This is where the debate on hemp versus cannabis CBD really heats up, because the main argument boils down to the entourage effect.
A common argument on the pro-hemp side is that “CBD is CBD.” The body doesn’t care where the CBD molecule comes from, and the molecule is the same whether it comes from hemp or cannabis. This is true, and you can absolutely reap health benefits from the CBD in hemp! But as Samantha Miller, president and chief scientist of the cannabis testing lab Pure Analytics, so eloquently put it: “CBD is CBD is CBD, but the difference is everything else.” Meaning, what else is co-extracted from hemp versus cannabis?
The idea behind the entourage effect is that the phytochemicals (cannabinoids and terpenes in particular) in cannabis and hemp work better together. They have a synergistic relationship where they help one another and work together to provide a more robust therapeutic effect or health benefit than any one of them could do on their own.
And in addition to that, the proportions of these phytochemicals in any particular strain or even an individual plant will determine a unique therapeutic effect; this is why you’ll hear that certain strains are better for sleep or stimulating appetite, while others are prized for pain relief or stimulating creativity. Both hemp and cannabis products can be full-spectrum, meaning they contain CBD and THC in addition to the many other natural phytochemicals present in the plant. Where hemp and cannabis products differ is in the ratios: how much of each of the cannabinoids and other phytochemicals they contain.
Hemp-derived extracts, by law, contain minimal amounts of THC (less than 0.3% by dry weight). While they may also contain measurable amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes, patient experience is pointing to cannabis extracts as being therapeutically superior, meaning the entourage effect might not be as relevant to hemp extracts.
So the main thrust of the entourage effect argument on the cannabis side is that the phytochemical profiles in cannabis are richer and more robust, and that the interplay or synergy between compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids is what provides the highest level of benefit to human health and healing. Hemp can’t measure up to cannabis when it comes to the natural presence of these important active compounds.
At this nascent time of CBD science, when patients are really the pioneers of cannabis science and experimentation, the tide of anecdotal evidence seems to be moving toward whole-plant cannabis extracts.