What Is Hemp Seed Oil? Clearing Up the Confusion

07/26/2021 | 5 min. read

Dr. Drew Sinatra

Dr. Drew Sinatra

Back in the day, cannabis was synonymous with marijuana. Today, this term also refers to cannabidiol (CBD), hemp seed oil, and other compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant. 

Thousands of cannabis-based products, ranging from supplements and oils to foods and beverages, have flooded the market in recent years—and along with them, a deluge of conflicting information about the effectiveness, potency, safety, and legality of each of these components.

Let’s see if we can clear up some of the confusion about hemp seed oil and other cannabis compounds. 

A Versatile Plant 

First, some background. Cannabis sativa is a versatile plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years. The leaves and buds played a role in the spiritual and religious practices of many cultures. Tough, durable fibers from the plant’s stalks were used to make rope, nets, and cloth. (The root word of “canvas” is “cannabis.”) 

Seeds from the plants were a good source of protein, essential oils, and other nutrients, and seed oils were burned for fuel, used to make soaps and paints, and applied to the skin and hair. Plus, they were used in traditional medicine for pain relief, constipation, and nervous system disorders. 

Today, Cannabis sativa is still used for all these purposes and more—but not all cannabis plants are the same.

Hemp vs. Marijuana  

There are hundreds of varieties, strains, and hybrids of cannabis plants, each bred and cultivated for specific purposes. The two main types are commonly referred to as marijuana and hemp. 

  • Marijuana is cultivated to contain high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive compound that alters perception, mood, and cognitive function. Best known as a recreational drug, marijuana is also used medicinally for relief of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and seizures. Medical marijuana is legal in nearly three-quarters of US states, and recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. 
  • Hemp, which is classified as having less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, is an extremely versatile fast-growing plant, which reaches maturity in just three to four months. It is grown mostly for its fiber, which has many industrial uses, and its seeds. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are used in foods, nutritional supplements, and even cosmetics. Hemp cultivation is legal under federal law.

What About CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is another active constituent of cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and won’t get you high. It is currently being studied as a treatment for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, chronic pain, and sleep problems, and a purified form of CBD has been approved by the FDA as a drug for serious forms of epilepsy. 

Most often, however, CBD is purchased over the counter and used for anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and stress reduction. You can find CBD in everything from chewing gum and coffee drinks to chocolates and pet treats. The global CBD market is approaching $3 billion and is projected to more than double in the next five years.

The Difference Between CBD Oil & Hemp Seed Oil 

While CBD and hemp seed oils are often lumped together, they’re actually two separate oils. CBD oil is derived from the leaves, flowers, and stems of hemp or marijuana plants. It obviously contains CBD, and full-spectrum CBD oil also has traces of THC. 

Hemp seed oil is completely different. Extracted from the seeds of hemp plants, it contains no THC or CBD.

Its greatest value from a health perspective stems from its high concentration of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are important for your heart and overall health. Hemp seed oil is one of the richest sources of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid that is used therapeutically to reduce inflammation and help relieve PMS, eczema, diabetic neuropathy, and arthritis. Plus, it contains tocopherols (vitamin E) for antioxidant protection and phytosterols, which help lower LDL cholesterol.

All told, hemp seed oil is one of nature’s healthiest oils. 

What Is Hemp Seed Oil Used For?

Hemp seeds and oil are popular ingredients in bars, cereals, hemp milk, and other natural food products. Hemp seed oil can also be used for cooking. Because of its low smoking point, it should only be lightly heated and is best used in salad dressings and the like. 

A growing number of natural cosmetics and beauty products tout hemp seed oil as good for the skin and hair. Topical application can certainly help relieve dry skin, and taken internally, the essential fatty acids in hemp oil support overall skin health. 

It is also used as a base or carrier in some high-quality nutritional supplements. Cold-pressed hemp seed oil, with its omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytosterols, is a giant step up from the soybean oil that is a common filler in many supplements.  

You may have heard about hemp oil’s benefits for pain and arthritis. However, most of the hemp oil products targeting pain and inflammation have CBD added to the oil. Others have proposed hemp oil for weight loss, diabetes, high cholesterol, sinus problems, high blood pressure, anxiety—you name it. All I can say is that these uses are not yet supported by published research. 

The Wild West

Research on CBD, hemp seed oil, and medical marijuana has been stifled by the US government’s hardline stance on cannabis. This may be about to change, as bills have been introduced in Congress to reduce barriers that block scientific research on cannabis compounds.

Meanwhile, proceed with caution. The hemp/CBD market has grown so fast in such a short time that it’s been referred to as the “Wild West.” Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hype and no shortage of shoddy products. 

Pure hemp seed oil is unquestionably safe. CBD has a few caveats such as interactions with certain medications, but for most people is safe and well tolerated. Do your own research and buy only from reputable companies. 

On the other hand, don’t be put off by scare tactics. Cannabis has served mankind for thousands of years, and I suspect more and more benefits of this versatile plant will be revealed as research advances in coming years. 

Dr. Drew Sinatra

Meet Dr. Drew Sinatra

Dr. Drew Sinatra is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and self-described “health detective” with a passion for promoting natural healing, wellness, and improving quality of life by addressing the root cause of illness in patients of all ages. His vibrant practice focuses on treating the whole person (mind, body, and spirit) and finding missed connections between symptoms and health issues that are often overlooked by conventional medicine.

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