Hemp Basics

Hemp extract has been gaining tremendous popularity in recent years, both in scientific and consumer circles. For many, it has become part of their daily routine, but what is hemp extract and how does it work? The purpose of the following information is to further educate you and provide guidance when choosing hemp products.

What Is Hemp?

Oils extracted from the hemp plant contains a group of naturally occurring chemicals that act on specific receptors found in the endocannabinoid system or ECS. The ECS is a recently discovered, specialized biological system that has been found in most animal species, including all vertebrates and some invertebrates and plays an invaluable role in promoting homeostasis, or inner balance. Hemp extract does not contain high levels of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol (0.3% or less), and does not causing the intoxicating effects that are associated with THC.

How Does Hemp Extract Work?

As mentioned above, hemp contains compounds that work on specific receptors in the biological system known as the endocannabinoid system or ECS. Most animal species, including many invertebrates, have some form of an ECS. In our explanation, we will limit our discussion to the human ECS.

Only recently discovered, the Endocannabinoid system is considered one of the most significant biological systems in the human body. Labeled as one of the most important discoveries of the late 20th century, scientists are still working to obtain a better understanding of how the ECS works. The ECS is a complex system composed of neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, transport proteins and receptor enzymes. Thought to play a major role in physiologic and cognitive functions, it has been described as “a bridge between the body and the mind.”

How does CBD work?

As mentioned above, CBD works on specific receptors (cannabinoid receptors) in the biological system known as the Endocannabinoid System or ECS. Most animal species, including many invertebrates, have some form of an ECS. In our explanation, we will limit our discussion to the human ECS.


Only recently discovered, the Endocannabinoid system is considered one of the most significant biological systems in the human body. Labeled as one of the most important discoveries of the late 20th century, scientists are still working to obtain a better understanding of how the ECS works. The ECS is a complex system composed of neurotransmitters known as endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, transport proteins and receptor enzymes. Thought to play a major role in physiologic and cognitive functions, it has been described as “a bridge between the body and the mind.”

Some of these functions include:





Temperature regulation

Movement and coordination

Sensory processing

Immune system response

Hemp extract contains many important compounds and is obtained from multiple but not all parts of the hemp plant. These compounds or hemp actives are found primarily in the flowers and to a lesser extent, the leaves and stalks. These plant structures are known as the aerial parts of the plant. The roots and seeds do not contain significant amounts of hemp actives, which makes it important for consumers to make sure of the ingredients within products they consume.

Certain savvy marketers sell hemp oil or hemp seed oil under the pretense that these products contain hemp actives, when in fact they are derived from the parts of the cannabis plant that contain little to none, including the roots and the seeds.

Hemp is not new to the United States of America. Several founding fathers, including George Washington, were hemp farmers. Later on in 1970, hemp was outlawed due to its association with marijuana and THC.

However, after the realization that hemp has many industrial benefits, and contains very little intoxicating THC, within the Agricultural Act of 2014, hemp was defined as varieties of Cannabis sativa and any part of such plant that contains 0.3% or less THC on a dry weight basis.

This created a broad legal definition of hemp resulting in the most important distinction between hemp and marijuana. The other defining characteristics associated with plant appearance have been blurred by artificial selection, making it difficult to differentiate the varieties by appearance alone. These days, marijuana and hemp can look remarkably similar.


It is believed that cannabis originated in central and southeast Asia thousands of years ago as the oldest know fiber cultivation crop. The first known record of cannabis being used was in China dating back to 4000 BC. It was not introduced to the New World until the mid-1500s.

Cannabis did not make its way to North America until the early 1600s, when industrial hemp quickly became identified as a valuable crop. So much so, that in the 1700s, the federal government required hemp to be grown by American farmers.

In 1854, the U.S. Pharmacopeia recommended medicinal cannabis for treating many ailments. Cannabis was widely used medicinally and for industrial purposes until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, imposing taxes on the sale of all derivatives of the plant. Although still considered legal, this tax led to an overall decline in industrial hemp cultivation. Driven by decades of the criminalization and demonization of high THC cannabis, hemp became illegal in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act classified all forms of cannabis, including industrial hemp, as an illegal Schedule I controlled drug.

However, this did not stop the scientific community from continuing to look to cannabis as a potential source for treating disease. Soon after cannabis was made illegal by the federal government in the U.S, a Brazilian scientist named Elisaldo Carlini began to conduct the first known studies looking specifically at hemp extract and its beneficial effects in humans.

It wasn’t long before everyone wanted access to hemp extract, still considered illegal by the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Forty years would elapse before any change to hemp policy would be initiated by the federal government. This change was most likely driven by increased public interest in hemp and in 2014, the Farm Bill was passed. This bill accomplished two things regarding these policies. It made the distinction between hemp and marijuana by defining hemp as containing 0.3% or less of THC. The bill also allowed for individual states to implement laws for research institutions and state agricultural agents to legally cultivate hemp in pilot agricultural programs.

Hemp was made legal by the 2018 Farm Bill Amendment, when hemp (containing 0.3% or less THC), along with any of its derivatives, was removed from the Controlled Substances Act. Much is still unclear and open for interpretation regarding hemp and hemp derived products. However, the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill helped spark further interest in hemp’s potential uses and products, especially hemp extract.

During recent years, hemp extract, hemp oil and hemp seed oil have become wildly popular to consumers and available through many mainstream retailers. Some people have the misconception that these different products are essentially the same thing.

This can create uncertainty and confusion when choosing a product that is best suited for a person’s individual wants or needs.

As discussed earlier, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of hemp actives, typically found in the seed’s outer coating or shell. Hemp seed oil is obtained via a process known as cold pressing, which is a mechanical form of extraction conducted at low temperatures. The resultant oil is not a significant source of hemp actives. It does contain many other beneficial ingredients like essential amino acids and Vitamin E, all of which are important in optimizing overall health.

Hemp oil is often used interchangeably with hemp seed oil. However, it can also be used as a blanket description for any oil that is extracted from any part of the hemp plant, whether it be from the seed, stalk, or flower. Location is key and depending on what parts of the plant are used during the extraction process, the resultant amount of detectable hemp actives will vary. Some products advertised as hemp oil may in fact contain little to none of the beneficial compounds found in hemp.

Hemp extract is produced by extracting beneficial compounds from the parts of the hemp plant that have higher concentrations of hemp actives, mainly the hemp flower. There are many different extractions methods that are currently being used to produce hemp extract, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The two most common methods are solvent extraction and CO2 extraction.

Route of administration means the way in which a substance or drug is taken into the body.  These routes include inhalation, oral, sublingual/transmucosal, and topical routes, just to name a few.

Inhalation:  The advantage of inhaling a substance is that it has the shortest time to take effect, usually seconds to minutes.  However, as we all know, smoking and vaping can be harmful to the lungs.  In a society that is becoming more health-conscious, inhalation is not considered an ideal way to consume hemp extract.

Oral:  The oral route is one of the most common ways to introduce drugs or substances into our bodies.  The disadvantage of consuming hemp extract by mouth is related to what is known as the first-pass effect, also known as first-pass metabolism.  First pass metabolism refers to how both the digestive tract and the liver can reduce the bioavailability, or systemic absorption, of a substance.

Sublingual/transmucosal:  One way to escape the first-pass effect is to place an oral hemp extract product underneath the tongue or inside the cheek, for sublingual or transmucosal absorption.  This allows hemp actives to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.  However, to be effective, the product must be in contact with the tissue for a specific amount of time.

Topical:  Another route of administration that is not affected by first-pass metabolism are topical preparations.  However, absorption is limited by the protective characteristics of the largest organ in the body, the skin.

Recent improvements in different drug delivery systems, including liposomal and nanoparticle technologies, have proven effective in increasing the bioavailability of many drugs.  Both technologies essentially make it easier for hemp actives to be absorbed by the body no matter how it is used.  These advancements can also improve how long these compounds will continue to work once it is absorbed.

Hemp actives can be found in many different preparations from oral tinctures to topical lotions.  Your individual needs will influence which preparations you feel are best suited for you.  Research has shown that oral and transmucosal preparations have a much higher effect on the body compared to topical products.   However, topical hemp products may provide benefits as well.

Two important factors to consider when choosing a hemp product are the ingredients and the product’s formulation.  We have recently discovered that while some hemp products claim to contain hemp actives, there is in fact little to none of these compounds present.  In actuality, only a very small percentage of over-the-counter hemp products contain the amount of hemp extract that is on the label.   The quality of the hemp can also vary.  Internationally sourced hemp (sourced from outside the United States) can be less expensive but tends to be inferior in quality when compared to domestically sourced hemp.

Product formulation refers to how the composition of a product will influence the delivery of an active ingredient in a stable and usable form.  This formulation will also determine whether a hemp product provides full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate forms of hemp actives.

Full spectrum hemp products include all the potential beneficial compounds that are found in the hemp plant, including THC.  Studies have shown that these compounds work better when used together which is known as the entourage effect (discussed below.) This also pertains to the other compound, including flavonoids and terpenes, that are naturally occurring in the hemp plant.  For a full spectrum product to be considered legal, the THC component must be 0.3% or less.

Broad spectrum hemp extract refers to hemp products that include the same components as a full spectrum formulation, but with no THC.  This may be more appealing to people who are concerned about the intoxicating effects of THC and for use in pediatric and veterinary medicine.

With isolates, only the purest form of the desired hemp active is present, thus prohibiting the entourage effect.

Other important compounds that can be found are flavonoids and terpenes.  Flavonoids are what give plants their color and terpenes are associated with a plant’s odor. Along with the other compounds found in the hemp plant, flavonoids and terpenes provide natural protection for the plant.  Research has shown that the efficacy of hemp actives are increased when combined with flavonoids and terpenes.  This is known as the entourage effect.  The entourage effect is the mechanism when all the components found in hemp have a greater synergistic effect when taken together compared to when each individual component is used on its own.

Hemp extract does not cause the intoxicating effects (“high”) associated with THC.  The reason being THC and other hemp actives act on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in completely different ways.

THC directly binds to specific receptors found in the endocannabinoid system and exhibits most of its intoxicating effects by binding directly to these receptors found in the brain.  Other hemp actives have a lower affinity for these receptors and is thought to work more indirectly by modifying the receptor’s binding ability for other hemp extract compounds and by influencing additional molecular pathways in the ECS.  Some of these pathways include:

  • Dopamine D2 receptor binding: Crucial in regulating behavior and cognition
  • 5-ht1A Activation: Wide variety of potential benefits, including increased mental stability, fatigue reduction, and decreased pain perception.
  • Adenosine Enhancement: Important in reducing inflammation and potential for treating autoimmune disorders.
  • TRPV1 Activation: Role in regulation body temperature, pain and inflammation.
  • Glycine Receptor Potentiation: Discovered to play a major role in pain proprioception.

Based on different hemp actives act on the ECS explains why each individual compound can have varied effects in the body.  Hemp extract effects the body without causing the intoxicating effects of THC due to its specific behavior in the endocannabinoid system.

Hemp actives affect the body through a complex biological system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  As previously discussed, most animal species, with exceptions including insects and protozoa, have some form of an ECS.  However, the composition and distribution of the ECS across these animal species can be quite different.  For example, dogs have a higher distribution of certain receptors in certain parts of the brain compared to humans.  As we discussed earlier, THC acts on CB1 receptors to produce the intoxicating effects seen with marijuana.  The higher concentration of CB1 receptors in the canine brain explains why dogs appear to be more sensitive to these effects than humans.

Interspecies differences explain why cannabinoids can affect animals differently, but why can the effects of hemp extract be so varied between individuals?  Not only can there be inherit differences between peoples’ endocannabinoid Systems, but factors like genetics, gender, age and overall health can influence how one will be affected by hemp actives.

Quality of hemp, dosage and frequency can also contribute to how hemp actives may affect certain individuals.  It is our recommendation to be familiar with what products you are using, and consistency is key.  In many cases, the full effects are not felt for 4-6 weeks after starting.

Hemp extract is considered to be generally safe with few to no side effects, however, there is no published recommended dose.  When consuming a new hemp product, it is advised to start with a low dose and slowly increase to effect.  It is especially important to take note of any subtle changes you may experience during this process and some people may document these changes to help obtain the ideal dose.  It is important to remember what might work for some, may not work for others.  When in doubt, “start low and go slow”.

As with any dietary supplement, people who are pregnant, nursing, taking medication or have underlying health conditions should consult their physician prior to starting a hemp extract regiment.

In short, yes and no.  With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp (cannabis that contains 0.3% or less THC) along with its derivatives, was removed from the Controlled Substance Act, making it federally legal.  However, each individual state acts independently in how they regulate and handle hemp and hemp extract.

For example, in Idaho, hemp products are only legal if they contain zero concentration of THC.

To make matters more complicated, according to the FDA, it is currently illegal to market hemp extract as a dietary supplement or food additive.  There is only one FDA-approved hemp extract drug currently on the market.  This means that currently it is prohibited by the FDA to make claims regarding hemp extract and its use in the treatment of specific conditions.  To maintain compliance with the FDA, we do not make such claims regarding our products.  We do acknowledge, based on research and clinical studies, hemp’s tremendous potential.

The subject surrounding the legality of hemp extract is confusing and ill-defined.  Although federally legal, there may be state-implemented restrictions regarding hemp and hemp extract products.  Whenever in doubt, we recommend checking your individual state’s policies regarding hemp extract.

One area of growing interest surrounding hemp extract is its use in companion animals.  Research has revealed its potential in humans, causing pet owners to wonder if hemp extract might have the same effects on their furry family members.

As mentioned previously, most animals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), which includes dogs, cats, horses, and birds.  Recent studies, particularly in dogs, have shown that hemp extract may be effective in companion animals as well. More research is needed to explore the use of hemp extract in pets, and scientists are just starting to fully understand its effects.

It is an understatement to say that hemp has taken the world by storm.  Not only is the medical community looking into hemp’s potential, but it has been popularized as the new “it” product by present culture.  From drink additives to face cream, the possibilities for hemp extract’s use seem limitless.  On the other hand, the current landscape surrounding hemp looks quite different from what activists and scientists expected.  The federal government’s vague stance on hemp extract has created many problems that currently face the industry.  Presently, it is considered to be the “wild west” in terms of hemp and hemp products.

Although the future of hemp and hemp extract may not be completely clear, one thing is for certain, hemp is not going away anytime soon.  We are excited by hemp’s tremendous potential and look forward to continuing our mission in providing the highest quality hemp products.

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