and aromas. Many plant resins contain terpenes, so not just cannabis, and they often serve the purpose of attracting pollinators or repelling predators. Notable terpenes include limonene (smells like citrus), myrcene (earthy, musky notes) and pinene (like pine needles), and studies suggest terpenes may have medicinal properties.
Hemp seed oil and CBD oil are typically different products. Hemp seed oil comes from pressing the nutrient-rich seeds into a balanced oil packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic (omega-3) and gamma-linolenic (omega-6). Hemp seed oil, which contains trace amounts of CBD at most, is popular in the culinary and beauty fields. CBD oil, meanwhile, can be any oil (including hemp seed) that features cannabis-extracted CBD isolate. Products labelled “hemp oil” can refer to either option, or even something else, and the lack of specificity is probably not a good sign.
Full-spectrum CBD products contain all elements of the cannabis plant, including seed oil and THC (up to .3 percent).
Broad-spectrum CBD products contain all elements of the cannabis plant (terpenes, cannabinoids, seed oil, etc.) except for THC.
While standards and definitions may vary, organic products typically reflect ecological farming practices that limit or exclude certain types of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals and processes. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp products (including CBD oils) that meet the National Organic Standards can be certified organic. Hemp is the type of plant that absorbs everything in the surrounding soil, including pollutants, which is why consumers should only consider products with an organic certification.
Bioavailability, according to the technical definition, “refers to the extent a substance or drug becomes completely available to its intended biological destination(s).” In terms of CBD consumption, it refers to how quickly the cannabinoids act on the ECS receptors and take effect. Bioavailability is typically expressed as a percentage, with 100 percent being the highest.