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Phase two of Canada’s cannabis laws come into effect Oct. 17, making it legal to buy a whole new generation of products, such as edibles, vapes, drinkables, extracts and topicals that include hemp and cannabis.

Jennifer Lett/The Associated Press

Phase two of Canada’s cannabis laws come into effect Oct. 17, making it legal to buy a whole new generation of products, such as edibles, vapes, drinkables, extracts and topicals that include hemp and cannabis. The problem is many don’t have a clue what the difference is between the two. Here’s a guide to better understand what you’re getting when you put hemp seeds in your smoothie or apply cannabis-infused balm to your skin.

What is the basic distinction between the two?

Think of hemp and cannabis as cousins. They’re from the same family (the plant cannabis sativa) but grew up in two different households. Cannabis is bred primarily for its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, the compound that makes you high. Hemp is bred for its fibre and CBD (or cannabidiol), which is touted for its ability to soothe muscle pain, help with insomnia and even anxiety. Cannabis, because of its higher levels of THC, is psychoactive. Hemp is not.

How have they been traditionally used?

Hemp cultivation goes back centuries. Its fibres were used to make ropes, clothing, paper, textiles and even concrete. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it and, in colonial America, people could pay their taxes with it. Twenty years ago, Canada led the way globally in bringing hemp foods, including seeds and hemp seed oil, into a wide range of products such as granolas, milks and butters. Hemp seeds are the wild salmon of the plant world – high in essential amino acids and protein.

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Are there loose definitions for both?

Hemp contain less than 0.3 per cent of THC. Anything more than 0.3 per cent is considered cannabis. The hemp oil commonly found in grocery stores is pressed legally from the plant’s seeds, which contain negligible amounts of CBD.

What does it mean if a product is cannabis-infused?

If you buy cannabis-infused lip balm, foot cream or chewing gum, it means they are infused with CBD, the molecule that people use to help with pain, anxiety, sleep and seizures. In the United States, these products are sold over the counter at stores such as Walgreens. In Canada, CBD is strictly regulated, which means only registered retailers can sell it.

So what’s the big deal about Oct. 17?

As the legislation starts to roll out starting on this day, a range of derivative products – a dizzying array of drinks, lotions, shampoos, sprays, tincture and balms – will be available. You can expect to see the new goods on dispensary shelves in mid-December. Some experts expect this market will be worth $3-billion in Canada in a few years

Where do we go from here?

You’re not yet going to be able to order a cannabis-infused meal at your favourite restaurant. Health Canada isn’t there yet, however change is in the wind. When it comes to crossing the border into the U.S. with these new products, lawyers advise not to take chances. Hemp and cannabis look alike and a few poor hemp farmers have been mistakenly arrested for trafficking in the United States.

The takeaway?

Cannabis and hemp are here to stay. Don’t be surprised if you find CBD mineral water, sodas, beer, juices and chocolate at your neighbourhood grocery store in a few years. They won’t get you high, but they might take away some aches, pains and the odd menstrual cramp.

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