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

Imagine you’re a Martian who just landed on Earth. Three humans come to greet you, and one of them hands you a small vial of oil as a gift. You appreciate the gesture, but the vial’s contents are a mystery to you. So you ask the obvious question: ‘What is this?’

The first human says, ‘It’s hemp oil.’ Then the second human steps forward and says, ‘It’s CBD oil.’ Bewildered, you turn to the third human, who shrugs their shoulders and says, ‘Technically, they’re both right.’

At this point, Martian-you would probably be quite confused. So hemp oil and CBD oil are the same thing? Is this another one of those Earthlings’ weird linguistic quirks, like how certain purple vegetables are called ‘aubergine’ by some and ‘eggplant’ by others?

Not quite. To explain, let’s come back to reality.

The confusion over ‘hemp oil’ and ‘CBD oil’ is a relatively new phenomenon. Hemp oil has been around for centuries, but it’s only in the last few years that CBD oil entered the public consciousness. Suddenly, there became a need to distinguish between the two—for both brands and the people who buy stuff from them.

Here’s where it gets complicated, because it turns out that clearly distinguishing between the two is trickier than it might appear at first glance. There are a couple of main reasons why:

  1. Hemp oil and CBD oil both come from the same plant (usually) – Even if you know absolutely nothing about hemp oil, it’s not hard to guess where it comes from: it’s literally right in the name. Hemp oil comes from hemp, the same way that olive oil comes from olives. CBD oil is also an oil that comes from the hemp plant. CBD oil can also be extracted from marijuana plants in some cases, but this type of oil is only available with a doctor’s prescription in rare cases. You won’t find it at the supermarket or health store, and you can’t buy it online. That’s why it’s technically not incorrect to refer to CBD oil as ‘hemp oil’—but it is misleading, sometimes intentionally so. You’ll see why in a second.
  2. Some brands try to blur the difference between hemp oil and CBD oil – According to MarketWatch, Google searches for ‘CBD oil’ have skyrocketed in recent years. In April 2019 alone, people searched for it 6.4 million times. It’s clear that people are interested in it—much more than they’re interested in plain old hemp oil. So if you’re a company that makes products from hemp oil, and you’re trying to get a little extra buzz, it’s mighty tempting to just ‘rebrand’ those products as ones made with CBD oil. Attracting curious customers isn’t the only reason why some brands use the terms ‘CBD oil’ and ‘hemp oil’ interchangeably. It can also be a trick for selling products in places where they’d normally be forbidden. The chief example here is Amazon: the company’s Drug and Drug Paraphernalia policy states that it’s illegal to sell CBD oil on the platform, but hemp oil is fair game. Considering that Amazon is (by far) the biggest online retailer out there, it’s little surprise that some brands would try to sneak in their products even if it required being ‘creative’ with the truth.

So if you’ve been feeling crazy for thinking hemp oil and CBD oil are the same thing, relax! You’re not the only one who’s fallen into that trap, and the reasons for thinking so are perfectly understandable. As mentioned before, it’s even technically true!

Suggested read: How Does CBD Make You Feel

In practice, though, there are some important differences between these two hemp-derived oils. Let’s take a closer look at those now.

4 Key Differences Between Hemp Oil and CBD Oil

Although hemp oil and CBD oil both come from the hemp plant, they differ greatly in a number of important ways. They do have some overlap in terms of effects, but the things that set them apart are significant—and important.

Here are some of the most important differences between the two:

Hemp oil and CBD oil come from different parts of the plant.

To put things in a very tiny shell: hemp oil is made from the seeds of the hemp plant. CBD oil is made from the stalk, leaves, and/or flowers. This might seem like splitting hairs, but it’s actually the most important difference between hemp oil and CBD oil.

To understand why, you’ll need a little background on CBD itself. It’s an organic chemical that’s secreted in the hemp plant’s resin—a sticky, fragrant substance that’s similar to the stuff produced by pine trees. If you’ve ever picked up a handful of hemp seeds, you may have noticed that they’re not sticky at all. That’s because they don’t produce any resin. Only the stalks, leaves, and flowers do that.

You might be wondering, ‘Well, then instead of calling it “hemp oil,” wouldn’t it make more sense to call it “hemp seed oil”?’ That’s correct! And in fact, many brands (and people) do exactly that. But since there’s no Grammar Police in real life, we still have to deal with conflicting usages, unfortunately.

Hemp oil and CBD oil have different effects.

We’re going to answer the question of ‘what do they do?’ in greater detail later in this story. For now, the important thing to remember is that you’ll experience different effects if you take hemp oil compared with CBD oil.

This makes sense when you consider that, despite coming from the same plant, they contain different ‘ingredients.’ Here, coconuts make a useful comparison: coconut milk and coconut water might be derived from the same source, but just try using the latter to make a curry.

Actually, don’t. All you’ll do is waste your money and probably wind up disappointed. The same holds true when it comes to hemp oil and CBD oil.

Hemp oil and CBD oil are both legal, but CBD oil is more tightly controlled.

Hemp oil is subject to more or less the same regulations as canola oil or fish oil. That’s because hemp seeds have been a staple in people’s diets and wellness regimens for centuries, and scientists have long known there’s nothing particularly ‘exotic’ about them.

CBD oil, on the other hand, is under significantly more scrutiny, as evidenced by its status on Amazon. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal, though. U.K. law states that CBD oil can be legally sold—and used, obviously—as long as it contains less than 0.2 percent THC (which is the chemical that gives cannabis its trademark euphoria).

The law also restricts the claims that companies can make about CBD oil more tightly than those about hemp oil. This is probably a good thing, since some brands in the past got a little… over excited when it came to making health claims.

Hemp oil is a lot cheaper than CBD oil.

One of the easiest ways to tell hemp oil apart from CBD oil is the price. Making oil out of hemp seeds is a relatively quick and easy process, and this is reflected in the cost. You don’t have to look too hard to find hemp oil for as little as £1 per ounce, give or take.

Extracting and processing CBD is quite a bit more complicated, and like you might expect, this shows up on the price tag. The cost of CBD varies to a huge extent from brand to brand, but it’s not unheard of for a 1 oz. vial to cost over £50.

It should be mentioned that a higher price doesn’t always indicate better quality. As with anything from trainers to TV sets, there’s always the risk of paying more for marketing than results. At the same time, be skeptical if you see ‘CBD’ oil advertised for relative pennies.

Now that you’ve seen how hemp oil and CBD oil are different, you might be wondering, ‘OK, but what does that mean in terms of results? Why would I actually choose one over the other for a given reason?’

We’re glad you asked!

Why Do People Use Hemp Oil?

There are few quicker ways to fall down an internet rabbit hole than searching ‘uses for hemp.’ According to a 2017 paper in the journal Trends in Plant Science, it’s been used throughout recorded human history for everything from cosmetics to concrete to fuel to food for both humans and animals. Peek further into the more hippie-inclined webpages out there, and you’ll learn that the plant has also been used to make everything from the Declaration of Independence to an all-hemp motor car (both of these delightful tales are, unfortunately, false).

However, we’re not here to talk about hempcrete or hemp milk or anything like that—we’re here to talk about hemp oil itself. It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that even this single byproduct of the hemp plant has a number of popular uses today.

People Use Hemp Oil for Food

Thousands of years ago, people realized that the oil from hemp seeds tasted pretty good. They also noticed that it didn’t seem to make them sick, which is why they continued cooking with hemp oil in the ensuing centuries. Today, science has given us a clearer picture of the nutritional benefits of hemp oil, and it’s clear that our ancient ancestors were on to something.

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One of the reasons hemp oil is such a healthy addition to our diets is its rich content of essential fatty acids—specifically, omega-3 and omega-6. You might have seen those words before on a bottle of those enormous fish oil capsules. Like their name suggests, these acids are essential for our bodies to function properly, and yet in a bit of evolutionary oversight, we’re not capable of making them internally. Ergo, we need to get certain fatty acids from outside sources, like hemp oil.

The best part? Hemp contains both those fatty acids in the correct ratio, which works out to around 3 parts omega-3 for every 1 part omega-6. Most people in the U.K. and other Western countries don’t get nearly enough omega-3 in their diets, so this helps even the score a bit.

Here’s another benefit of hemp oil’s fat content: it’s almost entirely unsaturated. These are the ‘good’ fats, if you remember your science lessons from school. A single teaspoon of hemp oil contains around 14 g of fat, of which 12.5 are unsaturated. It might not taste quite the same as butter—most people describe hemp oil as ‘nutty’ or ‘earthy’ or something similar—but it’s easier on your arteries by a considerable margin.

People Use Hemp Oil for Skincare

Hemp oil makeup: it’s not just for your yoga-enthusiast aunt anymore. Although many people still associate hemp oil cosmetics with festival fanatics from the tie-dyed ’60s, today they’ve become a staple with popular mainstream brands like Kush, Kiehl’s, and Milk Makeup.

The biggest reason hemp oil is so popular in skincare products is because of its ability to moisturise the skin. As esthetician Kerry Benjamin told the Huffington Post, “The composition of hemp seed oil is chemically similar to the natural oils your skin produces, which means that it acts as a highly effective moisturiser.” Once again, those fatty acids come in handy—by helping the skin maintain proper moisture levels, it can help prevent wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Hemp oil achieves those effects without causing one of the major drawbacks common to skincare products: itchy irritations. Since it doesn’t depend on artificial acids or serums.’It’s naturally calming and perfect for rejuvenating dry, tired or dehydrated skin,’ as Benjamin explained, ‘so even those prone to sensitivities and irritation can benefit from integrating the ingredient into their routines.”

People Use Hemp Oil for General Wellness

If you’ve gone into a health store lately—or browsed one online—you might have noticed jars of hemp oil capsules on a shelf (or perhaps multiple shelves, since all things hemp seem to be in style these days). You can also find tinctures of hemp oil, muscle rubs with hemp oil, and a whole host of other hemp oil-infused products.

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Although CBD oil has gotten the lion’s share of media attention for its multifaceted applications, hemp oil itself has quite a lot to offer—not only for your skin and stomach, but also for other important parts of your body, at least if the scientists are right. A 2018 study in the journal ACS Omega found that hemp oil could help protect the brain, while a 2014 review in Advances in Nutrition showed that hemp’s fatty acids might help keep the heart healthy.

The caveat, as always, is that more research is needed before we can make any conclusive statements about hemp oil’s use for any particular purpose. But regardless, people have found something to like about this versatile oil for centuries, and there’s no sign they’re going to lose interest anytime soon.

So Which Is Better, Hemp Oil or CBD Oil?

This is one of those questions that appears simple at first glance, and becomes harder to answer the longer you think about it. It’s sort of like choosing between coffee and beer: it really depends on the context in which you’re using it.

To illustrate: if you’re fed up with having dry, cracked lips, a product made with hemp oil is probably your best bet. Why? Hemp oil is well suited to addressing your main issue, and in most cases a hemp oil lip balm will be much less expensive than one made with CBD oil. Plus, the amount of CBD oil in a product like that is so microscopic that you’re more likely to be paying for the placebo effect than anything else.

Conversely, if you’re looking for a muscle rub or joint balm to help you manage the highs and lows of rigorous training, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for in a CBD topical. This is a situation where it’s worth paying the CBD premium, for a couple reasons. First, CBD oil is going to be better suited to managing your symptoms than hemp oil alone. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there’s actually going to be enough CBD in the product to get the job done.

The hemp oil vs. CBD oil debate isn’t exactly black-and-white, but there aren’t too many shades of grey, either. If you take a few moments to think about your condition and your objective, it’s not too hard to arrive at the right answer.

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