Why is 0.3% the legal limit for the amount of THC present in CBD and hemp? Turns out, it’s somewhat arbitrary. Join Bluebird and learn more. Pure Craft CBD offers CBD Oil 1000mg & 2000mg flavored CBD tinctures, CBD Gummy Bears, CBD Oil for Dogs and more! Discover Pure Craft CBD PURE CRAFT BLOG
Why is 0.3% the Legal Limit for THC in Hemp and CBD?
What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana? By legal definition in the U.S., it really boils down to THC content, with the distinction being whether the cannabis crop has more or less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. In most of Europe, the limit is even lower at 0.2%. But where did these legal limits even come from?
For the answer to this question we can look to Canadian Scientist Dr. Ernest Small, who is credited with being the originator of the 0.3% figure.
Let’s Talk Total THC
We’ve heard the allowable 0.3% THC figure, but what exactly does this mean?
“Total THC” in the cannabis plant refers to the amount of both THCA (raw THC, which converts into THC when heated) and THC present. So when we’re talking about total THC content, we’re including both THCA and THC when calculating the percentage in the crop.
To further clarify the definition, “by dry weight,” simply means that the percentage of THC present is calculated in relation to the total plant weight when harvested and dried.
So, now that we’re savvy about the THC, let’s talk about that 0.3%.
The Magic Number
It is widely recognized that this 0.3% THC cutoff for hemp is fairly arbitrary. Like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, hemp magically turns into “marijuana” by classification once it exceeds this limit.
The 0.3% dry weight figure originated from a scientific research paper entitled Small, E., and Cronquist, A. 1976. A practical and natural taxonomy for Cannabis. Taxon 25: 405-435.
In that paper, Cannabis sativa was defined with “Δ9-THC comprising less than 0.3% (dry weight) of upper, younger leaves, and usually less than half of cannabinoids of resin,” and Cannabis indica as “with Δ9-THC comprising more than 0.3% (dry weight) of upper, younger leaves, and frequently more than half of cannabinoids of resin.”
While the definition found in this paper did also make mention of Cannabis sativa having limited intoxicant ability with Cannabis indica having a higher propensity to produce intoxicating effects, this division between sativa and indica cannabis varieties was not intended to be a prescriptive measure of the plant’s capacity to get users high.
Read: this distinction between hemp and marijuana based on THC limit is not necessarily a factor that can indicate whether a strain will or will not get users high.
Dr. Small explains further on the Cornell University FAQ page. Straight from the horse’s mouth:
“Over the years, I have had many inquiries regarding whether the 0.3% criterion was based on potential for abuse – i.e. the possibility of using hemp to get high.
“No, it was not – the criterion was based on the pattern of variation in the real world: it happens that for thousands of years people have selected plants for fiber (subsp. sativa; low-intoxicant plants) and for marijuana (subsp. indica; high-intoxicant plants), and my studies simply revealed this pattern.”
Despite this, as well as the fact that most cannabis material must contain at least 1% THC to even approach producing psychoactive effects, the Canadian government moved forward using Small’s distinction as the basis for legislation. And, following Canada’s lead, the U.S. moved forward following this same guideline when it started changing regulations around cannabis.
Hemp Going Forward
Dr. Small did also note the challenges the current legal landscape provides for the CBD industry, particularly as hemp with up to 1% THC still offers a world of possible benefits if it is permitted to be produced. Specifically, with regards to CBD production, this 0.3% THC cut-off is particularly limiting as there are few strains that produce high levels of CBD without also producing an amount of THC that exceeds the legal limit.
Because of this, many hemp and CBD companies are hoping to push for an alteration to this limit going forward. In fact, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill to Congress in early 2021 that would change the legal definition of hemp and raise the THC limit to 1%.
His bill, known as the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act of 2020, would mandate testing of the final hemp-derived product rather than the hemp flower or plant itself, and also define a margin of error for testing THC levels. These new stipulations would prevent crops containing more than the 0.3% legal limit from being destroyed, as is mandated under current law.
Congress also instructed USDA that its Interim Final Rule concerning hemp production needed to be improved to protect the ability of farmers to grow hemp without the imminent threat of crop destruction, or the interference of the DEA.
Where to find CBD with less than 0.3% THC
Anything marketed as a CBD product should have less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily always trust what a company says is in their products.
Your best bet for finding CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight is to shop with a company that provides third-party lab test results on each batch of its products. These test results will show the true amount of THC, along with other key cannabinoids, in each product. You can find Bluebird’s lab test results here.
If you need to limit your exposure to THC, you may want to try a CBD isolate or broad-spectrum product. Shop Bluebird’s THC-Free* line here.
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.