Plant Science: Deconstructing Hemp

Cannabis sativa is a species of plant that has been used by humans for thousands of years for its fibers, seeds, flowers and roots across many industrial and therapeutic applications. Its varieties are often distinguished by their physical form and structure, with a distinction made between indica and sativa types; sub-species with characteristically identifiable features such as stature and leaf shape. Recent research into the therapeutic and cosmetic properties of the cannabis plant, however, represents a shift to analysis and classification based on chemical structure and has illuminated the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of an array of cannabinoids (including CBD) as well as terpenes and flavonoids that contribute to the unique scents and pigments of the plant.

Cannabis Sativa, Marijuana, Hemp, and CBD

Hemp and marijuana are, taxonomically speaking, the same plant; they are different names for the same genus (Cannabis L) and species (Cannabis Sativa L). Hemp and Marijuana are cultivated varieties or “cultivars” which means they were created or selected intentionally and maintained through cultivation by humans (sort of like a breed). The 2018 farm bill offers a legal definition of Hemp as the groups of cannabis sativa breeds that contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. All other breeds of the plant, those with more than 0.3% THC are now classified as Marijuana.

  • Hemp Oil: The oil extracted from the flowers and stalks of hemp varieties of the cannabis sativa plant. This natural oil typically has a high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD) and practically no THC, assuming it is extracted from hemp, which by definition has very low (less than 0.3%) levels of THC.
  • CBD: Cannabidiol, also known more commonly as CBD, is one of more than 100 identified phytocannabinoids produced by the hemp plant (Cannabis Sativa L.), and certainly one of the more well known compounds produced by hemp. CBD, unlike the other well known cannabinoid THC, is non-intoxicating, and is non-habit forming. The human body has a vast network of receptors that are part of what is called the Endocannabinoid System, which is where CBD exerts many of its effects.
  • Hemp Seeds: The seeds of the plant, hemp seeds, can have their oil extracted to produce hemp seed oil, an oil with properties similar to sunflower seed and grape seed oils. Notably, there are almost no cannabinoids (like CBD) in hemp seed oil. We think that the seed oil is one of the best emollients for sensitive skin and use it in many of our products.

Tips for Choosing Cannabis-Derived Skincare

If you are trying cannabis-derived skincare for the first time or want to better understand what is in your products, here are some tips to follow when reading labels. Some manufacturers are intentionally misleading, suggesting a product contains CBD when the product only contains the oil extracted from the seeds. It’s important to carefully read labels and those with sensitive skin should exercise additional caution.

Quantity or Concentration of CBD

The label should list the amount of CBD in the product, ranging from 100 mg to 500 mg per container for most cosmetic products. Less than 100 mg of CBD typically does not provide therapeutic effects. Be wary of products that are labeled as containing more than 2,000 mg, as this level typically indicates the amount of hemp seed oil rather than CBD. The manufacturer website should include third-party lab results or a certificate of authenticity for the amount of CBD in the product.

Ingredient List

The ingredient list is another resource for determining what is in the skincare product. Those that contain CBD may include:

  • Cannabis sativa (hemp) oil
  • Cannabidiol
  • CBD

If the ingredient list shows cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil and not cannabis sativa (hemp) oil, it most likely does not contain CBD. Please note, not all CQuell products contain CBD. Our Eczema Relief Cream contains hemp seed oil for its emollient properties but does not contain CBD.

Labeling for Skin Type

Most CBD and hemp-based products are not formulated for sensitive skin and contain ingredients that irritate sensitive skin, including certain terpenes that are found in plants (including menthol and camphor). These products may also contain added fragrances, dyes, and untested natural ingredients that irritate sensitive skin. When you are looking for products to moisturize and soothe sensitive skin, well-researched ingredients and thoughtfully formulated products are more beneficial than those labeled as “all natural” or “organic.” If you are unsure of which products will protect your skin, speak with your dermatologist.


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