For novice cannabis consumers, who know little about the cannabis industry, much less the science or politics behind it, there is a great deal of confusion about the difference between hemp oil and hemp seed oil.
Technically, if not scientifically, this is a policy as well as consumer issue in Europe that is now finding its way into all sorts of discussions, from what is available in stores and how it is labeled to how municipalities and states are defining policies about the product.
However, the issue is also front and center in the B2B (business of the industry itself), and for several reasons. Starting with the fact that not every hemp producer is legit, and far from most are certified in ways that make it easy to cross the border with the product.
This is as true of the medical as it is of the “lifestyle” CBD market right now, although it is causing havoc in the non-medical side of the equation. However, the issue affects everyone.
Here is a brief overview of the issues at stake.
What Is Hemp Oil vs. Hemp Seed Oil?
Oils, tinctures, and other extracts from the cannabis plant are generally extracted in two ways.
The first is by adding alcohol (like ethanol), CO2 extraction, by using butane to extract vital oils from the plant or in the case of hash, literally pressing the biomass under great pressure.
The second way (generally speaking) is literally by cold pressing the seeds themselves.
Both kinds of extractions are technically “legal” everywhere cannabis has started to become normalized. However, thanks to regulations in the European Union, this has started to become a major issue, particularly in the budding recreational cannabidiol (CBD) space.
Because according to EU regulation, the only consumer hemp oil and extracts that are currently “allowed” (albeit from non-binding EU language) are those extracted from hemp seeds. This, in turn, is starting to have a downstream impact on more local regulations. For example, the City of Cologne has just banned all hemp extracts that are not pressed from hemp seeds based on these regulations.
It is also absolutely ridiculous in a market where producers with GMP (medical certifications) are producing products, including “hemp oil” from the whole plant. And for all the difficulty the authorities have in differentiating between flowers when it comes to oils and extracts, the problem is just as big, if not a little more fundamental in the world of intra-European exports.
While the current contretemps over Novel Food regulation in Europe over CBD at present feels a bit ridiculous to (particularly North American) companies if not consumers, there are reasons for this debate and regulatory confusion, although it is highly likely that this will also change as the entire market becomes more normalized.
Novel Food Regulations
According to EU regulations, “Novel foods” are consumables from either plant or animal origins that have not been consumed regularly since 1997 in any country in the EU. The idea that this would even apply to cannabis, let alone hemp, is ludicrous. Cannabis, in all its forms, has been widely consumed across Europe since it was introduced by the nomadic Scythian tribe two millennia ago.
However, this is not all “outrageous” bureaucracy. Novel food legislation also applies to the ways food is processed. Some kinds of extraction, particularly when unregulated, are not only highly dangerous but potentially toxic to consumers. When extracts are not performed correctly, consumers can ingest the chemicals used in the extraction process that is not correctly removed from the final product.
In sum, this means that some of the more outrageous practices seen in the United States, if not accidents along the extraction process, are almost unknown in Europe. So far, no butane extraction explosions or fires have been reported here.
However, the current EU position on the topic is an overreach that is strangling the nascent industry.
Where does the balance lie?
That is a question now at the forefront of regulatory wrangling across Europe and the Brexiting UK (which is more or less still following Europe on the cannabis front rather than the U.S.).
Bottom line? It is going to be confusing for a long time to come.
The Cannabis Ecosystem Will Need More Time & Education
Learning on the fly, if not adapting to it, has become the one unchanging rule of the industry, including in Europe. What all of this confusion means on a high level is that:
- Producers need to understand how to make themselves flexible in a highly fraught market.
- Manufacturers will need to be able to produce small batch runs for the needs of a highly diverse European market.
- Consumers will need to become better educated – a problem that is massive just about everywhere (see this fascinating new consumer behavior report about CBD in the U.S.) It is only as true in Europe, although Amazon plays less of a role
- Price and supply chain reliability and efficiency, as well as consumer protection issues, are going to define and drive the conversation everywhere, but especially Europe.
Recreational reform, now on the drawing board in at least four European countries (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Denmark, and Holland), will also make a difference.
However, for now, not all cannabis, let alone CBD products are created equal. And hemp seed oil is one of the most exciting plays in a market where the seas are still highly volatile, if not still in the midst of tempest season.