Consumers looking to explore the potential health benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) are often confronted with some uncertainty when it comes to terminology. Specifically, it can be confusing to try and parse out the differences between hemp oil vs CBD oil vs hemp seed oil.
Compounding the confusion, there are several different categories of CBD oil products, including hemp-derived oil, full-spectrum hemp extract, and isolate, to name just a few. Then there's the issue of the ubiquitous “hemp oil,” which may or may not mean the same thing as CBD oil. Finally, shoppers walking through their local health food store may encounter yet another type of hemp oil product — hemp seed oil.
Are hemp seed oil and CBD oil the same thing?
No. The definition of hemp oil vs CBD oil vs hemp seed oil is at the center of the confusion.
Today, hemp oil is most commonly used to refer to CBD-rich products that have been extracted from the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant. But, in some cases, the term hemp oil may be used to refer to hemp seed oil, which contains no active CBD and is a fundamentally different product.
When you see something labeled as hemp oil, it's important to understand if you're getting hemp oil that contains CBD or if you're getting hemp seed oil, which comes from the seeds of a hemp plant and does not contain CBD. There are some key differences between the two.
Hemp seed oil comes from a process of cold-pressing the seeds only. Importantly, hemp seeds do not have any CBD. Instead, hemp seed oils are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a mix of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Consumers generally like hemp seed oil for its nutritional value. It is most commonly used in cooking or sold as a dietary supplement, and can also be found in grooming and beauty products. Hemp seed oil is often shelved next to flaxseed and fish oils in health food stores. Whole hemp seeds are also be consumed in cereals and smoothies.
In contrast, CBD oil is extracted from the leaves and flowers of hemp plants, which contain a large variety of cannabinoids and terpenes, including CBD. Oil extracted from the leaves and flowers of such plants is therefore rich in CBD.
To summarize: hemp oil may refer to CBD oil derived from CBD-rich flowers and leaves of hemp plants, or it may refer to hemp seed oil, which is made from hemp seeds only and, while highly nutritious, does not contain CBD. If you're buying hemp oil specifically for CBD, make sure you are not accidentally getting hemp seed oil.
Hemp vs. marijuana plants
There are two main sources of CBD oil — hemp and marijuana plants. In terms of the CBD chemical, there is no difference between hemp and marijuana plants — it's always the same from a molecular perspective. But when it comes to the legality of CBD products, everything hinges on whether the CBD comes from a hemp plant or a marijuana plant.
Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the cannabis plant. For thousands of years, hemp fiber, seeds, oil, leaves, and flowers have been used to make paper, textiles, building materials, food, and dietary supplements. In the United States, industrial hemp — as hemp is often called — refers to a variety of the plant Cannabis sativa L. that contains a THC concentration of no more than 0.3%. On the other hand, marijuana is legally defined as a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC.
This distinction was codified in the 2018 Farm Bill, which essentially legalized hemp, including hemp oil and other CBD products sourced from these plants. As a result, hemp-derived CBD products are now widely available and much easier to purchase than in the past. However, CBD products made from a cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC are illegal nationally, and can only be purchased in states where marijuana is legal.
Another difference between hemp and marijuana is the resin content, which can affect the amount of CBD present. Because marijuana generally contains much more resin than hemp, marijuana plants potentially provide more cannabidiol than hemp.
What are the types of CBD oil?
Whether it's derived from hemp or marijuana, CBD oil is available in full-spectrum (whole plant), broad spectrum (retains most but not all cannabinoids and terpenes), CBD-only distillate, and CBD isolate varieties, according to Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, a cannabis extraction company in Oregon.
She said CBD extract can be made using ethanol; hydrocarbons such as butane, propane, or hexane; or supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2). In unrefined form, they all will contain some amount of THC.
CBD distillate is made by distilling unrefined extract under high heat and vacuum pressure to capture the CBD and leave the other components behind, Stem said. Isolate goes one step further: It is refined using pentane, causing the CBD to crystallize. It is then filtered and dried, creating final products that are up to 99.9% pure CBD.
What type of CBD oil is best?
“From a quality perspective, I personally prefer non-refined extracts,” Stem said. “This whole plant extract contains minor phytocannabinoids — like CBG, CBC, etc. — and a range of terpenes, many of which have established effects in their own right, and contribute to what is called the entourage effect.”
The entourage effect is the synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes in whole-plant extracts, which allows them to work together to provide a superior result over an isolate.
But, Stem added, if the hemp is of poor quality, or improperly stored, the only way to avoid rancidity is by purification through a refining process.
“In addition, to ensure safety from legal repercussions in unfriendly states, you must stick with a product made from THC-free distillate or CBD isolate,” she said.
Pesticide contamination and poor-quality sourcing can be an issue with any product. Following the adoption of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is enjoying a renaissance. Farmers are growing high-CBD strains of so-called craft hemp, often on a small scale, to better reap the compound's therapeutic potential.
Ideally, all hemp oil products are tested by a third-party lab to ensure quality and purity. Quality products should have thorough product labels though dosing is, unfortunately, still up to the consumer since government regulations have stunted research that might determine suggested doses.
When figuring out what CBD product to buy, don't get confused by the terminology used to market hemp oil vs CBD oil vs hemp seed oil. If you want cannabidiol, shop specifically for CBD oil, not hemp seed oil. Don't let the ambiguity of the popular term hemp oil fool you.
Which is better, hemp oil or CBD oil?
It depends on your needs. If you want the health benefits of CBD oil with only trace levels of THC, then hemp oil will be the right product for you, as hemp oil by definition must contain less than 0.3% THC. Hemp-derived CBD oil will offer the same benefits. Full-spectrum CBD oil derived from marijuana should have additional potential benefits offered by the entourage effect. Regardless, there are many potential benefits of CBD — including anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and pain management.
Does hemp oil work as well as CBD oil?
The effectiveness of hemp oil vs CBD oil depends on what else is present in the oil. By definition, hemp oil comes from a hemp plant, which means that it has little to no THC. On the other hand, if your oil comes from a marijuana plant, it will contain a much broader range of cannabinoids and terpenes, which could theoretically produce more potent effects thanks to the entourage effect. As long as the hemp oil and CBD oil have the same amount of CBD, their effects should be similar. Hemp seed oil, even if it's marketed as hemp oil, won't have any potentially therapeutic effects.
Is CBD oil or hemp oil better for pain?
Both CBD oil and hemp oil may help you deal with pain. There may be differences in how effective each product is, however, based on what else is present in the oil. For example, hemp oil or hemp-derived CBD oil will have only a tiny amount of THC since it comes from hemp rather than marijuana.
In contrast, if you're consuming full- or broad-spectrum marijuana-derived CBD oil, you will be consuming the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes, the net effect of which may provide better pain management.
What is hemp oil good for?
While more research is needed, current studies suggest that there are many possible benefits of hemp/CBD oil with very few negative side effects. Many consumers turn to hemp oil for its potential anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, pain management, and general wellness properties. As long as the hemp oil contains a high level of this cannabinoid, it may be good for treating pain, anxiety, mood disorders, sleep disorders, inflammation, and more.
But if your hemp oil is actually hemp seed oil, it will not contain CBD and so will not be good at treating any of those conditions. Hemp seed oil is still nutritious, however, with high levels of omega 3 and other fatty acids, along with several other key vitamins.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.