Cannabis Oil and Hemp Oil Are Not The Same; The Shocking Differences In Safety

Is hemp oil the same as cannabis oil?

Hemp oil that contains cannabidiol (CBD) is often sold as a dietary supplement, and is most commonly packaged in small bottles and and applied with a dropper. These supplements can contain no more than 0.2% THC, or otherwise they are considered “cannabis”. Oils that contain more than 0.2% THC can only be found in states with a legal medical cannabis program and functioning dispensaries. CBD derived from psychoactive cannabis is still illegal federally.

Products containing hemp-derived CBD are legal throughout the U.S. and can be bought online, whereas CBD derived from cannabis (or, as the government prefers to call psychoactive cannabis, “marijuana”) is illegal.

Many people who consider using cannabis as medication often think that they can use hemp oil instead. There’s also the fact that hemp oil contains almost no THC, which is considered a bonus for those who are wary of getting “high” or “stoned”. Plus, these hemp-based products are perfectly legal to buy across the U.S.

With hemp-based products, there’s no psychoactivity, no running from the law and it’s more readily available. Why bother with all the trouble? Well, for all the trouble that cannabis unfortunately brings, hemp-based products bring with them a whole host of troubles of their own. They include:

Mislabelled Products

Products not containing the amount of CBD claiming they have on the label. The FDA has issued warning letters to several companies regarding this. In 2017, a Penn Medicine researcher tested 84 hemp products and found only 26 were accurately labelled. Some even had far more THC than they claimed, sometimes enough to cause intoxication. This is a concern, as many people have jobs that prevent the ingestion of THC, and even a small amount over the 0.2% may potentially cause someone to fail a drug test.

Cannabis Oil and Hemp Oil
From Pixabay

Heavy Metals

Many hemp products are made from badly grown, industrial hemp that has been sprayed with pesticides and many other chemicals. Hemp plants are often used for a process called “phytoremediation”, meaning they are used to remove contaminants in the soil. Hemp is a “super sucker” of whatever’s in the ground, meaning that if the soil is full of heavy metals and pollutants, these things will end up in the final product.

Phytoremediation Process
From CC By 4.0.

Extraction Methods

The methods used to extract CBD from hemp usually end up with plenty of plant wax and fat, rather than cannabinoids. Ingesting these byproducts are not ideal, and may cause health problems. Some of the better products may use supercritical CO2 extraction methods are used in order to ensure cleanliness, but again, this is not ideal.

Organic ethanol solvents are best, as alcohol dissolves both oil and water soluble chemicals found in the plant. However, I would not trust most hemp-focused companies that use alcoholic extraction methods, as they are probably less likely to do a good job of it.

Extraction Methods
Picture by Steven Schwartz. From Flickr. CC by 2.0.

The Importance of Testing

Many hemp-based products are not properly tested for pathogens, heavy metals, pesticides, cannabinoid-terpenoid profiles and so on, and even those that do may find that they get wildly different results from different labs.

Now, this is not to say there aren’t any good hemp-based CBD products out there. There may be some, but in a marketplace where testing for safety and efficacy is more of a choice than de rigueur, finding out which ones are best can be a mammoth task.

There is some hope in the UK and the rest of Europe, where regulations on hemp-derived CBD are more stringent, including minimum CBD requirements, testing for pathogens and pollutants, and regulating it like a medicine or healthcare product. Some may think of looking to Europe for a well-made hemp-derived CBD oil, but federal laws mean that importing CBD from Europe is not legal.

However, even in Europe, safety and accuracy is still a concern – many products are not properly labelled, and some even contain a large amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic. Some companies, such as Provacan (who actually commit to studies), Charlotte’s Web, Elixinol, Cibdol and Love Hemp, may be producing good CBD products. Some like Medix and Green Road also have some fans. There are others that may be quite good, such as Eben Britton’s Be Trū Wellness and Chris Martin’s Hempful Farms, but even some products with the best reputations have been given FDA warnings.

In some instances, even good companies may produce batches that test diferently from their labels. Making mass produced oils consistently from a complex plant is very difficult, and even the best get it wrong. However, accuracy is key when it comes to medical products, so these are big concerns when it comes to treatment.

Lab Medical Research
From Pixabay

The UK, in comparison to the rest of Europe, is arguably somewhat better with regards to regulating hemp products. The Cannabis Trade Association UK (CTAUK) works in conjunction with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Ideally, the U.S. ought to follow a similar path in regulating hemp-derived CBD products, as there are far too many products out there at the moment in the US that are essentially snake oil. There is little worse than giving a person false hope, and sadly coming across and ingesting products that do not work may actually turn a person off from applying for a medical marijuana card and trying a cannabis-based product that may actually work.

However, even with CTAUK, Charlotte’s Web brand is considered a “gold standard” – the FDA issued warning letters to the Stanley Brothers firm in 2017, so whether CTAUK have it right is up in the air. I would therefore still remain cautious with hemp-derived CBD products without looking at all the details, even ones made in Europe.

What is Weed Oil? Why is Cannabis-Derived CBD best?

Weed or cannabis oil that you can find in a dispensary is different from hemp oil. More confusingly, there are various things called “cannabis oil”, including concentrates. The product most similar to CBD hemp oil is tincture, which is cannabis infused with edible oil, usually coconut or olive oil. These canna oils (tinctures) are usually full-spectrum and come in various ratios of THC:CBD. Common ratios include THC:CBD ratios of 3:1, 2:1, 1:1, 1:2, 1:3 and high CBD ratios such as 1:18, 1:20 and 1:30. Ratios where the CBD is equal to or greater than the amount of THC have little psychoactive effect (although they may have some).

One of the fundamental reasons why CBD derived from cannabis plants is best is because it is grown for its flower rather than stalk. Flowers tend to contain more trichomes, which is where many of the cannabis plant’s cannabinoids reside. Trichomes are also allowed to mature fully, making the cannabis plant a better, more readily available source of cannabinoids, CBD included.

A product that uses the whole of the cannabis plant is also more likely to contain a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, giving the term “entourage effect” some actual meaning. For some conditions, THC is needed as much as CBD, if not more so. Taking away THC may mean the product is less effective, if effective at all. Yes, there are “full spectrum” hemp-based products, but taking THC out means that it may not be suitable for everyone, and the efficacy may be diminished somewhat.

There are a few very good companies that derive the cannabinoids they use for their products with far more gentle extraction methods, meaning harsh industrial solvents are not used. Some companies may use extraction methods involving organic alcohol, and some of the best ones know how to do this properly. Cannabis-based products are also not limited by the amount of THC they contain, meaning that a compound with significant therapeutic value isn’t necessarily removed for arbitrary reasons.

Yet, despite the fact that cannabis-based products are a better source of cannabinoids, what applies to the hemp industry in the US applies to the cannabis industry as well. Label accuracy in edible medical cannabis products leaves a lot to be desired. There has even been a case of badly-grown, contaminated cannabis being involved in the death of a man with cancer. For medical cannabis patients, many of whom are likely to be immunocompromised, this is of huge concern.

Whether it’s hemp or cannabis, the US needs to regulate both properly. Independent authorities and a consistent, nationwide set of standards is sorely needed. Otherwise, we’re at the mercy of those who are more interested in profit than making a good product.

How to Tell if Hemp Oil Has Gone Bad

Well-made tinctures will stay in good condition for between 12 and 24 months if kept in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, in its original bottle and kept properly sealed with its dripper. You can tell if an oil has degraded if it is foggy or cloudy and murky. If the oil smells bad and rancid, then it may have come in contact with bacteria. Such oils should be discarded.


Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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