In recent years, there has been a lot of talk on the legalisation of medical marijuana. Here, we break it all down so you can understand the differences between the sources, where they're legalised, and what the science says about the benefits.
What is the difference between cannabis oil and hemp oil?
Hemp oil, cannabis oil, CBD oil, marijuana oil or THC oil, are these all the same thing?
Having so many different terms for these products can be very confusing! The main similarity is that these oils are derived from similar plants, the cannabis sativa. The difference lies in the chemical compounds of each plant. They both have cannabinoids, which are a group of active compounds found in marijuana. They make up about 85 out of 500 of the natural compounds found in a marijuana plant. Out of the 85, 2 of these compounds are of interest – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid.
Although in general, hemp has a negligible amount of THC (the psychoactive compound), but it's possible to cultivate hemp with higher levels of active compounds.
The main difference between hemp oil and cannabis oil is the lower level of THC in hemp oil, at about 25 parts per million. In comparison, cannabis oil has up to 15% active THC compounds.
If you're looking for an effective medical marijuana oil, you may look to an oil that has high CBD and THC as it's been shown that the two compounds work synergistically for medical conditions. But you won’t find this on the food shelves in your local shops!
What is hemp oil?
Hemp oil is made from seeds of the hemp plant, although hemp oil can be extracted from any other plants in the cannabis family. Usually, generic hemp oil is made from commercial hemp crops. These hemp crops have very low levels of THC or psychoactive substances but have other phytocannabinoids and terpenes and small amounts of CBD. In the US, the FDA recognises hemp oil as a dietary substance and not medication.
The hemp plant can grow up to 15 feet tall. It has very long stalks and can be grown quite close together. Hemp is a cash crop that is grown in over 30 countries in the world.
What is CBD oil?
CBD oil is short for cannabidiol oil, and it usually has a significant cannabidol content. This is produced from flowers and leaves and can’t be extracted from hemp seed.
It's not possible to say how effective a particular CBD oil is unless you look at the strains used to produce the oil – the concentration of cannabinoids and the types of cannabinoids cultivated.
Cannabidiol oil that has high CBD content is what is used to make medical marijuana. These oils can contain high levels of THC too which is illegal in some places.
What is cannabis, THC or marijuana oil?
This is made from the flowers, leaves and stalks of the plant.
The marijuana plant doesn't exceed 5 feet in height. It tends to grow outwards with more leaves and buds. These plants need a lot of space to grow, unlike hemp. Marijuana needs hot and humid conditions to get the right amount of active compounds in the plant. The marijuana plant has very high levels of THC at about 15% in volume and about 1-15% of CBD. It's still illegal to grow marijuana in most places around the world.
Uses of hemp oil
Hemp oil is edible and is commonly used for cooking. It has a lot of nutritional value thanks to its high essential fatty acid content. It can help promote healthy gut flora and improve your immune system.
It has a nutty taste and is often used as an alternative for olive oil in salads and other dishes.
For topical applications, hemp oil is a great natural moisturiser. It's also good as a massage or body oil as it has calming and relaxing properties.
It's said to have other health benefits too like being a good anti-inflammatory and can protect your neurons from degeneration. Hemp oil does not have any active ingredients for treating pain, epilepsy or even any conditions related to cancer.
Interestingly, it can be used as bio-diesel fuel, like other vegetable oils.
Health benefits of CBD oil
CBD oil has become very popular recently for its use as medical marijuana. It's being used for various medical conditions without the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
There have been various studies on the uses of cannabis oil or the active ingredients of CBD and THC in chronic illnesses. In this medical study, cannabidiol is being tested as a potential anticancer drug (1). Here is a list of studies on the effect of these compounds on various cancers (2).
Many in the medical profession still do not support or recommend these oils as a treatment option. If you're looking for an oil that will supplement treatment for a chronic illness, please take the necessary medical advice before you use any of these oils.
It's also known to be used for symptoms of chronic pain, MS, treatment of inflammatory disorders, anxiety, nausea associated with chemotherapy, depression, seizures and neurodegenerative disorders. It's also been used in the treatment of epilepsy.
Side effects of cannabis use carries a number of risks, from potential lung cancer if smoked, harm to unborn babies or to fertility. It can also have an impact on mental health and can have severe consequences for users who are vulnerable to psychotic illnesses.
What are the ways to use cannabis as a medicine?
Cannabis can be taken in various forms:
1. Oil – the most potent of forms. As an oil it can be taken orally or in food
2. Tea – in which the cannabis is steeped in hot water
3. Tincture – which is then taken as a dose from a dropper or added to drink or food
5. Vape pen – where the flower or leaf is vaporised and inhaled
6. Gel capsule – where it's taken like a vitamin
7. Juiced – where the cannabis is blended into a juice
8. Lotion – made from the oil or tincture, applied topically directly on skin
9. Food products – using cannabis-infused oil, butter or honey
Where is cannabis oil legal?
• In the UK
Cannabis is still a Class B drug and is not legal in any form.
However, you can find CBD products like oils, ready-made vape, tinctures and creams. CBD oil with low THC content (less than 0.2%) was allowed to be sold since 2015. In July 2015, Charlotte’s Web began selling their first legal product to the public.
However, since November 2016, CBD companies that have made medical claims will now not be able to sell CBD products. Some producers and retailers have been selling CBD as food supplements and are arguing their case that this is not covered by the new MHRA directive.
CBD itself is not covered by the Misuse of Drug Act 2001. But, if the product includes any other cannabinoid that is a controlled substance, that product is illegal. Most of the CBD products in the UK are produced from legally grown domestic hemp. Therefore any products made from these plants, regardless of the chemical compounds, are exempt.
If the product includes even the tiniest amount of THC, the seller will need a license from the Home Office to import, produce, supply or own the substance. Seeing as even the benign hemp has trace amounts of THC, all existing products are breaking this law. Most of the suppliers or retailers probably don’t have a license.
The law surrounding medical marijuana and its derivative products is still rather murky. The bottom line is, be careful! We don't actually know what's in these products.
• Medical marijuana legality in the US
Every state has a different interpretation of the law and it's quite complicated. Not every state has its own dispensaries. Some states have even legalised marijuana for recreational use, namely Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana although they can 'recommend it'. Even then, it's not available for just any medical complaint. These are the states in the US where medical marijuana is available to patients with an approved medical card. The list includes:
6. New Mexico
15. New York
17. Rhode Island
21. New Jersey
22. New Hampshire
In Canada, the use of medical marijuana was legalised in 2001.
Individuals who need medical marijuana and have authorisation from their health care practitioner can either buy from a legal producer, grow their own supply or direct someone to grow it for them. They have to apply to the relevant agencies for the licenses to do these activities.
Uruguay is the first country to fully legalise the growing and use of marijuana.
1. Netherlands – individuals can get a prescription for cannabis from Bedrocan for medical use, (under license from the Dutch Ministry of Health). In Amsterdam, cannabis is sold in licensed 'coffee shops'.
2. Spain – cannabis has been decriminalized across Europe but it hasn’t been made legal. In Spain, there are over 2000 licensed legal marijuana associations, which are community run and non-profit. It's legal for anyone to join one of these associations to buy medical marijuana. They sell many strains but not the oil as yet. It's also legal to grow up to 6 plants at home.
If you're interested in any of the above-mentioned oils and supplements for treatment, please take the necessary medical advice before you use any of them.