The Complete Guide to CBD Oil: What it is, how it’s meant to be used, and what are its benefits

Introduction

If you're a cannabis enthusiast and frequent consumer, you'll know that consuming cannabis is not relevant in CBD. Well, at least not anymore.

Before the CBD "craze" began, we were solely aware of the cannabis plant's overall effects on the body as a user base. A type of knowledge that was probably limited to the self-obtained kind, empirical and in many cases, based on trial and error. Effects of extreme relaxation or euphoria, happiness, pain relief, combating depression, and anxiety were all some of the benefits we found and were fond of. In retrospect, a fondness propelled the cannabis legalization movement that spreads over the country and worldwide.

We didn't know back then that each of these effects was related to a specific cannabis plant component. Those components are called cannabinoids, and now we know precisely how many of them are found in the cannabis plant. One-hundred thirteen (113) of them, to be exact, have been identified so far, along with their names and the main effects they have on the human body.

We can put the finger on just how much knowledge we've acquired on cannabis and cannabinoids over the past few years if we trace back our steps just a few years to 2017 when only 104 cannabinoids and 500 overall components had been identified.

This expansion in knowledge allows us to understand what we're consuming, where that substance comes from, and if it makes sense for a specific individual to be consuming it. All in all, it allows us to write a 5,000-word article on a single component from a total of 545.

Not only do we now understand the growing of high-quality products, but we've also dove headfirst into a massive pool of extraction processes. This has given us the capacity to produce finished goods like oils, vape cartridges, capsules, topicals, sublingual drops, and extracts.

This technological development around cannabinoid extraction processes allows companies to target and offer products that feature a specific cannabinoid. In this case, CBD is the name of the game.

Extracts come in many different versions. There are too many for us to go into detail and name each one. The truth is the classification for each concentrate, extract, and oil is still developing as more and more conclusive research is done.

So, we’ll stick to a single type of CBD concentrate; oil.

This is a pretty long guide. If you're here looking for one thing in particular, check out the the Table of Contents to make things easier for you.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What is CBD Oil
2. How to Choose CBD Oil
2.1. Marijuana vs. Hemp
2.2. Types of CBD Oil
3. What are the Benefits of CBD Oil?
4. How to use CBD Oil
5. Where does CBD Oil come from?
5.1. CBD Extract vs. CBD Oil
5.2. How is CBD Oil Made?
5.3. What is Decarboxylation?
6. How is CBD Extracted?
6.1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
6.2. Solvent Based Extraction
6.3. Dry Ice
6.4. Olive Oil
6.5. Rosin
7. Conclusion
8. References

What is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is a sub-product of CBD extracts or concentrates. Not many are particularly apparent in the difference between them. So much so that some top tier companies still make mistakes when advertising and designing product labels. Whether those mistakes are unintentional or for marketing purposes is a whole different subject. There isn’t that much of a gap between them, and sometimes an extract can be called an oil or vice versa, much like tissues are called Kleenexes.

CBD oil drops benefits

It often seems like the logical thing to do because the larger portion of the market doesn’t identify the difference between both types of substances, and CBD oil seems to be the go-to term for most consumers.

There are differences between oils and concentrates or extracts. The main difference, besides the fact that one is a sub-product of the other, is that CBD oil uses a carrier oil while concentrates are raw from the extract. CBD concentrates are extracted from the plant and then suspended or mixed into a carrier oil that will act as a base.

Of course, it takes more than just diluting a concentrate into a carrier oil to make a high-quality finished product. That’s where companies that sell concentrates excel; formulas, added components, mixing of different cannabinoids, etc.

How to Choose CBD Oil

Depending on the type of extraction process used, the final product could look like an oil with a similar consistency to that of cooking oil, or a hard resin-like substance like rosin and shatter.

However different, all extraction methods have the same primary purpose- separating cannabinoids from their plant form. The question that remains now is, how can extractors guarantee that the concentrate produced includes a specific cannabinoid, in this case, cannabidiol (CBD)?

Marijuana vs. Hemp

Perhaps the more straightforward and most traditional way of all is ensuring that the plant used for extraction of CBD extract is a hemp plant, rather than marijuana.

It's highly probable that you already know these two types of plants are different from one another, but it's worth taking a look at precisely that. In this fundamental detail, the main difference between hemp CBD extract and other CBD extracts lies.

According to (Sawler et al., 2015), "Drug types of Cannabis (marijuana) contain high amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)" [5]

On the other hand, hemp types of the cannabis genus have been grown over the years to produce seed and fiber precisely because they contain low trace amounts of THC, thus labeling them as legal harvests. There is a significant difference between both genera at a genome-wide level that causes the difference in THC content between both types.

Difference between hemp and marijuana

We'll attempt to differentiate hemp from marijuana in the most basic way possible. At least in the way that we're most interested in- CBD and THC levels.

Hemp is the term we use to classify cannabis varieties that contain 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight. Identifying non-psychoactive hemp plants derives from the Agricultural Act of 2018. The word "hemp" is used to describe plants with non-psychoactive effects. Hemp plants can be either of the three main types of strains- Indica, Sativa, or hybrids. Hemp is more genetically similar to Indica strains than Sativa kinds. There is no genetic evidence that suggests a favored correlation between marijuana and the type of strain. It's more common to find hemp plants in their Indica variety. Marijuana can be either of the two, with no particular genetic preference between them.

Marijuana is the term coined to cannabis varieties containing a THC content superior to 0.3%. Where the name “marijuana” stems from is not very clear.

Using hemp plants for the extraction of concentrates, manufacturers can assure they comply with the laws discussed in the Agricultural Act of 2018. Nevertheless, CBD extracts can still differ between them, regardless of the type of plant.

Types of CBD Oil

- Isolate: Contains only pure CBD extract. This one is mostly extracted using solventless or cold-press methods that make for a more pure concentrate.

- Full-Spectrum: Contains all cannabinoids in different volumes but keeps THC below or equal to 0.3%.

- Broad-Spectrum: Contains all cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis, except for THC.

Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum extracts are the most common because they can be produced using extraction methods more easily replicated in an industrial space while providing higher consistency between batches. This extract is then mixed with a carrier oil and bottled as a Hemp CBD oil.

What are the Benefits of CBD Oil?

Due to its non-psychoactive composition, CBD has become increasingly popular in the past decade. Even if you enjoy THC's psychoactive effects, CBD can provide many of the benefits of cannabis without posing a threat to your mind's clarity.

Research has allowed CBD to be associated with many of the positive effects of cannabis, including treating pains and aches, anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Recent scientific publications have found "preclinical and clinical evidence documenting CBD value in some neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy, anxiety, and schizophrenia" [7].

Other studies have also found that CBD shows promise as part of treatment for refractory epilepsy in children with Dravet syndrome. Other potential uses for CBD include treatments of gout, rheumatism, malaria, pain, and fever.

Some of the major uses of CBD oil include:

  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Gout
  • Rheumatism
  • Malaria
  • Fever

It is necessary to clarify that CBD's conclusive evidence as a treatment for any of these syndromes and disorders is still lacking. Only now are well-controlled trials and clinical evidence being pursued, driving us nearer to a conclusion of CBD being considered medical treatment for any of them. We must insist that before treating any issue with any form of CBD concentrate, you first consult a licensed physician who might understand your particular situation and approve of the consumption of CBD as a treatment for it.

How to use CBD Oil

Using CBD oil is incredibly simple. Not all CBD oils are used in the same way. Even though a sublingual application can be used with most CBD oils, there are other consumption methods. Some of the most common uses are topicals (directly placed on your skin), vaping oils, and CBD oil capsules.

CBD oil is usually consumed in the evening or nighttime because of its evident correlation with the Indica genus, which is commonly known to trigger relaxation and sleepiness. However, some CBD oils are derived from Sativa strains and formulated for daytime use.

As you can see, not all CBD concentrates are the same, so there isn’t a standardized answer to the question; when is the best time to take CBD oil? The best suggestion would be to read up on the product and brand you’re buying. Usually, it won’t take too much research, and you’ll find instructions right on the product label.

Where does CBD oil come from?

CBD Extract vs. CBD Oil

Now that the main difference is explained, it’ll make much more sense from now on to refer to products that use a carrier as oils and for more pure forms of extracts as concentrates.

Some might make the argument that concentrates are also a sub-product of extracts. Where extracts are the actual substance that is, well, extracted from the plant, concentrates may very well be that same pure, raw extract. They can be separated further into substances that feature a single or many specific cannabinoids and components. As long as the concentrate does not have a carrier oil to go with it, it will concentrate.

Oils are made from either concentrates or the raw form of the extract, the carrier oil, and any other additives the company decides to formulate.

The rawest form of cannabis is the plant itself. It is the plant where the extract comes from and if we are to understand what extracts, concentrates, and oils are, then it behooves us to know how extracts are produced and the extraction methods that exist.

How is CBD oil made?

It all starts with the plant. Let’s suppose for the sake of simplicity that it’s an organically-grown plant. The plant’s strain will hold chemical characteristics unique to it that allow us to classify it as Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid. It has compositions of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids that will stay at similar levels throughout the strain species in general.

Regardless if the plant is marijuana or hemp (psychoactive or non-psychoactive), the type of strain remains a unit of classification. Meaning, hemp plants are also classified as Sativa or Indica. More on the difference between hemp and marijuana will come later.

After the plant has reached its fully mature state it is submitted to a drying process. This process is referred to as curation. In the wild, curation happens on its own and over time, through extended exposure to sunlight and other elements. In production facilities, the curation process happens after picking the mature plant’s buds, which are subsequently put out to dry.

Industrial curation methods can take anywhere from 3 and up to 10 days in a standard process. How length of the process depends on the plant itself and the objectives of the grower doing the drying.

It is believed amongst experienced growers that a slow drying process makes for optimal results, effects, and benefits. However, there is also the option of using a speed-drying technique. This practice is becoming more and more common in the industry because it allows companies to hit a quicker time frame from the picking stage to the finished product stage, allowing for more quicker profits.

After the buds are picked and hung to dry, they are put in mason jars to complete the curation process. This part of the process will also vary depending on company best practices. For simplicity purposes, we’ll stick to the example of a very artisanal growing system.

The buds are left in the mason jars for around 1 to 3 weeks with daily oxygen access. The length of this period will depend on the cannabis preferences of whoever is doing the curing. If it’s an industrial process, then it’ll largely depend on regulatory standards and company quality standards.

If the buds receive too much oxygen, they could reach a point where they start to feel too dry. Then it's time to re-hydrate them, which is a point you'll want to avoid because it compromises quality significantly. If left in the mason jars for a period that's too short, the buds will retain humidity, which will consequently affect the strain's benefits and effects on the body.

Optimal relative humidity stands somewhere between 60% and 65%. Any more will produce an overly dried bud. Any less will leave you with a bud that borders on "raw."

Drying the plant makes it more manageable and helps activate the strain's properties. More on how those properties are started will come later, but as a sneak peek, it means that the process changes the chemical structure of cannabinoids and other components.

After the buds reach optimum humidity levels, they are collected and submitted to a second and perhaps an essential part of extract and concentrate production. This process is called decarboxylation.

What is Decarboxylation?

According to a 2016 study on decarboxylation of acidic cannabinoids, "Decarboxylation is an important step for efficient production of the major active components in cannabis" (Wang et al., 2016) [3]

Although decarboxylation applies to many significant components and cannabinoids in the plant, it's perhaps best described if we use THC and CBD as illustrative examples. Contrary to popular belief, both cannabinoids are not found in significant concentrations in the cannabis plant. Of course, there is also room for exceptions, but overall, THC and CBD are not particularly predominant in naturally grown wild strains.

CBD decarboxylation temperature and time

Some levels of these components can be found in nature, most probably due to natural drying and exposure to the elements. The dried buds must be submitted to decarboxylation to achieve significant concentrations.

Decarboxylation is the second half of the drying process. After buds are adequately curated, they are submitted to unnatural levels of heat. Decarboxylation conditions may vary depending on goals, strains, and the specifics of the plant's chemical composition. Decarboxylation heat levels usually range from 80°C to 145°C.

Decarboxylation is not accounted for in the curation process. Contrary to slow drying, decarboxylation can take anywhere from 5-30 minutes. Decarb time will depend on the number of cannabis buds used, the size of the oven (industrial or personal), strain, and decarboxylation goals.

In their natural forms, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) come as THCA and CBDA. The former are the results of exposing the latter to decarboxylation. In short, CBD is a descendant of CBDA.

CBDA is a naturally occurring acidic thermally unstable cannabinoid. This kind of component's technical term is Phytocannabinoid, which describes all naturally occurring cannabinoids in the raw plant (not just CBDA and THCA).

CBGA (another phytocannabinoid) is biosynthesized into three phytocannabinoids; THCA, CBCA, and CBDA result from curation. The main difference between their active predecessors (THC, CBC, and CBD) is that they carry an extra carboxyl group as part of their chemical composition.

CBD oil and its components

The extra carboxyl group is the reason why decarboxylation is done. By submitting the phytocannabinoids to high temperatures, we get rid of the other carboxyl groups and are left with the cannabinoids we're already acquainted with, CBD and THC.

Decarboxylation is not only a way of altering the cannabinoid's chemical composition. It can also be considered an "activation" process. For instance, THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It's only after being put through decarboxylation that it acquires psychoactive properties. The same happens with CBD, not that CBD will ever be psychoactive, but after being submitted to decarboxylation, the component will activate different effects than CBDA. Decarboxylation can also make the cannabinoids more potent, making for a quicker onset or more powerful results.

The fastest way of decarboxylating cannabis is to burn it directly. Yes, when you smoke, all you're doing is speed-decarboxylating your flower. This immediate process's disadvantage is that the bud becomes ruined as it's burned to ash. Flower is smoked for two reasons. The first is that we're activating its components immediately. Secondly, inhalation is the consumption method with the quickest onset.

Therefore, we only smoke curated flower and not buds that have already been decarboxylated. Spending time decarboxylating the flower you'll be smoking is not just wasting your time but potentially ruining perfectly smokable buds.

How is CBD Extracted?

If you've gone through the curation and decarboxylation processes, you now have on your hands a fully curated and "activated" bud. You have now reached the extraction phase. This is where your options broaden.

cannabinoid extraction methods

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Picture a closed-loop system made up of three main chambers or phases. The first is a compression chamber, the second an extraction vessel, and the third a separator. The steps in this extraction method follow the afore-mentioned order and operate, as explained below.

1. CO2 in the compression chamber cools to below freezing levels of around -60°C (somewhere around -80°F). The CO2 then pressurizes to create CO2 in both solid and liquid states. This process is called supercritical CO2.

2. In the extraction vessel, we have placed the plant material (curated and decarboxylated buds). Once we've done that, the supercritical CO2 is pumped into the vessel. This triggers a physical reaction and separates the plant's components from the plant material, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and trichomes.

3. The supercritical CO2 passes to the separator phase. As this phase's name suggests, it is in the separator where CO2 and extract are divided. The CO2 evaporates and is sent back in the closed-loop to the compression chamber, the liquid left in the separated is then filtered. This filtered substance is the sought-after extract.

Solvent Based Extraction

We often hear about solventless extraction. This usually includes compression and heat exposure. Solventless extraction has become increasingly popular as the probability of retaining solvent residue is 0%.

The use of solvents allows for more precise extraction of specific cannabinoids. We'll look at a couple of solvent-less methods later. Still, for now, we'll concentrate on solvent-based extraction as the most widely used method by enthusiasts and companies alike because it is inexpensive, fast, and easy.

1. Once the decarboxylated plant material is trimmed, it is submerged in a solvent of your choice. The usual substances used as solvents are butane, propane, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol. Depending on the type of solvent used, the plant material is left less or more time in a “soaking” state.

2. The mixture of plant material and the solvent is then exposed to a heat source. Think of a slow heating water bath or sous-vide cooking style where the solvent slowly evaporates. Temperature and time under heat are dependent on your extract goals and on the type of solvent used.

3. Once the solvent is completely evaporated, only the extract is left. Or should be.
Solvent extraction is relatively easy and straightforward to do, but it involves a degree of danger because solvents are often flammable. So, it is advised only to do solvent-based extraction in a controlled environment.

Solvent-based extraction can leave you suspect to residual solvents if the finished extract is not strained well. Another possible result of poor straining techniques is that you end up with an extract filled with plant residue, which is never a sign of high-quality extract. In solvent-based extraction, you might also be dividing other components from the plant like chlorophyll, which in turn would leave your extract tasting unpleasantly bitter.

Dry Ice

This method is often used to extract hash products. The result is a powdery, almost kief-looking extract. The benefit of using dry ice is that you’ll end up with a clean solventless product every single time. However, it’s a tricky method to use that requires time and patience.

1. In a container, plant material is mixed with broken up dry ice. This stage in the process is meant to help ready the plant material into a state that allows for easy extraction of trichomes, terpenes, and cannabinoids.

2. The second step in the process is adding room temperature water to the mixture of cannabis and dry ice. Here you may let the product seep for a while or immediately continue onto the third and final step.

3. Using a fine-knit mesh bag, you proceed to drain the mixture into a separate container several times until all liquid has been emptied. Water then drains from that final mixture, and the resulting extract is left to dry out.
The final product is a powdery resin.

Olive Oil

A process that is not usually used by legal manufacturers and companies as it is less precise and, in all honesty, the end-product does not meet most people’s quality and potency expectations.

It is a cheap and straightforward way to produce extract as a DIY alternative. Usually, the resulting extract is not very potent, and a higher dose is required to accomplish the same results. The only reason why this extraction method is made on the list is that it’s an excellent example to understand that extraction methods vary significantly in the technology and knowledge required, from extremely simple (like olive oil extraction) to the more industrial processes like CO2 closed loops.

1. First, the already decarboxylated plant material is dropped in a container to soak with olive oil. Cannabis should be dried, decarboxylated, and ground.

2. After soaking, the mixture is submitted to a heat source and brought to a gentle simmer for around 2 hours. The fats in olive oil contain a particular chemical composition that helps extract cannabinoids from decarboxylated cannabis.

Rosin

Rosin is one of many extraction methods by compression. It’s a relatively new and understudied technique used for concentrate extraction. Regardless of its understudied status, rosin is the most natural form of extraction.

It does not require the use of solvents or any other extra materials. Thus, reducing the risk of using or selling a concentrate contaminated with solvents or plant material. Here is the process:

1. A full bud of cannabis is put into a mesh bag that will tolerate heat.

2. The mesh bag with the cannabis bud is then placed under two metal plates that apply a high-pressure level. These metal plates are part of a device called a "rosin press," which has become popular for cannabis gear junkies' extraction accessories.

3. As the two metal plates heat up and collide, they press the cannabis buds in-between them until a sap-like substance starts dripping on to the rosin press's collector. The resulting sap is then scooped up, cooled, and packaged.

Unlike oil, rosin extract has a thicker density and feels like you're looking more at hard candy or dried honey than actual oil. Rosin extract is consumed by a technique called "dabbing," where you would heat the rosin to evaporation and inhale the resulting vapor. This process can be done with a piece of equipment called an oil rig or with rosin compatible vape pen.

Conclusion

At present, it’s not possible to conclusively state what CBD oil can or can’t treat, how often to take CBD oil, what CBD oil helps with, or who shouldn’t use CBD oil. Most evidence of CBD oil benefits on the human body are based on trial and error and primarily based on consumer input rather than official clinical studies. However, clinical research is underway, and every day scientists get closer to learning how CBD and cannabis should be prescribed.

CBD oil is considered, especially if we’re talking about sublingual, topical, or edible consumption methods. If what we’re discussing is specifically CBD vape oil, then the basis of the argument would shift, and vaping safety, in general, what would be up for discussion.

References

[1] Lafaye, G., Karila, L., Blecha, L., & Benyamina, A. (2017, September 1). Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health. PubMed Central (PMC). https://bit.ly/30nDNlJ 
[2] Goncalves, J., Rosado, T., Soares, S., Simao, A. Y., Caramelo, D., Luis, A., Fernandez, N., Barroso, M., Gallardo, E., & Duarte, A. P. (2019, March 1). Cannabis and Its Secondary Metabolites: Their Use as Therapeutic Drugs, Toxicological Aspects, and Analytical Determination. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473697/
[3] Wang, M., Wang, Y. H., Avula, B., Radwan, M. M., Wanas, A. S., Van Antwerp, J., Parcher, J. F., ElSohly, M. A., & Khan, I. A. (2016, December 1). Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549281/
[4] Lewis-Bakker, M. M., Yang, Y., Vyawahare, R., & Kotra, L. P. (2019, September 23). Extractions of Medical Cannabis Cultivars and the Role of Decarboxylation in Optimal Receptor Responses. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6757234/
[5] Sawler, J., Stout, J. M., Gardner, K. M., Hudson, D., Vidmar, J., Butler, L., Page, J. E., & Myles, S. (2015, August 26). The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4550350/
[6] H.R. 2 (115th): Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. (2018, June 23). GovTrack.Us. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr2
[7] Shannon, S., Lewis, N., Lee, H., & Hughes, S. (2019, January 7). Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/
[8] Welty, T. E., Luebke, A., & Gidal, B. E. (2014, October 1). Cannabidiol: Promise and Pitfalls. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189631/

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