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Peek around any wellness shop, pharmacy, or department store these days and you’ll likely spot at least one kind of hemp oil on shelves. In an age when “stressed out” seems to be everyone’s baseline, hemp oil (not to be confused with hemp seed oil) and its isolates are in high demand for their calming properties that relax the body without the mental “high” of cannabis.*
If you’re new to the world of hemp, the sheer number of choices out there might feel overwhelming. Not to mention, the language on bottles can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the product and how it’s grown and cultivated. Here’s a quick primer on the boxes that hemp experts say to tick to make sure you’re getting the purest, most effective hemp oil possible:
It should be full-spectrum.
First, let’s clarify a point that can be confusing: Hemp oil is not the same thing as CBD oil. Hemp oil is always extracted from a hemp plant, while CBD can be extracted from a hemp or marijuana plant or can even be synthetic. Unlike hemp, CBD oil is an isolate, meaning it contains only one phytocannabinoid: CBD. Phytocannabinoids are the plant compounds that give these products their chill factor: They can help support a healthy response to stress and promote feelings of relaxation due to the unique way they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.*
Emerging research is finding that the more types of these phytocannabinoids a product has, the better: “We know that phytocannabinoids are more effective and better tolerated when taken together and in concert with their co-occurring terpenes, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals than when they are taken in isolation,” Jessica Knox, M.D., MPH, co-founder of the American Cannabinoid Clinics and a preventive medicine physician, recently told mbg. For this reason, you might want to consider a hemp product over a CBD one. The effects will feel comparable, but with hemp you’ll get more active compounds for your buck. Look for one that is labeled “full-spectrum,” meaning it contains a full spectrum of plant compounds.
It should be organic, non-GMO, and tested for toxins.
According to Carl Germano, R.D., CNS, CDN, the author of Road to Ananda: Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System, Hemp Phytocannabinoids/CBD, and Your Health, the use of pesticides, herbicides, and genetic modification is not uncommon in the hemp industry. Plus, hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning it’s very efficient at removing toxins and pollutants from the air, water, and soil. (The plant is so good at this that it’s actually being used to help clean up dirty environments.) This means that if your hemp is not grown and processed carefully, you might be getting toxins in your extract. Look for an organic, non-GMO product that’s been certified from a third party and tested for heavy metals.
Also, if not stored and handled properly, hemp is prone to growing certain kinds of fungi that can produce aflatoxin, a substance that can cause liver damage and other health issues. Yet another reason to buy from a reputable brand that handles the crop properly and tests for aflatoxin.
It should be CO2 extracted.
Most companies extract the active compounds from a hemp plant using a process known as CO2 extraction, which uses pressurized carbon dioxide to weed out (no pun intended) those beneficial phytocannabinoids. Germano says that this tends to be more efficient than other extraction methods like ethanol and olive oil extraction. And unlike butane or hexane extraction, it doesn’t leave any potentially harmful solvents behind on the product.
It should contain validated hemp strains.
Any time you’re considering buying hemp oil from a new-to-you brand, Germano says it’s important to dig into their sourcing practices. Since growing industrial hemp in the U.S. was illegal until relatively recently, there isn’t much information in this country about the types of plants that are now being cultivated. This is why Germano recommends looking for strains that have been deemed safe in the European Union, where growing hemp has long been legal. That way, you’ll know your product is more established and has been subject to regulation and oversight over the years. “The EU commissions website has certified, validated hemp strains that have been used by humans for decades,” he says.
It should come in a dark bottle.
When you’re buying hemp oil, you’ll want to treat it like any other edible oil. Though it’s shelf stable, it can still go rancid. To protect your oil, limit the bottle’s exposure to air, heat, and light. Especially if you’re buying hemp in liquid tincture form, make sure it comes in a dark glass bottle that protects it from the elements.
It should contain no more than 25 mg of cannabinoid content per serving.
When it comes to hemp oil, more isn’t necessarily better! Germano recommends taking no more than 25 mg of the stuff daily. Functional medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D., adds that if you’re new to hemp oil, you should start at the lowest dose possible (say, one gelcap or half of one dropper) and see how your body reacts before increasing your dose.
Armed with this information, you’re set to find a hemp oil that lives up to expert standards.
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