Over the last few years, CBD has grown from a promising industry to a fully developed and explosive market. With dozens of ways to use CBD, including CBD oils, CBD gummies, CBD cream, and more, its attracted consumers from all walks of life. 

As the industry continues to grow, an issue regarding the distinction of hemp oil vs CBD oil has developed amongst new users. While the two compounds are far from the same thing, deceptive marketing tactics are confusing people into thinking they are exactly that.

So if hemp oil and CBD oil are not the same things, how are they different and what are the benefits of each? Continue reading to learn the answer!

Hemp Oil Is a Great Source of Essential Fatty Acids

Hemp oil is a nutrient-rich, fatty oil. It can be used as a carrier oil for essential oils applied to the skin in very small amounts. It’s possible, for instance, to add a few drops of lavender oil to a quarter-cup (60 ml) of hemp oil to make a massage lotion. In this way, hemp oil is a lot like jojoba oil or even a vegetable oil you would buy at the supermarket.

Hemp oil can be used as food. If hemp oil were the only fat in the diet, it would be an ideal source of both omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. The body converts omega-6 essential fatty acids into hormones that stimulate the immune system. The main omega-6 essential fatty acid in hemp oil is linoleic acid, also known as LA. The body converts omega-3 essential fatty acids into hormones that regulate the immune system, keeping it from destroying the body’s own cells and tissues. The main omega-3 essential fatty acid in hemp oil is alpha-linolenic acid, also known as ALA. Hemp oil is usually 52 to 62 percent LA and 12 to 23 percent ALA.

Cold-pressed hemp oil contains no CBD. Chemically processed hemp oil can break down tiny glands in hemp to release about 0.01 percent CBD, but the actual amount of CBD is variable. Almost any company that sells hemp oil is selling a cold-pressed product. And chemically treated hemp oil does not contain even that tiny amount of CBD unless the hemp was produced in a cool, cloudy climate.

The human body needs omega-6 and omega-3 acids in a ratio of about three to one. Hemp oil contains LA and ALA in a ratio of three to one. Hemp oil is a great stand-alone source of fat. It’s better for women than for men, since the processes that use ALA are driven by estrogen. It’s not as useful for people who eat high-fat diets.

Most of the fats in the standard American diet (SAD) are omega-6s. Not only do many people consume too much fat in general, but they also consume too much omega-6 fat. Simply adding hemp oil to a high-fat diet is not particularly helpful when the problem is too many omega-6s compared to the amount of omega-3s. But women who limit the amount of fat they consume to benefit from using hemp oil as a portion of food. Hemp oil is also a great carrier oil for other botanical ingredients and a good moisturizer.

How Labels for Hemp Oil Can Be Misleading

CBD oil is not a nutrient. CBD oil consists of—or should consist of—a laboratory-tested number of milligrams of CBD in its own carrier oil (which could be hemp oil). The important numbers for CBD oil are the milligrams of CBD, not the milligrams of omega-6 and omega-3. CBD oil is, or should be, laboratory-tested for its CBD content. Hemp oil is never tested for CBD content.

Many manufacturers take advantage of the confusion over the question: Is hemp oil the same as CBD oil? Their products boldly and honestly state that they contain 5,000 or 10,000 or 25,000 “milligrams.” It can be very difficult to find the fine print that clarifies that these are milligrams of LA and ALA, not CBD. But consumers assume they are getting a tremendous bargain and write glowing reviews (or the company pays people to write glowing reviews) about “CBD oil,” “organic CBD oil,” or “pure CBD oil” in products that contain no CBD. Websites like Amazon index the reviews along with all the other product information so that when the next person looking for CBD oil comes along, the search engine returns the page for the CBD-free product even when the search term was CBD.

Hemp oil is a good food product. It’s useful as a carrier oil for skincare. It just doesn’t interact with the structure and function of the body in the same way as CBD.

What CBD Oil Can Do That Hemp Oil Can’t

CBD is short for Cannabidiol, is one of a group of at least 113 naturally occurring chemicals known as cannabinoids. These chemicals interact with receptor sites in nerves, in the skin, and in the immune system. A useful way to think of a receptor site is as a kind of lock on the outside of the cell. CBD acts as a molecular key to open the lock. Sometimes activating a receptor site stimulates the cell to do more of something, and sometimes it causes the cell to do less of something.

Unlike some other cannabinoids, CBD has very little effect on the structure and function of the brain, although it can stop a cascade of chemical reactions that occur when brain cells are deprived of oxygen and then circulation is restored. CBD does interact with receptors for some chemicals that we ordinarily associate with the brain, such as serotonin. Additionally, CBD interacts with receptor sites in the digestive tract that also interact with serotonin.

CBD interacts with sites in the body that respond to a chemical called adenosine. Release of this chemical is triggered by the consumption of caffeine. Adenosine stimulates receptors that CBD relaxes.

CBD also interacts with sites that respond to a group of chemicals called vanilloids. There are vanilloids in vanilla, but they are naturally more abundant in chili peppers. CBD works through these sites in the same way as the vanilloids. This function is very important in food memory. Fast-food makers put tiny amounts of vanilla in ketchup and hamburger buns so people who ate Happy Meals as children remember how they felt the next time they eat a food containing a tiny trace of vanilla. CBD has the same function at these sites—without the calories of a Happy Meal.

There are also receptor sites for CBD in the skin. At these sites, CBD modifies the process of inflammation by stopping a series of chemical reactions that create the compounds causing it. This involves more than just hydrating the skin, which is something that can be accomplished with hemp oil. CBD relaxes the skin so it doesn’t bunch up in lines and wrinkles and doesn’t produce as much sebum. Whether relaxing the skin is a benefit, of course, depends on the desires of the product user.

A Final, Important Distinction

Hemp oil and CBD do very different things. They aren’t interchangeable. But it is also important to understand that CBD and CBD oil aren’t the same thing, either. CBD is the chemical that initiates many interesting interactions with the structure and function of the body. CBD oil is an oil that contains CBD. CBD plays a role in the body in very small doses. Mixing it with a carrier oil makes it easier to use.

Remember, not every reference to “milligrams” in an oil product refers to CBD. Effective doses of CBD are in the tens and hundreds of milligrams. Effective doses of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are in the hundreds or occasionally in the low-thousands of milligrams. 

To help guide you in the right direction, here are a few quick tips to follow when shopping for CBD:

  1. Verify that the product you are buying is actually CBD and not hemp oil. 
  2. Purchase CBD products online from a known CBD brand that has a good reputation
  3. Before purchasing, always search for CBD coupons so you avoid paying full retail price for CBD.
  4. Only buy from CBD brands with up to date and accurate CBD lab testing reports