As hemp becomes more extensively researched and widely available, we are starting to realize the true power of this special plant.* But it still generates a lot of confusion. Today, we're clearing up the murkiness surrounding hemp oil and hemp extract products and how to take them safely to reap their wide array of benefits.*
An introduction to hemp.
There are many varietals of the Cannabis sativa plant, all of which contain different amounts of THC (the psychoactive component), CBD (a nonpsychoactive component), and other phytocannabinoid components.
Cannabis sativa varietals that have more than 0.3% THC (much more) are commonly referred to as marijuana. Hemp is a genetically distinct plant varietal of Cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3% THC (i.e., trace levels), and it will not get you high.
For a long time, researchers were only concerned with studying delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component that is concentrated in marijuana. However, within the past decade, they have become increasingly interested in the therapeutic benefits of the other compounds found in both varieties but especially concentrated in hemp, namely cannabidiol (CBD).*
It's important to know that although THC and CBD are the most studied components of cannabis, there are many more active compounds1 found within the plant, such as the phytocannabinoids cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), as well as terpenes and flavonoids.
Researchers believe that whole-plant hemp oils and extracts that contain these other compounds are more beneficial than isolated extracts of just CBD, for example, due to a synergy phenomenon called "the entourage effect."*
Different types of hemp oil.
So we've established that hemp is distinct plant, genetically and in phytocannabinoid composition, and that "industrial" or "agricultural" hemp is a Cannabis sativa plant that is comprised of less than 0.3% THC. But what's the difference between all of the hemp extracts out there? Here's the gist:
1. Hemp oil extract
Hemp oil extract has been extracted from the aerial parts (leaves, flowers, and stems) of the hemp plant, mainly for its entourage of native, beneficial compounds called phytocannabinoids.*
The most well-known of these compounds is CBD. However, unlike isolated CBD extracts, full-spectrum hemp oil is a whole-plant extract, so it contains a blend of many different phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, all of which work together, imparting the entourage effect. Broad-spectrum hemp oil is typically full-spectrum minus the THC.
In the body, cannabinoids interact with and support the endocannabinoid system—a homeostatic physiological system that affects the brain, digestion, immunity, and more.*
2. Hemp seed oil
As the name implies, this is oil that has been extracted from hemp seeds. Unlike hemp oil, hemp seed oil contains little-to-no phytocannabinoids and is instead extracted for its healthy fatty acid profile. It is typically used for culinary purposes, as well as to support healthy skin, nails, and hair.*
3. Hemp-derived CBD oil
Hemp-derived CBD oil is an isolated extraction of the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (aka CBD isolate). This means it contains only the phytocannabinoid CBD and does not reflect the full array of native plant compounds in hemp.
Hemp oil extraction methods:
There are a few ways to extract phytocannabinoid-rich oils from the hemp plant, all of which have their own benefits and drawbacks:
1. CO2 extraction
In this extraction method, the hemp is exposed to high-pressure, low-temperature CO2 gas, which helps isolate and preserve the cannabinoids in the oil. This technology is considered the cleanest (i.e., no solvents) and most premium. Thus, a hemp oil that's 100% CO2 extracted is considered to be the most high-quality format. The only drawbacks are slow extraction time and high production costs, meaning these products can be on the expensive side.
2. Ethanol extraction
Ethanol extraction is considered safe and nontoxic in small amounts. The main drawback is that ethanol extraction can destroy the plant waxes, which can have health benefits.
3. Olive oil extraction
Olive oil itself comes with a slew of its own health benefits, thanks to its high level of anti-inflammatory omega-9 fat oleic acid. In this method, plant materials are heated with olive oil to extract the cannabinoids, but all that heat can affect their stability and potency.
4. Butane or hexane extraction
These solvents do a great job of extracting the cannabinoids from the hemp plant, but some residues of these solvent chemicals remain after the extraction process, which can be potentially harmful to your health.
How to take hemp oil extract.
Hemp oil extracts can be consumed orally or sublingually (under the tongue). Sublingual application of hemp oil is a common delivery route for tinctures and is thought to facilitate a fast onset of action of the CBD and its partner cannabinoids.
Capsules are a convenient way to deliver hemp oil, and they allow for more controlled and consistent doses over time. They also allow for other botanicals to be included (i.e., multi-ingredient formulas).
Topical hemp oil products are different than oral supplements, and they can be applied directly onto the surface of the skin.
Hemp oil extract benefits.
It promotes relaxation and eases stress.*
It nurtures the endocannabinoid system.*
You might think about supporting your immune or cardiovascular systems on the daily, but what about the endocannabinoid system? Science indicates that nurture of this unique (and comprehensive) physiological system is important for its care, optimal function, and to support a healthy endocannabinoid tone in our body. Phytocannabinoids from hemp oil4 are one practical and reliable way to do that.*
It supports a good night's sleep.*
Hemp CBD has also been shown to help us snooze, with sleep scores significantly improved2 in clinical research.* Of course, this benefit is dependent on timing (i.e., during wind down before bedtime) and dose (typically 40 mg or higher of CBD), which currently lacks clinical consensus and can be quite individualized.
How to choose a hemp oil product.
When deciding which hemp oil extract to use, these are the criteria you should look for:
- The hemp plants should be 100% organically grown to minimize exposure to pesticides. Look for European Union certified organic agricultural hemp, which has strict purity standards.
- The hemp oil should be extracted using CO2, ethanol, or olive oil. Avoid butane or hexane extraction as it can leave behind harmful solvent residues. If opting for olive oil, make sure you store in a dark, cool place to prevent rancidity.
- Above and beyond characteristics of hemp oil include DNA testing that confirms the identity, safety, and historical use of the hemp strain. You'll also want to ensure the product undergoes quality testing of the hemp oil ingredient and finished product, to ensure purity from contaminants and potency of the actives.
How much hemp oil should you take?
There are currently no standard hemp oil dosing guidelines or defined upper limits. However, hemp has been safely consumed for millennia. In scientific studies, long-term use of 1,500 mg of CBD per day5 (and even and doses as high as 6,000 mg of CBD per day6) have been well tolerated in humans.
But each person has a different genetic and biochemical makeup. This means individuals will respond differently to the same dose of hemp oil, so you will have to experiment to see which dose is best for you.
Safety and side effects.
Hemp oil extract is generally considered safe. Feeling tired is a common "side effect"6 (or benefit, depending on your goals) at higher potencies of hemp CBD.* And though quite rare, some less pleasant side effects have been reported 7with CBD including decreased appetite, nausea, and loose stools.
Jon Mitchell, PA-C, M.S. is a certified physician assistant turned functional medicine health consultant. He received his master’s from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he currently works virtually with highly driven individuals to resolve their chronic health issues for good so that they can design the life they love.