by Nebula Haze
If you’re thinking about growing hemp or high-CBD strains of cannabis in order to harvest the CBD, you may be wondering how similar the process is to growing cannabis for THC.
The process is remarkably similar, but not exactly the same.
On a biological and legal level, the only difference between hemp and high-CBD or high-THC cannabis plants is… the amount of THC and CBD. These are all simply different strains of the cannabis plant.
This plant in the front is a high-CBD strain of cannabis, with low levels of THC. Those plants in the back? They are all high-THC strains of cannabis. It’s hard to tell the difference, isn’t it? That’s because the only difference is the THC percentage.
Closeup of a bud on that same Critical+ CBD Auto plant
Hemp vs Cannabis vs Medical Marijuana: Like Different Strains of Roses
I look at my balcony and I have two rose bushes; a “Floribunda” and a “Fragrant Cloud”. They’re both strains of roses, but they grow differently and their flowers look and smell markedly different. The Floribunda grows lots of tiny orange roses that don’t have much of a smell, while the Fragrant Cloud makes just a few big hefty red roses that envelop the air with flowery perfume.
Each of these roses has their own “personality” but the actual plant care is basically the same. They get the same types of nutrients, watering, pruning, etc. This is basically what you’re looking at when it comes to different strains of cannabis, hemp or marijuana.
What is hemp and why is it legal?
Hemp was recently legalized on a federal level in the United States. But how is hemp different from cannabis?
There is exactly ONE difference between regular cannabis or marijuana and hemp….
The THC content. That’s it. You can have two strains of cannabis that look exactly the same, but if one contains less than 0.3% THC, it is considered hemp, while if it has even 0.4% THC by dry weight (in any part of the plant) it’s no longer considered to be hemp.
Learn more on the USDA government website (Excerpt: “The term ‘industrial hemp’ includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of the plant including seeds, whether or not it is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed). The tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) concentration is the distinguishing factor between industrial hemp and marijuana. Industrial hemp cannot have a THC concentration more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”)
I know it seems like it should be more complicated than that, but that’s it. “Industrial hemp” is basically any strain of cannabis with extremely low levels of THC. The strains of hemp used by farmers typically have also been bred for a specific purpose such as providing fiber.
These plants are a type of industrial hemp. This cannabis strain has been selected to produce negligible amounts of THC and strong fibrous stalks.
How to Grow Cannabis or Hemp for CBD
If you want to grow your own CBD, the most important thing is to start with a high-CBD strain. You can’t force a cannabis plant to produce more CBD than its genes allow, and many if not most popular cannabis strains contain high levels of THC and less than 1% CBD. Genetics is key!
- Choose a high-CBD strain of cannabis. Note: if a plant contains more than 0.3% THC it is not considered hemp. If you’re concerned with THC percentages and making sure you’re growing hemp, it’s extremely important to get a strain from a trusted breeder.
- Grow mostly like typical cannabis. Here’s a 10-step guide to getting set up and growing your own cannabis. Here are tips for increasing CBD when growing cannabis.
- Pay attention to harvest time. For the highest levels of CBD, you should harvest plants at the beginning of the harvest window. Both CBD and THC start to degrade as buds continue to mature. If you harvest buds late there are a few differences. Buds harvested on the later side usually have slightly lower levels of CBD and THC, but higher levels of CBN. As a result, buds harvested later tend to be less psychoactive (due to less THC), and are more likely to make you feel sleepy or have a strong body effect (due to more CBN). Because of the various ways cannabinoids interact with each other, it’s important to experiment with harvesting early vs later to see what works best for you. Just because harvesting early gives the absolute highest level of CBD doesn’t mean the resulting buds will work the best for you. You should experiment with different harvest times because every body reacts differently!
- Keep the leaves. CBD is contained not just in the flowers/buds of the plant, but also in the leaves. The CBD concentration is relatively low so the leaves are not suitable to smoke, but the CBD can be extracted by turning the leaves into things like butter, tincture or oil. Note: CBD extractions made from leaves are typically less concentrated/strong than extractions made from the actual flowers/buds.
- Extracting CBD. Unlike the leaves, the CBD-rich buds/flowers are often smoked or vaped. However, many people prefer to consume them in some type of edible form. This has a slower onset but the effects tend to be longer-lasting. For the most part, any method that extracts THC will also extract CBD, as they’re both cannabinoids that easily attach to oil. The problem is you can’t easily separate THC and CBD from each other. So if the starting plant matter has no THC, then a simple extraction into butter/oil/tincture will extract the CBD. But if you’re trying to get just CBD from plant matter that has both THC and CBD, well you need equipment for that! This is why it’s so important you start with the right strain. If the plant produces only the cannabinoids you want, you don’t have to do anything but extract and enjoy them.
We’re currently testing various methods to further increase CBD levels when growing small hemp plants indoors. We’re also collaborating with experts to produce the best butters, oils, tinctures and CBD-rich candies so you have access to professional quality CBD sources at home. Stay tuned!