A Beginner's Guide to Hemp Oil, the Cannabis Product That's Legal Right Now

With medical marijuana on everyone's lips (in more ways than one), people are buzzing about weed, hemp, cannabis, THC, CBD, and all kinds of other related terms that you might or might not understand. It's OK -- this is confusing stuff.

Leave it to Cultist to offer a little clarity about one such topic you're probably hearing a lot about: hemp oil. From "cannamoms" to Whole Foods salespeople, lots of folks are touting the benefits of this product. But what is it, exactly, and what does it do?

See also: How to Become a Medical Marijuana Millionaire in Ten Easy Steps

So what is this stuff?

Let's start with what hemp oil is not. It is not marijuana. It does not get people high. Both originate from the same plant, but marijuana is cultivated for the buds (which have to be carefully raised for that specific purpose). They're also grown differently.

The oil has only trace amounts of THC, the psychotropic component in weed. Instead, it has higher concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is the medicinal boon people are all atwitter over.

"You'll see two kinds -- hemp oil drawn from the plant and hemp oil drawn from the seeds. Ours is drawn from the mature stalks of the hemp plant," says Andrew Hard, director of public relations for HempMeds, a California company whose hemp oil products are sold all over the world. The stalk and seeds don't fall under the definition of what the U.S. government dubs marijuana, he says; that's why the products are legal in all 50 states.

Aw, man. So it won't get me stoned?

Sorry, man. Let's put it this way: The medical marijuana bill that recently passed the Florida House would allow patients with cancer and conditions that result in chronic seizures or severe muscle spasms to use marijuana pills, oils, or vapors that contain 0.8 percent THC or lower and 10 percent CBD or higher. Right now, those things are illegal.

HempMeds' Real Scientific Hemp Oil (RSHO), as a comparison, has 15.5 to 25 percent CBD by volume but only trace amounts of THC.

Fine. So what does it do?

There's more to the cannabis plant than just getting stoned, bro. These days, the plant can be used to make about 25,000 products, including clothes, cars, plastics, building materials, rope, paper, linens, and so on. It can be grown in almost any soil, requires little care, and can be used for practically everything. Almost every other western country grows it, and it could provide a wealth of sustainable alternatives to standard American industry -- yet it's illegal.

But we digress. Though growing cannabis is illegal, possessing hemp oil, paradoxically, is not, and many people insist the health benefits it provides are invaluable. While there's been little research in the U.S. regarding CBD, other countries have studied it extensively. Some findings indicate CBD is helpful for a wide range of concerns, from skin care to epilepsy and cancer.

Dr. John Hicks, a physician in Los Gatos, California, advises his patients to take hemp oil for a whole host of conditions, from insomnia to cancer.

"When you smoke marijuana, the two big things you get are THC, which is the psychotropic piece, and CBD, which is more of the medicinal piece. Hemp oil has high CBD with minimal to no THC, and that's why it's really a supplement," Hicks explains.

For normal folks, he touts its ability to serve as a cellular energy boost and preventative that helps increase focus, memory, and concentration, as well as protect against stroke and heart attack. For people with inflammation issues or neurodegenerative diseases, he says it can help decrease pain and restore function to neurons.

Basically, lower doses are designed for healthy people looking for preventative care, and higher doses can be used to fight specific diseases.

Hicks adds that research suggests CBD might be a potent cancer fighter (especially breast and prostate) and might prevent metastasis. A whole coalition of moms agrees. Dubbed "cannamoms," they believe in and advocate for CBD as a medical treatment for their children.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, stops short of classifying hemp oil as a medicine. And Hard says HempMeds is bound by FDA regulations to refrain from commenting on any of the potential health benefits of CBD.

"We adhere very strictly to federal regulations. Hemp oil is categorized as a food or as a nutritional supplement, not as a medicine," he explains.

I'm willing to give it a shot. But how?

Hemp oil use takes two forms: topical, as in creams and oils, and ingestible, as in supplements and capsules or just the straight dope, RSHO.

Before you begin any course of treatment, though, it's important to consult your doctor. And if you decide to take the plunge, you have plenty of hemp oil options. HempMeds' product line uses hemp oil in products such as Cibaderm hand cream, body wash, and shampoo; Canchew gum; Cibdex supplemental drops and capsules; and Real Scientific Hemp Oil (RSHO).

So to sum up: Hemp oil is out there. It doesn't get you high. It might cure your various ailments. And it's legal. Any questions?

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Hannah Sentenac covers veg food, drink, pop culture, travel, and animal advocacy issues. She is also editor-in-chief of
Contact: Hannah Sentenac