Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that includes multiple species and several “strains” within those species. These plants originated in Asia, but are now grown all around the world. Hemp is the term for varieties of Cannabis cultivated for fiber, seeds (food) and oils. Other varieties (marijuana, which has mind-altering properties) are used for medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug.
The cannabis plant has more than 100 chemicals called phytocannabinoids (phyto simply means “from plants”) and researchers estimate there could be 100 more that have not yet been discovered. The two main cannabinoids of interest today are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some strains are bred to produce minimal levels of THC, the main psychotropic constituent of cannabis. Other strains have been selectively bred to produce a maximum of THC, the strength of which is enhanced by curing the flower. Marijuana’s THC content is usually 10% or more but hemp must have a THC content of 0.3% or less, according to federal and state laws. At this low level, it has no intoxicating effect for people or animals.
Connie Wedemeyer, Vice President, Board of Directors for the MARE (Mastering Abilities Riding Equines) Therapeutic Riding Center in Bakersfield, California says medical marijuana and marijuana have been around a long time and so has hemp. “Many people think they are the same plant. Before I was introduced to hemp products, I thought hemp was just the fiber part—utilized for things like ropes and the original baling twine—but they are actually two different plants,” she says.
There is also confusion regarding which parts of the hemp plant contain CBD, which is the ingredient of interest for many human and animal products. Hemp seeds do not contain CBD, therefore oils pressed from hemp seeds do not contain CBD. Hemp oil, on the other hand, can be derived from seeds, stems, leaves, or from the whole plant, which means CBD could be present in the oil.
Humans have been using cannabis for various purposes for many years, but because of the mind-altering effects of THC all forms of cannabis have been illegal in the U.S. until recently. With the Farm Act of 2018, industrial hemp (classified as having THC content of 0.3% or less) is no longer considered a controlled substance and is now a farm commodity, although THC remains a Schedule 1 drug with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
With this change in status, hemp is now utilized for many purposes including extraction of CBD for humans and animals. Pet owners and horsemen are using multiple products in a fast-growing market—for pain relief, calming (anti-anxiety), and various medical conditions. However, the efficacy and safety of these products is questionable because there has been very little research; until the 2018 Farm Act it was illegal to possess or conduct research on hemp as well as marijuana.
THE 2018 FARM ACT