Picture of female farmer in a field of hemp

The Difference Between Industrial Hemp (Fiber and Grain) and CBD/Cannabis

We understand that there are some established connotations about hemp, CBD, and cannabis. The most common is that they come from the same plant and as such, they fall into the same categories of use, regulations, and restrictions. The truth is that they are very different, even though they are all classified as “hemp” or “hemp products”. This is understandable because the misinformation has run rampant for decades. Hemp was heavily restricted whether it was the high THC cannabis, or the virtually no THC hemp fiber. It’s time for us to settle the differences between cannabis, CBD, and industrial hemp once and for all.

The misunderstandings happen because we call hemp “cannabis” and we call cannabis “hemp”! Further confusion comes from the use of the term “CBD” as a plant. It’s actually an extract from the cannabis, or female plant. Let’s dive into the explanations.  

Hemp plants come in two sexes, male and female. The male plant (let’s agree to call it hemp) does not flower, and hence very low levels of THC. The female (let’s agree to call it cannabis) flowering plant, primarily contains the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) that can be extracted.

The difference is in how we grow the plants, and then process them. The male and female plants have completely different growing, processing, and distribution processes. For this article, we’ll focus on these. 

  • Cannabis (for THC)
  • Cannabis (for CBD)
  • Industrial hemp (for fibers and hurds)

The reason for the differences in the entire supply chain, farming & distribution comes down to one thing: use cases.

  • Cannabis is grown for the high THC levels and used for its psychotropic effects
  • CBD is extracted as an oil, and used for pharmaceutical applications to control pain, inflammation, anxiety, etc. 
  • Industrial hemp is grown for the long stalks, which include fiber and hurd (woody core) that are commonly used in industrial applications.

There are some stark differences between these two plants, including what they look like, how they are farmed, and how they are used. Join us on the journey of discovery as we peel back the layers of understanding required to navigate the cannabis, CBD, and industrial hemp world.

Sex of the Seeds for Industrial Hemp

  • Cannabis/CBD seeds are feminized. These feminine seeds are what produce a flower with the potential for high CBD and THC.
  • Industrial hemp seeds are males. These seeds can be used to maximize the stalk or seeds with virtually no THC. 

Cost of Seeds for Industrial Hemp

  • Cannabis/CBD seeds are expensive because they have a high output value per acre.
  • Industrial hemp seeds are cheap because they have a more traditional output value per acre.

There is a lot of confusion about “hemp seeds” as a whole. All of the hemp protein powders, hemp oils, and other hemp consumables are made from industrial hemp seeds. These seeds are jam-packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. CBD seeds are not consumed, they are planted in the ground so they can blossom into big, beautiful flowers.

Now that we understand a little more about seeds, let’s continue on with the differences between the cannabis/CBD and industrial hemp supply chain.

A Perfect Visual – One Square Acre

  • A perfect acre of cannabis is 40 plants by 40 plants, totaling 1600 plants per acre. Since the large flowers need space to grow, these plants grow like Christmas trees, 6 feet+ apart from each other. CBD plants need to be socially distanced at all times. CBD can also be grown indoors much like THC.
  • A perfect acre of industrial hemp is 800,000-900,000 plants. These plants grow like “weeds” on top of each other (much like bamboo).

Labor of Love / Hate

  • Cannabis is one of the most labor-intensive crops on the planet. The growing process (including growing for high levels of THC) takes constant monitoring and manicuring.  
  • Industrial hemp grows during the summer months in 70-90 day cycles. It requires a little water, sunlight, and a little fertilizer depending on the soil type.

The difference in the labor required to grow cannabis vs industrial hemp is huge. 

Over the past few years, the term “industrial hemp” has been utilized by the CBD industry to differentiate from Cannabis. After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp, the CBD companies flooded the market and labeled their product as “industrial hemp.” 

These CBD companies promised farmers $50,000 to $100,000 per acre. This was a fairytale to farmers who were used to making $200, $400, or $600 per acre.

In 2018, there were 500,000 acres of CBD that were farmed in the United States. But, only 200,000 acres were usable due to molds, pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Farmers were not given the right tools, and many went bankrupt because of it. 

This has left many in the farming community frustrated with “hemp”. If one farmer hasn’t farmed hemp, they know someone who has and it left a bad taste in their mouth.

The problem is, the hemp these farmers are thinking of is CBD, not industrial hemp. This is a part of our ongoing education for industrial hemp, and disconnecting the two.

Industrial hemp, in contrast, is farmed and harvested very easily. Much like wheat farming, the crop is chopped down, then bailed up with a traditional combine.

The equipment sitting on farms that have done corn, wheat, sorghum, and many other agricultural products are the same ones used for industrial hemp farming. 

Let’s move on to the processing.

Types of Processing For Hemp

  • Cannabis buds are trimmed from the plants (sometimes wet, sometimes dried) depending on the operator. The drying process preserves the cannabinoids (THC) and also removes the vegetative taste of the plant. 
  • CBD is extracted from the flower using solvents like butane, CO2, and ethanol. They are removing the oil from the flower, and then further refining that oil (all the way from crude to isolate powders).
  • Industrial hemp is processed to separate the stalk into two distinct parts: the fibers and hurds. It uses a scalable, mechanical process. (as opposed to a chemical process).

The chemicals used in CBD processing are both expensive and potentially dangerous. There have been limited use cases of other types of oil extraction that are more sustainable.

Industrial hemp processing is easily scalable and much more environmentally friendly. Heartland’s flagship facility in Detroit, Michigan will process 60,000 pounds per hour (500,000,000 pounds per year).

We’re starting to get a better grasp of how farming and processing are drastically different for CBD and industrial hemp. This is allowing us to help educate the public about the stark differences.

Let’s move past the transition point in the supply chain to better understand how these materials are distributed and used. 

Different End Products: Pharmaceutical vs Industrial

  • Cannabis (female) in raw form is a bud, used primarily for ingestion of the THC by smoking or eating. Ingestion produces a psychotropic effect, or “high”.  THC can also be extracted from the flower as an oil and finds its way into edible and smokable products. 
  • CBD (female) is an oil that is embedded in different medicinal, edible, or topical products for consumers. Servings are typically measured in milliliters for liquids and milligrams for solids.
  • Industrial hemp hurds and fibers (male) are separated into different formats for manufacturers. It is sold per pound (or per ton) as an additive in plastics, concrete, textiles, lightweight metals, and dozens of other applications.

Different Distribution: Train Cars vs Bricks Trucks

  • THC is contained in the bud form of cannabis, and also in the THC oils extracted. They are available through medical outlets, and in some states are available for recreational use. 
  • CBD is very difficult to transport because it looks and smells exactly like THC. Transporters must have the proper paperwork to validate the contents of the CBD (regardless if it’s in flower, oil, solid, or liquid form).
  • Industrial hemp looks and smells like a bale of hay. It is a grain/fiber that is easily transported and can cross international borders.

The Impact of Industrial Hemp Across Industry

  • THC has had both positive and negative press, due to the controversial nature of the psychotropic uses. However, medical THC (or medical marajuana) shows benefits to those suffering from chronic pain, anxiety, etc. 
  • CBD will have a positive impact on the pharmaceutical industry because of its broad usage as an anti-inflammatory and anxiety supplement.
  • Industrial hemp seeds will have a positive impact in nutrition because they are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They also require little water to grow.
  • Industrial Hemp fibers and hurds will have a positive impact as replacements to the toxic fillers and reinforcement agents used in materials across manufacturing in every industry.

It’s important to understand the broad scope of opportunity that industrial hemp has on the manufacturing industry. Anything that you see around you right now that is made of wood, plastic, metal, concrete, and fabric can be made from hemp. 

This is why the team here at Heartland Industries has set out to build the first reliable U.S.-based industrial hemp supply chain

It’s important that people across the world understand the differences between CBD and industrial hemp, and how they are utilized throughout society. As people begin to understand the differences, the world will begin to adopt hemp as a material in transportation, construction & clothing.

Next time someone is talking about hemp, the right question to help make sure everyone in the conversation is on the same page is, “hemp grown for what?”

  • For THC?
  • For CBD?
  • Or for fibers and hurds?

Now that you know the differences between them, you’re equipped to navigate conversations about the two different hemp supply chains and how they can improve our world.

You now have knowledge that many of your peers can benefit from. If they can embrace and understand the difference between cannabis, CBD, and industrial hemp, they can join us on the journey to change the world.

Join us in creating a carbon negative future.

Heartland Team