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The Misinterpretation of Marijuana (Hemp & Cannabis)

Is hemp oil the same as CBD oil? Is hemp and cannabis the same? What is Full Spectrum? Can you get high off CBD?

What really grinds my gears about the cannabis industry

The cannabis industry has a major problem — itself. The confusing and misleading terminology used, unsubstantiated claims and the insufficient standardization of industry-specific language is a major problem.

This issue continues to hinder forward progression of this marvelous plant.

It is the lack of consistent communication that breeds widespread consumer confusion.

Are you familiar with Peter Griffin’s non-fictional news segment “What Really Grinds My Gears”?

Family Guy cartoon family picture.

Well Peter, time to hand over the mic, I’m about to drop some serious disdain and a healthy dose of context regarding the current culture of cannabis.

More specifically, the hemp and CBD aspects of the industry (and yes I just referenced Family Guy in order to create relatable marijuana parallels).

But first, a brief background of my experience in the (symbolic) field of cannabis and where my perspective on these issues have stemmed from.

For the better part of the last four years, I had the privilege of working as Director of Global Business Development for Charlotte’s Web by Stanley Brothers and have since moved into a role as VP of CBD for a house of brands known as High12 Brands.

Cannabis brand house logo

As many people in this professional space would jokingly agree, working in cannabis is comparable to dog years; in that four years is like a decade given the insanely rapid pace and evolution of market regulations surrounding this particular industry.

I’ve spent endless hours amongst a variety of stakeholders within the cannabis industry and this is what has yielded my humble opinion and holistic understanding of this wildly amazing time for weed.

Oh, and also the source of my greatest cannabis related gripes.


The absolute confusion surrounding marijuana, cannabis and hemp — as well the countless products that are derived from this plant.

Boy, does cannabis have an identity crisis (at no fault of its own).

Having spoken with individuals at every level of government, medicine and academia; the outright confusion and misinformation about how the plant is understood as a species indicates the massive disconnect relating to its origin and applied use.

No wonder the average consumer is completely befuddled when trying to navigate their way through industry vernacular and marketing jargon.

Add CBD into the mix and decision-making becomes almost impossible.

To my bewilderment, the lack of knowledge transcends mere mortals and into the medical field as well.

I once had a doctor who asked me “Now, your CBD products are from hemp, right? So, there’s no cannabis in them, right?”

Here’s the deal people. Hemp is cannabis. The main delineating from a regulatory and legal perspective is the percent of THC in the plant and its finished products.

Sure, there are specific varietals and genetics that are clearly noted by hemp cultivators (but we aren’t going to bring up the ‘strain’ word as that is a whole other article unto itself).

Simply put, hemp and marijuana are both cannabis that come from one or more of the species of the cannabis plant.

Matt Storey

Check out America’s definition of hemp per section 10113 of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 Farm Bill here.

To make matters more confusing, the definition of hemp and what constitutes as a controlled substance varies from region to region and of course, internationally.

For instance, in the EU, only hemp varieties with a THC content not exceeding 0.2 % may be used (EU Regulation 1307/2013).

Some countries like Switzerland are taking a more common sense approach and allowing cultivation of cannabis up to 1% THC of which this product can be classified as hemp.

This nomenclature issue is systemic in the cannabis world and an endemic to consumers of the finished products.

Here’s where the definition of hemp that’s under .3% THC becomes shaky, because magically, if that exact same plant just happened to be harvested a little later on and the THC content crept up to say .5% THC, it would then need to be destroyed.

The producer is technically cultivating a controlled substance without the proper license to do so.

Quick exercise. Say it with me now, people:

“Hemp is cannabis, marijuana is cannabis, your CBD comes from cannabis”

(unless it is synthetically derived — again a whole other article).


 “CBD is the non psychoactive component of the cannabis plant”

Every time I read or hear this statement, my brain implodes and must ultimately concede that the individual discussing this topic has no clue what they’re talking about.

You’ve likely heard this false statement parroted by company reps abound, online articles or from other industry “experts” time and time again.

Wake up and smell the ganja folks, CBD is absolutely as much a psychoactive as your daily dose of caffeine.

Matt Storey

Yes, like coffee, CBD is psychoactive, and if it wasn’t then how in the hell would you explain the stress relieving effects and mood changes people experience?

Let’s all make sure we’re clear on the definition of psychoactive (chiefly of a drug) affecting the mind.

Here we go, according to ScienceDaily: “A psychoactive drug or psychotropic substance is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior.”

This sounds awfully familiar to the claims that have been copied and pasted into endless marketing campaigns promising all those wonderful benefits of taking CBD oil — doesn’t it?

We’ll discuss the endocannabinoid system and its effect on the central nervous system another time.

On a high note, I’ve started to see more colleagues in the industry using terms that are a bit more accurate like “non-intoxicating” or “non-impairing”.

This is intended to inform consumers that the effect of feeling “stoned” is not likely to happen with this product.

How does that work? Because these particular products are hemp derived CBD and contain negligible levels of THC.

While well-intended marketers are trying to educate consumers that hemp derived CBD products are much different than the marijuana they pick up from their local dispensary — these high-level crash courses often only perpetuate inaccurate information and the flat-out false claim that CBD is non-psychoactive.

what is the difference between hemp and marijuana.  Hemp vs Cannabis. Hemp vs Marijuana.  Image of both hemp and cannabis plants

Gripe #3

Made up terms with no standardized definition or industry regulation (I’m looking at you “broad spectrum”)

The three most common forms of CBD or hemp extract product categories are isolate, full spectrum and broad spectrum.

It is worth noting that the FDA has not handed down a regulatory opinion on these terms and neither are they defined in the Farm Bill; but merely industry terms that companies are using to help steer the consumer towards the kind of product they desire.

The dietary supplement and food industries have been practicing a similar model for some time, where regulatory definitions are integrated, in order to ensure that manufacturers are marketing the features of their product accurately.

Creating industry consistency ensures that the consumer can decipher their needs safely or efficiently at the very least.

Protein powder, for example, is an industry where you may have a whey isolate, whey protein concentrate (full spectrum) or protein powder with one molecule removed like a “lactose free powder” (broad spectrum).

The problem with the cannabis industry is that there is no definition of broad spectrum, or what measurement determines “THC free”.

So, it falls on companies to educate the consumer; which has lead to widely varying interpretations.

We desperately need clarity surrounding the hemp derived CBD market.

Because, despite the growing social acceptance of cannabis use, there are consumers that must steer clear of THC consumption due to drug testing or other reasons.

They need accurate and consistent product messaging when purchasing cannabis that is positioned as “THC free”.

Here’s why. Right now, there is a very real issue with companies advertising their products as “THC free” and “broad spectrum”.

These companies are irresponsibly informing consumers that they are safe to take such products with no worries of failing a drug test. Simply not true.

THC can remain in fat cells, and so, even at the lowest ppm (parts per million) there is potential that a person taking the product long enough may bioaccumulate sufficient levels of THC in their bloodstream that they can fail a drug test.

Yes — even with your totally legal under .3% THC/CBD product!

I am highly aware of the massive role the cannabis industry plays in terms of properly educating the public and how much more needs to be done.

Companies that provide products free of THC are made for and aligned with a very real consumer-base that face very real repercussions like: sanctioned athletes, people with security clearances, members of law enforcement, and any other professions that don’t allow for a chance of failing a drug test.

I recently attended the Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas where manufacturers of ingredients and producers of CPG’s can meet, network and share the latest innovations.

When chatting with several companies about their hemp extract products I asked each vendor the same question: “What is your company’s definition of broad spectrum extract or “THC free?”.

I was honestly floored by the varying answers to my inquiry.

The responses ranged from “levels of detectability”, to parts per million (ppm) measurement and the ever elusive “less than .1% THC”.

But how do we make sense of these estimates from a business perspective or apply this to a consumer’s daily-use for that matter?

As I reflect on my Griffen-esque gripes, I also look back to the last four years of incredible expansion, education and access to cannabis products around the world.

While I’m optimistic about the fate of this powerful flower, I must note that there is still much work to be done.

We must evolve from this silly notion surrounding “hemp versus marijuana” and allow the plant to be researched heavily and grown skillfully.

A myriad of benefits from the cannabis plant extend beyond the two molecules THC and CBD, yet somehow, we are fixated on these two labels as the end-all-be-all in both regulatory and legal definitions.

We must create a future unbound by unnecessary restrictions which inhibits access to the people that do and will benefit from consuming this plant in its many forms.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read through this (not so) short list of the top three things that grind my gears within the cannabis industry.

My hope is to educate and encourage healthy discussions regarding weed and inspire even more curiosity.

I also plan on sharing subsequent articles to support the re-education of cannabis as there are many areas of improvement in our nascent (while simultaneously exciting) industry right now.

Matt Storey, Headshot, Author of the Article

Written by Matt Storey from HIGH12 BRANDS and republished by CanCanBuzz with permission.

About High 12 Brands:

High 12 is a global cannabis consumer packaged goods company. High 12 partners with best-in-class manufacturers to build and operate a portfolio of brands tailor-made for cannabis consumers. Combining a community-driven approach, data-driven marketing, and world class creative, High 12’s growing portfolio of brands includes LOUDSymphonyalice, and Kingsway.

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1 comment on “The Misinterpretation of Marijuana (Hemp & Cannabis)

  1. Thanks for broaching a subject that is so overly-complicated by media, Matt. Ultimately, it seems all such problems result from the absolute tyranny imposed worldwide by the United States Congress for 83 years now, through its downright criminal anti-“marihuana” repression.

    As someone who’s worked in commercial horticulture for 18 years, I can assure that you forgot to mention what is perhaps THE most important botanical fact about cannabis plants: they are “dioecious,” naturally developing male flowers for pollination and female flowers for seed-bearing. The vast majority of plants on Earth are “monoecious” and do not require a pollinating flower for seed production and species promulgation.

    People MUST know that it is scientifically impossible to extract cannabidiol (CBD), one of more than 100 identified cannabinoids in the female flowers, from true “hemp” crops. Hemp is literally male and female cannabis flowers growing outdoors in close proximity, either for seed or stalk production. When cannabis growers isolate the female flowers so they mature seedless, only those flowers yield CBD, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and many other medicinal compounds.

    The U.S. Congress still labels the seedless, female flowers of cannabis as “marihuana” no matter how you slice it. The 2018 Farm Bill and its arbitrary “% THC” definition only further muddied the waters of public understanding.

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