What it’s Oil About: Understanding Hemp, CBD, and Cannabis Oils

By Chris Bond
Published: October 14, 2020 | Last updated: April 23, 2021 12:54:50
Key Takeaways

With several different oil products coming from cannabis and hemp plants, it can be challenging telling what’s what and the benefits of each oil type. Chris Bond walks us through the various iterations.

Oils derived from various parts of the cannabis plant are in high demand. It’s no wonder producers and purveyors are trying to create and sell the newest and best cannabis derivatives and take their share of this lucrative market. With myriad cannabis oils to choose from though, it can be quite confusing to know which is best for what purpose and whether it is legal in your state or region. You can find hemp oil, CBD oil, hemp seed oil, and cannabis oil throughout the marketplace.


Each differ in either their origin, components, THC levels, CBD levels, legal status, and uses. Once you understand the properties of each, it is easier to make an informed decision about which to select and how to use them.

Hemp/CBD Oils

Hemp oil is synonymous with CBD oil. Depending on how and who is marketing it, it can be found labeled as either. It is made from the flowers and leaves (and sometimes stalks) of the hemp plant. Hemp/CBD oils contain mostly, as the name suggests, CBD as well as other phytocannabinoids and terpenoids. It also may contain Beta-caryophyllene (BCP), a terpene or volatile compound found in the essential oils of several common herb plants including many indica strains of cannabis. Once extracted, it is made by being dissolved into another edible oil, such as sunflower oil, coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, or even other hemp or hempseed oils.


Read also: Cooking with Cannabis: Pickled Wild Blackberries with Hemp

Since it is derived from the hemp plant, the THC levels in hemp/CBD oils contain less than 0.3 per cent THC, so there is no intoxicating effect when consuming or using it. This makes the product legal to sell across the US and Canada. The CBD levels in hemp/CBD oils, though, can range as high as 20 per cent. These oils are used medicinally, often for pain management as it is possible to consume larger amounts of CBD oil than cannabis oils because of the lack of THC. It is also used and prescribed to aid in mood stability, hypertension, to help sharpen focus, reduce anxiety, and to help with sleep problems. Many users of hemp/CBD oils do report an “awakening” sensation or a heightened calming sensation.

Cannabis oil bottles laying on a table with leaves.


Hemp/CBD oils are most often sold in bottles with droppers. The user or patient places one or more drops under their tongue. There is no recommended “serving size” of hemp/CBD oils. Some oils have just a few milligrams of CBD while others have a few hundred milligrams of CBD. It is advisable to start on the low end and work your way up until you find the volume and concentration that works best with your biochemistry. In addition to being sold as an oil in its liquid form, CBD oil can also be found in capsule form, spray form, e-liquids, topical skin treatments, lip balms, pastes, hard candy, gummy candies, chewing gums, and for the particularly adventurous types, even in suppository form. Though most people tolerate and benefit from CBD oil, there are some potential side effects.

Ask a Nurse: Are cannabis suppositories safe, and will they get me high?


Some hemp/cbd oil users have reported such unpleasant side effects as diarrhea, fatigue, changes in appetite, and fluctuations in weight. It can also adversely interact with some medications. Any medication or supplement that has a “grapefruit warning” can be negatively impacted by using hemp/CBD oils. Some animal studies have shown that overuse of hemp/CBD oils can cause liver damage as well. As with anything you put into your body, make sure to consult with a medical professional before starting to use any type of CBD oil.

Cannabis Oils

Cannabis oils, like hemp and CBD oils are produced by using the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, namely marijuana strains. These oils are most often derived from the resin of the female cannabis plant. The main constituents of these oils include THC, with varying, lesser amounts of CBD and/or other phytocannabinoids, and minor cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG) and terpenes. THC levels in cannabis oils can be through the roof, with some as high as 80 per cent, but always more than 0.3 per cent. CBD levels in cannabis oils are widely variable and can be as high as 15 per cent.

Cannabis oil bottles reflecting orange, yellow, and green on a white table.

Sometimes sold as “Simpson oil,” “Rick Simpson Oil (or RSO),” “marijuana oil,” “weed oil,” or “THC oil,” cannabis oils are typically used medicinally for any condition that marijuana may be prescribed for or used recreationally. A wide variety of other edible constituents may be added to alter the color, taste, ease of flow, or shelf stability. Some cannabis oil consumers report negative side effects. These include slight discomfort from dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, and sleepiness to more severe cases of dizziness, vertigo, and full-blown panic attacks. Most users, however, do not report any such negative effects. These oils are not available in all states as they are considered controlled substances in areas where marijuana is still illegal to purchase for recreational use.

Read also: People Who Helped Shape the Cannabis Industry: Rick Simpson

Hemp Seed Oils

As the name implies, hemp seed oils are derived from hemp plant seeds.

Confusingly though, it is sometimes marketed simply as “hemp oil.” It may also be marketed as “cannabis sativa seed oil.” A careful review of the ingredients will set you straight as hemp seed oil and hemp oil are quite different. Hemp seed oils are comprised of various fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6) and offer fiber, protein, Vitamins E, B2, B6, trace minerals, and antioxidants. Hemp seed oil is extracted by mechanically separating the oil from the seeds (either peeled or unpeeled) via the cold-press method, similar to how olive oil is extracted from olives. There should be no amount of THC in hemp seed oils and little to no amount of CBD either as CBD is found in the resin of the cannabis flowers and not in the seed.

Hemp seed oils are typically used as a nutritional supplement to be added to salads, smoothies, or other culinary dishes. Its nutty flavor can be substituted in recipes calling for olive or other cooking oils. Hemp seed oil can also be found in the beauty aisle as topical products for skin and hair. They are often one of the main ingredients in many different rubs, shampoos, lotions, and creams. Several studies have also found medicinal benefits to hemp seed oil.

A dish of hemp seed oil on a table with hemp seeds and leaves.

Hemp seed oil is thought to be good for brain health. Human (and animal) brains require healthy fats to fire on all cylinders and hemp seed oil is rich in these. Hemp seed oil has also been shown to help protect against inflammation in the brain. The heart can also benefit from taking hemp seed oil. For several decades, studies have consistently shown hemp seed oil can help with various heart-related ailments such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and cholesterol.

Many other parts of the body can also benefit from hemp seed oils. Skin conditions such as acne and eczema can be cleared or improved with hemp seed oil as it can reduce the production of sebum, which contributes to the development and persistence of chronic acne. Other studies have shown hemp seed oil’s (especially when CBD is added) ability to help reduce stress and muscle tension as CBD is an anti-inflammatory.

Read also: 5 Health Conditions Alleviated by Cannabis Creams and Topicals

Depending on your needs or desires, there is an oil out there to fit. Make sure to carefully read all product labels and purchase only from reputable sources. As always, when in doubt, consult with a medical professional before starting to consume any oils derived from cannabis plants.


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Written by Chris Bond | Certified Permaculture Designer, Nursery Technician, Nursery Professional

Profile Picture of Chris Bond

Chris Bond’s research interests are with sustainable agriculture, biological pest control, and alternative growing methods. He is a certified permaculture designer and certified nursery technician in Ohio and a certified nursery professional in New York, where he got his start in growing.

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