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CBD, hemp and marijuana: what’s the difference?

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The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission is working to establish rules and regulations for medical cannabis after the legislative bill in the last regular session.

At its most recent meeting, the committee discussed a variety of different products that could be offered – tinctures, oils, topical creams and foods – most options are on the table except for raw products and forms of smoking or e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, there are CBD products everywhere in Alabama, from official CBD stores to gas stations. They sell CBD in all of the above forms and even have vapes.

So what’s the difference?

The main difference is that the CBD products on the shelf today are derived from hemp, while medical cannabis is derived from marijuana. The main difference between vegans and cannabis is the amount of the psychoactive component (tetrahydrocannabinol).

Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, which is also the legal Alabama limit for CBD products. CBD has been legal in Alabama since Congress passed a 2018 farm bill to remove cannabis from its list of controlled substances.

THC is the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” effect.

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The Alabama Medical Commission on Hemp deals with marijuana, that is, a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC.

“This is where you get the pain benefits and other medical side issues that you don’t get with CBD,” Macmillan said.

Convention on Biological Diversity

CBD has been touted to help with a variety of ailments from anxiety to blood pressure, but only one product derived from hemp has been approved to treat seizures. There are currently no other CBD products approved by the FDA, despite their legality.

“We are aware that some companies market CBD products for treatment of disease or other therapeutic uses, and we have issued several warning letters to these companies,” the Food and Drug Administration said on its website. Under the FD&C Act, any product intended for a therapeutic or medicinal use, and any product (other than food) intended to affect the structure or function of the human or animal body, is a drug. Drugs generally must receive either pre-market approval from the Food and Drug Administration by the New Drug Order (NDA) process or to comply with a “study” of a particular class of drug, as set forth in the Food and Drug Administration (OTC) Drug Review.”

Macmillan also said he has some concerns about the lack of regulation of CBD.

“There is no regulation of CBD,” MacMillan said. “We have some really good companies in Alabama that make good CBD products but we don’t know what is coming in from out of state with the gum and drips and vape stuff and so on. It is an area that needs to be regulated.”

“The FDA remains concerned about the proliferation of products it asserts contain CBD that are marketed for therapeutic or medicinal uses even though it has not been approved by the FDA,” the FDA website continues. “These products are often sold online and are therefore available across the country. Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law, but may also put patients at risk, as these products have not been shown to be safe or effective.

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“The agency has and will continue to monitor the market and take action to protect public health from companies that illegally sell cannabis and products derived from it that can put consumers at risk and that are marketed for therapeutic uses that are not approved. At the same time, the FDA recognizes ( The FDA) recognizes the potential therapeutic opportunities that cannabis or its derived compounds can present and acknowledges significant interest in these possibilities.”

Since cannabis production, research, and possession became legal in 2018, there is still a lot of research being done to study the specific effects of CBD, including side effects. However, some preliminary research has shown the potential for positive effects from CBD.

Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis as it is officially called in Alabama, will contain much higher concentrations of THC. Unlike CBD, it will be under strict regulations from the first day a patient can get it.

All types of cannabis will be prescribed by physicians who are licensed and specially trained to prescribe cannabis. Patients will also have to carry a card outlining their authorization to use prescription cannabis. Products will be clearly marked with a cannabis warning symbol and information about the contents.

Because hemp products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the products cannot be sold in pharmacies. In fact, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, and is banned even for medical purposes. But an amendment to the law in 2014 prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with government medical cannabis laws.


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