If you are looking for cannabis-derived therapeutic oils, you will have come across two different products: hemp oil and CBD oil. Although the names are sometimes used interchangeably, the only thing these oils have in common is being obtained from the cannabis plant. What’s the difference between them? What is each one used for? Read below to find out.
The Reason You’re Confused about Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil
People are becoming increasingly curious about cannabis, especially with the recent legalization of medical cannabis in many countries.
Understanding the Basics
The cannabis industry is experiencing a huge boom, but many people aren’t sure how all these new products are different. Among the available products, you will most frequently come across two oils: CBD oil and hemp oil.
Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably (either by ignorance or for misleading marketing purposes), they have totally different compositions. Their only common point is the fact that both are obtained from the cannabis plant – although from different parts.
Hemp oil is the oil obtained from hemp seeds. Very rich in proteins, fatty acids, and vitamin E, this oil has long been used as a food supplement and as an ingredient in cosmetic products. Hemp oil, however, contains little or no CBD [1, 2+].
CBD oil is a potentially therapeutic oil that contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol or CBD as the main ingredient. CBD is extracted from cannabis flowers, leaves, and stalks and then dissolved in a carrier oil (such as coconut oil). CBD oil is a relatively new product mainly used to improve chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and epilepsy .
Importantly, note that the FDA doesn’t approve hemp oil for any conditions while the only approved use of CBD oil is to reduce seizures in two rare types of epilepsy .
Ignorance and Inaccurate Branding
The first reason for the confusion is the inaccuracy of the term “hemp oil.” It doesn’t clearly specify that the oil is obtained from the seeds. Therefore, it seems reasonable to use it for hemp-derived CBD oil, which is also an oil obtained from hemp plants. Uninformed consumers and manufacturers may unintentionally make this mistake.
Conversely, some brands use misleading marketing tricks to pass their hemp oil off as CBD oil.
Why would they do that? The reason is that CBD oil is more expensive to produce, has more potential health applications, and is currently more popular than hemp oil. This means consumers are willing to pay higher prices for this product.
These companies may use ambiguous names (such as “Cannabis sativa oil”), adorn the label with marijuana leaves and flowers (remember that hemp oil is obtained from the seeds!) or directly make false claims that their product contains CBD or may improve conditions specific to CBD oil.
In addition to researching the company to make sure it’s reputable, you should carefully read the ingredient list on the label before buying CBD or hemp oil.
Differences Between Hemp Oil & CBD Oil
Cannabis Plants Used
The cannabis plant is cultivated worldwide for recreational, health, and industrial purposes. Different varieties have different names depending on their composition. Varieties rich in the psychoactive compound THC are normally called marijuana, while those with little or no THC are referred to as hemp .
In the US, the approval of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 clearly defined hemp as all cannabis varieties with less than 0.3% THC. Similarly, the legal THC limit for hemp plants in most European countries is 0.2% [6, 3].
As you may have guessed from its name, hemp oil is only obtained from hemp plants. Their seeds are cold pressed – in a similar way to olives and coconuts – to extract their oil.
In turn, CBD oil can be obtained from both hemp and marijuana plants.
While hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in many countries worldwide, marijuana-derived CBD oil is more strictly regulated. The flowers, leaves, and stalks can be cold pressed but also extracted with solvents or carbon dioxide.
Commercial CBD oil typically contains 1-5% CBD as the main active compound, with some brands reaching up to 10% .
Depending on the cannabis variety and purification process used, CBD oil may contain traces of other cannabinoids including up to 0.3% THC – a concentration that won’t get you high .
Nutritional analyses revealed that 100 g of hemp oil supplies approximately [1, 2+]:
- Energy: 550 kcal
- Proteins: 26 g
- Fats: 35 g
- Carbohydrates: 34 g
- Vitamin E: 30-40 mg (200-267% recommended daily intake)
Hemp oil is thus a good source of nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and vitamin E. Importantly, it’s among the plant oils with the highest protein content .
The main active compounds are its fatty acids, the most abundant ones being [7, 2+]:
- Linoleic (omega-6): 55-63%
- Alpha-linoleic (omega-3): 13-25%
- Oleic (omega-9): 9-16%
- Palmitic: 4-8%
- Gamma-linolenic (omega-6): 0.5-4%
Hemp oil also contains antioxidant compounds such as polyphenols and lignanamides [8, 9].
Because hemp oil is obtained from the seeds, it theoretically shouldn’t contain any THC or CBD.
However, contamination is possible if the dried flowers and leaves come into contact with the seed during the cold-press process. An analysis of 10 commercial hemp oils found they contained up to 0.14% CBD and 0.027% THC .
Although these levels are very low, commercial hemp oil caused THC poisoning in one child. According to another study, people who take hemp oil may also test positive for cannabinoids in routine urine drug tests [11, 12].
Each oil has different active compounds and distinct health effects. Remember that the evidence to support many of these potential benefits is insufficient and only the use of CBD oil for seizures is approved. Talk to your doctor before using these oils for any health conditions and never take them in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.
We talk about the main potential health benefits of CBD oil in detail in this article. To sum it up, CBD oil increases your body’s natural cannabinoid anandamide. It may lower inflammation, reduce seizures, and help with anxiety, low mood, and sleep problems [13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21].
Below is an overview of the potential benefits of hemp oil – and how they compare to CBD oil.
Insufficient Evidence for:
1) Skin Conditions
In a small trial on 20 people with eczema, dietary hemp oil increased levels of beneficial fatty acids in the blood (linoleic, alpha-linolenic, and gamma-linolenic) and reduced skin dryness, itching, and medication use .
The main compound in hemp oil that helps with eczema is likely gamma-linolenic acid. However, two meta-analyses concluded gamma-linoleic acid doesn’t improve eczema. One analysis found slight benefits for mild eczema, and another noticed the benefits weaken in people who also use anti-inflammatory steroid drugs [23, 24, 25, 26].
In one clinical trial, dietary gamma-linolenic acid reduced the severity of mild to moderate acne in 45 people. In infected skin cells, hemp oil inhibited an acne-causing microbe (Propionibacterium acnes) and reduced inflammation and fat buildup [27, 28].
All in all, the evidence to claim that hemp oil helps with eczema or acne is insufficient. Further clinical research is needed.
Preliminary research in cells suggests that CBD may also help with some skin conditions. By stopping skin cells from over-dividing, producing too much fat, and becoming inflamed, CBD might improve psoriasis and acne [29, 30].
2) Hormonal Issues in Women
Women who go through PMS might be more sensitive to the hormone prolactin due to low levels of a compound called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). The body makes this prostaglandin from dietary essential fatty acids. PGE1 may prevent prolactin sensitivity and PMS symptoms .
In a clinical trial of 120 women, a medication with essential fatty acids (gamma-linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acid) and vitamin E reduced PMS symptoms. Hemp oil may have similar effects, since it supplies all these compounds .
After menopause, women produce less estrogen and progesterone. Among other symptoms, menopause can trigger anxiety, bone loss, and high blood cholesterol. In postmenopausal rats, hemp seeds reduced these three symptoms .
Again, the evidence supporting the benefits of hemp oil for hormonal issues in women is insufficient. More clinical trials testing the oil for these purposes are required.
3) Heart Disease
As a rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, hemp oil may protect the heart. Polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, inflammation, and excessive blood clotting .
In a small trial on 14 healthy people, hemp oil slightly increased the blood levels of gamma-linolenic and linoleic acid. However, hemp oil did not improve blood fat composition or other heart-protective markers in a study on 86 healthy people [34, 35].
Hemp oil may be more effective in people at increased risk of heart disease. In a trial on 36 children with high blood fat levels, hemp oil for 8 weeks increased omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes, reducing the risk of heart disease .
While the protective role of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids against heart disease is proven, it’s still not clear whether hemp oil also provides this benefit. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to confirm these preliminary findings.
Hemp seed proteins lowered high blood pressure in rats. In rats and test tubes, hemp protein preparations also blocked the blood vessel-narrowing enzyme ACE, a target of many blood pressure drugs [37, 38, 39, 40].
In cells and test tubes, hemp seed compounds blocked LDL cholesterol production by acting similar to the lipid-lowering drugs statins. They also prevented LDL from turning into its more dangerous oxidized form, which may prevent artery clogging [41, 42].
When blood flow is restored after a heart attack, the new blood entering the heart may damage the vulnerable tissue-this is called ischemia-reperfusion injury. Whether hemp oil protects from this condition is unclear; it helped in a study in rats but was ineffective in another one in rabbits [43, 44].
In rats and rabbits fed high-cholesterol diets, hemp seeds prevented excessive platelet clumping that can clog the arteries. CBD had a similar effect on platelets in test tubes [45, 46, 47, 48].
CBD may protect the heart mainly by reducing the impact of stress and anxiety. For example, it lowered blood pressure in stressed rats by increasing serotonin activity. In turn, it curbed anxiety and slowed heart rate [49, 50].
CBD also prevented heart attacks and reduced tissue damage from this condition in rats and mice [51, 52].
4) Multiple Sclerosis
In a clinical trial on 100 people with multiple sclerosis, hemp and evening primrose oils, along with a special diet, reduced disease severity, inflammation, and cell membrane damage. This strategy also improved liver function and fatty acid composition in cell membranes, which suggests it might also work for prevention [53, 54, 55, 56, 57].
In mice with multiple sclerosis, a combination of hemp and evening primrose oil reduced inflammation and repaired nerve damage [58, 59].
A single clinical trial and two studies in mice combining this oil with that of evening primrose cannot be considered sufficient evidence that hemp oil helps with multiple sclerosis. More clinical trials testing this oil alone are needed.
Unlike hemp oil, an extract with CBD and THC relieves involuntary muscle contractions and pain in multiple sclerosis and is approved for this use. It likely acts on cannabinoid and pain pathways [60, 61, 62, 63, 64].
5) Digestive Issues
A Chinese multi-herbal medicine with hemp seeds as the main ingredient improved constipation in a clinical trial on over 100 people and in a study on rats. Its fatty acids are believed to be the main active compounds that stimulate bowel movements [65, 66].
However, there is insufficient evidence to support the benefits of hemp oil for constipation. Further clinical research using hemp oil alone is required.
CBD also relieved constipation in rats and mice by activating a cannabinoid receptor (GPR55). Additionally, CBD improved diarrhea and inflammation in mice with IBD by increasing cannabinoid activity in the body and boosting an anti-inflammatory protein (PPAR-gamma) [67, 68, 69].
6) Rheumatoid Arthritis
Gamma-linolenic acid reduced pain and disability in a meta-analysis of 22 studies on people with rheumatoid arthritis. As a rich source of this fatty acid, hemp oil may provide similar benefits .
Indeed, hemp oil damaged and killed the harmful cells that trigger this condition (fibroblast-like synoviocytes) .
Whether hemp oil ingested at normal doses has the same benefits as gamma-linolenic acid for rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown. Clinical trials with this oil are needed.
As an anti-inflammatory, CBD may also improve rheumatoid arthritis. In mice with this condition, CBD reduced joint inflammation, slowing disease progression [72, 73].
Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)
Scientists are also investigating both oils for other conditions. Because the research is still at the animal and cell stage, there is no evidence that hemp and CBD oil will have the same effects in humans.
In mice with brain inflammation – a common feature of neurodegenerative diseases – hemp seed extract preserved learning and spatial memory .
Hemp oil and its main fatty acids slowed disease progression in a model of Alzheimer’s disease in flies. However, it was ineffective for Parkinson’s and Huntington’s .
Hemp seed compounds might prevent neurodegenerative diseases by protecting brain cells from inflammation, free radicals, and death. They may also block the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase), increasing the levels of this memory-enhancing neurotransmitter [76, 77, 9, 76].
CBD oil may also protect the brain from damage.
In mice with Alzheimer’s, CBD preserved cognition, learning, and memory. It blocked the buildup of beta-amyloid, which is linked to Alzheimer’s; it also reduced inflammation and the activation of immune cells (microglial cells) that contributes to the disease [78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86].
Both hemp and CBD oil inhibited a microbe that causes food poisoning and antibiotic-resistant infections (Staphylococcus aureus) in dishes [7, 87].
It’s important to note that these are very preliminary results that have not yet been studied in humans or even in animals. Further research should determine if the oils are effective against infections caused by this organism when ingested in normal doses.
Which Is Better?
Your oil of choice will largely depend on the health condition you want to improve. Some conditions typically improved with CBD oil but not with hemp oil include:
- Epilepsy 
- Pain (such as nerve pain, fibromyalgia, and headaches)
- Sleep disturbances
- Substance abuse disorders [88, 89]
- IBD [65, 67, 69]
In turn, hemp oil seems to be superior to CBD oil in case of:
There are several other conditions in which both oils may help:
- Multiple sclerosis; CBD oil reduces muscle contractions and pain, hemp oil lowers inflammation and slows nerve damage [53, 58, 61].
- Alzheimer’s progression [75, 78, 79, 80].
- High blood pressure [37, 49].
- Constipation [65, 67, 69].
- Rheumatoid arthritis, although the evidence for hemp oil is stronger [70, 72].
- Infectious microbe (Staphylococcus aureus), in test tubes [7, 87].
Choose the one most likely to improve your condition and discuss with your doctor how it might help you.
Although both CBD oil and hemp oil are derived from cannabis, they differ in their active compounds and potential benefits.
Hemp oil is made by cold pressing hemp seeds. It is rich in fatty acids and proteins, but contains little or no CBD.
CBD oil is made by dissolving CBD – extracted from cannabis flowers, stalks, and leaves – in an edible oil. Most products contain 1-10% of CBD in coconut oil.
Hemp oil may be better for improving skin conditions such as eczema, and it may also reduce constipation. Both hemp oil and CBD oil are anti-inflammatory. However, CBD oil seems to have more health benefits: it may help with anxiety, sleep, pain, seizures, and IBS.
Closely check the label when purchasing cannabis-derived products. Manufacturers tend to mislabel hemp oil as CBD oil.