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What is CBD Flower? Your Ultimate Guide

Cannabis is a uniquely diverse plant with three species and innumerable hybrids, of these hemp stands out as the type of Cannabis sativa that will not get you high. While other cannabis varieties contain levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that can create intoxication, hemp is especially low in THC and rich in other cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD hemp flower has gotten a lot of attention, but in addition to CBD, there are other non-intoxicating cannabinoids and plant compounds like terpenes that impact the experience of using hemp flower [2]. Indeed, there are many questions to be answered about the hemp flower!

The cannabis plant is well known for its CBD and THC components. CBD and THC are both cannabinoids produced by the parent cannabinoid CBG [2]. Unlike THC, CBD and CBG do not get users high. In fact, CBD is able to counteract THC and block its psychoactive effects.

Table of Contents

What is CBD Flower?

Hemp flower is the dried inflorescence of the cannabis plant. Since hemp plants naturally produce low amounts of THC and high amounts of CBD, it has also become known as CBD flower. The CBD flower is no different from the marijuana or hemp flower, except in the percentages of their THC levels. Per US law in the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and CBD products must contain 0.3% or less THC.

Known since the ancient times for its medicinal and textile uses, hemp is currently witnessing a revival, because of its rich repertoire of phytochemicals, its fibers and its agricultural features, namely quite good resistance to drought and pests, well-developed root system preventing soil erosion, lower water requirement with respect to other crops, e.g., cotton.

Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules

Where Does CBD Flower Come From?

Hemp (CBD) flower and marijuana (THC) flower are essentially the same thing. Both are types of cannabis and contain similar compounds. They even come from the same part of the same plant. The major difference is the quantity and proportions of cannabinoid compounds in the plants. And just like marijuana, hemp can be grown outdoors, in greenhouses, and in indoor cultivation facilities. Growing hemp plants has all the same essential requirements for growth as growing marijuana.

CBD Flower Risks

Both marijuana (THC) and hemp (CBD) look and smell alike. Police have even had difficulties telling marijuana and hemp apart! People have even been arrested for possessing hemp that is mistaken for marijuana. CBD flowers from hemp can test as positive for marijuana in police field tests, as well as be misidentified by drug-sniffing dogs. Likewise, the small amounts of THC found in hemp flower can accumulate in the body and result in positive drug tests for marijuana.

CBD Flower: Hemp vs Marijuana

Hemp and marijuana both have similar growth habits. The hemp and marijuana varieties of Cannabis sativa both tend to be tall with thin palmate leaves. The forms of marijuana from Cannabis indica tend to be much shorter and bushier and have thicker leaves.

All cannabis plants accumulate cannabinoids and terpenes in structures called trichomes. These resin-filled glands are found mainly on the flower. Cannabis is a dioecious species so plants are either male or female. Only the female plants produce flowers though, so except in fiber production, male plants are destroyed if they emerge during cultivation.

Marijuana and hemp are both types of cannabis that have been used by humans for thousands of years. Cannabis is endemic to many places around the world from Asia to Africa, and evidence of its use appears throughout world history [2]. Much of what defines hemp vs marijuana today is based on modern laws though.

What is Hemp?

Nowadays, there is a lot of confusion about the differences between hemp and marijuana, especially regarding the evolution of the laws that govern them in the world. In most countries, hemp (CBD flower) is considered to be cannabis that contains a low amount of THC. The specific amount of THC allowed in hemp ranges from 0.3% in the US to 0.2% in most of the European Union, or higher in some countries like Switzerland that allow up to 1% THC.

All hemp is Cannabis sativa, there is no “indica hemp,” though some hemp strains have hybrid genetics that ties to strains of marijuana which are indica [2]. Hemp is often referred to as fiber-hemp or industrial hemp but modern hemp strains bred for flower quality look much different than traditional fiber-hemp strains. These modern hemp strains are now commonly called “CBD flower,” “craft hemp flower,” or “artisanal hemp flower.”

What iѕ Marijuana?

Marijuana is the type of cannabis that will get you high. It is sometimes just called “cannabis” or “drug-type cannabis.” Marijuana encompasses all three species of Cannabis- C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis [2]. Hemp, on the other hand, is just one variety of C. sativa. All C. indica plants are considered to be marijuana.

While growing hemp is largely legal with proper licensing, growing marijuana remains highly restricted. Marijuana can only be purchased in US states with recreational use or medical marijuana programs.

THCA is the major cannabinoid in the drug-type Cannabis, while CBDA predominates in fiber-type hemps.

Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules

Marijuana is considered to be any type of cannabis with more than the legally allowable limit of THC in hemp. That means that if a hemp grower’s crop tests too high for THC, they suddenly have a crop of “marijuana” which must be reported and destroyed! In this way, the line between marijuana and hemp can be very thin since much of it is defined by THC restriction laws.

CBD can be extracted from both hemp and marijuana, however, states regulate these products differently. Only hemp-derived CBD can be legally sold through the US! Marijuana-derived CBD falls under state and federal marijuana laws.

CBD Hemp Buds

Making Hemp from Marijuana

Traditional industrial hemp strains are very fibrous and have been selectively bred to produce a lot of stems. These plants do not produce good CBD flower, so hemp breeders have used hybridization and selective breeding with marijuana plants to produce more desirable hemp strains for smokable flower and CBD extraction. These marijuana-derived hemp strains have been somewhat controversial because their classification and legality hinges on them not producing too much THC.

Comparison of Hemp and Marijuana

Botanical name(s)Cannabis sativaCannabis sativa
Cannabis indica
Cannabis ruderalis
Growth MorphologyTall and stemmy with smaller buds and more seedTall and smaller bud C. sativa, short and bushy C. indica, or hybrid
CBD ContentGenerally very high (10%+ by dry weight)Can be moderate, low, or undetectable depending on the strain
THC ContentLess than 0.3% by dry weightGenerally much more than 0.3% by dry weight (10% to 25% common)
UsesHealth products, textiles, paper, biodiesel, hemp seedRecreational or medical
PsychoactivityNo psychoactivityLow to very high psychoactivity
LegalityLegal throughout the US and many countries of the worldIllegal in most places except in the medical context

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are molecular compounds that act via the body’s endocannabinoid system to enact neurotransmitter modulation [3]. Phytocannabinoids come from the cannabis plant, but there are also endogenous cannabinoids that are produced naturally by the body. Cannabis cannabinoids are found in both hemp and marijuana. They come in neutral ('active') or acidic ('inactive') forms such as:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA)
  • Cannabichromene (CBC) and Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

While THC and CBD are said to be 'major' cannabinoids, CBG, CBC, CBN, and others are said to be 'minor' cannabinoids because they are not produced as potently. The exception to this is new CBG dominant hemp strains that produce CBG hemp flower.

How are Cannabinoids Made?

In his paper “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” Ethan Russo explains:

Phytocannabinoids and terpenoids are synthesized in cannabis, in secretory cells inside glandular trichomes that are most highly concentrated in unfertilized female flowers prior to senescence. Geranyl pyrophosphate is formed as a precursor via the deoxyxylulose pathway in cannabis, and is a parent compound to both phytocannabinoids and terpenoids. After coupling with either olivetolic acid or divarinic acid, pentyl or propyl cannabinoid acids are produced, respectively, via enzymes that accept either substrate... Although having important biochemical properties in their own right, acid forms of phytocannabinoids are most commonly decarboxylated via heat to produce the more familiar neutral phytocannabinoids.

How Hemp Works in Your Body

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a series of receptors found throughout the body-brain, immune system, central nervous system, and more– that respond to cannabinoids the body produces, as well as cannabinoids from plant sources (such as hemp). The Endocannabinoid System helps to maintain a state of homeostasis or balance in the body. The ECS also plays a key role in:

  • Immune System
  • Sleep Function
  • Digestive System
  • Mood & Anxiety
  • Metabolism
  • Neuroprotection

Endocannabinoid receptors are not only found in people but all mammals, which means hemp oil may benefit pets too.

CBD Flower Effects: How Does CBD Work?

CBD oil works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS takes care of the general balance, the recovery, and the repair of your body. He is responsible for many vital daily functions, such as mood, sleep, immune response, motor control, emotions, cognitive thinking, memory, pain, and inflammatory reaction.

In addition to CBD itself, there are many many other cannabinoids and plant compounds that play a role in the effects a person perceives from using CBD hemp flower. Here are the other factors that are thought to be important to the hemp flower experience:

  • Terpenes
  • Cannabinoid Diversity
  • Cannabinoid Potency
  • Other Plant Compounds (Flavonoids, Fatty Acids, Vitamins)

CBD Flower Terpenes

While the potency and diversity of cannabinoids play a role in how people experience CBD flower, so do the terpenes. Terpenes themselves are a 'generally recognized as safe (GRAS)' substance under FDA regulation. They are also thought to have their own beneficial properties and have their own interactions with the endocannabinoid system.

When companies classify the 'effects' of a hemp flower strain they are often referring more to the terpenes than the actual cannabinoids since cannabinoid effects cannot be legally marketed!

Terpenes are the compounds that give all plants their signature scents and flavors. They have long been used in aromatherapy which is why it is sometimes said that they have effects that are 'calming,' 'energizing,' or other vague subjective verbiage. Some terpenes are thought to have health benefits in the body as well.

Common Hemp Flower Terpenes and Their Traits

CBD Flower TerpeneOther SourcesTerpene Traits
d-LimoneneCitrus fruitVery common, studies suggest anti-anxiety and mood-balancing abilities via 5-HT1A; breast cancer cell destruction has been observed; may also benefit acid reflux; antifungal [1,3]
b-MyrceneHopsVery common, studies suggest anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity; promotes sedation and relaxation [1,3]
a-PineneConifers and PinesInsect repellant; anti-inflammatory activity; strong antibacterial activity [3]
d-LinaloolLavenderThought to reduce anxious feelings and promote sleep and relaxation; local anesthetic effects; thought to be anticonvulsant as well [1,3]
b-CaryophylleneBlack PepperA common terpene that can bind to CB2 receptors; anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity; may help alleviate some stomach problems; helpful to skin conditions [3]
NerolidolCitrus PeelLess common, supposed sedative properties; antifungal [3]
Caryophyllene oxideEucalyptusThe component responsible for cannabis identification by drug-sniffing dogs; natural role in plant protection [3]
PhytolGreen TeaThought to aid relaxation [3]

CBD Flower Uses

CBD flower can be used in many ways. Most people will use CBD hemp flower by smoking it or using a dry herb vape. CBD hemp flower can also be extracted and formulated into a variety of products like CBD oil tinctures, CBD topicals, and CBD concentrates (CBD shatter). There are many ways you can use CBD hemp flower, but there are some ways that the FDA says you cannot use it (edibles and beverages). Despite their stance, many products are on the market and available for purchase despite non-compliance with federal regulations.

Plain Jane CBD Salve with natural hemp scent

Common Uses of Hemp

  • CBD Hemp Products
  • Topical and Cosmetic Hemp Products
  • Hemp Plastics
  • Biofuel from Hemp
  • Hemp Food Supplement
  • Hemp Fabric
  • Paper from Hemp
  • Soil Cleaning (Bioremediation) with Hemp
  • Hemp Building Material

FDA CBD Marketing Prohibitions

When talking about CBD and hemp benefits, consumers should be aware that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has formally restricted what can be said about CBD on labeling, advertising, and blogs! They can take legal action against CBD companies that speak of CBD benefits or effects in the wrong way and prohibit CBD from being added to food or beverage. Likewise, the FDA prohibits CBD from being called a “dietary supplement” despite the fact that some state hemp laws regulate it in the same way and require the same labeling and testing.

While legally, not much can be said of CBD effects and benefits without product-specific clinical trials (per the FDA), people are taking it for a variety of reasons. CBD is also not entirely without scientific research and clinical studies that support claims that the cannabinoid has health benefits. However, it is important to consult with a doctor because CBD can also have health risks and drug interactions!

CBD Flower Anecdotal Claims

Many who subscribe to holistic and natural health perspectives have become regular users of hemp flower and/or marijuana. They feel that this alternative product helps their health in ways that other products or medications have been insufficient. This can include products like CBD, hemp flower, THC, and various strains of marijuana from cannabis plants. It can also mean connecting with a health professional (alternative or traditional) to determine the best course of treatment for you. A health professional is the only person who can legally make recommendations to help you select which CBD hemp flower products are best for you.

Cannabis Species

All forms of cannabis, including hemp and marijuana, belong to the Cannabaceae family. The only other notable member of this family is hops (Humulus lupulus)- one of the main ingredients in beer. Within the Cannabaceae family, there are three main species, each with its own growth characteristics.

Hemp and Marijuana: Cannabis sativa

The C. sativa is the species of cannabis most common. There are hundreds of different strains of this species, some with a high THC (marijuana) content, others with a very low THC (hemp) content. This species is thought to be native to Southeast Asia, where the humidity is much higher and the growing season longer.

Marijuana: Cannabis indica

The C. indica is native to cooler climates. It, therefore, has a higher tolerance for cold and a much shorter flowering period to adapt to the shorter growing seasons. These short and bushy plants are ideal for indoor cultivation because they do not get as tall as C. sativa and give more distance from cannabis grow lights. C. indica strains have become popular in modern times because of their potent psychoactive effects that can have recreational and medical benefits. There are no strains of C. indica currently classified in the Hemp category. All varieties of this species are classified as Marijuana.

Autoflower Plant Breeding: Cannabis ruderalis

The C. ruderalis is the species of cannabis less known. It is a small plant with very low yields and does not contain useful fibers. What makes this variety unique is its ability to produce flowers unrelated to the length of the day. C. indica and sativa are both short day plants that need a shorter period of light exposure to flower. C. ruderalis has been used to breed auto-flowering plants that bloom based on time instead of light exposure.


  1. Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Cannabis sativa: the plant of the thousand and one molecules.  Frontiers in plant science, 7, 19.
  2. ElSohly, M. A., Radwan, M. M., Gul, W., Chandra, S., & Galal, A. (2017). Phytochemistry of Cannabis sativa L. In Phytocannabinoids (pp. 1-36). Springer, Cham.
  3. Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344-1364.


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