CBD versus Marijuana

Around the world, medicinal cannabis has become a major issue for governments to deal with. Some, like Canada for instance, have legalized medicinal cannabis many years ago (it should be noted, that they’ve also legalized recreational use in 2018).

In the United States, the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That means that the US considers in a drug without any medicinal value and has a high propensity for addiction.

But not all cannabis is marijuana. Another form of cannabis is hemp. Now you may think, what’s the difference, they’re both cannabis, why not treat them the same?

This argument has been made many times and for years, they were treated the same. Both were banned.

But each has different functions.

A Look at Marijuana

For millennia, marijuana has been used both recreationally and medically around the world. It is most commonly smoked but can be ingested a number of ways including as part of food or drink, turned into oils and taken sublingually, or can be turned into a capsule among others.

Marijuana is a catch-all term for 3 different species of plants. These are:

  • Cannabis Sativa – Originally indigenous to eastern Asia but now commonplace around the world distribution due to widespread cultivation
  • Cannabis Indica – Originally indigenous to India, C. Indica (as it is known – c for cannabis) and used in the production of charas, a type of hashish. Hashish is the resin made from cannabis
  • Cannabis Ruderalis – A strain that’s indigenous to Russia that’s much smaller than C. Sativa or C. Indica. It isn’t traditionally bred by itself for marijuana purposes, but it bred with both because of the way the plant develops flowers, which happens when the plant matures.

The most common form of marijuana that’s used recreationally is C. Indica. Indica has a high THC or tetrahydrocannabinol content. This is the psychoactive part of cannabis, of the part that makes a user high.

US federal law allows for the growing and cultivation of cannabis if the THC content is less than 0.3%. So, in essence, the THC content is what makes cannabis marijuana.

And while Indica is the plant that contains the most THC, that’s not to say C. Sativa and C. Ruderalis doesn’t have THC, because they do,

THC is a cannabinoid, a class of chemical compounds that are found not only in cannabis but in many plants and animals. Cannabis has a high concentration of cannabinoids. As of 2019, 113 different cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis plants.

Marijuana became popular in western medicine in the mid-1800s. At the time, India had come under British rule and a number of British citizens went to India in search of a new life.

One such person was William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (later known as William O’Shaughnessy Brooke). In 1833, O’Shaughnessy was forced to take a position with the British East India Company after failing to secure a position as a medical professor in London and moved to Calcutta.

In 1835, O’Shaughnessy was granted a professorial position at the Calcutta Medical College. During his tenure, he had learned about cannabis from local doctors.

His position led him to be accepted into the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta. As part of the group, O’Shaughnessy started studying and eventually publishing his first paper of the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

As part of his studies, he conducted interviews and experiments that involved exploring the folk remedies that utilized cannabis.

His experiments led to successful treatments of patients that had rheumatism and infants that suffered from convulsions (today believed to be related to epilepsy).

O’Shaughnessy returned to London in 1841. When he returned, he brought several samples of C. Indica with him.

While in London. He continued his writings and his experiments with cannabis. It was during this time that he was able to treat muscle spasms related to rabies with cannabis. He then treated a patient that had spastic muscle performance due to tetanus.

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a bacterial infection that starts by affecting the jaw and moves downward to affect the rest of the body. Among the symptoms are muscle spasms that occur every few weeks. Spasms from tetanus can be so intense that they break bones. The recovery period can be a year or more and over 10% of the cases prove to be fatal.

O’Shaughnessy’s work with tetanus wasn’t a cure. But, he observed that the cannabis mixture reduced their symptoms of spasticity and their suffering.

His work with cannabis led to widespread use in the treatment of many maladies, first in Britain, and then in Europe.

News of O’Shaughnessy’s work eventually made it to North America, where pharmacies stocked C. Indica as an over-the-counter treatment for many illnesses. Its widespread availability and its low cost made it a popular choice of patients and doctors. In the US, 4 major pharmaceutical companies, The Upjohn Company, Eli Lilly and Company, Abbott Laboratories, and Parke, Davis and Company all sold and manufactured C. Indica.

For years, cannabis was recognized for the treatment of many conditions including:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Cholera
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Dysentery
  • Gout
  • Leprosy
  • Mental disorders
  • Nerve pain
  • Pain associated with menstrual cycles
  • Rabies
  • Snakebites
  • Spastic convulsions
  • Tetanus
  • Tonsillitis
  • Urinary incontinence

These were documented in the United States Pharmacopeia published annually by the United States Pharmacopeia Convention. The US Pharmacopeia provides the standards for medicines, food ingredients, dietary supplement products, and ingredients.

The US Pharmacopeia has been published since 1820. The book is used by doctors, regulatory agencies, and manufacturers to help to ensure that product ingredients are identified appropriately with regards to strength, quality, purity, and consistency.

Indica was listed as a legitimate treatment for illnesses in US Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1941 when the government convinced the organization to remove it from the book.

For the most part, that sealed the fate of THC and cannabis as a medical treatment for over 60 years in the United States.

A Look at CBD

Like THC, CBD, or cannabidiol is a cannabinoid. However, it doesn’t have a psychoactive element. CBD can be derived from C. Sativa, C. Indica, or C. Ruderalis. In the United States, the legal source of CBD is from C. Sativa. This is because Sativa has a low THC content. C. Sativa with low THC is commonly known as hemp.

In 2018, the United States lifted decades-old bans on hemp, allowing for widespread commercial use and interstate transportation of the product.

The law also created a definition of hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC.

The lifting of the ban wasn’t necessarily due to make it available as a medicine or a nutritional supplement, but to allow farmers to grow the plant for the many uses that hemp has. This includes clothing, paper, building materials, erosion prevention, and much more.

And despite the lack of intent to do so, nothing in the legislation prevented CBD from being used to treat or prevent illness (although calling it a medicine or a treatment for illness may run afoul of labeling laws from the Food and Drug Administration if a manufacturer makes specific claims).

CBD has been shown effective over the years as a treatment for many maladies or issues associated with these maladies. These include:

In addition to CBD not being psychoactive, it actually can actually counteract some of the effects of THC. Studies have been done that show that high doses of CBD can counteract the intoxicating and the lethargic effects that THC has on the body.

Unlike marijuana, which is usually consumed in “bud” form, CBD’s most common form is that of oil. CBD is mostly derived from pressing the seed to derive oil. Other parts of the hemp plant can be used to get the oil. But the seeds have the richest concentration of CBD.

These oils can be converted into a tincture, which users then administer with an eye dropper under the tongue.

But that’s not the only way CBD users can consume CBD. Other methods include:

  • EdiblesCBD oils or other liquids used in the manufacture of food or home preparation.
  • Vaping or smokingSmoking CBD oils, concentrates or the dried hemp flower.
  • Topical – Rubbing lotion, oil, or gel with CBD on the skin.
  • Transdermal patch – A medicated pad treated with CBD that’s absorbed through the pores of the skin.
  • Pill – Oil or dried hemp flower used in pills, capsules, or soft-gels.
  • Suppositories – CBD in a solid form that’s inserted into the rectum or vagina to allow rapid absorption via the vascular system.

Legal Status of Marijuana and CBD

The push for medicinal cannabis use started in the early 1990s in California. In 1995, the citizens of California passed an initiative that allowed the medicinal use of cannabis with the recommendation of a doctor. The law took effect the following year.

Currently, the following states have passed laws allowing the medical use of marijuana (the list includes the year the law went into effect):

  • 1996 – California
  • 1998 – Alaska
  • 1998 – Washington
  • 1998- Oregon
  • 1999 – Maine
  • 2000 – Colorado
  • 2000 – Hawaii
  • 2000 – Nevada
  • 2004 – Montana
  • 2004 – Vermont
  • 2006 – Rhode Island
  • 2007 – New Mexico
  • 2008 – Michigan
  • 2010 – Arizona
  • 2010 – New Jersey
  • 2010 – Washington, DC
  • 2011 – Delaware
  • 2012 – Connecticut
  • 2012 – Massachusetts
  • 2013 – Illinois
  • 2014 – Maryland
  • 2014 – Minnesota
  • 2014 – New York
  • 2016 – Arkansas
  • 2016 – Florida
  • 2016 – Louisiana
  • 2016 – North Dakota
  • 2016 – Ohio
  • 2016 – Pennsylvania
  • 2017 – West Virginia
  • 2018 – Oklahoma
  • 2018 – Missouri
  • 2018 – Utah

As of 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Several more states have legislation pending on the subject.

And while states passed these laws, the federal government still has marijuana listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no therapeutic use and is prone to addiction.

Despite this, Congress carved out an exemption in 2014 for states that had passed medical marijuana laws to prevent the Department of Justice from using funds allocated by Congress in enforcing any bans.

With medical marijuana made legal in these states that also allowed for CDB to be legalized for medical purposes.

In addition to medical cannabis, several states, jurisdictions, and territories have legalized the personal recreational use of marijuana, these include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Guam
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington DC

In addition, another 14 states and the US Virgin Islands have decriminalized personal recreational marijuana use. These states usually make the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana a small fine.

And while the states have legalized its use, it is still illegal for marijuana to be used in the United States under federal law. The exemption that Congress carved out for medical marijuana in 2014 doesn’t apply for recreational use and so federal authorities can enforce marijuana laws in those states, although it is usually only enforced when a person possessing marijuana enters federal property, such as a national park or military base.

So anywhere that’s legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use has legalized CDB and hemp.

However, a few states where laws against CBD are still on the books these are:

  • Idaho
  • Nebraska
  • South Dakota

If you’re a resident of one of these states, it is a prosecutable offense to possess or consume any quantity of CBD, so proceed with caution.

Others states have laws that allow CBD for specific purposes, which makes the law murky in that area. These states are:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

An example of the ambiguities in the law would be the state of Texas. While Texas has a number of shops and is sold openly, some counties have stated that CBD isn’t legal in the state. Tarrant County’s (the county that Fort Worth is located in) District Attorney’s Office has specifically stated the following:

“Our office was asked recently to clarify whether CBD oil is legal in the State of Texas. Currently, it is legal only for epilepsy patients through a doctor’s prescription, under the Compassionate Use Act of 2015.”

They further stated: “In May 2017, the Texas Commissioner of Health added ‘marijuana extract’ to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. This criminalized any possession of an ‘extract’ from a plant of the genus Cannabis, and is the basis for the current illegal status of non-prescribed CBD oil.”

Despite this, many counties in Texas have disagreed with this assessment. The Tarrant County DA’s Office and several others have contacted the state attorney general’s office for clarification and the legislature has legislation that’s pending on the subject.

The United States neighbor to the north, Canada, legalized medicinal cannabis in 2001 and personal recreational use of marijuana in 2018. Thus both marijuana and CBD is legal in Canada.


As you can see while marijuana contains CBD, not all CBD is derived from marijuana. The highest concentrations of CBD actually come from the hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, while the highest concentration of THC comes from the Cannabis Indica plant.

Despite the confusion of laws in of both marijuana and CBD in the United States, popular opinion is driving state legislatures and Congress to remove marijuana from the Schedule I list as it does have medicinal use.

President Donald Trump has stated that he’d consider Congressional legislation that would reclassify marijuana for medical purposes. He hasn’t come out and supported recreational personal use legislation, however, in the past he’s mentioned that he sees the issue as an issue for the states and not the federal government, which is one of the reasons he supported the legalization of hemp production.