Wading into the world of cannabis and hemp can be about as simple as figuring out how to get into the mafia.

As in, not (always) intuitive.

Especially not with the amount of misinformation and “snake oil salesmen” out there.

Thankfully, if you’re looking for or have been prescribed Cannabidiol (CBD) oil in Canada, it’s a little bit of a simpler market to navigate than the US due to our federal regulations. But that doesn’t mean that the process is cut and dry.

So, let’s untangle some of the confusion out there that exists between cannabis CBD oils and hemp CBD oils.

Yes, there are different kinds of CBD oils!

Simply looking at it on its own, then CBD is CBD.

Meaning that the CBD chemical is the same regardless of the source. Hemp CBD oil might be different from cannabis CBD oil, but it’s because of the other compounds, not the CBD.

There are two ways to make CBD. Isolation from natural sources, or synthesize in a lab using many chemicals. If the end result is 100% CBD, the material is technically the exact same and you wouldn’t be able to tell where it came from or how it was made. They’d be identical and indistinguishable. That’s why CBD is CBD.

But it’s CBD oils—specifically the contaminants other than CBD that are in them—that make hemp-based CBD oil quite different from one that’s cannabis-based.

Cannabis plants are used for a multitude of purposes, not just medicinal or recreational. The key lies in the extraction process, the parts of the plant used, and the percentages of cannabinoids in the final form of the product.

We explored this topic more in our article on indica and sativa, but the long and short of it is that hemp is a form of cannabis (sativa). But, because it’s been bred for different uses (nutritional and industrial instead of medicinal and recreational), it’s regulated by a variety of different laws based on the way people use them.

For example, hemp oil is pressed and extracted from the plant seeds (which you can actually buy at the health food store and sprinkle on your cereal, salad, or yoghurt for extra protein and nutrients). The seeds themselves have a very low percentage of CBD and almost no THC and are regulated by the Industrial Hemp Regulations (IHR).

Nearly 50% of the seeds’ weight can be extracted into nutritious hemp oil, which is high in polyunsaturated fats like Omega-6 and -3 and Vitamin E, and is often used in cooking because of its nutty taste.

But, different parts of the cannabis sativa plant, like the flowers, leaves, and stalk, are governed instead by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) and the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) instead, because its levels of THC and CBD are much higher. Hemp farmers must currently destroy the leaves and flowers in a safe way, but moving forward towards legalization will allow companies and farmers to use the full plant for its’ multiple purposes.

According to the IHR, hemp oil can’t contain more than 10 parts per million of THC (0.3%) and no CBD when it’s sold in a nutrition store because in those contexts it’s being used for non-medicinal purposes. But while there’s testing for levels of THC for hemp, there’s no testing for levels of CBD in hemp oil.

That means if you see or hear someone touting that hemp oil has medicinal or “psychoactive” value, be wary. In fact, claiming that hemp oil is psychoactive is illegal according to the IHR.

Not all CBD oils are created equal

Hemp is mainly grown for industrial purposes, and is a known bio-accumulator, which means that it sucks up a large amount of whatever’s in the soil it’s growing in.

Not only that, but the growing conditions for hemp aren’t federally regulated, which makes it very difficult to know when you’re getting a high quality, clean, and safe product. Knowing the growing conditions of the soil, overall environment, and extraction methods is going to be crucial when hemp-based CBD oils become legal, because it’s been known to absorb toxic spills, pesticides, and other dangerous chemicals that you don’t want to be ingesting.

Same goes for current hemp oils that you’re thinking about using in your food: do your research.

However, not all hemp is dangerous: the high concentration of Vitamin E found in hemp seeds has been found to act as an antioxidant and an inhibitor of bacteria and viruses. So the key to ingesting hemp oil is to make sure it doesn’t promise any psychoactive qualities, and ensuring that the growing environment is as organic and toxin-free as possible.

Compared to the stringent requirements all licensed medical cannabis producers need to obey in Canada, hemp can be a bit of a shot in the dark, and definitely shouldn’t be used for any medicinal purposes.

Difference in actual CBD concentration

Hemp plants only contain about 3-5% CBD, and require a large amount of plant to produce a small amount of hemp CBD oil, which heightens the risk of including other contaminants.

Whereas typical, regulated CBD oil created by licensed producers can contain anywhere from 18-20% CBD and is often balanced with THC to encourage the hypothesis of the “entourage effect” where both cannabinoids function synergistically to increase the healing effects.

Hemp CBD oil has little medicinal value

While hemp itself has many industrial applications—in makeup, shampoos, nutrition, clothing, building materials and more—it doesn’t have many medicinal benefits due to it’s incredibly low concentration of CBD and inability to include THC.

In contrast, current CBD oils created by licensed producers are manufactured for the maximum medical benefit. Whether that’s a balance of THC and CBD, or a pure CBD formula that you need, these oils have been found to help with a variety of ailments, including skin conditions like dermatitis, psoriasis, as well as PMS, arthritic inflammation, epilepsy, and other seizure disorders.

No labeling standards? Buyer beware

Here’s the thing – hemp oil has a purpose, but it doesn’t belong in your medicine cabinet for several reasons:

  1. There are no labeling standards, which means that they can say “organic” and “homemade” and “pure CBD” without having to prove any of those things. If you’re using hemp oil for health reasons, this is a huge concern since you want to be highly critical of what you’re putting in your body.
  2. Tracking growing conditions is time-consuming. For vegans and gluten-free folks, this has gotten easier over the past couple of years, but in a budding industry that still has difficulty accepting the medicinal benefits of THC, finding out where your hemp is grown can be hard (see: phone calls, being put on hold, etc). Not only that, but there are very few growing regulations for the growing conditions of hemp, which is a red flag in itself when considering products for medical reasons.
  3. Extraction methods matter. The way hemp oil is extracted is different than CBD oil is extracted – but best practices in one industry (medical cannabis) are not necessarily so in that of another industry (industrial hemp). When you want to get the most pure concentration, there’s a reason that bigger, licensed producers have a step up on homemade.

Hemp is only pressed, CBD-rich cannabis oil has many extraction methods

In the theme of the rest of this article…  extraction methods: they differ depending on what kind of product you’re making.

Cannabis oil, whether CBD, THC, or both, is extracted from flowers, leaves, and the stalk of the plant mainly using different solvents – butane, CO2, ethanol, petroleum ether, naphtha, olive oil, or whole plant extraction (that makes Rick Simpson Oil). Depending on whether you’re extracting oils at home or getting them from a licensed producer, the process ranges from simple to incredibly complex.

Hemp oil, however, is made only from pressed seeds, similar to olive or sesame oil. While this provides a great yield since 50% of the seeds can be extracted into oil, there isn’t as much diligence for testing that follows the extraction.

Make sure you know which CBD oil you’re getting

In conclusion, if you’re a medical cannabis patient that’s exploring hemp: it’s not the end of the world. Just don’t expect it to have the same effects as cannabis CBD oil from licensed producers and be cautious about it’s sources and benefits.

The truth of the matter is the hemp and CBD oil are used for wildly different reasons, and so it makes sense that their processes, growing conditions, and extraction methods vary.

While industrial hemp was bred from the cannabis plant, it was allowed to be grown in Canada in the 1980s for industrial and job-creation purposes: we needed alternate sources of fibre, and hemp proved a great crop that was easy to grow in Canadian climates.

Fibre from the stalks was used to make paper, textiles, rope, and construction materials, and the grain was used in food products, cosmetics, plastics, and even fuel. Not only that, but it created more jobs in agriculture.

Cannabis, on the other hand, was grown for many generations for medical and recreational purposes, so the genetic aspects of the plant that have survived and evolved are different. The cannabinoids, terpenes, and strength of the different parts of the plant have been bred to induce different effects in people or help solve medical issues, whether skin conditions, epilepsy, or others.

As long as you understand the difference and are okay with putting hemp seeds on your cereal and cannabis CBD oil under your tongue, the differences are perfectly natural and won’t cause any issues.