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Hemp Oil vs. CBD Oil: Understanding the Differences

Sheldon Sommer

by Sheldon Sommer

June 7, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
Hemp Oil vs. CBD Oil: Understanding the Differences

It is essential to understand the distinction between hemp seed oil and CBD oil because these hemp derivatives differ importantly in their ideal applications and beneficial properties. Both of these products have seen rising popularity because of their reputed benefits for health and wellness and movements to relax legal restrictions on certain varieties of the cannabis plant. In the following sections, we will examine hemp seed oil vs. CBD oil, providing more information about these useful hemp-derived products and their potential health benefits. 

“Hemp” is a term employed to refer to variants of the cannabis sativa plant whose parts and derivatives contain a low concentration, less than 0.3%, of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Until the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill), all plants in the cannabis sativa species were considered “marijuana,” which is an illegal Schedule I substance (although this will be changing soon), according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This category encompasses a class of illicit drugs considered to have a high potential for addiction and no accepted medical use. 

Therefore, until the 2018 Farm Bill, all variants of the cannabis plant, their parts, and their derivatives were federally illegal to possess, produce, distribute, or consume. Now, cannabis plants that produce low levels of THC have been reclassified as “hemp,” or “industrial hemp,” which is legal to cultivate and process into products ranging from cannabidiol (CBD)-based pharmaceuticals for treating seizures, to biofuels and bioplastics.

One way to use the hemp plant is for the oils contained in its various parts. Although hemp is grown as a source of CBD oil for therapeutic uses, it is critical to keep in mind that not all oil derived from hemp is CBD oil. Hemp seed oil, for example, contains insignificant amounts of CBD. Thus, it is important not to confuse hemp seed oil with CBD oil, or you may end up with a product that doesn’t provide the benefits you are seeking. This guide will serve as a reference to clarify the important ways these different hemp-based oils contrast so you can choose products that will provide the benefits you are looking for.

What is Hemp Seed Oil?

Hemp seed oil is a fat extracted from the seeds of the cannabis plant. As a dioecious plant, hemp is found in both male and female forms, each with distinctive properties. Abundant seeds are located in the flowers of fertilized female plants, and the delicate 1/8-1/4-inch seed grains must be handled with care as they are removed from the flowers, cleaned, and dried before being used for food purposes. 

Although there are multiple methods for removing the oil from hemp seeds, oil is typically extracted from the seeds using a mechanical process called cold pressing, which is the same process used to produce olive oil or sunflower seed oil. The small, hard hemp seeds are compressed under extreme pressure by an oilseed press machine at a temperature of no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (~49 degrees Celsius), which releases the seeds’ stored fat. The final product is a clear, deep-green, or light-green oil with a nutty flavor.

Unlike CBD oil, which is still an unregulated food/supplement ingredient by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hemp seed oil has been granted generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status as a food and cosmetics additive. This means that hemp seed oil is generally safe when used as intended with little risk of side effects. Consuming excessive quantities of the oil may cause digestive issues for some people, but these cases are relatively uncommon.

Moreover, hemp seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids, specifically omega-3, and the oil has a desirable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. These fats, which are only found in certain particular foods, are essential to a healthy diet. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids in hemp seed oil contribute to good heart health and can help lower blood pressure or reduce the risk of heart disease.

With its natural nutty flavor and rich nutritional profile, hemp oil is well-suited to enhance a variety of dishes. It is often used in place of olive oil in recipes for sauteed vegetables (low-heat), salad dressings, roasted potatoes, and even hummus. Or, if you’re looking for something sweet, you can also boost your next healthy smoothie or batch of brownies by adding some hemp seed oil to the mix. It is important to note, however, that hemp seed oil is sensitive to heat, and high temperatures can easily break down the oil’s beneficial nutrients. So, it’s best to avoid using hemp oil for frying or high-heat cooking applications.

Although hemp seed oil is extracted from cannabis plants, the product contains negligible levels of cannabinoids such as CBD or THC. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds naturally found in cannabis plants that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a complex of distinct substances (called endocannabinoids) and receptors that regulate sleep, appetite, pain perception, and numerous other physiological functions. There are over 100 cannabinoids produced by cannabis plants, and these compounds interact with receptors in the ECS to produce various distinct effects. However, hemp seed oil lacks significant levels of these substances, so it will not generate the same benefits or desired results associated with cannabinoid-containing products, such as CBD oil.

What is CBD Oil?

Where hemp seed oil exclusively involves processing just the seeds of the hemp plant, CBD oil is instead derived from the flowers, leaves, and stalks of the hemp plant. These parts of the plant contain high levels of the cannabinoid CBD, which is used in various medicinal applications for the treatment of anxiety, seizures, and inflammation. Research investigating the benefits of CBD is still developing, but so far, the chemical has produced remarkable outcomes for the treatment of certain rare seizure disorders

CBD oil can be extracted from cannabis plants via several processes distinct from the mechanical cold pressing used to make hemp seed oil. Cannabinoids are non-polar compounds, meaning they have low water solubility, so they need to be dissolved in various other organic solvents, such as alcohols (ideally ethanol), hydrocarbons (like butane), or carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Liquid solvent extraction is a generally inexpensive and uncomplicated process that does not require elaborate specialized equipment. The procedure simply involves dissolving the cannabinoids contained in hemp plants with a liquid solvent capable of binding to non-polar substances. By combining plant material with a suitable solvent, certain natural compounds, like CBD, are drawn out of the plant solids into liquid form. After straining the solid matter from the solvent-extract solution, the remaining liquid is heated to evaporate the solvent, leaving behind the concentrated cannabis compounds.

Although cheap and simple, solvent extractions are also considered more likely to produce various issues with end-product quality. For instance, unwanted solvent residues can end up in the final extract, and unregulated or untested CBD products can potentially contain unwanted or unsafe levels of residual solvents. Moreover, solvents like ethanol can bind to other compounds within the plant materials, compromising the purity and palatability of the product. Finally, the flammability of many of the solvents used in this extraction method makes the procedure potentially dangerous.

Alternatively, an increasingly popular processing method, especially for premium CBD products, is CO2-based extraction. Pure CO2, when heated and pressurized to a certain extent, takes on the properties of both gas and liquid, resulting in a substance known as a supercritical liquid. Supercritical liquids make ideal solvents because the nature of their composition allows them to pass through porous solids and dissolve certain materials. This oil extraction is relatively common across other industries, where it can be used for decaffeinating coffee beans or collecting oils for dietary supplements. 

Supercritical fluid extraction is often considered a preferable alternative to liquid solvent-based extraction processes. This is because CO2-based extraction produces the purest CBD with high efficiency, and it is ultimately safer for the environment and for the humans performing the extraction, as substances like ethanol or butane used in other solvent-based extraction methods are non-renewable, non-reusable, and highly flammable, unlike pure CO2.

Hemp Oil Vs. CBD Oil: What’s the Difference?

Although hemp oil and CBD oil are both fat-based products that come from the same plant, these two products should not be conflated as there are critical differences between them. Because of their differing extraction processes, chemical properties, legal regulations, and effects, hemp oil and CBD oil are completely distinct products. This guide presents a direct comparison between hemp oil vs. CBD oil, so you can get a clearer idea of which products are best to address your individual needs.

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How It Is Made

Hemp Seed Oil: Most commonly produced by mechanical cold pressing of hemp seeds. This process preserves the seeds’ natural flavors and nutrients by avoiding the use of high heat, which can degrade certain vitamins and antioxidants present in the grain. 

CBD Oil: Extracted from the flowers, leaves, and stalks of the hemp plant through solvent-based processing methods, like CO2 or ethanol extraction.

Chemical Composition

Hemp Seed Oil: Primarily comprised of omega fatty acids. Cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, may be present, but in negligible amounts.

CBD Oil: Has abundant cannabinoids, primarily CBD. Can contain some levels of THC depending on the spectrum of the extract (i.e., full, broad, or isolate). 

Legal Status and Regulation

Hemp Seed Oil: Products are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Sold in food and skincare products across the United States with no significant legal restrictions on its sale or production.

CBD Oil: Regulatory status depends on the concentration of THC in the product and the source of the CBD (hemp versus “marijuana” plants). Federally legal to produce and transport products containing CBD if it is derived from hemp plants containing less than 0.3% THC, with state restrictions on allowable CBD consumption routes varying across the country. Moreover, the FDA currently does not regulate CBD and has not approved any food products or dietary supplements with CBD added. The prescription seizure medication, Epidiolex, is the only FDA-approved drug containing CBD.

Uses and Applications

Hemp Seed Oil: Commonly used in food products like salad dressings, nutritional supplements, or skincare products due to its nutritional benefits. Should not be exposed to high heat.

CBD Oil: Mostly used for potential therapeutic or health benefits. Has been reported to treat inflammation, anxiety, and pain. Can be consumed through various routes of administration, such as capsules, topical creams, or tinctures. 

Potential Benefits

Hemp Seed Oil: Loaded with nutritional value and a particularly rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health and skin quality.

CBD Oil: Used for potential therapeutic effects in treating inflammation and pain, as well as anxiety and sleep disorders.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Hemp Seed Oil: The FDA considers hemp seed oil as a GRAS ingredient, meaning it is safe to use as intended with minimal risk of side effects. There have been reports of digestive issues associated with consuming large quantities, but these side effects are uncommon.

CBD Oil: Possible side effects include fatigue, changes in appetite, and potential interactions with other medications. Since the FDA has not approved CBD as a food or supplement additive, products containing CBD lack regulatory oversight, so there are concerns about the consistency and quality of many commercial products. 

The Bottom Line

When distinguishing between hemp seed oil vs. CBD oil, it is clear that these two hemp products have very distinct properties that are important to understand if you are going to get the results you are looking for from your purchase. Hemp oil and CBD oil differ in terms of what parts of the plant are processed, what chemical compounds they contain, what health benefits they can offer, and what regulatory standards they are subject to. If you are thinking of using either of these oils for therapeutic or dietary purposes, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor, especially because cannabis compounds like CBD have the potential to interact with other medications you may be taking.

FAQs on Hemp oil vs. CBD oil

Is hemp stronger than CBD?

Hemp oil does not contain the same chemical compounds as CBD oil, so it does not induce the same therapeutic effects, such as anxiety relief or sleep improvement, associated with CBD.

What does hemp oil do for you?

Hemp oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with essential vitamins and other nutrients. Adding hemp oil to various foods and even taking it on its own can be a way to enrich foods with extra nutrients if you feel like you aren’t getting enough essential vitamins and omega-3 from your regular diet. The fats in hemp oil potentially decrease high blood pressure as well as reduce one’s risk of heart disease.

Does hemp oil help with anxiety?

Hemp seed oil can add extra nutrients to your diet. However, hemp oil lacks significant amounts of cannabinoid compounds, such as CBD, which importantly interact with particular receptors in the ECS that are involved in the regulation of fear and anxiety responses.  

Can hemp oil have side effects?

When taken in large quantities, hemp oil can cause digestive discomfort, but these reactions are rare. 

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