Is CBD the Same as Marijuana?

Cannabis laws have undergone a huge overhaul in the last decade. Currently cannabis is legalized in 19 states and decriminalized in 12 states in the USA. (Learn the difference between legalization and decriminalization here.) As laws loosen up, the stigma around cannabis use continues to diminish. This has resulted in more and more people looking to cannabis as a potential ally to remedy various health concerns. 

There is so much to learn about cannabis, it’s hard to know where to start. Cannabinoid science, psychoactive and physiological effects of different strains, product types, therapeutic potential, cannabis history, and legal status are all hot topics in the cannabis world. Things can get a little overwhelming when trying to learn, especially when certain topics or products seem to be trending. 

Terminology is important:

  • Cannabis is the species name of both marijuana and hemp. It is also used to reference the psychoactive marijuana flower, and is a politically neutral alternative to the word “marijuana.”
  • Marijuana is a commonly used name for the psychoactive flowers of the female cannabis plant. This word is controversial and many prefer to use the term cannabis instead. For the etymology, ethnobotany, and anthropology nerds out there, here is an extensive study on the origins of the word marijuana. 
  • Hemp is used in reference to the male cannabis plant. Hemp is grown for its fiber and also for CBD extraction. 
  • CBD is an acronym for cannabidiol, which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in both female and male cannabis plants. It is widely known for its therapeutic benefits. 

 A huge cannabis topic in the last several years has been centered around the benefits of a specific cannabinoid called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is showing to have major therapeutic potential. So how does CBD differ from high-THC marijuana? 

Phytocannabinoids explained

Firstly, when differentiating CBD and marijuana, it’s important to understand the science behind phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are cannabis plant compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system in the body that helps to balance and regulate different bodily functions. Phytocannabinoids work by interacting with different ECS receptors within the central nervous system. Several neurotransmitters in the brain are affected, which regulates how different cells communicate with each other to perform various functions. Currently, over 150 different phytocannabinoids have been identified by researchers.


THC is the main heavy-hitting cannabinoid responsible for producing mind-altering effects. CBD is non-intoxicating and has shown to lessen some of the more uncomfortable effects of a THC high including anxiety and paranoia. Studies have shown that CBD produces opposite effects in certain areas of the brain. 

CBD has become increasingly appealing for this reason. Many people want to reap the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, but for whatever reasons, they don’t want to get high. Some people have adverse reactions to THC such as the above mentioned anxiety and paranoia, as well as tiredness, brain fog, confusion and lethargy. Health authorities have reported that CBD has little to no known side effects. 

Same plant, different production

Marijuana and hemp are produced much differently. When you think of hemp, you think of sprawling monocrop fields, tractors and long rows of plants that stretch to the horizon. Marijuana is grown most often in a garden setting, in greenhouses or in indoor facilities. These gardens are smaller than hemp farms as marijuana production requires more attention and precision. In Canada where cannabis is federally legal, some larger legal cannabis companies have attempted to scale their production to factory size. Unfortunately the results are often bleak, with lower quality flowers being produced. It is a well-known fact that small-scale craft farms and facilities produce the highest quality cannabis available. 

woman sitting amongst cannabis leaves

Another reason why marijuana is grown on a smaller scale is to produce new strains. Cannabis farmers often experiment with cross-breeding and phenotype hunting. Normally several different strains will be produced in the same outdoor garden or indoor facility. Novelty is everything, and farmers are constantly searching for the best traits and qualities within the various strains. Some enthusiastic breeders are known to travel to remote locations around the globe searching for unique cannabis genetics. By creating new and appealing strains, they can ensure that their product will be sought after and in demand. Also, different strains possess unique growing patterns, physical qualities, aromatic qualities and therapeutic benefits. Cross-breeding is a way to combine the best qualities of each strain to produce a desired outcome. 

SHemp is grown commercially for a variety of products. Beyond CBD extraction, hemp is used for a variety of items such as rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bioplastics, insulation and biofuel. Hemp is often grown on a large scale because it is so useful and versatile. 

stop light with marijuana leaf

The regulation of marijuana vs. CBD differs based on the THC content of each cannabis type. 

Despite 15 different US states legalizing recreational marijuana, it still remains illegal on a federal level. Technically anyone in possession of weed can be charged and convicted under federal law, and it’s illegal to carry weed across state borders. 

When it comes to hemp, things changed in a big way when the US government passed the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp and hemp-derived products were made completely legal to grow and sell. Just like marijuana, the laws surrounding CBD differ from state to state.

The legal status of cannabis products is constantly evolving and varies by state. It is important to research the laws of your state before purchasing cannabis products. 

Friends with benefits: marijuana and CBD as therapeutic allies 

Both marijuana and CBD have shown huge therapeutic potential, and they offer significantly different benefits. 

Benefits of marijuana include but are not limited to:

  • Pain relief
  • Anxiety management
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Insomnia relief
  • Stress management

CBD has been shown to promote health benefits that include but are not limited to:

In 2018, CBD was used to create Epidiolex, a prescription medicine used to treat two severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. This is a big deal in the world of cannabis as more scientists, researchers and chemists start to pay attention to the healing potential of cannabinoids. 

As you can see, marijuana and CBD contain a few similar benefits, and many different ones. CBD is a great option for those who seek therapeutic benefits but do not want to get high. 


What are the main differences between marijuana and CBD?

Marijuana and CBD differ in chemical composition, psychoactive properties, therapeutic benefits, legal status and agricultural production techniques.

Does smoking marijuana feel different than taking CBD?

Yes. Marijuana typically contains high levels of THC, which is the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for feeling high. CBD is used therapeutically but does not produce a high.

How is a marijuana farm different from a hemp farm?

Marijuana farms are generally smaller in scale as they require more attention and precision. Hemp farms are usually much larger.

Informed choices are the best choices

It is clear that marijuana and CBD are vastly different when it comes to biological and chemical properties, psychoactive and physiological effects, therapeutic benefits and legal status. Staying informed is crucial when using any forms of cannabis. There is a sea of information on the web, in podcasts and literature, and it can be hard to isolate fact from fiction. The best thing to do is to speak with cannabis experts. The helpful staff at The Green Dragon CBD are carefully trained to help guide you on your quest for cannabis knowledge. Feel free to contact us here with any cannabis-related questions.


Jennifer Olson is a copywriter with a deep knowledge of the cannabis industry. She was born and raised on an island in BC, Canada and currently resides in the Slocan Valley, BC. She is passionate about science and research and could potentially bore you with talk of mycelium, neurochemicals, you name it. Connect with her on Instagram or read other posts by Jen.

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