In today’s “green rush” of supplements derived from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), it can be confusing to sort through product labels and understand exactly what you’re getting.
Though hempseed oil has been a mainstay at health food stores for decades, the surging interest in hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD)—which was legalized in the US by the 2018 Farm Bill—means that hempseed oil products and CBD oil products increasingly get blurred together. The confusion is only compounded by the fact that some people use “hemp oil” to mean “hempseed oil,” while others use “hemp oil” interchangeably with “CBD oil.” Who can blame you for being a little lost?
While hempseed oil and CBD oil are both extracted from the hemp plant, they each have different contents, mechanisms, and benefits for our health.
Here’s the full story on how they stack up to one another.
The core difference between hempseed oil and CBD oil is that hempseed oil comes from (you guessed it) hempseeds, while hemp-derived CBD oil comes from other parts of the plant, especially unpollinated hemp flowers.
Hempseed oil is typically extracted from the seeds by cold pressing. CBD oil is made by pulling CBD-rich hemp extract from the plant using ethanol or carbon dioxide as a solvent. That highly concentrated hemp extract is then diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. Of course, the exact method varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Because hempseed oil and CBD oil originate from different parts of the hemp plant, the nutrients and other compounds they contain differ greatly.
The star ingredients
CBD is the marquee component of CBD oil because of its powerful health-promoting benefits. While CBD research is still in its early stages, studies have shown that CBD may relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and help normalize high blood pressure, among other benefits.
Because it’s derived from the whole plant, full-spectrum CBD oil also includes a bevy of other compounds that, like CBD, are known as phytocannabinoids. These include CBG, CBN, and CBC—all of which appear to work synergistically together.
While hempseed oil may contain trace amounts of CBD, its star nutrients are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These include omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in an ideal ratio of 3:1, a proportion that has been shown in studies to suppress the inflammation associated with chronic diseases like arthritis and cardiovascular disease. One of the omega-6s
that hempseed oil contains is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has been shown to improve skin conditions like eczema and reduce PMS symptoms.
Plus, hempseed oil is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
How they work
CBD oil and hempseed oil both impact the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is essential for whole-body balance. The ECS regulates many processes in your body, modulating everything from mood and memory to appetite and anxiety. A well-balanced ECS supports overall health and well-being.
Though hemp has been grown for thousands of years, hemp-derived products are becoming more popular now because the ECS is finally being better understood and researched.
Two types of cannabinoid receptors—CB1 and CB2—are distributed throughout your body. The body produces its own compounds, called endocannabinoids, to bind to these receptors, including the feel-good neurotransmitter anandamide. Compounds found in both CBD oil and hempseed oil influence the receptors in indirect ways.
CBD inhibits an anandamide-degrading enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). This leads to higher levels of anandamide, aka the “bliss molecule.” CBD also activates TRPV1 receptors, which are involved in regulating pain and inflammation.
The ECS is a lipid-signaling network, meaning it’s dependent on lipids (fats) to send intracellular signals. And since endocannabinoids are derivatives of PUFAs, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are critical in supporting the ECS. A no-brainer source of those healthy fats? Hempseed oil, of course.
Putting them to use
CBD oil and hempseed oil should be used differently to promote health. CBD oil can be taken either regularly for chronic conditions like pain and anxiety or on an as-needed basis—for example, to relieve a severe muscle ache or to calm your nerves during a stressful period.
Hempseed oil should be taken on a regular basis for health maintenance, much as you take your vitamin B12. Over time, consuming hempseed oil may produce a balanced essential fatty acid profile in the body, which supports a healthy inflammatory response.
CBD oil is typically sold in a tincture bottle or as a spray, but you can also find softgels filled with the oil, as well as topical products and other inventive delivery formats.
Hempseed oil is commonly available in softgel form, in skincare products, and as a culinary oil. Though hempseed oil has a low smoke point and shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures, it can make a delicious addition to salad dressings and marinades.
No matter how you choose to take advantage of these hemp-derived products, you can feel confident that you’re balancing your body with an ancient plant that’s stood the test of time and is shaping a healthier future.
Your brain on CBD
Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a central role in whole-body balance, and it has a particularly strong influence on your brain health. In fact, “The endocannabinoid system is among the most richly interconnected neurotransmitter systems in the brain and affects most brain functions,” says Jeff Anderson, MD, PhD, a University of Utah researcher who studies the impact of cannabinoids on the brain. While research is still evolving to identify the precise mechanisms by which CBD interacts with the ECS in the brain, CBD has shown promise for supporting brain health in the following areas.
Stress and anxiety
Those with anxiety disorders or who are under constant stress may have overactivation of a brain structure called the amygdala, which is central to emotional processing. In one study, CBD reduced amygdala responses in subjects exposed to anxiety-producing stimuli. That may explain why multiple studies have shown that CBD can alleviate anxiety associated with chronic stress and disorders like social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Neuroprotection and neurogenesis
Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease have been linked to both oxidative damage in the brain and neuroinflammation. Since CBD is a powerful antioxidant, it can help protect delicate brain cells from oxidative damage; research also shows that CBD reduces neuroinflammation. Taken together, these effects may explain why CBD has been shown to reverse and prevent certain symptoms of Alzheimer’s in models of the disease. CBD may even help with the formation of new neurons after events like strokes. More research is needed in humans to confirm these effects.
Some studies suggest that CBD can relieve insomnia and improve sleep duration. Anecdotally, many people swear by CBD for heading off to dreamland, while others report it doesn’t help or even worsens their sleeplessness. This may come down to dose: Low doses of CBD don’t appear to be as effective as higher ones when it comes to improving sleep. As for why CBD works in so many cases, it could be that CBD helps some people catch more shuteye indirectly, by easing pain and anxiety. Or, CBD may have a direct effect on sleep by interacting with brain receptors that regulate the body’s daily sleep/wake cycles.
Despite CBD’s exciting potential to boost brain health, those with serious mental health, sleep, and brain issues should still seek professional medical help. And though CBD has a very favorable safety profile, it can have contraindications with certain medications, so check with your health-care practitioner before trying it. “The story [of CBD] is still being written,” says Anderson. “There’s still a lot to learn.”
Your top questions, answered
How can I be sure I’m getting the product I want?
Check the ingredient list. If you’re looking for hempseed oil, you may see Cannabis sativa seed oil as the primary ingredient. If it’s CBD oil you want, a reputable product should clearly state not only that it contains cannabidiol, but also the quantity. Keep in mind that some products combine both hempseed oil and CBD oil!
Does hemp get you high?
The hemp plant is a close cousin of the marijuana plant, yet unlike marijuana, it contains only trace levels (less than 0.3 percent) of THC, which is the compound responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. So no—products extracted solely from hemp, including hempseed oil and hemp-derived CBD oil, won’t get you high.
Is it possible to be deficient in endocannabinoids?
Yes! Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED) may contribute to the development of conditions like migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Rachel B. Levin is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer covering food, health, and sustainability. Follow her on Instagram: @rachelbethlevin