Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Hemp is having a moment. Now that the plant is legally distinct from its cousin of the same name (Cannabis sativa), you can find hemp products just about everywhere, from the crunchiest of health food co-ops to big-box retailers in the ‘burbs.
But after so many years of cannabis being illegal in all forms, there’s bound to be confusion when you shop.
Hemp oil is one form that you’ll commonly see, but what do you really know about it? Here’s a look at everything you need to know about hemp oil (including whether it actually does anything for you).
What is hemp oil?
First up, what the heck is it? The biggest misconception is that hemp oil is synonymous with CBD (cannabidiol) — or that it’s weed. It’s not, says Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, CLT, a registered dietitian and certified holistic cannabis practitioner.
“CBD oil can technically be CBD hemp oil, but hemp oil is not necessarily CBD oil — and is most often hempseed oil,” she explains.
Hempseed oil is available at most grocery stores, and it can be used for both cooking and baking. While CBD oil is made from the leaves or buds of a cannabis plant, “hempseed oil is made by pressing oil from hempseed,” says Kyle, who likened it to how olive oil is made by pressing whole olives.
Cannabinoids, including CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the one that gets you high), are not found in hempseed. So, Kyle advises that if you’re looking for a product that contains those compounds, hempseed oil is likely not what you want to buy.
“CBD hemp oil is different, because it’s extracted from the flower buds and leaves of the hemp plant and naturally contains a variety of cannabinoids, like CBD,” she says. (We’ll talk about the benefits of both!)
6 health benefits of hemp oil
Hempseed oil is nutrient-rich and great to add to your diet, “for its ability to contribute essential fatty acids needed by the body,” says Kyle. “Hempseed and hempseed oil are often referred to as a superfood due to their high omega-3 fatty acid and nutrient content.”
Per tablespoon, you’ll get:
0 grams protein
14 grams fat
0 grams carbs
Beyond nutrition, hemp oil can offer plenty of other benefits, like…
1. Less inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in hemp oil) may help reduce inflammation, according to a study of medical students from 2011. Some inflammation is normal, but higher amounts can boost your chances of developing heart disease, cancer, and more.
2. Healthy skin
Hemp oil and the omega-3s it contains may also help certain skin conditions.
A study from 2005 compared olive oil and hemp oil in people experiencing eczema. The study measured skin dryness, itchiness and the need for topical medications to treat symptoms. Adding hemp oil to the diet reportedly improved symptoms better than olive oil.
When used as part of a wider treatment plan, omega-3s in foods like hemp oil may also benefit psoriasis, according to a 2015 review.
3. Less intense PMS and menopause symptoms
The fatty acids in hemp oil may help with both PMS and menopausal symptoms.
A 2011 study found that people with PMS experienced fewer, less severe symptoms after taking 1 gram of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid found in hemp.
And in 2010, a study on rats found that same fatty acid may help offset the symptoms of menopause (of course, human research is still needed to confirm).
4. Happy heart
The ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) in foods like hemp oil may cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, the cause of one in four deaths in the US each year.
In 2014, a research review found that consuming more ALA — which is also found in flax and fish oils — seemed to play a “beneficial role” for both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. (That means it helps prevent you from getting the disease and helps symptoms when the condition is diagnosed early.)
5. Pain relief
If you include CBD hemp oil, then you can count pain relief among the benefits. In 2018, a research review found that the CBD in full-spectrum hemp oil showed promise for treating pain.
“Full-spectrum CBD oil contains everything that the hemp plant contains, including the terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and fatty acids found in the cannabis plant,” explains Kyle. (Hemp oil from seeds doesn’t have all those active compounds.)
6. Reduced tension and anxiety
Neither hemp oil nor CBD hemp oil contains high amounts of THC. “Most are required to contain less than 0.3 percent THC per federal regulations,” says Kyle, so that means you won’t get the “high” usually associated with cannabis.
However, the CBD in full-spectrum hemp oil has been shown to reduce anxiety as well as muscle tension.
Are there any side effects? Not really. The US Food and Drug Administration considers both hempseed and hempseed oil to be GRAS “generally recognized as safe.” That means they “had no questions regarding the safe use of these ingredients in humans.” However, Kyle says you should still always read labels carefully. “Mislabeling and misunderstanding the difference between hempseed oil and CBD hemp oil is the biggest risk for many consumers,” she says. “Due to a lack of regulation in the CBD marketplace, many people are unknowingly buying hempseed oil when they believe it to be CBD hemp oil.”
If you have an allergic reaction to hempseed oil, discontinue use.
How to choose the best hemp oil for you If you’re buying hempseed oil, says Kyle, “you want to look for a raw, organic, unrefined, cold-pressed oil,” as you would when buying olive oil. It should also be in a dark, opaque bottle to protect the delicate oils inside. If you’re looking for CBD hemp oil, the Center for Food Safety has a helpful scorecard that ranks manufacturers based on four criteria: hemp farming and organic certification, processing, testing/auditing, and transparency.