What Should I Know About Hemp And CBD Production?
CBD is everywhere you look around. Just when you assume that CBD has been introduced to any food, beverage, and cream products you can possibly think of, you discover new CBD products hitting the market.
But how is CBD made? Where does the hemp that produces CBD grow? And what’s the difference between hemp, marijuana, and cannabis?
This article explains everything you need to know about CBD production and growing hemp.
What is the difference between cannabis, hemp, and marijuana?
For CBD to be legal it has to be collected from industrial hemp. But we often see the terms hemp, cannabis, and marijuana used reciprocally, confusing consumers.
Cannabis is the genus of plant, meaning it is the generic family name.
Under cannabis, there are various species: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis India, and Cannabis Ruderalis.
What is hemp?
Both hemp and marijuana belong to the Cannabis Sativa species. Hemp and marijuana are different in the way they are grown and their purpose.
The differentiation between hemp and marijuana is crucial. Industrial hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years as a fibre for its strength. Hemp ropes, carpets, clothing, fabrics, and nets have been with us for centuries. Hemp seeds were consumed for their beneficial nutritional value. Because hemp is easy and straightforward to grow, farmers favoured it for its multiple functionalities.
Why did people grow hemp?
The key purpose of hemp cultivation made people selectively breed industrial hemp: they wanted it for its strong fibres and its seeds. With time and constant selective breeding, hemp came to have strong fibres and healthy seeds, while containing less than 0.2% of THC.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, responsible for the feeling of “high” (you can read more about the differences between CBD and THC here).
What is marijuana?
Marijuana is the term that categorises varieties of Cannabis that contain more than 0.2% of THC.
Marijuana was selectively bred for its content of THC. It was selectively bred on purpose for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic qualities. People cultivated varieties of cannabis that contained a lot of THC.
With time, they created what we call today marijuana: strains with particularly high THC content.
The selective breeding that occurred over hundreds of years differentiated the two plants in their chemical composition and, crucially, their purpose of use.
When cannabis was prohibited, the prohibition did not differentiate between the two varieties which were bundled together. Nowadays, however, British law has legalised CBD from industrial hemp, as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC (interested in the legality of CBD in the UK? Check out this helpful post).
Marijuana remains illegal for recreational purposes in the UK.
How is hemp grown?
While most plants can multiply without requiring pollination, cannabis plants are either male or female. However, this poses a problem for farmers. Selective breeding means that the common genes from cannabis exist but are dormant. Any environmental signal—such as pollination—could turn on the repressed genes.
That is why farmers growing industrial hemp only plant female plants.
The reason is that, if a female hemp plant is pollinated by a male one, then its latent genes may awake, including the THC-producing genes. There is no way to know which genes could be activated, so hemp growers go to great lengths to ensure that they only plant female seedlings. Otherwise, they risk losing their entire crop by growing hemp with THC content over 2%, making it illegal.
How easy is it to grow hemp?
Hemp is grown outdoors, as an annual industrial crop, in large areas. The goal is to maximize the yield and size of the hemp stalks. It takes about four months for hemp to reach its desired growth, which can be up to 13 feet tall.
Growing hemp is relatively simple, as the plant requires no particular attention, nor any pesticides or herbicides. Hemp is hardy and manages to thrive in most soils and temperate climates with minimum water requirements.
What are the benefits of organic hemp?
People often mention how CBD products should be from organic hemp. The reason behind this advice is that hemp is excellent at phytoremediation: the ability of some plants to clean soils with their deep roots and fast growth.
That is why hemp is often used to clean up pesticides and heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and nickel from polluted soils. Because of its deep roots, hemp manages to go deep into the ground and suck heavy metals and pesticides.
Since hemp is an annual plant, all the farmer needs to do is dig out once it has grown, along with its roots which have absorbed all the pollutants, and leaving behind a clean soil.
The dangers of Phytoremediation
While this is a smart and ecological way to clean up polluted soils, it is less wonderful for any consumers of CBD products made from such hemp. Any pesticides, heavy metals, and insecticides in the soil will have found their way into the CBD products.
Therefore, when buying hemp products, it’s best to choose organic hemp over non-organic one.
How hard is it to grow marijuana?
As a measure of comparison, while hemp is, essentially, a free-growing weed, marijuana is grown under precisely controlled conditions, usually indoors.
Temperatures and humidity have to be within a specific range as marijuana requires warm and humid conditions. Also, marijuana plants need to be far apart between them, unlike hemp where the plants are grown very closely together. And, unlike hemp which is very productive, marijuana gives a much smaller yield.
Finally, marijuana and hemp plants are never mixed together because their cross-pollination will ruin their particular qualities.
Hemp production in the UK
Hemp production in the UK is very limited. Most CBD for products made in the UK comes from abroad, particularly the European Union, China, the United States, and Canada.
Although it is legal to grow hemp in the UK, it requires a hemp growing licence and the process to get one is cumbersome and complicated.
However, small steps are underway to increase CBD production in Britain.
Jersey has been one of the first places to give a licence to hemp growers; they are aiming at producing British CBD for domestic consumption. Also, a Canadian company recently purchased a cannabis farm to grow cannabis in the UK.
One of the main conclusions of the report from the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis was that the government should encourage the domestic production of cannabis. Hemp is a crop that could easily adapt to British climate and soil conditions. With the CBD market expected to reach £1 billion by 2025, having a domestic hemp production could supply the market and bring growth to the economy.
How is CBD extracted from hemp?
CBD is made exclusively from the flowers of the hemp plant.
The stalks are used for fibres and textiles while the seeds are used to make hemp oil—which is very different from CBD oil (find out how CBD oil differs from hemp oil here). The flowers are dried and then put through an extraction process to obtain the CBD.
There are various extraction processes, the two main ones being CO2 extraction and ethanol extraction.
CO2 CBD extraction
With CO2 extraction, the CO2 is pumped in special chambers under high pressure and low temperature. After passing through several different chambers, CBD is extracted from the flowers in the form of oil.
Ethanol extraction involves low-grade alcohol (ethanol) which is applied to the hemp flowers. Ethanol then removes the CBD from the plants. When ethanol is heated, the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind pure CBD oil.
With the expansion of CBD production and consumption, along with technological progress, new extraction techniques are devised by lab technicians and specialists. Old techniques are improved and new ones are being developed. For instance, a new technique called ultrasound-assisted extraction uses ultrasound to perfect ethanol extraction.
Which extraction method is better: CO2 extraction or ethanol extraction?
Both techniques are approved and legal. Different manufacturers will use different techniques to extract CBD from hemp flowers.
Although some consumers prefer one technique over the other, the most important issue is for the hemp to be clean of pesticides and heavy metals and for the end-product to be thoroughly tested by a third-party lab for purity and potency.
If you wish to try CBD, check with your doctor first, especially if you have an existing condition or take medication. Also, we have tried and tested many of the leading stores to bring you the best UK CBD stores, so be sure to check out our reviews.