What is hemp and what does it have to do with wellness? Three remarkable statements from three very different sources give some insight into the sudden surge of interest in a plant that has been grown in the U.S. for hundreds of years. “The human body has an incredible biological affinity to this plant,” says Alexia Inge, one of the founders of website Cult Beauty, in talking about cannabis to Financial Times. A recent Business Insider article notes that the acres of farmland used for hemp production increased by 140 percent from 2016 to 2017, and USA Today notes that the CBD market — largely fueled by the wellness and cosmetics industries — is on target to hit $3 billion globally and more than $2 billion in the U.S. by 2021. Those three remarkable statements are all tied together by a common theme; since the federal government legalized hemp production for research in 2014, there has been an enormous burst of research and development focused around the use of hemp CBD in all sorts of products.
What Is Hemp?
If you’re old enough to remember the '70s, you probably recognize “hemp” as a nickname for marijuana, but that’s not precisely accurate. Hemp and marijuana are two different strains of cannabis sativa L, a flowering herb that originated in Asia but spread throughout the world. Hemp is the non-psychoactive strain of cannabis sativa that has been cultivated for industrial uses around the world for centuries. Hemp has wide-ranging applications in many industries, but it has attracted particular interest in the wellness industry because of its abundance of phytochemicals, and in particular, its high content of cannabinoids — like CBD — which are proving to have many uses for pain relief, inflammation reduction, general mood improvement and much more.
Hemp vs. Marijuana — What’s the Difference?
There are two significant differences between hemp and marijuana, one biological and one legal. Hemp offers the benefits of cannabidiol and other cannabinoids without THC, the psychoactive component that gets you high. That’s not to say hemp is entirely free of THC, but the concentrations are low — less than 0.3 percent as opposed to as much as 30 percent in some strains of marijuana. That’s 100 times as much THC in marijuana as in hemp. Hemp also usually has a higher concentration of CBD, though some studies suggest that there is a synergistic effect between THC and CBD.
Is Hemp CBD Legal?
The second big difference between hemp and marijuana is legal status — and the answer to that question is a qualified “probably?” with the question mark deliberately included. While most companies that sell products containing hemp CBD oil unequivocally state that hemp oil is legal everywhere, legal experts are a little more cautious. However, most experts agree that whatever the current law is regarding hemp CBD, no one is enforcing it, and as the 2018 Farm Bill passed intact, it will be a moot point.
New CBD Research, New Wellness Products
Since the 2014 Farm Bill opened the door to legal hemp research and production, there’s been a huge uptick in research and production of wellness products containing CBD oil, which is making its appearance in everything from mascara to cannabis-infused water. As the Washington Post notes, there’s little regulation yet, so the market is very much buyer beware. The best advice at this point is to buy CBD wellness products from manufacturers and vendors you trust so you can enjoy the benefits without the stress of worrying about what you’re getting.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about natural foods and wellness. Part of her work with a local food policy advisory council focuses on truth in labeling and food origin labeling laws.