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CBD, Hemp, and Medical Marijuana: What Do These Terms Actually Mean?

Cannabis products all have unique perks, so know what you’re buying.

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As the demand and acceptance of medical marijuana grows in the United States, more Americans are finding themselves in the position of buying cannabis-derived products—and a lot of them. To put it in perspective: CBD products earned 108 million dollars in consumer sales in 2014; that number more than doubled by 2016, earning 262 million dollars, according to Statista.

The popularity of CBD oil in particular has resulted in an explosion of similar products trying to jump on the bandwagon. The problem is, not all cannabis-derived products offer the same potential benefits, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying.

Cannabis sativa is the official name for the plant itself. Most people just call it cannabis or marijuana (or any number of slang terms that have sprung up throughout the years).

Like many plants, cannabis comes in different strains, and some strains are better for making certain products. They might be more fibrous, or they may have different ratios of cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are active compounds in the cannabis plant that interact with receptors in the body to produce certain effects. Essentially, these cannabinoids mimic the body’s own neurotransmitters, so the brain allows them to interact with the receptors and alter the brain’s typical communication.

There are more than 100 known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The two most studied are THC and CBD.

THC is the cannabinoid that causes the effects most people associate with marijuana: a euphoric “high,” increased appetite, impaired memory, loss of balance and coordination, and altered perceptions. THC may also offer therapeutic effects, including reducing pain, inflammation, and nausea.

THC works by interacting with receptors located in the central nervous system (e.g., the brain and spinal cord) and the immune system. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Recreational marijuana and medical marijuana use the dried leaves and buds of the cannabis sativa plant. Both types of marijuana use strains of cannabis that are high in THC, ranging from 3 to 30 percent THC.

CBD is another cannabinoid, but it does *not* cause a high like THC does. That’s because it interacts with different receptors in the body (not CB1 and CB2 receptors), so it creates different effects.

Instead, CBD is known for having a calming effect, and it may relieve pain, inflammation, and anxiety, according to the National Cancer Institute.

CBD oil is a product that contains a concentration of the CBD cannabinoid, with little to no THC. It’s extracted from the stalks, leaves, and buds of cannabis strains that are rich in CBD. (The strains used for recreational and medical marijuana tend to have a low ratio of CBD.) Learn more about CBD oil here.

Industrial hemp is used to describe a cannabis plant that’s grown for non-weed products. Due to the legal issues of marijuana, the term industrial hemp helps distinguish this industry from the marijuana industry. Industrial hemp is a very fibrous plant that’s low in THC and CBD.

To make hemp products, the plant’s fibers are converted into fabric, compostable plastic, and more. This industry and its products are extremely eco-friendly, and the cannabis plant is healthy for soil quality. This is why hemp products (like clothes, soap, and shoes) are so common among environmentalists.

Hemp oil is the extract of the stalks of industrial hemp plants. Contrary to popular belief, it’s *not* the same as CBD oil, and it doesn’t offer the same alleged therapeutic effects as CBD oil. It doesn't have any psychoactive effects since industrial hemp is legally required to contain less than 0.3 percent of THC.

That said, hemp oil does offer its own benefits. This product is often used in natural soaps and moisturizers that may be beneficial for skin health.

Culinary hemp seed oil is extracted from the seeds of industrial hemp plants. It's cold-pressed and unrefined, so it's suitable for consumption. It has a strong, nutty, earthy flavor. You’ll find it with the specialty oils in the grocery store (like walnut oil or pumpkin seed oil).

Like other types of seed-based oils, this oil is rich in healthy unsaturated fats. But be warned: Hemp seed oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best to use it in homemade vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil—not for frying or sauteing.

Some cannabis products can be pretty pricey, so don’t be duped by dope: Know the lingo before you buy.