Hemp 101: Everything You Need to Know

Written by

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is the senior editor at CBD Oracle, and has been covering science, vaping and cannabis for over 10 years. He has a MS in Theoretical Physics from Uppsala...

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Hemp is undoubtedly one of the most important crops in human history. While traditional, high-THC cannabis plants have – understandably – taken a lot of the focus away from hemp, with the rise of CBD and continuing use for industrial purposes, people are still discovering its wonders every day.

As the main source of the cannabidiol in CBD oil and being used for a multitude of everyday products, learning more about hemp is crucial for understanding the modern cannabis industry. Hemp was made federally legal by the Trump administration in Dec. 2018.


  • Hemp is Cannabis (i.e., c.sativa) that’s been bred for a low-THC and high-CBD content.
  • Hemp is legal provided the THC content is below 0.2% (Europe) or 0.3% (US) and (a pitiful) 0.02% in the UK.
  • Hemp seed oil is primarily nutritional, and different to CBD oil derived from hemp.
  • Hemp oil can also be used for skin conditions when applied topically.
  • The plant is used for textiles, building materials, animal bedding, paper and much more.
  • Hemp doesn’t get you high but you can use the flower for its CBD.
  • If you’re buying hemp seed oil, make sure it’s cold-pressed.

Hemp is Low-THC Cannabis

Although many people believe that hemp and cannabis are different plants, science doesn’t distinguish between the two.

Both “hemp” and cannabis are forms of the Cannabis sativa L plant, but their varying THC content means that people use (and think of) them in different ways.

The specific number is arbitrary, but the general definition is a cannabis plant containing 0.3% or less of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

This definition is the law in the US, while in the EU the limit is a little stricter at 0.2% or less of THC. However, hemp contains substantial amounts of CBD, which makes it an important plant when it comes to CBD oil.

Hemp Originated in Central Asia but is Grown Around the World

Hemp originated in Central Asia, but most places in the world are suitable for growing it. Ultimately, hemp is a form of the Cannabis sativa plant, with selective breeding producing taller, thinner plants than when grown for recreational purposes and with much lower quantities of THC.

As a result, the hemp used for products and industrial purposes is grown in a huge range of places, including the US, European countries such as France, China and in lower quantities in many other countries.

Hemp Has Been a Key Crop for Most of Recorded History

It isn’t an overstatement to say that hemp is one of the most important crops in the history of humanity. Hemp cloth from ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq) has been found by archaeologists, estimated to date back to 8,000 BC, and Chinese emperor Shen Nung encouraged the cultivation of hemp for textiles in 2,800 BC.

The crop reached Europe in around 1,200 BC, and its uses continued to expand through history right up to the 1900s, playing a key role in everything from the first paper through to sailing ships in the middle ages.

It was likely used in North America prior to the arrival of the Europeans, and remained dominant until the mechanical cotton gin offered a less labor-intensive way to produce fabrics. However, with modern techniques and the resurgence of interest in cannabis more generally, the plant is still an important part of many industries.

Hemp Oil is Nutritional Oil Made from Cannabis Seeds (CBD oil vs. Hemp oil)

Some companies using the names hemp oil and CBD oil pretty much interchangeably has created some confusion around what hemp oil actually is.

To be specific about it – because it’s important if you’re interested in CBD oil – hemp oil should actually be called hemp seed oil, to create a clear distinction between it and hemp-derived CBD oil.

Hemp oil:

  • As this more specific name implies, hemp oil comes from the seeds of the cannabis plant, which manufacturers press to produce the oil.
  • It contains antioxidants, vitamins (particularly vitamin D and B vitamins), amino acids, gamma-linolenic and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • It also contains no THC, very little (if any) CBD and basically no phytocannabinoids of any type.
  • Hemp oil is also legal everywhere, whereas the legality of CBD oil can vary depending on where you are. 

CBD oil:

  • In contrast, CBD oil is made from the stalks, leaves and flower of the plant, and is made specifically for the phytocannabinoid content.
  • This means CBD oil has specific benefits, such as helping with anxiety, pain management and improving sleep, while hemp oil is more generically used for wellness because of its nutritional content.
  • This is basically why CBD oil is much more expensive than hemp oil.

Hemp Seeds are Seeds from Cannabis sativa

Since pressed hemp seeds produce hemp oil, it’s natural to wonder what hemp seed actually is. However, from the previous discussion of what hemp is, this should be clear: hemp seed simply describes the seeds from the cannabis plant.

The reason for calling it hemp seed rather than cannabis seed basically reflects the (still) greater acceptance of hemp than cannabis, even though in terms of the seed there is basically no difference at all.

Hemp Flower is High-CBD, Low-THC Cannabis Flower

When people talk about hemp flower, they generally mean the flower from a high-CBD, low-THC strain of cannabis.

The low THC content means the plant is technically classed as hemp, but otherwise hemp flower is basically equivalent to cannabis flower (i.e. the “bud”) and can be used in the same way.

For this reason people sometimes refer to it as CBD flower, and it’s basically CBD-only cannabis. Because of the low THC content, it’s legal for the same reason as CBD oil and other CBD products are, but it has more of a resemblance to traditional cannabis.  

Cannabis sativa Seed Oil is Hemp Seed Oil

As described above, the most accurate way to refer to hemp oil is hemp seed oil, and by now you know that hemp is just a term for low-THC Cannabis sativa. So with this in mind, Cannabis sativa seed oil is hemp oil, used for nutritional purposes rather than for the cannabinoid content.


Cannabinoids is a general name for the active compounds of the cannabis plant.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most well-known cannabinoid, because it’s the main component that gives cannabis its psychoactive effects.

CBD (cannabidiol) is the most well-known non-psychoactive cannabinoid, but there are many others too, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabitriol (CBT), among many others.

It’s unclear exactly how many cannabinoids are present in the plant: scientists have definitively identified 66, but the number could easily be over 100.

What is (Hemp-Derived) CBD Oil Used For?

Hemp-derived CBD oil is used for different purposes depending on what the user is looking for and what specific type of CBD oil it is.

Generally, isolate (as close as you can get to pure CBD) is used as an anti-inflammatory, and is completely non-psychoactive.

Broad spectrum CBD oil is used for various ailments such as anxiety, pain management and sleep, but contains no THC, so you can use it and still pass a drug test, for instance.

Full spectrum CBD oil does contain THC, and while it’s used for the same ailments as broad-spectrum (as well as additional uses such as helping with the nausea from chemotherapy), it benefits even more so from the entourage effect, although it will mean you fail a drug test.

Hemp is Used for CBD Products, Textiles and Many Other Products

There are many uses of hemp, which you can broadly separate into uses of the CBD derived from hemp and uses of the fibers of the plant.

When manufacturers extract CBD from hemp, they may make it into oil or a tincture, or indeed a range of CBD products. In this form, people use it (generally orally) for a range of medical purposes, or indeed just as a relaxation aid.

The fibers of hemp are used for a range of products, including paper and textiles, as well as industrial products and building materials.

On the inside of the stalk, hemp contains hurds (also called shives), which companies use to produce particle boards, bedding materials, absorbent materials compost, ceiling panels and more.  

Industrial Hemp is Useful for Tons of Different Purposes

Industrial hemp is just another term used to describe the low-THC version of the Cannabis sativa plant, particularly when used for industrial purposes.

Hemp has a multitude of uses, including (but not limited to) for animal bedding, ropes, fiberboard, “hempcrete” (a hemp-based alternative to traditional concrete), textiles (and clothing), insulation, plastics, biofuel, cosmetics, cooking oil, water filters, paper, food, nutritional supplements, CBD products and it can also be used to absorb toxins and unwanted chemicals from soil.

Hemp has such a massive range of uses that listing all of them would take more space than this entire guide.

Hemp Oil May Have Benefits for Cholesterol, Digestive Issues and Skin Conditions

The benefits of hemp oil are related to its nutritional content. It’s used in nutritional supplements, primarily because it contains large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids (i.e. omega 3 and 6), and also for the antioxidants it contains.

Most of the reported benefits are related to heart health, generally by helping to regulate levels of high-density and low-density lipoprotein (with the former sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol), as well as affecting total cholesterol levels.

While there is some evidence in support of this, more research is needed to investigate this issue. There are several other potential benefits, including relief from constipation and other gastrointestinal issues, helping the immune system and improving skin conditions. Hemp oil is safe but some people report digestive problems after using it.

How to Use Hemp

Since hemp usually comes in the form of hemp oil, you can consume it as a tincture or apply it directly to your skin as a topical (i.e. in the same way you’d use a moisturizing or anti-inflammatory cream).

You can also directly eat the seeds, although the quantity of beneficial nutritional compounds is generally higher after the seeds have been compressed into oil.

There are several other questions related to how to use hemp which we’ll summarize below:

  • Can you smoke hemp? If you buy hemp/CBD flower, you can certainly smoke it in the same way you would with ordinary cannabis. However, this brings some risks (as all smoking does), so it’s better to vaporize it if you intend to use the flower in this way.
  • Can hemp get you high? Although hemp is the same plant as recreational cannabis, the very low THC content means that hemp can’t get you high. It has a lot of CBD, but this is non-psychotropic, so it doesn’t get you high. Depending on the CBD potency, you may experience a light buzz, roughly equivalent to drinking two beers.
  • Does hemp have THC? Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, so while this does mean it technically contains THC, this isn’t enough to get you high and use of hemp will not show up on a drug test.

Either Apply Hemp Oil Directly to the Skin or Swallow It

You can use hemp oil either topically or orally.

Topical means that you apply the hemp oil directly to your skin, rubbing it in to the affected area in the same way you would with a moisturizing cream. It’s recommended to test the oil on a small patch of your skin to check you don’t get a reaction (leave it under a bandage for 24 hours, looking out for redness, itching or burning), and wash it off at the first sign of trouble. If you’re OK with the oil, just apply it to the affected area of skin (making sure the skin is clean), leave it for a minute or two and then wash the oil off with warm water.

You can also use the oil orally by either swallowing one to two teaspoons daily or putting it under your tongue (sublingual). Some sources recommend capsules for a more precisely-controlled dosage, but really there is little to be concerned about so this isn’t necessary by any means.

Look for Cold-Pressed Hemp Oil from Reputable Companies

Buying hemp oil for the first time can be a daunting process, but there are a couple of simple tips you can follow to ensure you get a quality product.

Any hemp oil you buy should be cold pressed, because this process allows the extraction of the oil from the seeds without impacting the nutritional content or aroma of the resulting oil.

Most other advice is more general, but you should only buy from companies who explain their practices and standards clearly, and it’s best to avoid companies who make exaggerated health claims about what the oil can achieve.

The increased interest in CBD and other cannabis products over recent years has attracted some less-than-reputable people just looking to make a quick buck, so it’s best to be cautious about who you buy from.

“Hemp Oil” May Refer to CBD Oil; “Hemp Seed Oil” Never Does

The inconsistent use of terminology makes things like the distinction between hemp oil and hemp seed oil a little confusing.

Generally speaking, hemp oil and hemp seed oil should refer to the same thing: the oil pressed from seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. However, this may not be the case because many companies use “hemp oil” to refer to hemp-derived CBD oil.

Unfortunately, the only way to know what a specific company actually means is to look at the details: if they talk about extraction methods (e.g. CO2 extraction) or put a lot of focus on CBD, chances are you’re looking at hemp-derived CBD oil. However, if you’re still confused we would recommend simply using another company which makes it clear what you’re actually buying.

“CBD Oil” is Clear Terminology; “Hemp Oil” Is a Little Vague

Again, inconsistent use of terminology makes the distinction between hemp oil and CBD oil a little difficult to pin down. That said, if a company is selling “CBD oil” they’re almost certainly referring to hemp-derived CBD oil.

People using “hemp oil” as a term should really imply hemp seed oil, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case, because it may just be an incorrectly used term for CBD oil. In an ideal world, people would only use “hemp oil” to refer to the nutritional oil pressed from hemp seeds, so CBD oil could solely refer to a CBD-focused product derived from the hemp plant.

Hemp and Cannabis are the Same Plant, Bred for Different Purposes

Hemp and cannabis refer to the same plant. However, hemp generally has a skinnier, taller appearance due to selective breeding, while cannabis is shorter and wider with larger flowers. This isn’t because of a fundamental biological difference (although if you want to get technical, hemp has more genetic similarity to Cannabis indica and “weed” to Cannabis sativa), it’s more like how all domestic dogs are the same species but they can look very different to one another.

From a user’s perspective, though, the big difference between the two is the THC content: because hemp contains much less THC, it can’t get you high in the same way traditional cannabis can.

Hemp is legal in most countries provided that the plant only contains a very low percentage of THC by weight. This is because THC is the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, and so with a low concentration of THC it’s completely non-intoxicating.

The precise meaning of “very low” varies slightly according to where you are, though. For example, in the US, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp at the federal level provided it contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, whereas in the EU the limit is a little stricter at 0.2%. UN conventions are a bit ambiguous regarding CBD (and consequently hemp), but if a measure is to be passed in future it would likely set a THC limit of 0.2%.


Hemp-derived CBD oil may be our main interest at CBD Oracle, but hemp is so much more than just a source of CBD. As well as hemp seed oil and its nutritional benefits, hemp is an environmentally-friendly crop that can do everything from clean contaminated soil to produce the clothes on your back. With increasing legal acceptance of hemp cultivation and CBD more generally, the long history of hemp is sure to get much longer in the coming years.