With shifting state laws, murky federal laws, and a lot of social stigma about cannabis sativa, it’s hard for a lot of us to figure out what’s the difference between the increasingly popular CBD products and the slightly more familiar hemp oil.

CBD, fully known as cannabidiol, is a compound present in cannabis that’s been growing in popularity as research reveals its wide array of medical benefits and federal laws loosen up.

The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot: 2019 Culinary Forecast,” which surveys chefs nationwide to find out what’s the next big thing in the world of food, even ranked CBD-infused drinks as the number one trend for 2019 and CBD-infused food as the number two trend.

Hemp seed oil, on the other hand, is a fairly well-known oil that’s known for its high amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and as a key component of several haircare and skincare products.

a bottle of 1000mg CBD oil with several leaves on a white table with a full dropper of the oil

As it turns out, the “devil’s lettuce” has some heavenly benefits to it, so hopefully all that negative stigma about it goes up in smoke. Bad jokes aside, it’s important to note that both of these products, while related to marijuana plants, are completely distinct from pot.

Neither product contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Neither product will get anyone high or cause them to test positive for THC. The likelihood of someone “accidentally” getting a version of either of these products with THC is as likely as getting a sandwich from Subway that contains THC.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s actually look at these two products.

CBD: Spilling The Tea

Well, it’s not just added to tea (you can add it to smoothies, too!). Cannabidiol, for all its popularity and trendiness, counts as far more than just a fad. Although its benefits were known in the medical community, the further destigmatization of cannabis has encouraged further research into the components of cannabinoids. CBD is now available in a variety of forms such as tinctures, capsules, brownies, or even bath bombs. It's even safe for pets, with several lines of anti-anxiety treats that can help any nervous dog through a rough storm or July 4. Although the marketing may be a bit silly, CBD’s benefits are quite real.

a bag of dog treats, chicken flavor, next to a bottle of "relaxation remedy" oil in front of a baske

The Science

Although more and more research is being published as CBD grows in popularity and acceptance, there still aren’t a lot of comprehensive and long-term studies of its effects available. Fortunately, there are several preliminary studies that all tend to point to some good news.

In the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers concluded that “cannabidiol (CBD) ... and its modified derivatives could significantly suppress chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain without causing apparent analgesic tolerance in rodents.” This translates as two things: 1) CBD helped reduce chronic pain in tests on mice, and 2) the body can adapt to some traditional painkillers (like morphine), making them less effective at reducing pain; the mice did not show any signs of this when given CBD over more mainstream painkillers.

Research published in a 2018 issue of Frontiers in Neurology states, “CBD supplementation maybe advisable for [people with multiple sclerosis] to reduce fatigue, pain, spasticity, and ultimately improve mobility.”

a container of "pinnacle cbd" cbd gummies on a wood table outside

A 2015 review found reasonable evidence that it’s helpful for people battling with chemical additions: “CBD may have therapeutic properties on opioid, cocaine, and psychostimulant addiction, and some preliminary data suggest that it may be beneficial in cannabis and tobacco addiction in humans.”

A study published in a 2011 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology gave CBD to people with anxiety shortly before they gave a public speech. The researchers concluded that CBD’s effects were “a promising indication of a rapid onset of therapeutic effect in patients with [social anxiety disorder].” Basically, the people who took CBD found themselves more comfortable and less anxious than people who took a placebo, despite engaging in one of the most anxiety-inducing activities.

Preliminary studies even point to CBD’s possible effectiveness as a topical anti-acne treatment.

Of course, like anything consumable, there’s always the possibility of side effects. Some people may have an adverse reaction to CBD, although these reactions are typically limited to diarrhea or changes in appetite. More importantly, CBD does have the possibility of interfering with certain medications, so consult your doctor if you’re worried about your other meds.

And honestly, the most cynical conclusion we can reach after these waves of new research is still encouraging: more wide-scale and comprehensive studies are needed to fully and confidently verify the benefits associated with CBD, but for now, we can look to these preliminary studies as an encouraging sign for the future of everything from pain relief to anxiety.

The Stigma

Since it is coming from a plant most people know more about legally than medically, there’s still a bit of a taboo around CBD products.

The most common questions about CBD products aren’t about its benefits or uses; instead, they mostly focus on its legality. More specifically, there are two big question that lurk in the back of any potential CBD-user’s mind: legality and drug tests.

Although the actual answers to these questions are a bit hazy due to the differences in federal and state laws regarding marijuana, there are some fairly simple explanations that can mostly answer any questions users may have.

The bottomline is that so long as the CBD is harvested from hemp, not marijuana, it’s legal. Hemp plants contain less than 0.3% THC — legal marijuana strains often contain around 20% THC. The refinement process leaves it totally THC-free and legal to ship and sell.

Larry, Curly, Moe And...Hemp?

Hemp oil is made the same way that canola and sunflower oils are made. Hemp seeds are cold-pressed to extract the oil, which may be refined before being bottled and shipped. Hemp seeds don’t contain any THC, and there’s a negligible amount of residual THC from plant matter that gets removed in the pressing process, leaving less than 4 parts per million remaining.

Hemp oil can also be used as a healthier replacement for vegetable oil in some instances, although its low smoke-point limits its applications. It’s got an earthy, nutty taste that’s more prominent the darker and less refined the oil is, so it works well drizzled on finished foods or as a part of dip. Additionally, it makes for a great replacement for fish oil capsules for vegans and strict vegetarians.

Its main draw, however, lies in its skincare and haircare applications.

Beyond Skin-Deep Benefits

man's hand holding a container of hemp salve amongst hemp plants outside

In a review of the use of plants to treat skin diseases published in a 2014 issue of Pharcognosy Review, the authors write that hemp seed oil is useful for treating “eczema and [a] host of other skin diseases like dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis/cradle cap, varicose eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, and acne roseacea.” Additionally, they write that hemp seed oil strengthens skin, making it “better able to resist bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.”

The September 2014 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation included a study on CBD's effects on sebum glands (AKA the things that produce oil on your face and body). The researchers expected CBD "to greatly reduce sebum production in vivo," meaning they expect similar results when used on human subjects.

While there aren’t exactly many studies about hemp seed oil’s effects on hair, its omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, iron, and zinc are all known to play a big part in healthy hair growth. It shares many properties with more expensive products at a smaller price and with fewer added ingredients. Hemp seed oil shampoo and hair masks can help strengthen and refresh hair, while face masks can do the same for tired and oily skin.

Which THC-Free Product Is For Me?

Although it’d be a little hard to mix these two cannabis-derived products up, it’s not impossible — especially considering the fact that some hemp seed oil producers are trying to capitalize on CBD popularity by mislabeling their product as “Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil” (which isn’t exactly accurate). Regardless of which product you buy, be sure to read the labels carefully.

Fortunately, both of these products have a wide variety of safe and useful applications. If your problems are more internal than external, then CBD might be worth looking into or trying. Anyone with chronic pain or muscle aches might want to look into CBD-infused soaks or creams, too.

If you’re more concerned about your skin or hair, it’s worth checking out hemp oil and hemp oil products. There’s a variety of good shampoos, conditions, and face and hair masks available online or any beauty store. Whatever your choice, remember to keep an eye out for any new stories about more CBD and hemp-related research — you won't want to pass on these positives.

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