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0.3%, the Magic Number: What This THC Threshold Is All About
If you know anything about cannabis law, you’re probably aware that the federally-legal limit for THC in your CBD products is 0.3%. This may have your noggin noodlin’ over why — what’s the reason for that specific amount of THC?
Have confidence. There is significance to the 0.3% THC cap (though possibly not what you think it is). We swear it wasn’t just some rando person selecting a figure out of the blue. So, let’s see what’s behind this THC threshold….
Cannabis vs Hemp vs Marijuana & Cannabinoids vs CBD vs THC
To really grasp the THC threshold thing, it’s key to understand what the components of the discussion are. And frankly, different sources may use terminology in slightly divergent ways.
So, back to basics just to make sure we’re all swimming in the same pool of knowledge.
Here’s what you need to know about this fine flora for the moment:
- Cannabis is a species of plant.
- Marijuana is a subspecies of cannabis, reputed for the psychoactive response it can produce in consumers due to its THC content.
- Hemp (aka industrial hemp) is another subspecies of cannabis. It has much lower THC and much higher CBD proportions than marijuana.
- Cannabinoids are natural compounds found in cannabis. They can trigger or enable all kinds of bodily responses and potential health benefits.
- THC (aka tetrahydrocannabinol) is the leading cannabinoid in marijuana and is what can make users feel high. THC is also present in hemp, but in much lower amounts.
- CBD (aka cannabidiol) is the most prevalent cannabinoid in hemp, but is in other varieties of cannabis as well. While there are three types of CBD — each offering a unique experience and menu of possible health benefits — CBD’s most known for its calming effects.
CBD & The THC Threshold To Behold
Now that we’re all trekkin’ along the same trail, we can get to the heart of our topic.
What Is The THC Threshold?
The THC threshold is a marker that’s been chosen to classify and regulate cannabis. This edge point — set at 0.3% max THC by weight — is used in many legal definitions of “what is hemp” versus “what is marijuana.”
The federal government uses this THC threshold to demarcate between legal hemp/CBD and illegal hemp/CBD. Several states explicitly articulate that any cannabis with 0.3% THC or less is considered “hemp” while any cannabis exceeding this THC limit is deemed “marijuana.” (This can be a bit confusing because this method of categorizing sort of ignores that hemp and marijuana are actually different subspecies.)
Why’s There a THC Limit?
Having a THC threshold can be useful for several reasons. As you’ve probably gathered, people have lots of different views on the merits of THC and CBD as well as whether or not it should be legal and how. Heck, they can’t even seem to agree on how to refer to the plants!
All this leads to the idea that a well-defined THC threshold is a concrete starting point. Legislative bodies were able to rally around this number and start creating laws, regulations, and other guidelines for industrial hemp programs, medical cannabis programs, recreational marijuana, etc. Producers and marketers can take this info and create products to sell.
Why Is THC Capped At 0.3%, Specifically?
Believe it or not — this is kinda a scenario in which a single, accurate phrase got stretched into a giant fish tale. It took on a life of its own — classic snowball effect, amirite?
Here’s what happened.
Dr. Ernest Small, a Canadian scientist, initially defined the 0.3% threshold in his 1976 study, A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis, as a means of distinguishing higher-THC-containing cannabis from those with lower THC quantities. This figure was based on many years of real-world cannabis plant use patterns. It was not derived from THC’s potential for abuse or intoxication.
The 0.3% THC threshold was meant for this study alone. It was never intended to be used elsewise or elsewhere — like for differentiating marijuana from hemp in modern-day legislation.
But, despite not necessarily being an appropriate metric, this one isolated piece of info in a specific context was repeatedly interpreted and appropriated — to the point of losing its original narrow scope. Now it’s been given more weight (pun intended!) than is maybe due.
As such, it’s been adopted in the US, Canada, Europe, and parts of Australia as a sort of gold standard. That’s why the 0.3% THC limit pops up all over the place.
THC Cutoff Level — Ahem, There’re Issues….
Unsurprisingly, this approach to putting a lid on THC levels gets a little messy and controversial. Like a daytime soap opera…. (We know, you’re totally shocked that there’s Drama! surrounding this matter.)
So what’s got people in a tizzy? There are a few main areas of debate.
- Misguided measure. Many in the cannabiz reject the 0.3% THC threshold amount altogether due to its origins. These folks would prefer a THC threshold that reflects the level at which THC starts generating those euphoric reactions.
- Testing methodology. Only hemp that has 0.3% or less THC by weight can be harvested and made into goods, including CBD oil. The current testing process adds up the THC and THCA (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, a precursor to THC) content in the hemp. Critics don’t like this method of testing THCA only becomes THC if it’s heated. That THCA can essentially make the hemp crop register at higher THC levels than it would be if processed. Crops that test “hot” can’t be gathered — they have to be destroyed, which can be a huge hit to growers.
- Penalties. Hemp growers whose crops test above 0.5% (yes, another THC threshold) are at risk of incurring fines and legal troubles. The law views this like the producer was intentionally growing illegal plants. According to growers, this seems unfair because it can be incredibly difficult to consistently produce hemp crops that will test at 0.3% or less THC. There are so many variable at play that the grower has little or no control over.
How ‘Bout A Different THC Threshold?
Detractors of the 0.3% THC maximum would argue that, just because this threshold amount has broad global acceptance, still doesn’t make it an effective measure. Ya just can’t force some things — especially if they aren’t grounded in scientific fact or economic practicality.
Instead, the movers and shakers in the cannabis industry (and sympathetic enthusiasts!) advocate for increasing the THC threshold. They’d like to see the THC threshold that splits hemp from marijuana go from 0.3% to 1.0%.
Aha! Where’s that 1.0% figure come from? you ask. You are so catching on!
Take It To The (1.0% THC) Limit
There are a couple of sources or influences:
- A 2002 article, by Dr. Small and a colleague, states that 1.0% THC is considered to be the level around which THC has the potential to intoxicate. A THC content of 1.0% is still way below the average “street” marijuana (which often has 5%-25% THC) or medical cannabis (which frequently has 5%-30% THC). This is the data cited by Congress in its 2019 fact sheet on hemp.
- Other countries — like Mexico, Switzerland, and Thailand — adjusted their THC caps for hemp upward to 1.0%. This means there’s precedent for a greater THC threshold.
So, there’s a decent chance that a CBD product with 1.0% THC wouldn’t cause you to have a psychoactive response or create any additional harm. Meanwhile, it’d give hemp growers some extra breathing room — they’d be less likely to have to demolish hot crops. Backers of this expanded THC limit see this as an all-around win.
The 1.0% THC Threshold Movement
There have been attempts to revise the THC threshold. Though it died in committee, the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act of 2020 was introduced last year in Congress. If enacted, it would have:
- Increased the THC limit for hemp to 1.0%
- Changed how plants used for hemp-derived products are tested
- Widened the testing margin of error
This suggests that there’s industry, political, and popular support to up the THC limit. Ya might wanna keep your eyes on this movement!
CBD, The THC Threshold & You
All of this means that — until the laws say otherwise — only hemp-derived CBD with 0.3% THC or less are (federally) allowed. To ensure you’re getting CBD oil products that fall on the favorable side of the rules and regs:
- Only buy from a reputable and trustworthy retailer.
- Be sure to read the product labels and packaging to see what kind of CBD you’re getting,
- Consult the Certificate of Analysis (COA) to confirm the actual THC level in the CBD product.
Pure Craft only sells superior products made from the highest-quality CBD. We also provide easy access to COAs. When you shop with us, you can rest assured that you’re getting premium CBD oil goods that are a great value and below that 0.3% THC threshold.
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This formula has been lab-tested for potency and safety. Our Full Spectrum CBD Oil contains less than 0.3 THC, which adheres to the legal guidelines set for maximum THC content. If you need something 100% free of THC, see our Full Spectrum with zero THC line (click here).
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How To Use
Full Spectrum CBD oil: Fill dropper to desired amount. Dispense the oil under the tongue, and hold for 60 seconds. Allow the product to sit for these seconds before consuming it. The product is suitable to be used in daytime or nighttime. We recommend using one full dropper of oil twice a day and making modifications as needed for maximum results.
A 30 ml bottle will last approximately 30 days.
When To Use: Anytime
How Often: Daily
Absorption: Allow 15 minutes for maximum absorption. Please note this oil contains less than 0.3 THC, the maximum allowed by law. Trace amounts of THC may appear present in any drug testing that tests for THC.
Remember, CBD’s bio-availability is better if taken with food.
Always listen to how your body feels and adjust accordingly.
What Does it Mean When a CBD Product Says it Has 0.3% THC?
According to federal law, cannabidiol (CBD) products like CBD oil may only be classified as such if they contain 0.3% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. In addition, CBD products must be hemp-derived rather than originating from the marijuana plant.
Learn more about how the magic number 0.3% came to be, how THC content is measured and understand how much THC different types of CBD products contain.
Download Free Guide to CBD
The Significance of 0.3 Percent THC
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 states that a product is not considered a controlled substance under federal law if it contains less than 0.3% THC. This is significant because cannabis is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Furthermore, the 2018 Farm Bill allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to retain regulatory authority over cannabis-derived products. Therefore, CBD products must be derived from the hemp plant and not the cannabis plant in order to be considered legal. A CBD product derived from the marijuana plant is illegal regardless of how much THC it contains.
Interestingly, the origin of the THC limit of 0.3% has nothing to do with whether or not a CBD product can make a user intoxicated. Canadian scientist Dr. Ernest Small compiled a study in 1976 that defined the 0.3% figure as a distinguishing measure between high-THC and low-THC cannabis. Dr. Small’s work somehow became lost in translation over the years, with the federal government using the 0.3% measure as a way to differentiate hemp from marijuana.
How THC Content Is Measured
THC content is measured through a variety of methods. One common method is the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) technique, which measures chemical compounds in a liquid solution. Currently, the HPLC is the most widely used method to measure THC content and the content of other cannabinoids, but the technique is not foolproof.
Due to a lack of standardization of measuring methods, there are accuracy concerns in calculating the amount of THC present in a product. Different laboratories use different procedures, and states have their own varying testing requirements.
But these accuracy issues may become a thing of the past, as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) works to help labs achieve uniform accuracy. As part of the Cannabis Quality Assurance program, NIST will strive to make laboratory testing and measuring results more consistent.
As NIST research chemist Brent Wilson explains, “When you walk into a store or dispensary and see a label that says 10% CBD, you want to know that you can trust that number.”
More importantly, from a legal standpoint, accurate measuring of THC will ensure that a substance does not exceed the 0.3% federal limit and can legitimately be classified as a CBD product.
Do All CBD Products Have 0.3% THC?
CBD products contain 0.3% THC or less, so not all products have exactly 0.3% concentration of the cannabinoid. There are three types of CBD products:
- Full-spectrum CBD products
- Broad-spectrum CBD products
- CBD isolate products
Full-spectrum CBD products contain the highest amount of THC (up to 0.3%), while broad-spectrum CBD may contain only trace amounts of THC that are so small they would be difficult to measure. Finally, CBD isolate products contain no THC at all, nor do they contain other cannabinoids or terpenes that may be therapeutic.
CBD isolate is the product of choice for people who only want to consume CBD, while broad-spectrum and full-spectrum products are useful for people who want to experience a complete range of therapeutic compounds from the cannabis plant. Integrating a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes (as well as flavonoids) activates the entourage effect, which maximizes the effectiveness of each compound as they work together.
Download Free Guide to THC
The Bottom Line
CBD products must contain 0.3% THC or less in accordance with federal law. This low concentration of THC is unlikely to cause psychoactive effects in CBD users. However, there are accuracy concerns in measuring THC, and products stripped of t other cannabinoids and terpenes may lose valuable therapeutic potential.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 0.3% THC enough to get me high?
Most people will not feel high from consuming a CBD product with 0.3% THC. However, since CBD can have mildly psychoactive effects, you may feel your mood shift. For example, a CBD tincture could make you feel uplifted or relaxed depending on your reaction to the cannabinoid.
What percentage of THC is considered low?
Cannabis products containing less than 10% THC concentration are generally considered low. However, low THC is different for each individual. An inexperienced cannabis user might find 8% THC potent, while an experienced cannabis user might feel that 8% has minimal effect.
Explore CBD and cannabis products legally with a medical marijuana card. Connect with the qualified healthcare team at Leafwell and start your MMJ card application online in minutes.