Although hemp and marijuana are essentially different cultivars of the same plant – Cannabis sativa L – marijuana has been cultivated to concentrate high levels of THC (frequently as much as 18%), in the plant’s flowering tops, whereas hemp, which is primarily grown in Europe to make clothing, paper, biofuels, bioplastics, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and foods, contains less than 0.3% THC.
Marijuana-derived CBD, on the other hand, is only legal in any state that has legalized marijuana. CBD and anything else derived from a cannabis plant is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I drug (defined as a drug with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse"). And in 2016, the DEA stated that all extracts containing more than one cannabinoid would remain classified as Schedule I. However, the approval of Epidiolex may change that.
Possession or manufacture of cannabis and cannabis extracts is illegal in most jurisdictions. People caught with small amounts of extracts can face extremely harsh prison sentences. As of 2017 in some regions of the United States mandatory minimums of a year in jail still exist. However, it is widely produced in states where cannabis has been legalized.
Typically, pharmaceutical companies making cannabis-based medicines have sought to isolate individual compounds from the plant. But Mechoulam strongly suspects that in some cases those chemicals would work much better in concert with other compounds found in marijuana. He calls this the entourage effect, and it’s just one of the many cannabis mysteries that he says require further study.
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