What is Hemp Oil? The Complete Overview

So you’ve come across hemp oil. But what is it? This all-natural plant-based product is seeing massive uptake. Plus, hugely glowing reviews online. In one line, it’s a nutrient rich oil extracted from plants. It’s simple right? Well, not exactly – while the huge growth in the popularity of full spectrum CBD oil and similar products is not disputed, describing what it is and isn’t might be. We want to clear the air and give you the full explanation. We want you to leave this read-through more informed and able to understand what both full spectrum, broad spectrum and standard isolate oils are. We’ll also touch on how these may differ from hemp seed oil, as well as how it is made so you get the full picture.

The nutritious and therapeutic products derived from hemp are many and varied. Indeed nearly as varied as the cultivars of cannabis sativa. Hemp is just one of these cultivars, with its key distinguishing characteristic being its 0% THC content. Despite this it retains critical phytocannabinoids and nutrients like terpenes, cannaflavins, flavonoid and many other useful compounds like beta-carotene. When grown in quality controlled oxygen and nitrogen rich organic soils, the ancient plant is able to flourish and create a high abundance of these compounds. Such unique properties haven’t gone unnoticed. Many cultures from Asia and the Middle East have carefully harvested and used it for a variety of purposes including anti-inflammatory ointments and to relieve pain.

A quick overview of hemp

Hemp is really just a fancy name for cannabis sativa that doesn’t contain THC. Instead this plant has completely distinct properties. Unlike its sister plant marijuana, it’s completely non-psychoactive, has some differing physical characteristics and contains a different mix of phytocannabinoids. Also known as ‘industrial hemp’, it’s been in-use by humans for millennia. More recently it has been used for many industrial purposes such as rope making and clothes fibres. While cannabis has been known to contain THC for decades, the unique CBD compound found in it has only recently been focused on by researchers for therapeutic applications.

Other varieties of the plant may contain some or even high levels of THC depending on how they are cultivated and grown. In addition the levels of nutrients and phytocannabinoids can be correspondingly altered. The golden rule of thumb in determining whether a plant is hemp or marijuana is its CBD and THC mixes and concentrations. Globally any plant with less than 0.2% THC is considered hemp, grown for commercial purposes. Below this amount there is no intoxicating effect from consumption. Trending over this line will mean the plant is considered marijuana which is still illegal in most of the world.

In combination with other phytocannabinoid compounds within the plant, it is known as full spectrum CBD oil when extracted from the plant. While THC was discovered in 1964 and well understood early on, CBD wasn’t. This compound alongside many of the other key cannabinoids comprising the plant such as CBG, CBN, CBA, CBC and CBNa. Historically cannabis has been of keen interest to many research bodies. Initial interest was heavily skewed towards THC. For clear reasons it was then subsequently removed under law and banned. It poses risk to those with mental illness due to triggering a psychoactive effect neurologically.

Hemp however remained largely legal in most countries for clear industrial use cases. Indeed it was for this reason some of its most useful compounds were hidden in plain sight for many years with little knowledge of CBD oil’s potent physiological effects. Once further cannabinoids were discovered interest returned. Research has now heavily accelerated on it’s medicinal potential. Further advances are being made such as obtaining the genome and complete cannabinoid profile of the cannabis species. There have been more than 400 cannabinoids discovered to date, each with a varying effect on the body and mind.

What is CBD oil?

Often also known as hemp extract oil, this oil is produced from the hemp plant and can be taken from most of the plant’s components including stems and leaves. In contains a full or broad spectrum of phytonutrients. Many of these like CBD and CBN have therapeutic effects such as anti-analgesic and anti-anxiolytic properties. We detail the types of oils you may encounter below but this name is primarily an umbrella term and there are a few key differences between product types at both the ingredient and nutrient level.

It’s one of the most hyped health products in 2021. It’s also often maligned for good reason. – but why? We’re seeing write ups from Buzzfeed, Washington Post, other huge news publications, blogs, review sites. The buzz is real. But is the product and its benefits? In many countries you can’t avoid CBD products – they’re everywhere – but many countries also offer a bounty of other effective cannabinoid rich oils that may contain the other helpful compounds like CBN, CBG and CBA as well as terpenes which can all assist in boosting the compound’s effects. As a product its being purchased by everyone from the elderly to sports people and even everyday workers in office jobs in Australia because its is so useful and versatile – it can be added into coffees, food, smoothies as an oil. People are even using it as a topical cream for stiff or painful joints, muscles, used in lotions or massage balms plus more.

Is it legal?

In places like Australia, some US states as well as many countries in the EU, CBD oil has been legalised or allowed for health purposes. It’s seeing huge interest from people that need relief from inflammatory issues like arthritis, body stress or aches. It can even be taken as capsules or tinctures, plus more which makes it great for easy use and convenience. Laws in Australia have recently changed and are becoming more accommodating for it and even many THC products with recent regulation changes in 2020 allowing the purchase of CBD over the counter (OTC) in pharmacies. What’s also great about it is that it is completely vegan – the compound comes entirely from plant sources – it’s all natural meaning you don’t need to worry about harming animals or unethical consumption.

Although it’s probably the most beneficial and helpful in terms of its therapeutic effects, cannaflavins are just one of the many other compounds that are active in the plant and its chemical makeup. Hemp oil and cannabis derivative plants have been studied since the mid 20th century intensively. That’s because it’s both widely used and available across the world, both in recreational and therapeutic or medical contexts. Scientists and researchers have known about it since it was discovered along with a number of other phytocannabinoids in 1940. There are a total of 113 cannabinoids which were found in cannabis plants, although those like CBG and CBA are around 30-40% of the extracted compound make-up of the plant.

Originally when it was discovered, scientists were unaware of the potential uses and therapeutic effects of the oil until these were researched much later in the 20th century. This is because the chemists didn’t look to physically extract each of the individual cannabinoid compounds that were active in the plant through pharmacological methods.. Its effects became much more studied after it was found that mammals all evolved an endocannabinoid system which phytocannabinoids like CBG and CBN interact with. Many societies throughout history already understood and documented these effects. However they had no science or chemistry to prove their anecdotal experience. We detail these societies and how they used this product in our write up here, so we won’t delve too deeply on this.

Is it safe to use?

One of the key things that confuses many people interested in buying and using the product is the plant it comes from. To conceptualise this, we’ll start with a hierarchical ‘mother’ or umbrella plant family called Cannabis. Cannabis (scientifically called cannabis sativa) actually has multiple plant species within its botanical family. These species aren’t to be confused!

Hemp is completely non-psychotropic when extracts like oil are taken from it. It contains typically around 0% THC. Marijuana is completely separate, contains different natural compounds like THC which can get you high plus has many potential risks associated with it for your health – particularly with mental illnesses. CBD on the other hand is completely safe – it is already being therapeutically used for medicine after multiple rounds of clinical trials across the world.

The plant’s oil will not get you high at all as it doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects. It’s also non-psychotropic plus non-toxic. This means it’s safe for human consumption and therapeutic purposes for relief. In fact, the WHO or World Health Organization has reviewed its constituent compounds for their therapeutic purposes and medical benefits here. It concluded the toxicology and adverse reactions of the substance which are very minimal in humans after extremely thorough and extensive trials.

This extensive report which cites numerous studies and clinical research across the globe from Germany, UK, US and other countries also concluded there are no addictive properties or issues with dependence associated with it. This is excellent for people who have problems with addictive painkillers and need an all-natural alternative. It notes that these tests were from lab produced and pure products. Based on the outcome and subject reports there were almost no adverse effects or issues encountered.

What is hemp oil used for?

  1. Reducing Inflammation and Stress

The biggest single reason people use hemp oil is reduction of inflammation in the body. By acting on multiple metabolic and physiological systems such as the endocannabinoid system it is able to assist in mitigating the effects of inflammatory free radicals. It is rich in antioxidants like chlorophyll as well as phytocannabinoids like cannaflavins that create a marked improvement in inflammatory markers. Furthermore the endocannabinoids released when cannabis derived oils are consumed are powerful in their ability to reduce the damage caused by cortisol and stress throughout the body.

Phytonutrients and cannabinoids like CBN, CBA and CBG enter the body and bind or work with the endocannabinoid system. It’s how they assist with various functions like stress relief and relaxation. All mammals have an endocannabinoid system that consists of receptors throughout the body including in the brain, spleen and stomach. These receptors use the phytocannabinoid compounds entering the system to release potent anti inflammatory endocannabinoid compounds.

It’s important to note these come entirely from the body. Humans have evolved to produce these naturally when phytocannabinoids are present in the body and these simply trigger their production and release. The endocannabinoid system actually creates enzymes and metabolises across multiple pathways similar to some pharmacies made anti-inflammatory products, while being all natural and plant based. 

2. Improving sleep

The endocannabinoid system works across multiple functions in the body like sleep and circadian rhythm regulation, mood and general wellbeing. It may even influence appetite and control of internal regulators as well as areas like homeostasis. By calming our paralimbic system and initiating the rest response in the mind and body, CBD oil enables us to calm at night and ease into sleep. It’s used by a huge number of people globally for insomnia and sleep improvement. Research is indicating it may improve both sleep quality and length.

Much of the research is linking the sleep benefits of it to its anti-anxiolytic properties. In reducing anxiety present in the mind and an overactive stress response, reductions in cortisol are achieved. Test subjects more often than not reported a better night’s sleep and overall felt more well-rested. This is in line with many anecdotal testimonies we’ve received that suggest the same. Many who struggled to sleep could completely shut off and get a reliably good night of recovery while using the oil.

3. Nutritional health boost

While it’s primarily used for its inflammatory, stress reduction and sleep benefits, hemp seed oil has other benefits. A major one is its nutrient content. Not only does it contain phytonutrients and antioxidants like carotene, lycopene, polyphenols and lignans. It’s also rich in minerals including phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, all critical in ATP and cell energy production. Because of this it helps to promote healthy energy levels and muscle function. Muscles and all other cells require electrolytes which are only obtained through consuming food or products. Most important however is the healthy fat content of the oil. It has both Omega 3 and 6, polyunsaturated acids and unsaturated healthy long chain lipids. In combination these complex fats are hugely beneficial in heart and cardiovascular health. They’re key to ensuring the lipid and cholesterol profile is balanced.

Can I use it in my skin or hair?

It’s a big yes. Not only does the oil contain nutrients which are ideal to enhance your hair and skin’s moisture, it may even aid in defending against aging. Hemp seed oil can be used on your skin and hair to promote healthy keratin, enrich the surface and underlying layers of cells as well as help to renew these important bodily areas. It contains Gamma Linoleic Acid or GLA as well as Alpha Linoleic Acid or ALA. Both of these compounds are long chain fatty acids. They’re also found in other highly nutritious foods like coconut and many plant seeds. In combination they are able to rejuvenate the skin and enrich its healthy fat content. Applying topically is all that’s needed to absorb the oil and its nourishing components.

Hemp seed oil has been known and used for the skin by numerous cultures and empires for thousands of years around the world. From Central Asia it spread globally to be used in Central America, Europe and the Middle East as well as Africa in some areas. Human societies have had long-standing and fruitful relationships with the plant for both food crops and use as an oil and moisturiser for the skin and hair as well as much more heavily for its fibre content to create baskets, threat and rope, accessories, and other items (very useful in the ancient world). The Chinese had used the fibres of the plant across multiple empires and dynasties for thousands of years to create rope which may be the oldest discovered usage of the product for commercial means. The ancient Chinese medicine practitioners knew of it and its rich phyto-cannabinoid content to be able to calm the body, reduce inflammation, help with anxiety and act as an analgesic compound. It would be brewed into tea and used for its medicinal properties by the Mongol and Steppe clans, as well as throughout Pakistan and Indian tribes through to the Persian empire.

Does it help with arthritis?

Now that you’ve gotten across what all the fuss is about and what makes up hemp oil let’s take a look at a question we get asked frequently. This question centres on whether or not CBD oil can help with pain and arthritis. To our knowledge the answer is certainly yes. It’s really the endocannabinoid system in the body which helps to deal with these two often related problems. Arthritis is a degenerative disease affecting the sheaths which encapsulate our joints. This could mean knee, shoulder, elbow or any of the joints within our bodies. When it degrades it causes friction between the bones and resultantly pain. As many as 1 in 7 adults in Australia will experience arthritis in their lifetime.

It’s a frustrating problem. Tendons, joints and tissue can become inflamed and irritated due to the new friction. Chronic pain is often a result. If the arthritis is considered ‘chronic’ and doesn’t appear to reduce or resolve from treatment it may be considered osteoarthritis. So how does this oil come into the picture? Well arthritis is really a condition caused, and worsened by, inflammation.

CBD as well as CBN and CBG act similarly in the body to many synthetic anti-inflammatory medicines, acting along similar metabolic pathways. In combination with antioxidants these phytocannabinoids help reduce overall stress and inflammatory markers across the body’s organs, tissues and joints. This type of damage is caused by free radicals from pollutants and toxic chemicals we may come into contact with over time that can cause damage to cells. Antioxidants like beta carotene and flavonoids can help to protect from inflammatory problems like arthritis.

How is it made?

Fundamentally all of these oils are from the same source – the hemp plant. This may include the plant’s buds, leaves, stems and seeds. Where they diverge in production however is the extraction method used. There are a few differing methods that can be used to draw the nourishing oil from the plant.

Firstly CO2 extraction. This is likely the most common method. It’s also the best in terms of purity and minimisation of contaminants in the final product. Once the raw oil is extracted and pressed from the plant, it’s passed through a high pressure CO2 gas mix. This cools the oil and extracts the higher density plant particulates and waste from the lower density pure full spectrum CBD oil. Generally this is accepted to be the current optimal methodology however can cost more than more simple approaches and take longer to process.

Ethanol or butane can also be used as extraction mediums. In these cases the oil is passed through the liquid to dissolve it and draw out the nutrient dense oils. Both of these substances are strong solvents meaning they can react with and dissolve many different compounds they come into contact with. The biggest downside is they can also destroy many of the healthy omegas and bioavailable flavonoids in the oil which reduces its overall health benefits. It can also create a distasteful flavour to many, as well as causing contamination of the final extract oil itself in some cases.

While typically used as a carrier oil, olive oil or MCT is able to be leveraged in order to heat the extracted hemp oil, stratifying it and enabling the removal of a pure refined product. We typically avoid this method as it can be low in final purity and effectiveness of filtration. Olive oil does have many other health benefits and nutrients of note like polyunsaturated acids, long chain fatty acids and a high level of vitamins.

How to choose the right CBD or hemp oil

There are a few key types of hemp oil you might consider. Each has differing benefits and drawbacks. 

  1. Full spectrum hemp oil: in addition to CBD, this oil contains the full ‘spectrum’ of other phytonutrients and phytocannabinoids. These can include CBG, CBA, CBC and CBN. Other compounds such as terpenes which occur naturally in the plant can also be present in this oil type. In combination, the varying components are much stronger in terms of effectiveness and reduction of inflammation. This is due to the entourage effect. In isolation, the cannabinoids in it still act on the endocannabinoid system and result in improved homeostasis. However terpenes in this oil help the body to absorb these and trigger the release of endocannabinoids from the CB1 and CB2 receptors that amplifies the overall effect.
  2. Hemp oil: can come in broad spectrum or isolated forms. It contains an array of antioxidant compounds in conjunction with strong phytocannabinoids, vitamins and minerals which are great for metabolic and cardiovascular health.
  3. Hemp seed oil: contains no cannabinoids and is purely for dietary consumption. It can be added into salads, smoothies, coffee and more to provide nutritional benefits. Rich in long chain fatty acids and complex nutrients from hemp.

When choosing an oil consider some of the following points:

  • Is it organic and quality assured? Double check you’re purchasing a product that will be free from pesticides, herbicides, contaminants and heavy metals. Organic produce is more carefully grown and harvested to keep it clear of nasties. If you can try to find USDA or EU approved and organically certified products. These will also have greater controls and measures of purity.
  • Look for gas extracted oils. Preferably from CO2. The reason for this is that oils processed via solvents like ethanol can often become contaminated by the solvent itself, creating a bad flavour but also potential for unintended consumption of toxic substances. CO2 extract is the gold standard for purity, cleanliness and maximisation of nutrient density.
  • Third party quality assurance – does the product have any certifications, test results, awards or reviews? Confirm that what you’re getting is high strength and pure by understanding the reviews and reports from others. This is a great way to avoid scams as well as poor quality or low strength oils.

Following the above tips will net you a better end product and results for your health and wellness.

How much to take

It really comes down to your individual preference, tolerance and goals. There’s no one size fits all answer or recommendation. We recommend experimenting with differing quantities and assessing what best meets your needs and feels good. Always begin with a low dose and increase over time. It may be that you have allergies you were unaware of or experience some of the mild potential side effects. These can include an upset stomach or dry mouth. Throughout clinical studies the dosages tolerated by humans and animals even at very high levels were still completely safe and non toxic.

What is in hemp oil?

As we highlighted, cannaflavins, terpenes and flavonoids are just some of many phytonutrients and other chemical components of the plant. When taken as a full or broad spectrum extract, it actually contain a huge number of other compounds, vitamins and minerals. Here’s a quick summary of each of the important chemicals and components that help with health in the plant:

  1. CBA

CBA is another cannabinoid (and acronym) that stands for cannabidiolic acid. It’s actually the precursor compound to CBD, with the acid part (A) being removed via a decarboxylation method to distil it. It’s harvested from the same location on the plant (stem, leaves, buds) and has a similar overall chemical profile and effect matrix. It’s less accessible in the human body however and much harder to deliver benefits than the more refined isolate, as it can block some of the interactions with the CB1 and CB2 receptors (meaning it has reduced efficacy).

  1. CBN

When scientists first studied the cannabis chemical structures in the 1940s, the first compound and more simple structure was identified as CBN or cannabinol (not to be confused with cannabidiol). CBN actually comes from THC when it is chemically transposed via oxidation (from high temperatures or oxygen exposure). That doesn’t mean it is able to get you high, it’s inert in terms of psychotropic effect like CBD and has lower usefulness. What’s been shown for CBN is that it has some ability via the endocannabinoid system in both triggering endocannabinoid production and also in assisting with circadian rhythm management to manage sleep function and patterns more effectively. It may assist in deepening and lengthening sleep but this has not been proven or thoroughly drawn out in human studies.

  1. Trace minerals

These products contain many helpful and electrolytic minerals like phosphorus,  calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. These are all critical for brain, heart and muscle health and can aid in exercise performance as well as recovery.

  1. Vitamins

It’s true that many plants contain a huge payload of vitamins and hemp is no different. Containing vitamin E as well as more minor amounts of C and B vitamins (like folate), in addition to minor amounts of D3 which is critical for hormonal production and regulation. 

  1. Healthy fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated)

Like fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, some nuts and seeds like chia, and some fruits or vegetables like coconut, flavonoids (as well as healthy oils) are rich in the natural fatty acids, omega 3s and gamma linoleic acids that have been shown to provide a big array of cognition, cardiovascular and hormonal function benefits throughout the body.

Essential fatty acids like omega 3 (alpha linoleic acid) are thought to boost brain function and help with areas like memory. They are also known to help with heart health and ensure the proper function of the body’s blood flow and regulation. Like avocados and similar healthy nuts, flax, chia and CBD oil is rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. It also contains omega 6 with similar properties.

Gamma-linolenic or GLA is another essential fatty acid that is linked to inflammation reduction and cognitive improvement that is also present in seeds and flax seed oil.

6. Phytocannabinoids like CBG

In scientific terms – phytonutrients are molecular building blocks that make up all matter. They may also be called chemicals, whether man made or naturally occurring. Your entire body in addition to all food you eat is made up of compounds and molecules! 

Phytonutrients or phytocannabinoids are some of many (up to 80) different cannaflavins and bioavailable compounds that are naturally produced by the plant. It’s primarily found in leaves, buds and stems of the plant. This is where it differs from hemp seed oil which is found in seeds of the plant only.

Chlorophyll, flavonoid, terpene and beta carotene content in it are some of the most rich plus incredibly healthy compounds in the plant that benefit the body throughout all the cells and metabolic functions. Like many other natural compounds such as Curcumin or Cinnamon, it is from plants, it can help the body reduce inflammation as well as manage mood – great for many users (we’ll go into this later).