Hemp Oil Extract: Everything You Need To Know

Physician Assistant By Jon Mitchell, PA-C, M.S.
Physician Assistant
Jon Mitchell is a certified physician assistant turned functional medicine health consultant. He received his master’s from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Medical review by Roxanna Namavar, D.O.
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine & Psychiatrist
Roxanna Namavar, D.O. is an adult psychiatrist focusing on integrative health. She completed her residency training at the University of Virginia Health-System and currently has a private practice in New York City.

Image by KAAT ZOETEKOUW / Stocksy

As cannabis and hemp become more extensively researched and widely available, we are starting to realize the true therapeutic power of these plants and their derivatives, like hemp oil extract.* But cannabis and hemp still generate a lot of confusion.

First, let's clear up the murkiness surrounding cannabis products, their differences and legality. Then we can focus on all the benefits of hemp oil extract as well as the ins and outs of buying and taking it.*

An introduction to hemp

Cannabis and hemp are technically the same species, but distinguishing the two can be confusing, so let's make it simple. There are many varietals of the Cannabis sativa plant, all of which have different amounts of THC (the psychoactive component), CBD (a nonpsychoactive component), and other components.

Cannabis sativa varietals that have more than 0.3% THC are commonly referred to as marijuana. Hemp is any varietal of Cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3% THC and will not get you high.

For a long time, researchers were only concerned with studying THC, the psychoactive component that is concentrated in marijuana. However, within the past decade, researchers have become increasingly interested in the therapeutic benefits of the other compounds found in both varieties, especially cannabidiol (CBD). CBD, a nonpsychoactive component of the plant, is reputed to help with myriad health conditions.*

It's also important to know that although THC and CBD are the most studied components of cannabis, there are many more chemical compounds found within the plant, such as the phytocannabinoids cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), as well as terpenes and flavonoids.

While there is still much to learn about these other compounds, researchers have discovered that whole-plant hemp extracts that contain these other compounds are more beneficial than isolated extracts that contain just CBD or THC.* This has been coined "the entourage effect."

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Different types of hemp oil.

The only difference between cannabis and hemp is that to be designated as hemp, a Cannabis sativa plant must be comprised of less than 0.3% THC. But what's the difference between all of the hemp and cannabis extracts?

1. Hemp oil extract

Hemp oil extract has been extracted from the stalk and/or seed of a hemp plant, mainly for its beneficial compounds, called phytocannabinoids.* The most well known of these compounds is CBD. However, unlike isolated CBD extracts, 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.

In the body, cannabinoids interact with and support the endocannabinoid system—a regulatory system that affects digestive and immune function, brain health, and more.* Legally, hemp oil must have less than 0.3% THC.

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2. Hemp seed oil

This is oil that has been extracted from hemp seeds. Hemp seed oil contains little to no THC or CBD and is instead extracted for its healthy fatty acid profile. It is typically used for culinary purposes.

3. CBD oil

CBD oil is an isolated extraction of the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol. This means it contains only the phytocannabinoid CBD and will not impart the entourage effect. In states where cannabis is legal, CBD oil can be made from Cannabis sativa or hemp. In states where cannabis is illegal, CBD oil must be made from hemp.

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4. Cannabis oil

This oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant that can contain both CBD and THC in varying concentrations. The clear drawback of cannabis oil is that it cannot be purchased outside of a state that has not legalized the sale of cannabis. Cannabis oil can also contain higher amounts of THC, which could be problematic for those not looking for THC's psychoactive effects.

Hemp oil extraction methods:

Hemp oil extract in the United States refers to the oil extracted from the stalk of the hemp plant. The extraction process involves using a solvent to extract the oil from the hemp stalk. There are numerous solvents used commercially, all of which have benefits and drawbacks.

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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. The only drawbacks are slow extraction time and high production costs, meaning these products can be on the more expensive end.

2. Ethanol extraction

Ethanol extraction is safe and nontoxic in small amounts. The main drawback is that ethanol extraction destroys the plant waxes, which can have health benefits.

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3. Olive oil extraction

Olive oil is safe and cost-effective and comes with a slew of its own health benefits, from supporting inflammatory pathways to enhancing immunity. In this method, plant materials are heated with olive oil to extract the cannabinoids.

4. Butane or hexane extraction

These solvents do a great job of extracting the cannabinoids from the hemp plant, but some residues remain after the extraction process, which can be potentially harmful to your lungs.

How to take hemp oil extract.

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Hemp oil extracts can be found in many different delivery forms. Hemp oil can be consumed orally or applied topically or sublingually. Sublingual application of hemp oil (which means "under the tongue") allows for a fast onset of action of the CBD, whereas capsules allow for more controlled and consistent doses. Topical hemp oil can be applied directly to areas of pain or inflammation, although it can also be absorbed into the systemic circulation.

Hemp oil extract benefits.

When talking about the benefits of hemp oil, what we are mostly really referring to are the benefits of the phytocannabinoids within the hemp oil. While research is still developing, the available studies and clinical evidence are compelling:

1. Hemp oil for stress-management.*

Hemp oil has been shown to affect activity in the limbic part of the human brain, which is responsible for our "fight-or-flight" response.* A study in 2011 found that hemp oil significantly calmed public-speaking-related stress compared to a placebo.*

2. Hemp oil for cognitive health.*

A small study on mice in 2014 showed that CBD oil prevented the development of social-recognition deficit, which is a common occurrence in age-related cognitive decline.* But more research is needed to validate these findings in humans.

3. Hemp oil for epilepsy.

The CBD in hemp oil has been used by patients with recalcitrant epilepsy for decades. In fact, prescription cannabidiol was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy.

The legality of hemp and cannabis.

Hemp oil extract, which contains less than 0.3 percent of the compound THC, is legal in all 50 states. Cannabis with more than 0.3 percent THC is considered marijuana and can have psychoactive effects. The legality of marijuana varies by state.

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, which has stricter standards than USDA.
  • The hemp oil should be extracted using CO2, ethanol, or olive oil. Avoid butane or hexane extraction as it can leave behind harmful residue. If opting for olive oil, make sure you store in a dark, cool place to prevent rancidity.
  • Ask for a third-party certificate of analysis. This paperwork will show the chemical composition of the hemp oil and also show if there are any unwanted contaminants such as toxic heavy metals.

How much hemp oil should you take?

There are currently no standard hemp oil dosing guidelines or defined upper limit. However, in studies, long-term use and doses as high as 1,500 mg per day have been well tolerated by humans.

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. Though very rare, some side effects have been reported in studies and include sleepiness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and fatigue.

One thing to note, because it takes a significantly larger amount of hemp stalks to produce hemp oil extract, there is an increased risk of contamination from toxins contained within the plant. This is a result of hemp's strong bio-accumulator properties, where it pulls in toxins from the soil it grows in. Be sure to look for a brand that tests for purity and is certified organic.

Many hemp oil extracts are also known to lack the full spectrum of terpenes and other cannabinoids that act synergistically with the CBD.* That being said, there are some brands that test rigorously to make sure that the CBD content, as well as the terpenes and other cannabinoids, are up to par. It's a good sign if they offer to provide a certificate of analysis, which will tell you what kind of compounds are in the hemp oil and in what concentrations.

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