How to Identify Hemp Buds

Published Mon, April 25, 22

Telling the difference between hemp and other types of cannabis can be more challenging than you initially expected. Aside from the experienced effects, cannabis buds containing non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBD or CBG are almost identical to THC-rich buds, and then there’s delta 8 flower as well. In this guide, learn three ways to identify hemp buds, and find answers to related commonly asked questions.

What are hemp buds?

Hemp buds are defined as Cannabis sativa nugs containing less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. Aside from that one restriction, hemp buds can contain any natural cannabinoid, and they often look, smell, and taste identical to marijuana.

Hemp vs. marijuana: what’s the difference?

The only primary difference between a hemp bud and a marijuana bud is the effects you experience when you smoke it. Of course, marijuana is also a Schedule I substance while hemp flower is usually defined as “industrial hemp” under the 2018 Farm Bill. Otherwise, hemp and marijuana are essentially identical.

Are hemp and marijuana the same plant?

Yes the substances classified as “hemp” and “marijuana” come from the same plant: Cannabis sativa. The only significant difference between hemp and marijuana is regulatory, not biological. Depending on which cannabinoids a cannabis plant has been bred to express, it can either be a federally legal or illegal substance.

Do hemp plants have buds?

Yes, hemp plants have buds just like any other type of cannabis. It is often stated incorrectly that hemp is the male cannabis plant and marijuana is the female plant. The truth is, however, that both hemp and cannabis can be either male or female. In both variations of cannabis, the female plant bears buds while the male plant serves as a pollinator.

What do hemp buds look like?

In terms of appearance, hemp buds look exactly like cannabis buds. It has been incorrectly claimed that you can tell the difference between hemp and marijuana based on certain visible characteristics. This is simply not so— both hemp and marijuana can express a wide variety of different visual characteristics that are due to their genetic lineage, not the cannabinoid they contain.

What does hemp smell like?

Hemp buds smell exactly like marijuana—dank, fruity, and a little bit earthy. Based on aroma alone, it is impossible to distinguish hemp from marijuana.

How do you identify CBD buds?

Having a sample tested at a lab is the only way to make sure cannabis buds contain CBD instead of THC. It is not possible to tell hemp and marijuana apart based on aroma or appearance. If you don’t want to smoke them to find out for yourself, send your mystery buds in for testing.

How to to tell if you have CBD flower: 3 methods

Use one of the following three methods to definitively determine if the cannabis buds in your possession are legal hemp or illegal marijuana:

1. Ask the manufacturer

By far, the easiest way to identify hemp flower is to simply ask the manufacturer which cannabinoids your buds contain. In fact, it should never come to that— trustworthy hemp flower producers provide comprehensive labeling that tells you the exact concentrations of each cannabinoid present in their products. If this labeling is not present or unclear, contact customer service as your first step.

2. Check lab tests

If the product’s label does not have the information you’re looking for, head online to check its lab test. Reputable hemp flower manufacturers provide lab tests for each batch of product they produce, and these detailed data sheets list out information on cannabinoid concentrations, terpene profiles, and contaminant screens.

3. Test it yourself

If all else fails, there are dozens of analytical labs now present online that have emerged to service the growing cannabis industry. The price to have your buds tested will likely be many more times the amount you paid for them, but lab chromatography is the only way to be sure which cannabinoids your nugs contain without actually smoking them.

Telling hemp from marijuana: The bottom line

During the early days of the CBD flower revolution, there was significant concern over the general difficulty of distinguishing non-intoxicating hemp flower from intoxicating marijuana. Law enforcement officers around the country reported coming across people who seemed to be in possession of marijuana but insisted it was hemp instead.

At first, cops arrested individuals even when they produced lab tests proving the cannabis in their possession was industrial hemp. As more and more cases were thrown out of court after lab tests were ordered, however, a sea change in cannabis policing began occurring around the country.

Nowadays, THC-rich cannabis is legal in more than a third of US states. In these states, law enforcement no longer busts people for smelling like weed or having a small amount of cannabis in their possession. Even in places where recreational cannabis is not yet legal, there’s a general perception that weed is simply not worth arresting someone.

As a result, learning to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana has become more of an academic rather than a practical exercise. In the unlikely event that you’re mistakenly arrested for marijuana possession even though the buds in your possession are hemp, simply commissioning lab tests will put your name in the clear and further prove the uselessness of prosecuting cannabis-related offenses.

Hemp buds FAQ

To finish up, we’ll answer some of the most common questions related to identifying hemp buds:

What’s the difference between hemp and CBD?

The term “hemp” refers to any product made with hemp or to the hemp plant itself. The term “CBD,” however, refers specifically to the hemp-derived cannabinoid cannabidiol.

Despite being found in the hemp plant, CBD is not synonymous with hemp. This plant contains a wide variety of cannabinoids aside from CBD, after all, along with a whole host of additional compounds like terpenes, flavonoids, waxes, and chlorophyll. What’s more, “hemp” can refer to any part of the hemp plant, including its fibers and seeds, which can be used to make consumer products as varied as T-shirts, soap, and printer paper.

What can be made out of hemp?

When it comes to making products, hemp is one of the most versatile plants in the world. Its fibers can be used to make everything from paper to textiles, and its oils can be used to produce cannabinoid rich extracts or extracts that don’t contain any cannabinoids at all.

It’s even possible to use the whole hemp plants to make fuels, rubber, and a whole host of other products not generally associated with the plant most widely known for containing THC. Overall, hemp is one of the most underutilized crops in the world, and we can only hope that the 21st century sees a resurgence of hemp to its natural place in the plant-fiber pantheon.

Why is hemp not used more?

The primary reason that hemp remains underutilized is anti-cannabis legislation. Starting in the 1930s, racist and repressive policies disincentivized hemp production and associated the inert components of the plant with psychoactive THC. This mistaken mislabeling of hemp as a dangerous substance only worsened with the passage of the 1971 Controlled Substances Act.

Due to compounding layers of unjust legislation, hemp production in the United States reached a near-standstill for more than four decades. In the meantime, foreign countries attained a monopoly on hemp production and often exported low-quality hemp to the United States. With the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, the domestic hemp situation took a turn in the right direction, and the 2018 Farm Bill officially reinstated hemp as a viable crop for farmers to grow in the United States.

Why is hemp illegal in the US?

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer illegal in the United States. As long as they contain less than 0.3% THC, hemp products are now considered to be industrial hemp, not marijuana. As a result, domestic hemp production has boomed, and consumers have once again gained access to the affordable and plentiful products that can be made with this highly versatile plant.

What does a hemp bush look like?

There are no inherent differences in appearance between hemp plants and marijuana plants. Hemp is often grown outdoors, leading to a taller and lankier appearance than indoor-grown cannabis. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, though—Cannabis sativa—so any visible differences are due to cultivation, not genetics.

Will hemp oil show up on a drug test?

It is highly unlikely that you will fail a drug test for THC after using CBD-rich hemp oil. It is even more unlikely that you’ll test positive for THC after using hemp seed oil, which does not contain any significant concentrations of cannabinoids whatsoever.

Will hemp gummies test positive?

You run practically zero risk of testing positive for THC after eating hemp gummies that primarily contain CBD. If you consume enough full-spectrum CBD, it is technically possible that trace amounts of THC will accumulate enough in your system that you fail a drug test. To do so, though, you would have to consume such a large amount of CBD gummies that you would likely feel cripplingly nauseous before you reached the necessary THC threshold.

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