Hemp Oil vs. CBD: What’s the Difference?

hemp oil vs cbd oil
By Kristine Freeman Updated March 8th

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Fact-checked by Deb Tharp

Both hemp and cannabis were categorized as Schedule I controlled substances by the federal government, illegal to grow and sell until the 2018 Farm Bill effectively legalized hemp and its products. Cannabis continues to be a federally controlled substance, although 39 states have legalized medical marijuana. 

Both cannabis and hemp are variations of the same plant: cannabis sativa L. CBD oil can be derived from both variations and is typically found in higher concentrations in the hemp plant, while hemp oil comes exclusively from hemp. This is often confusing for new and experienced consumers and patients alike. 

In this article, we’ll explain the similarities and differences of hemp oil vs CBD oil, including how they’re made, ways they’re commonly used, and when you should choose one over the other. 

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What Is Hemp Seed Oil?

Hemp seed oil is a nutrient-rich oil extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant. It is a rich source of easily digestible protein, healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), vitamins, and minerals. It is often referred to as hemp oil, hempseed oil, and cannabis sativa seed oil, but it has a composition different from CBD oil.

Hemp seed oil contains two types of essential fatty acids (EFAs), omega-6s and omega-3s, at a proportion that some consider to be optimal for human health, although further research is needed to confirm this. Hemp oil also contains significant levels of all ten essential amino acids, which are necessary for vital bodily functions.

Extreme pressure is used to extract the oil contained within the hemp seed, usually with a cold-press oilseed machine. Unrefined hemp seed oil is green in color, with a nutty flavor. It has a short shelf life and is best stored in a cool, dark place in a glass container. Refined hemp seed oil undergoes further processing to remove its color and scent, and it is clear or yellow, with less flavor, aroma, and nutrients. 

Hemp seeds contain little to no phytocannabinoids, like THC and CBD, so hemp seed oil typically has only trace amounts of either. Because of this, hemp seed oil is “Generally Recognized As Safe” by the USDA and can be used in foods and supplements.

Where is Hemp Oil Used?

hemp oil usage

Hemp seed oil has a variety of uses, but research into its medical benefits is not as advanced as you would think, due to hemp’s association with cannabis.

Experts have found that regularly consuming hemp seed oil supports overall health because it is rich in PUFAs. These healthy fatty acids are known to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, inflammatory conditions, and cancer.1,2 

Animal studies have shown that hemp seed oil could potentially reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause, and antioxidants found within it may have neuroprotective properties.3,4,5 Hemp seed oil may also improve skin health and certain skin conditions, like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne.6 Ultimately, further research and human studies are called for.

Because hemp oil has a low flashpoint, it is not great for use in recipes that require a lot of heat, but can be used in salads, smoothies, and other low-temp health foods. A non-comedogenic oil, hemp seed oil is often used topically.7 The fatty acids in hemp seed oil mimic the lipids found in human skin, making it a useful ingredient for cosmetics, haircare, skincare, and bath products. These same compounds have caused hemp seed oil to be used in paints, finishing oils, and linoleum. 

What are the Benefits and Risks of Hemp Oil?

hemp oil pros and cons

Benefits of hemp seed oil include:

  • Non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating
  • Generally recognized as safe by the USDA
  • Available without a medical cannabis card
  • Can be used orally and topically
  • Rich source of essential PUFAs
  • Contains easily digestible protein
  • Contains vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids
  • Can be used in foods and dietary supplements
  • Has a pleasant taste

It is important to note that there is a lack of regulatory guidelines for hemp seed oil in the US, so there are still a few risks to be aware of:

  • Lab testing is not required
  • Hemp oil can be confused with or mislabeled as CBD oil
  • It burns at lower temperatures than certain other oils
  • When unrefined, it has a short shelf life
  • When refined, it may have fewer health benefits
  • Sometimes sold in packaging that degrades its quality

What is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is a non-psychoactive oil that comes from the flowers, leaves, and stems of both hemp and cannabis plants. It contains cannabidiol (CBD) and other phytocannabinoids, terpenoids, and compounds naturally found in the original plant. CBD oil is also referred to as phytocannabinoid-rich (PCR) hemp oil/extract, and can be categorized as full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate. Because CBD is an active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug, CBD oil cannot be marketed as a food or dietary supplement the way that hemp oil can.

CBD oil often contains between 12% and 40% CBD, though consumers can find higher concentration CBD oils. At a molecular level, the CBD that comes from a hemp plant is the same as CBD that comes from a cannabis plant, but that doesn’t make the two products the same. Full and broad spectrum CBD oils from the cannabis plant are produced using more of the plant (rather than isolating CBD alone). As such, they’re believed to offer greater benefits than hemp extracts due to what’s known as the entourage effect.

Additionally, the source plant determines how the product is regulated. When extracted from a marijuana plant (where allowed), CBD oil is considered medical cannabis and must be tested by the regulatory bodies of the state. When sourced from hemp, CBD oil has much less oversight. Additionally, hemp-derived CBD oil must contain less than 0.3% THC to be sold legally, although some states have further restrictions.

Extraction of CBD oil can be mechanical, solvent-based, or solventless, and the resulting oil may undergo further processing. Full spectrum, whole plant, or crude CBD oil is often thick, dark green/brown, with an earthy, plant-like taste. Broad spectrum CBD oil has no THC, may come from either plant, is lighter in color and may taste like terpenes, due to the removal of plant matter. Pure CBD oil, or CBD isolate, has had all plant matter, terpenoids, and phytocannabinoids other than CBD filtered out. It is much more clear, and may look and taste like its carrier oil (often coconut, olive, or hemp seed oil).

Where is CBD Oil Used?

what is cbd oil

CBD oil is often touted by hopeful consumers and unethical companies as a cure-all, even though many claims have not been backed by medical research. And some hemp oils that are marketed as “CBD oil” do not go through third party testing that is required of official CBD oil products in medical and adult-use cannabis markets. 

To ensure you’re getting accurately-labeled products that are tested for potency and purity, it’s important to purchase CBD oil from a trusted source, like a state-licensed cannabis retailer. 

But why do consumers choose CBD oil?

CBD oil has been studied the most in relation to epilepsy, and in 2018 the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first medicine with CBD as an active ingredient, to reduce the frequency of certain types of seizures.

CBD appears to have a calming effect on many consumers.8 According to current research, CBD oil may improve conditions like anxiety, sleeplessness, and migraines. Experts have also found that CBD oil has potential to reduce symptoms of craving and withdrawal in cases of substance abuse disorders.9 While CBD oil has been studied in relation to chronic pain, and it may have potential as a transdermal treatment for neuropathic pain, more research is needed to fully understand its efficacy.10, 11 Antioxidant and antimicrobial properties have also been attributed to CBD oil, so it may be used topically for certain skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis.12

Because CBD is often mixed with various carrier oils, CBD oil has found its way into personal care products like creams, balms, and bath products. It is commonly added into honey, teas, tinctures, patches, and sprays (although it cannot be marketed as a food). When purchasing CBD oil, it is important to check for a certificate of analysis (COA) that contains data on its potency, purity, and safety.

What are the Benefits and Risks of CBD Oil?

cbd oil pros and cons

We have much more to learn about CBD oil, but patients generally claim the following benefits when explaining why they choose CBD oil over hemp oil or THC:

  • Non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating
  • CBD oil from hemp (with <0.3% THC) is legal in most states
  • Can be mixed with various carrier oils
  • May reduce frequency of certain seizures
  • May benefit anxiety, sleep, and migraines
  • May reduce symptoms of addiction
  • Considered generally safe for short-term use with few side effects
  • Has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties

Although CBD oil is well-tolerated by most people, it still comes with risks and side effects:

  • Regulated differently across some states
  • Incorrect/inconsistent labeling (especially on hemp-derived CBD) can be confusing
  • Mild side effects are possible, and long term effects are still being studied
  • Long term use of cannabis-derived CBD oil could potentially show up on a drug test (though it isn’t likely)
  • Often credited for benefits that aren’t backed by medical research
  • CBD may interact with your liver, potentially affecting how other medications are processed in the body

Studies into CBD oil are ongoing, and it is important to consult with your healthcare provider before adding it to your routine.

Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil: What’s the Difference

Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil

Although they have some similarities, hemp seed oil and CBD oil are not interchangeable. Hemp seed oil is rich in healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. CBD oil is composed of phytocannabinoids, terpenoids, and plant substances, and may reflect properties of its carrier oil. Hemp seed oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant, while CBD oil can be extracted from the inflorescence of both the hemp and cannabis plant. Unlike hemp seed oil, CBD oil cannot be sold as a dietary supplement or food. 

When considering the effects of hemp seed oil vs CBD oil, both are non-psychoactive, although CBD may cause drowsiness. Hemp seed oil appears to be healthier due to its nutritional makeup. But the composition of full and broad spectrum CBD oil is similar to the source plant, allowing it to activate the “entourage effect,” the idea that the compounds work synergistically together to produce a greater effect than the compounds would individually. 

The potency of hemp seed oil vs CBD oil is where confusion often happens. Hemp seed oil contains only trace amounts of phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC, not enough to replicate the therapeutic qualities ascribed to CBD oil. CBD oil contains mostly CBD, along with additional non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids and anywhere from 0% to <0.3% THC.

Hemp seed oil has many advantages when it comes to daily use and nutritional value. It is available without a prescription and has an ideal ratio of healthy PUFAs. People using hemp seed oil do not have to worry about THC content, and it can be used for applications besides food, health, and personal care. At the same time, the quality of hemp seed oil can vary greatly among sellers, and someone may purchase it thinking they are getting the benefits of CBD oil.

CBD oil may be most beneficial when prescribed by your doctor for certain medical conditions, and can be made using different carrier oils depending on the intended use. Purchasing CBD oil from a licensed cannabis retailer also comes with the assurance that it contains what it is supposed to due to testing requirements. Outside of licensed retailers, CBD oil is much less regulated and some products marketed as CBD oil may not contain CBD at all. 

When Should I Use Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil?

Hemp seed oil is typically used…

  • As a daily nutritional supplement
  • In healthy drinks and foods
  • In cosmetics and hair care
  • When consuming THC or passing a drug test is a concern
  • As an ingredient for paints and finishing oils
  • For long-term use

CBD oil is typically used…

  • To relax or calm down 
  • When feeling anxious or stressed
  • When experiencing sleep issues
  • For headaches, migraines, or other neuropathic pain
  • When consuming small amounts of THC is not an issue
  • When the entourage effect is desired
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Hemp Oil vs CBD Oil: FAQ

Which one will get you high: hemp oil or CBD oil?

Neither hemp seed oil nor CBD oil will cause psychoactive effects.

Are there areas where either hemp or CBD oil isn’t legal?

Hemp seed oil and CBD oil are legal as long as they contain less than 0.3% THC in most states. However, Idaho, South Dakota, and Nebraska have further restrictions on the amount of THC allowed for it to be legal. 

Is hemp oil or CBD oil better for anxiety?

Studies show that CBD oil is better for symptoms of anxiety.13

Is hemp oil or CBD oil more useful for pain relief?

CBD oil appears to be more useful for pain relief, although more studies are required to fully determine its efficacy when THC is not included.

Which is more suited for inducing sleep: hemp or CBD oil?

CBD oil is most likely better than hemp seed oil for relaxation and sleep due to its interactions with the endocannabinoid system, although more research is needed.


1  Cerino, Pellegrino, Carlo Buonerba, Giuseppe Cannazza, Jacopo D’Auria, Ermete Ottoni, Andrea Fulgione, Antonio Di Stasio, Biancamaria Pierri, and Alfonso Gallo. 2021. “A Review of Hemp as Food and Nutritional Supplement.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 6 (1): 19–27. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2020.0001.

2  Rodriguez-Leyva, Delfin, and Grant N Pierce. 2010. “The Cardiac and Haemostatic Effects of Dietary Hempseed.” Nutrition & Metabolism 7 (1): 32. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-7-32.

3  Zhou, Yuefang, Shanshan Wang, Jianbo Ji, Hongxiang Lou, and Peihong Fan. 2018. “Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) Seed Phenylpropionamides Composition and Effects on Memory Dysfunction and Biomarkers of Neuroinflammation Induced by Lipopolysaccharide in Mice.” ACS Omega 3 (11): 15988–95. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.8b02250.

4  Saberivand, A, I Karimi, L A Becker, A Moghaddam, S Azizi-Mahmoodjigh, M Yousefi, and S Zavareh. 2010. “The Effects of Cannabis Sativa L. Seed (Hempseed) in the Ovariectomized Rat Model of Menopause.” Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology 32 (7): 467–73. https://doi.org/10.1358/mf.2010.32.7.1487085.

5  Rocha Filho, Edilberto A, José C Lima, João S Pinho Neto, and Ulisses Montarroyos. 2011. “Essential Fatty Acids for Premenstrual Syndrome and Their Effect on Prolactin and Total Cholesterol Levels: A Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Reproductive Health 8: 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4755-8-2.

6  Callaway, James, Ursula Schwab, Ilkka Harvima, Pirjo Halonen, Otto Mykkänen, Pekka Hyvönen, and Tomi Järvinen. 2005. “Efficacy of Dietary Hempseed Oil in Patients with Atopic Dermatitis.” The Journal of Dermatological Treatment 16 (2): 87–94. https://doi.org/10.1080/09546630510035832.

7 Mnekin, Léonid, and Lionel Ripoll. 2021. “Topical Use of Cannabis Sativa L. Biochemicals.” Cosmetics 8 (3): 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics8030085.

8  Shannon, Scott. 2019. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente Journal 23. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/18-041.

9  Batalla, Albert, Hella Janssen, Shiral S. Gangadin, and Matthijs G. Bossong. 2019. “The Potential of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Psychosis and Addiction: Who Benefits Most? A Systematic Review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 8 (7): 1058. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8071058.

10  Russo, Ethan. 2008. “Cannabinoids in the Management of Difficult to Treat Pain.” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management Volume 4 (February): 245–59. https://doi.org/10.2147/tcrm.s1928.

11  Xu, Dixon H., Benjamin D. Cullen, Meng Tang, and Yujiang Fang. 2020. “The Effectiveness of Topical Cannabidiol Oil in Symptomatic Relief of Peripheral Neuropathy of the Lower Extremities.” Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology 21 (5): 390–402. https://doi.org/10.2174/1389201020666191202111534.

12  Mnekin, Léonid, and Lionel Ripoll. 2021. “Topical Use of Cannabis Sativa L. Biochemicals.” Cosmetics 8 (3): 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics8030085.

13  Shannon, Scott. 2019. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente Journal 23. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/18-041.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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