What is the difference between hemp and CBD products?

Learn the basics of hemp vs. CBD, including the benefits of each.

Learn the basics of hemp vs. CBD, including the benefits of each.
minute read

A lot of the CBD learning process comes down to definitions and categories. Because we reuse a lot of the same expressions—think hemp, cannabis, CBD, and others—it's easy to get these ideas tangled up without clear distinctions.

One of the biggest points of confusion comes in differentiating between hemp and CBD products. You may find products labeled hemp oil, hemp extract, or CBD oils with various modifiers and ingredient combos, with no definitive guide to make sense of how they are different. 

This article sets out to give you the go-to resource for figuring out the difference between hemp and CBD products across the board, with some tips to find the best products for your needs. Let’s begin. 

What is the hemp plant?

Before we examine different cannabis products and how they differ, let’s talk about the plant itself.

The hemp plant is a version of the Cannabis sativa plant, mainly used for industrial applications. The plant is highly resilient, grows tall and strong, and contains fibers that are excellent for making textiles, biofuels, and other consumer goods. Hemp is also legal in most countries now, though industries are still catching up as the reputation of the plant changes for the better.

In terms of consumption, hemp naturally contains very low amounts of THC. This means that products derived specifically from hemp contain less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. Because of this low THC content, these plantsin their natural formhave little to no intoxicating, psychoactive effects.  

However, hemp is not devoid of therapeutic benefits, and certain hemp-only products have found success in niche markets. We’ll touch on the possible upsides of hemp seed oils and similar products soon and see how they differ from other products derived from cannabis.*

Are hemp and cannabis the same?

Think of the cannabis plant as the “mother plant” that includes both hemp and cannabis, also known as marijuana. Hemp is indeed a type of cannabis, but in most situations, you’ll hear cannabis more commonly referred to in the context of marijuana and its psychoactive effects.*

For now, there’s one key distinction to remember: marijuana contains naturally high concentrations of THC, while hemp only contains trace amounts. This has legal implications for both products, even after the 2018 Farm Bill and various state decisions to legalize cannabis.*

Hemp and cannabis might seem similar to the untrained eye, but from a legal and chemical standpoint, they feature key differences that put them in separate categories. 

Where does CBD come from?

We know the basics of hemp and cannabis and recognize the role of THC in each of these plants. Now, it’s time to talk about CBD and how it figures into the picture.

CBD is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in nearly all forms of cannabis, meaning it’s present in both hemp and marijuana. This means you can find CBD derived from hemp or marijuana, though producers may not always be clear about where their CBD comes from.*

A key part of CBD’s definition is that it can only contain a maximum of 0.3% THC by dry weight. Therefore, CBD from hemp tends to have far less THC, while CBD from cannabis typically has more, depending on the type of strain used.*

Also, consider that CBD is most effective when a wider variety of cannabinoids and plant compounds are present in the formulation. Cannabis plants tend to be richer in cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, making them a better option for CBD if you’re looking to experience the full benefits.* 

CBD from hemp only can also be effective, but you may miss out on the entourage effect that combines the benefits of all cannabinoids for a more effective amount.

Is hemp-derived CBD federally legal?

Yes, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. So long as these hemp products contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight, they can be sold anywhere and come in formats ranging from gummies to tinctures and other edibles or ingestibles.*

However, any product containing more than 0.3% THC is subjected to state laws, which can vary based on marijuana legalization policies. The goal here is to limit access to psychoactive components of cannabis that produce a high or might cause impairment of perception or motor skills.

You can reap the health benefits of CBD in states that haven’t legalized cannabis in full. Still, you’ll want to read labels and certificates of analysis regardless of your location. With the loopholes of delta-9 and other THC isolates, double-check those labels and consider the milligram amounts of each compound in a single serving.*

How do hemp oil and CBD oil differ?

When comparing hemp oil and CBD oil, we first need to look at different possible formulations that aren’t always clarified by these names. 

Hemp oil, for example, typically refers to hemp seed oil, a nutritional supplement that delivers fatty acids and other healthy compounds. Hemp seed oil does not, however, contain CBD unless it’s intentionally added and explicitly labeled as a type of hybrid supplement.

Conversely, CBD oil can also be a misleading name, since it often refers to CBD isolate, which contains strictly pure CBD and no other compounds. Some companies use this lesser form of CBD to sell products under the “CBD oil” label but fail to deliver the full range of beneficial chemical compounds of the cannabis plant. 

Hemp extract is yet another variation that draws from the cannabis plant but harnesses the full power of the cannabis plant, including stalks, leaves, stems, and other materials. This is often used as an umbrella term to refer to products containing CBD, CBN, and CBG, as well as terpenes and flavonoids, providing the complete benefits of the plant.*

Sunmed’s approach is focused mainly on hemp extract products because we want to provide the highest amount of CBD possible with other key compounds. 

However, this is not a universal standard, and you must always read the fine print–including certificates of analysis–to know exactly what you’re getting from the products you buy and consume.

Nutrient profiles

Hemp seed oil is recognized for its nutrient profile rather than its cannabinoid content. In a typical hemp seed oil product, you may find vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and other phytonutrients that occur naturally in hemp seeds. 

This is why hemp seed oil is usually described as a health supplement rather than a cannabis product and why some see hemp seed oil as a vegan alternative to fish oil. 

You can find nutritional benefits from hemp seed oil products but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re taking a CBD product when you buy hemp seed oil in its purest form. 

On the other hand, nutrient profiles found in hemp extracts may not be as complete or diverse, but these products are not meant to be consumed for nutritional needs. While you may find coconut MCT oil or other healthy ingredients in your favorite hemp extract products, these are meant to heighten the effects of the cannabinoids rather than helping to meet your daily dietary recommendations. 

Cannabinoid content

In terms of cannabinoid content, there are some main differences between hemp seed oil, CBD oil, and hemp extract products. 

Once again, hemp seed oil is generally classed as a nutritional supplement and contains minimal cannabinoid content in most cases. CBD oil, also known as CBD isolate, is a CBD-only supplement that contains that specific cannabinoid and no other compounds from the cannabis plant. 

Hemp extract, however, offers the highest CBD concentrations of the bunch, in addition to other beneficial compounds like CBN, CBG, terpenes, flavonoids, and trace amounts of THC. THC content will vary depending on if a product is labeled broad spectrum CBD (non-detectable levels of THC) or full spectrum CBD (up to 0.3% THC), so remember this when sourcing your hemp extract products.*

Cannabinoid content is arguably the most important part of getting on track with the CBD lifestyle since these compounds provide noticeable effects, like supporting your overall well-being and reducing feelings of discomfort.* 

If you’re looking to get the most from your CBD products, look for hemp extracts like these from Sunmed or a comparable product with robust cannabinoid profiles. 

What part of the plant is used for hemp oil and CBD oil?

The part of the plant used to create cannabis products makes all the difference in the final formulation and its effects on the body. 

Hemp seed oil–or simply hemp oil–is made by crushing and extracting the liquid contents of hemp seeds and potentially adding ingredients for more volume. The hemp seeds may contain fatty acids and vitamins, but you won’t find CBD or other cannabinoids in efficacious amounts.*

CBD oil differs in that it can be extracted from other parts of the cannabis plant, but nearly all other cannabinoids are filtered out in the production process. In some cases, the cannabis plants used to make CBD are not rich in cannabis compounds in the first place, resulting in lower concentrations and reduced effects. Still, a small amount of CBD from these oils can offer some upside compared to hemp seed oil.

Hemp extracts feature the most intense extraction process because the full range of stalks, leaves, and stems are utilized in creating these products. While the process is more expensive and labor-intensive, it results in the richest source of CBD, along with other cannabinoids and efficacious plant compounds.* 

With this in mind, always prioritize quality hemp extracts over lesser alternatives like hemp seed oil or CBD oil. These other products may be marketed as cannabis oils but offer the minimum in terms of benefits for the body and mind. When in doubt, read the certificate of analysis because the lab reports never lie!

Does hemp oil produce the entourage effect?

Hemp oil, or hemp seed oil, does not produce the entourage effect because there are virtually no cannabinoids to be found in hemp seeds themselves. CBD isolate may feature a higher concentration of CBD but will also fall short of the entourage effect because other cannabinoids are not present.*

Once again, hemp extract offers the best way to experience the entourage effect and target the full endocannabinoid system with various compounds. Even a broad spectrum hemp extract with minimal THC will offer a superior entourage effect compared to hemp seed oil and CBD isolate oils.*

Of course, the greatest entourage effect will result from taking a full spectrum hemp extract product, since small amounts of THC can supercharge the benefits of CBD and its analogs. If your goal is to maximize the entourage effect without going all-in on a THC-heavy product, full spectrum hemp extract is a clear winner.* 

The bottom line

There’s a lot of second-guessing when it comes to cannabis products, and the confusing labeling system doesn’t help. Hopefully, this article has helped to clear up some of the definitions and terms you might encounter on your journey, and provide some clarity about the best products to add to your regimen.

Every manufacturer has a different way of labeling its products, but there’s no disputing the facts regarding hemp seed oil, CBD oil isolates, and the complete hemp extracts from Sunmed. We use the term “tincture” to clarify that our liquid hemp extract products are more than just CBD oil.

The key takeaway is to stay on top of your research, and don’t be misled by products that don’t provide the full cannabinoid benefits you want!

Check out Sunmed’s offerings to get the highest quality hemp extracts available, and don’t settle for second best with your CBD. 


Hemp Seed Oil and CBD Concentrate, Understanding the Difference | State of Vermont

Hemp & Cannabidiol: What is a Medicine? | NIH

Cannabinoid Profiling of Hemp Seed Oil by Liquid Chromatography Coupled to High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry | NIH

Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals | NIH

CBD: Safe and effective? | Mayo Clinic

Hempseed oil in a nutshell | AOCS

Waiting for the Entourage | PMC

Farm Bill | USDA

Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet | Congressional Research Service