Manufacturers can make CBD products from two kinds of cannabis plants: hemp and marijuana. These types of cannabis have very different histories, and they each have different legal statuses from state to state. So, is there a difference between the CBD products that come from these different varieties? And just what is a high-CBD strain?
Cultivators can breed both hemp and marijuana to have high levels of CBD. And it’s possible to use either type of cannabis to manufacture CBD products. But when looking for CBD products, hemp-derived CBD is the most common. Not only are these products available in dispensaries and health food stores in most states, you can also purchase them online.
Marijuana-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are only available in states with medical or recreational cannabis laws. That means that depending on where you live, these types of products may be less visible.
Let’s go over a few of the advantages and disadvantages of high-CBD hemp compared to high-CBD marijuana.
What is High-CBD Cannabis?
Domestic hemp crops, on the other hand, are grown for thousands of industrial and commercial uses (think textiles, paper, soaps, and food) beyond therapeutic ones. These strains are legally required to contain extremely low levels of THC, typically no more than 0.3%.
Because the legal definition of hemp is based on its low levels of THC, there isn’t one consistent threshold that separates low-CBD hemp from high-CBD hemp.
But a look at the chemical profiles of cannabis plants (with low enough THC levels to be considered hemp) that are generally labeled high-CBD, such as Charlotte’s Web, Remedy, and Avidekel, suggests that high-CBD hemp strains contain between 10-20% CBD.
(Hemp growers may claim to find crops of their strains with CBD levels above 20%. Those levels are uncommon in hemp, though, and may be the result of inaccurate lab testing.)
Eric Wendt is the chief science officer at Green Leaf Lab, which analyzes cannabis in Oregon. He cautions against following high-CBD labels blindly.
“You can classify something as high-THC and high-CBD, but at this point in time I would avoid lumping entire groups of names or strains together into assuming they are what they are,” Wendt says. “High-CBD, low-THC [is a] good place to start. But it’s easy to get into the weeds really quickly.”
How do People Use High-CBD Strains?
So, why do growers cultivate high-CBD hemp strains with a range of CBD levels? Why wouldn’t they simply grow the hemp with the highest CBD percentage possible? The answers to these questions have to do with different medical and therapeutic applications.
Depending on what consumers are seeking, from CBD products that treat minor aches and pains or sleeplessness, to those that help in more serious conditions like epilepsy or opioid addiction, everyone doesn’t always want the highest possible level of CBD.
And since the potential side effects of taking CBD (such as tiredness, nausea, and diarrhea) vary from person to person, it’s helpful for consumers to be able to pick the potencies that work best for them.
Wendt says, “As a consumer, you should go in with a ballpark idea. ‘I want a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD.’ You can go out with those expectations and find products that suit your needs, but some of it’s just gonna be trial and error.”
While high-CBD hemp strains must, by definition, have high CBD-to-THC ratios, high-CBD marijuana strains cover a broader range. These varieties are more about balancing the relative CBD and THC amounts than just increasing the amount of CBD.
For consumers using marijuana recreationally, high-CBD strains have the potential to reduce psychotic side effects of THC. For those using marijuana medicinally, adding CBD to their treatment may improve the effectiveness of THC.
Since popular marijuana strains contain 1% or less CBD, marijuana typically needs to have at least 5% CBD to earn the high-CBD label, and may contain as much as about 15% CBD. It would be rare, though, for any to exceed that.
Pennywise is an example of a well-balanced high-CBD marijuana strain. Its breeders developed it to deliver the positive medical effects of THC while considerably muting most of its side effects. Its CBD to THC ratio is about 1:1.
A strain like Harlequin, which has higher CBD levels and a CBD to THC ratio of 5:2, is intended to mute the THC side effects even further.
High-CBD Hemp Strains
Charlotte’s Web is perhaps the most publicized strain of high-CBD hemp. The strain’s breeders named it after Charlotte Figi, a girl from Colorado with severe epilepsy. She began taking CBD oil derived from the then-unnamed strain in 2012, when she was six years old.
Before Figi began taking CBD oil, she was having around 300 seizures per week. Afterward, she averaged about three seizures per month. And when her story became widely known, Charlotte’s Web became a prime example of both high-CBD hemp and the medicinal capacities of CBD.
Avidekel is a high-CBD hemp strain that was bred by a cannabis developer and manufacturer in Israel. Avidekel is noteworthy for containing the lowest THC levels of any cannabis plant available today, supposedly close to 0%. And with an approximate CBD level of 16%, it’s still a potent source of CBD.
Ma’at is a high-CBD strain that one grower and manufacturer, 4 Corners Cannabis, is taking in an interesting direction.
According to information that used to be provided on their website, instead of working with common industrial hemp strains that are picked for their fiber content (which is useful for manufacturing commodities), 4 Corners works with “marijuana” strains of Ma’at and breeds them to achieve lower THC and higher CBD levels.
Do People Smoke High-CBD Strains of Hemp?
According to Gruver, growers can develop smokable hemp by growing the plants with more space between them. This allows for larger flower growth than is typical with industrial-use hemp strains.
Gruver also says that as cannabis smokers grow older, “Many begin to feel a variety of ill effects from high-THC strains, like anxiety, paranoia, and lethargy. It seems that many gravitate toward high-CBD strains, as they taste, smell, and look just like what they used to smoke in high school, without the threat of unwanted effects.”
High CBD Strains: The Takeaway
Choosing the right CBD products can feel overwhelming, and looking into it more can reveal more complexities than answers.
But when it comes to high-CBD cannabis strains, there are just a few key takeaways that you need to remember:
- High-CBD hemp in the U.S. contains no more than 0.3% THC and between 10-20% CBD.
- High-CBD marijuana usually contains between 1-15% THC and 5-15% CBD.
- Many CBD producers and legal experts assert that high-CBD hemp, like all hemp-based CBD products, is legal to use throughout the U.S.
- High-CBD marijuana and its by-products are legal in states with medical or recreational marijuana laws.