One plant, but seemingly millions of buzzwords used to describe it, and the products made from it. In the past few years, the market for hemp has exploded—thanks in no small part to the 2018 Farm Bill, which officially legalized the growth of industrial hemp in the U.S.
If you’re still not sure what the difference is between the CBD gummies from your local bodega and that fancy hemp seed oil salad dressing you almost bought, you’re far from alone. For all the hemp-based products currently saturating the market, there’s a distinct lack of helpful information to help consumers navigate what exactly they’re buying.
One of the easiest places to get lost in the details—or, more often than not, the lack thereof—is in the difference between hemp seed oil and full spectrum hemp oil. While both oils come from the Cannabis sativa plant, their extraction process and chemical makeup—namely, the presence of beneficial phytocannabinoids like CBD—couldn’t be more different.
What is hemp oil?
Hemp oil is an umbrella term which can be used to describe any oil made from the hemp plant. While it’s often used interchangeably with “CBD oil,” it may also refer to hemp seed oil, which contains no CBD at all. It also doesn’t indicate whether or not a product is made with full spectrum hemp oil—but more on why that’s important later.
What is hemp seed oil?
As its name suggests, hemp seed oil is extracted from the seeds of hemp plants. These seeds are harvested from male Cannabis sativa plants and then cold-pressed, resulting in a nutrient-rich oil that does not contain any cannabinoids.
Hemp seed oil is an amazing source of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as amino acids and vitamin E. These properties make it an increasingly popular ingredient in skincare. A natural humectant, it attracts and retains moisture while also working to repair the skin’s barrier without clogging pores. Its fatty acids can reduce skin inflammation and irritation.
In addition to topical applications, hemp seed oil can also be used in the kitchen. With its nutty flavor, it works well as a replacement for olive oil in salad dressings and offers the same health benefits you’ll get from other omega acid-rich foods.
All that said, if you’re looking for the specific benefits of a cannabinoid-rich CBD oil, hemp seed oil is not the product you’re after.
What is full spectrum hemp oil?
Full spectrum hemp oil is extracted from the flowers of female Cannabis sativa plants and contains all the naturally-occurring compounds that work together to create something we refer to as the Entourage Effect.
- The Magic Ingredient: Cannabidiol
Cannabidiol—better known as CBD—is probably the compound you’re most familiar with, but the other phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids play just as important a role in unlocking the full benefits of the plant.
To understand why that is, you’ll need some quick Anatomy 101. Our bodies contain something called an endocannabinoid system. It’s part of our central nervous system and affects a wide variety of bodily functions, including appetite, sleep, mood, and recovery from injury. We all produce our own endocannabinoids, which interact with cannabinoid receptors found throughout our connective tissue, organs, and nervous and immune systems.
The phytocannabinoids produced by hemp plants mimic our bodies’ naturally occurring endocannabinoids, and thus, our cannabinoid receptors respond to them in kind.
In addition to CBD, some other cannabinoids you’ll find in full spectrum hemp oil include CBG, CBN, and CBC. What you won’t find is more than a trace amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)—the phytocannabinoid in marijuana that gets you high. Full-spectrum hemp oil contains less than .3% THC.
Another key player in the entourage effect equation are terpenes; aromatic compounds found in many plants, but best known for their high concentration in cannabis plants. Over 200 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant, each with its own unique scent and flavor profile.
Not only do terpenes determine the sensory experience of a given extract, but they may increase the efficacy and speed up the body’s absorption of CBD, while potentially even offering healing benefits all their own. Some common terpenes include citrus-forward d-limonene, believed to offer mood-boosting effects, and musky, clove-like beta-myrcene, which may help improve general wellness.
The reason all this matters? Studies have found that the therapeutic effects of individual cannabinoids just aren’t as effective when delivered on their own. They need to be joined by their “entourage” of other naturally-occurring compounds in order to maximize their benefits. Hence, the Entourage Effect.
So what’s the deal with CBD isolate?
While full spectrum hemp oil contains all the naturally occurring compounds found in the flower of the hemp plant including CBD, CBD isolate oil contains only cannabidiol and is devoid of any other cannabinoids or terpenes. This means you’re missing out on experiencing the Entourage Effect, and thus the full benefits of the hemp plant.
Think of it this way: you could buy a set of paints and a canvas to paint a picture, but forgo the brushes. You can still paint using your fingers, but you won’t be able to achieve the same effects in your painting that you would have had you opted for the brushes. In this analogy, the canvas is your body and the brushes are the many compounds that work together to deliver CBD in the most complete and intentional way.
What are the benefits of full spectrum hemp anyway?
Given longstanding restrictions on the production and sale of hemp in the U.S., scientific research on the benefits of CBD and other phytocannabinoids has until recently been extremely limited. The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill has opened the door to new opportunities to better understand this plant.
However, because the research is in many ways just getting started, the FDA still limits what kinds of claims can be made about the benefits of cannabinoids. Consumer interest and curiosity about CBD has been based largely on anecdotal evidence, supported by a few early studies that show promise for the use of cannabinoids to aid in things like pain management and balancing mood.
Should I choose full spectrum hemp oil or hemp seed oil?
The choice between full spectrum hemp oil or hemp seed oil is quite easy. Do you want to receive the benefits of cannabinoids or not? If it’s the latter, feel free to use hemp seed oil in cooking or as a topical, and enjoy the extra omega acids. If it’s the former, full spectrum hemp oil is the way to go. Full spectrum hemp oil often blends CBD, CBG, CBC and other phytocompounds with a base oil like coconut.