By Elements of Green

An Eyedropper full of CBD Oil laying down as well as an eye open eye dropper, next to a fresh Marijuana leaf from above.

CBD, or cannabidiol, has become both legal and popular in the UK and Europe over the past few years.  People use CBD to help them with pain, anxiety, athletic recovery, stress, sleep, and more.  CBD in its raw form is an oil, and it is mixed with other ingredients to make the CBD products people use.  The CBD oil is combined with another edible oil to make tinctures and capsules, with common lotion ingredients to make skin treatments, it is added to products like chewing gum or teas, and even with carrier oils to make a vaping product.

Most people know that CBD comes from the hemp plant.  Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant which produces very little of the psychoactive compound THC, so CBD from hemp plants will not make the user high.

Hemp has been legal in the UK and Europe for many years. In fact, it was never banned in France or in Finland, and the UK and Europe have been supporting hemp production for 50 years.

If hemp has been legal for so long and CBD only became legal recently, what is the difference?

The answer is that CBD is only one part of the hemp plant and it is only recently that we sought to extract it for use by people. What’s more, growing hemp plants for CBD cancels out one of the biggest other uses for the hemp plant!

Here you can see a picture of a hemp plant with its parts and some of the plant’s many uses labeled.

Moving from the bottom of the plant to the top, the roots of the hemp plant are used by practitioners of alternative medicine. Ayurvedic medicine has long used hemp root to make teas or extracted the root oil to use as a balm applied to the skin.

The leaves have found less use.  Hemp producers often used the leaves as an animal feed.  More recently, some people have been extracting CBD from the leaves.  There isn’t much CBD in hemp plant leaves compared to the CBD in the flowers, as we will see, but as extraction methods become more efficient more and more producers find it worth the investment to extract the very valuable cannabidiol.

The stalks are an important part of the hemp plant to the farmer. Historically, hemp stalks made fibers and the fibers in turn became textiles for clothing, for sails, and for rope. Many of the textile uses of hemp have been supplanted by synthetic materials but hemp is still important for some clothing items.  Looking forward, clothing manufacturers know that there will be a lot more hemp grown because of CBD, so they are looking for ways to use the stalks for textiles once again.  Levi’s for example, has designed a process to “cottonize” hemp, making it softer and easier to weave.  For now, the hemp clothing is more expensive than traditional cotton clothing and buyers are attracted to it because hemp is more environmentally friendly than cotton.  Compared to cotton, hemp uses less water, grows more quickly and in a bigger variety of soil conditions, is better for the soil, and requires less pesticides.

Over time, further advances in manufacturing and a higher supply of hemp stalks may bring the prices down, and certainly we can expect to see a larger variety of hemp-based apparel.

Other companies are finding new uses for hemp stalks.  Several auto companies use it as a sound dampener in the doors of automobiles, for example.  Hemp offers good insulation at a very low weight, making it more effective than cheaper synthetic materials. Companies are also using hemp stalk fibers as a replacement for some plastics, a stabilizer in concrete, insulation, and more.

A fresh Majijuana leaf on twine.

In the meantime, some CBD suppliers are extracting small amounts of cannabidiol from the stalks just as they do from the leaves.

Now we get to the flowers and seeds.

Prior to people discovering the benefits of CBD, one of the biggest uses of the hemp plant was to produce hemp seeds and hemp oil. The seeds and the oil are important nutritional tools for many people.  Hemp seeds and the oils extracted from them are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Despite not having any measurable amounts of cannabinoids, hemp seeds and their oil are also used to reduce inflammation.

That brings us to the difference between a CBD product and a hemp seed or hemp oil product.  People primarily use CBD to help with pain.  Others use it for stress relief and to reduce anxiety.  Some use CBD as a sleep aid.  CBD is also used in a pharmaceutical product to treat some forms of childhood epilepsy.  That treatment is called Epidiolex and is a rapidly-growing pharmaceutical.  Because of the benefits of CBD, many other researchers are exploring what other conditions it might be able to treat.

Hemp seed and hemp oil are more commonly used as food additives.  Hemp oil is much richer in those fatty acids than most other oils.  For example, hemp oil has more than 30 times as much Omega-3 and more than five times as much Omega-6 as olive oil.  Omega-3 and Omega-6 are “good” fats and the only ones which humans to not make naturally, so substituting hemp oil for other cooking oils can improve nutrition. What’s more, nutrition experts recommend that we get Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:4 or less, and many fatty foods have far too much Omega-6 to maintain this ratio.  Hemp oil has a ratio of 1:2.5, so including hemp oils in your diet can help moderate the excess of Omega-6 that most people consuming a western diet receive.

You can find a complete listing of the differences between CBD and hemp oil presented as a visualization at Visual Capitalist.

The nutritional benefits of hemp seed and hempseed oil along with the increasing popularity of CBD for other benefits has created a conundrum for hemp farmers. The part of the hemp plant which is richest in CBD is the hemp flower before it starts to produce seeds. Once a hemp plant starts producing seeds, it is all but useless for CBD production.  So any given hemp plant cannot produce both hemp seeds and CBD.

Hemp for CBD and hemp for seeds can not even be grown close to each other.  The plants destined to produce seeds will have many male plants, which produce pollen that fertilizes the female plants. The majority of pollinating plants depend on animals to spread the pollen.  It could be an insect, a bird, a bat, or even a land animal.  But hemp is among the plants which spread pollen on the wind.  If a crop of hemp destined for seed is too close to a crop destined for CBD production, the pollen will fertilize the female plants in the CBD crop and ruin them. Even hemp crops which are designed to produce more seeds for CBD hemp plants must be remote from the CBD hemp itself.

One final difference between hemp for CBD and hemp for seeds and other uses is the genetics of the plant itself.  There is no such thing as genetically-modified (GMO) hemp, but like all other plants there are different varieties, or strains, of the hemp plant.  Hemp plants destined for CBD production are selectively bred over time to increase the amount of CBD that they produce.  Hemp plants destined to produce seeds for food and beauty products are selected to produce the most nutritious seeds with the most oil.  That means a farmer can’t decide halfway through the growing season which kind of hemp she wants to grow.  The decision must come before planting.

Fortunately, as a consumer you do not need to worry about such things.  By the time a CBD product, hemp, or hempseed oil reaches you, all such matters have been resolved.  What you have to do is know the different uses for CBD on the one hand and hemp seed and hempseed oil on the other hand.   If you want both, some CBD products are combined with hempseed oil; one example is here.

Additionally, you should insist that your CBD product be lab tested.  There are some CBD products in the market which do not have the advertised amounts of cannabidiol, and some producers simply don’t use any CBD at all! Lab testing is your assurance that the product is made to your specifications.  Lab testing of hemp seed and hemp seed oil is not necessary, because those products are better developed, and any disreputable producers have been removed from the market.