Understanding the Different Types of Hemp Oil

Interest in hemp and hemp products are booming, but that can lead to labeling confusion over different types of hemp oil. What is hemp seed oil and how is it different from CBD oil, also called hemp extract?

The confusion is compounded by the lack of regulation around hemp-based supplements, particularly CBD oil. Misleading, and even outright dishonestly labelled products abound. In particular, Amazon.com is a dangerous place to buy CBD thanks to the thousands of fake and misleading products there.

We created this article in the hopes of clearing up the confusion around different types of CBD oil.

Table of contents

Three very different types of oil made from hemp

Simply put, it’s important to realize that there are different types of hemp oil and each one of them has different properties and benefits.

Hemp oils can be broken down into 3 different types:

  • Hemp seed oil (Unrefined and Refined)
  • CBD oil, also known as “hemp extract”
  • Hemp essential oil

All these oils are both extracted from the plant and processed in different ways. More importantly, all these oils offer different benefits. Understanding what properties each of these oils have will help you understand which hemp oil to shop for the next time you’re looking to try one.

Photo: Hemp seed oil is poured onto an overflowing spoon from above. The background is blurry but green and organic.
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As hemp’s popularity grows, so too can confusion over the different types of hemp oil, including hemp seed oil, hemp extract (CBD oil), and hemp essential oil.

Hemp seed oil (refined and unrefined)

Hemp seed oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant. There are two different ways to make hemp seed oil:

Unrefined, cold-pressed hemp seed oil

This oil is green in color with a nutty flavor. Cold pressed hemp oil preserves hemp’s nutritious content, so it is often called “nature’s most perfectly balanced oil.”

Unrefined, cold-pressed hemp oil is processed in minimal heat. This means that the oil has not been bleached or deodorized.

A lot of unrefined oils are also called “virgin,” “extra virgin,” “raw,” or “pure.” This also means that unrefined oil has a much shorter shelf life and should be stored in the refrigerator once opened. The oil can also start smelling odd when it gets closer to its expiration date. When you hear someone complaining about the foul odor from a hemp seed oil they just bought, you can assume that the bottle was in storage for a while. In this case, we’d recommend you reach out to the manufacturer to ask for a refund and/or exchange.

Refined hemp seed oil

Refined oil is clear and colorless. It doesn’t have much flavor and also lacks the natural vitamins and antioxidants that hemp is known for. That’s because this oil is typically used as ingredients for body care products, fuel, lubricants, and even plastics.

This oil has been bleached and deodorized. That is why refined oil has a much longer shelf life, and can be used in body care products. Dr. Bronners, the biggest hemp soap maker, advocates hemp oil for its superfatting ingredients. They have been using hemp oil in their soaps for over 150 years for its amazing essential fatty acid (EFA) content, which essentially means that the soap is smoother and a great moisturizer.

Photo: A pair of handing holds a brown glass bottle of CBD and a dropper of CBD. In the background are young hemp seedlings.
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Hemp extract, better known as CBD oil, is a nutritional supplement extracted from the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant.

CBD oil / hemp extract

CBD (Cannabidiol) is a a non psychoactive cannabinoid. It’s extracted from the flowers and leaves hemp plants, for medical use, as a nutritional supplement, or even a skin care ingredient. Somewhat confusingly, CBD oil can also be referred to on product labels as hemp extract, and sometimes even just “hemp oil.”

CBD oil has exploded into a billion dollar industry since the legalization of hemp at the end of 2018. CBD offers numerous benefits thanks to its interactions with the human endocannabinoid system, where it mimics natural compounds created by our bodies. Consumers report this type of hemp oil offers relief of pain, anxiety, and even epileptic seizures, among other ways CBD can help.

Although CBD oil is legal to buy, use and possess in the United States, it’s currently almost totally unregulated. That means you have to be very careful buying CBD Oil in order to ensure you buy a product that is pure and accurately labelled. Also, since hemp can absorb toxins and heavy metals from the soil, it’s important to buy only hemp oil products made from U.S.-grown hemp that’s produced under carefully controlled conditions.

Helping consumers buy better CBD products is a big part of our mission at the Ministry of Hemp. You’ll find more information, and reviews of some of the best hemp extracts, in the CBD menus at the top of our site.

The rarest type of hemp oil is hemp essential oil. Photo: Hemp Essential Oil in bottles with hemp leaves.
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The rarest type of hemp oil is hemp essential oil.

Hemp essential oil

Hemp essential oil comes from the upper leaves and flowers of the hemp plant. The leaves and flowers are steam distilled to capture the pure essence of the plant. This oil is pale yellow to light green in color with a a highly concentrated therapeutic aroma. It takes over fifty pounds of hemp to make 1 ounce of hemp essential oil. It is also one of the most expensive oils in the world, and it contains no THC or CBD.

Hemp essential oil is well known for its essential oil aroma and therapeutic abilities on the central nervous system. Unlike the other types of hemp oil, you should not take hemp essential oil internally. Instead, it can be blended carefully into a carrier oil or used for its scent. It helps to release stress and relax the body. Its earthy, peppery and faintly sweet scent is alluring and sensual; blending perfectly with other fragrances to perfect the art of aromatherapy.

Hemp essential oil is the rarest type of hemp oil. A few brands offer hemp essential oil for sale while some others blend hemp essential oil into products like candles.

Why it matters

As hemp oil becomes increasingly popular among active people looking for a healthy supplement or patients considering a medical alternative, it’s important that we know which oil offers what benefits. Taking hemp seed oil with the hopes that it’ll help you “relax” or get rid of chronic pain can only be discouraging. At best, you’ll experience a few placebo effects.

So if you’re looking to try hemp oil, make sure to learn what type of hemp oil will best fit your needs. Proactively share your knowledge with your friends and family so they aren’t confused about the benefits that hemp oil offers. The sooner we can raise awareness of the differences in hemp oil, the quicker we can get rid of misleading reviews, such as the one that we’ve seen on Amazon.

Kit O’Connell contributed to this article.

Ministry of Hemp is America's leading hemp advocate.

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Latest Comments
  • Arlene Czuma says:

    This article helps a lot. You got some unrefined hemp.lol and i.was not sure if it’s use. Thank you!

  • Darrell F Martin II says:

    How to learn which one is for you especially since there are a plethora amount out there on the market both inside and outside the United States??

  • Jim Dunham says:

    Great Stuff.. It seems, you have researched a lot before posting the blog. Thank you for sharing such a important information, as rarely people know this use of CBD. I know about CBD but not aware the CBD can be use in this way as well.

  • MikeyK___ says:

    Great article, thanks.

  • stephy says:

    thank u so much. this is great, just what i needed…

  • CYndal says:

    Not to mention that scientifically it makes sense why hemp is such a powerful anti-inflammatory with its essential fatty acid profile and wide array of vitamins and minerals that also have anti-inflammatory properties.

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