Hemp-based CBD extracts provide a legal alternative for patients seeking the benefits of cannabidiol.
CBD hemp oil is a unique type of cannabis extract that is rich in cannabidiol (CBD). The term ‘hemp oil’ refers to the fact that these products are made using industrial-grade hemp instead of marijuana.
While hemp and marijuana are similar in many ways, there are a few differences between the two plants. Specifically, hemp is non-psychoactive and is legal to import, process and sell in the United States under federal law.
Despite marijuana’s complicated legal status, demand for products containing CBD has grown in recent years. As a result, hemp-based CBD oil products have gained popularity and are widely available today through online sellers.
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are both plants that belong to the same species: Cannabis sativa (commonly known as cannabis). Due to its long history of cultivation, cannabis has become very diverse and thousands of varieties exist today.
The most important difference between hemp and marijuana is the amount of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in each plant.
Hemp plants contain very low levels of THC. Instead, hemp plants are cultivated for their fiber material, which has many industrial uses ranging from paper and textiles to biofuel and food products. In most countries, cannabis plants must contain less than 0.3% THC to be considered hemp.
Marijuana plants, on the other hand, contain high levels of THC and are mainly cultivated for their recreational and medical properties.
Hemp and marijuana are both illegal to grow in the United States under federal law. However, federal law allows hemp and hemp-based products to be imported and sold throughout the U.S.
CBD and THC in Hemp
Cannabis plants contain a unique set of compounds known as cannabinoids. Over 80 different cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis, many of which have significant medical properties.
THC and CBD are the two most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. These cannabinoids are found in high concentrations in the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant.
Generally speaking, hemp contains more CBD than THC, whereas marijuana contains more THC than CBD. However, the actual concentration of these cannabinoids depend on the genetic makeup of an individual plant and thus differ from plant to plant.
For example, some hemp may contain high levels of CBD while others contain fairly low quantities. Through selective breeding, cultivators have been able to produce unique strains of hemp that are rich in CBD.
Marijuana plants grow to an average of 5 feet in height and produce large flowers and leaves. The flowers of the female cannabis plant are where most of the cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, are produced.
Hemp plants are taller than marijuana plants (10-20 feet in height) and are mainly cultivated for their fiber.
Hemp stalks contain two types of fibers: bast or long fibers found on the outer portion of the stalk and hurd or short fibers located in the core of the stem.
While cannabinoids are mostly concentrated in the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, research shows that hemp fibers contain minor concentrations of cannabinoids as well.
Extracting CBD From Hemp
To obtain CBD from hemp, the cannabinoid must be extracted from raw plant material. This is accomplished by using a solvent to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material and then evaporating the solvent to leave behind just the cannabinoids.
While there are a number of ways to extract CBD, most producers of CBD hemp oil use a high-tech extraction process called supercritical fluid extraction.
Supercritical fluid extraction is an extraction method that relies on CO2 as a liquid solvent. While CO2 is normally a gas, when high pressure is applied, it becomes a liquid.
This liquid CO2 can be used as a very safe and non-toxic solvent for extracting essential compounds from plants.
Other common solvents used for CBD extraction include petroleum, naptha, ethanol and olive oil. However, these solvents are less effective than CO2 and are usually used by those attempting to make small batches of CBD oil at home.
Legal Status of CBD Hemp Oil
The U.S. Controlled Substances Act (1970) considers all types of cannabis to be Schedule I drugs. As a result, both hemp and marijuana are illegal to grow under federal law.
However, the act also allows certain cannabis plant material — the seeds and stalks of non-THC producing cannabis plants (i.e. hemp) and any products made from them — to be imported and sold in the U.S.
Because of this exemption, CBD oil products are technically legal, but only if they are derived from the stalks or seeds of hemp plants — not the flowers.
This loophole in the law has led companies to develop and market CBD hemp oil products as a legal alternative to other forms of CBD extracts that are only available in medical marijuana states.
In order to comply with federal law, most companies produce their CBD oil in European countries where hemp is legal to grow and then import the finished product to the U.S. to be packaged and sold.
On Dec. 14, 2016, the DEA published a final ruling that took aim at these seemingly legal CBD oil products. The ruling, which took effect on Jan. 13, 2017, classifies all cannabis-based extracts (including CBD oils) as Schedule I drugs.
While all CBD oil products seem to be banned under this new ruling, several industry organizations and legal experts have publicly challenged the legality of the DEA’s decision. It remains to be seen whether the DEA will indeed crack down on CBD hemp oil products.
CBD Oil From Hemp vs. Marijuana
CBD hemp oils have been criticized as being inferior in quality and lacking in medical benefits compared to CBD oils produced from marijuana. This is because hemp stalks and fibers contain much lower concentrations of CBD than flowers and, as a result, are not an ideal source of CBD.
Naturally, it makes far more sense to use the flowers of CBD-rich strains to produce CBD oil. These types of extracts exist in states where medical marijuana is legal, such as Colorado, where products like Charlotte’s Web oil have become widespread.
Unfortunately, patients who live in states where medical marijuana is not legal do not have access to these forms of CBD oil. For these patients, hemp-derived CBD oils are often the only legal option.
What’s more, due to their uncertain legal status, most CBD hemp oil products are largely unregulated and thus are not held to the same quality and testing standards as other medical or dietary supplement products.
How CBD Works
Despite many studies on the subject, how CBD works in the body is still not entirely clear. What scientists do know is that CBD, like THC, causes a wide range of effects in the human body by interacting with a unique biological system known as the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system consists of pathways known as cannabinoid receptors as well as natural compounds called endocannabinoids.
There are two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are present in many areas of the brain and play a role in functions such as memory, mood, sleep, appetite and pain sensation. CB2 receptors are mainly found in the immune system and are responsible for marijuana’s anti-inflammatory effects.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are normally activated by endocannabinoids, which are the body’s own set of cannabinoids. The main endocannabinoids found in the body are anandamide and arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Interestingly, THC seems to mimic the effects of the body’s endocannabinoids by also activating CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Unlike THC, CBD does not appear to act directly on cannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD seems to work indirectly on cannabinoid receptors by boosting levels of endocannabinoids within the body. According to research, CBD can stimulate the release of endocannabinoids as well as interfere with their natural breakdown.
Medical Benefits of CBD Oil
In recent years, CBD has experienced a rise in popularity and interest as a medicine. While THC has long been the focus of patients and researchers alike, CBD has been shown to possess many of the same medical properties but without the psychoactive effects.
Indeed, studies in animals and humans have revealed evidence that CBD may offer the following medical benefits:
|Medical Properties of CBD||Effects|
|Antiemetic||Reduces nausea and vomiting|
|Anticonvulsant||Suppresses seizure activity|
|Antipsychotic||Combats psychosis disorders|
|Anti-inflammatory||Combats inflammatory disorders|
|Anti-oxidant||Combats neurodegenerative disorders|
|Anti-tumoral/Anti-cancer||Combats tumor and cancer cells|
|Anxiolytic/Anti-depressant||Combats anxiety and depression disorders|
Medical Uses of CBD
Due to a lack of clinical trials, CBD has yet to be approved by the FDA as a treatment for any specific medical condition.
However, evidence from animal studies along with anecdotal reports from patients seem to support the use of CBD in treating a variety of diseases and conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Bipolar disorder
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nausea and vomiting
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury
- And more
Side Effects of CBD
Not only is CBD non-psychoactive, but studies show that is it remarkably non-toxic as well. In fact, numerous studies on the toxicity of CBD have failed to demonstrate any risk of lethal overdose.
What’s more, CBD seems to have very little, if any, known side effects. A 2011 review on the safety and side effects of CBD found that large doses had no effect on embryonic development, food intake, digestion, movement and motor activity, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.
The study also concluded that “chronic use and high doses up to 1,500mg/day of CBD are reportedly well tolerated in humans.”
Types of CBD Hemp Oil
CBD hemp oil is most commonly available as a concentrated oil. These products are preferred due to their higher purity, since they are a natural result of the extraction process.
CBD concentrated oils contain the strongest dose of CBD compared to other CBD products, with different oils ranging from 50-200mg of CBD per serving. CBD oils can be administered orally by swallowing the oil or allowing it to be absorbed through the inner linings of the mouth and tongue (sublingual).
However, CBD hemp oil can also be processed to create other products that are more convenient for patients to administer. These include pills, capsules, topicals, oral sprays and vaporizer e-liquids.
CBD Pills / Capsules
CBD oil can be made into a pill or capsule that looks much like any other prescription or over-the-counter drug. CBD capsules usually contain a standard dose of CBD (10-25mg) along with other herbal ingredients such as turmeric root, which may be added to improve the consistency of the product or increase the bioavailability of CBD. CBD capsules can take 30-60 minutes to start working since the cannabinoids must be broken down by the digestive system before being absorbed by the bloodstream.
CBD can be extracted from hemp using alcohol or vegetable glycerin to create a tincture, similar to many other herbal tinctures sold in natural health stores. Tinctures are usually administered by putting a few drops under the tongue (sublingually) but can also be added to a food or drink and swallowed. CBD tinctures tend to be less concentrated than oil extracts and usually contain 1-20mg of CBD per serving. Tinctures are often flavored to make them easier to consume.
CBD can be infused with skin products such as balms, salves, lotions and oils to create a topical medication that can be applied directly to your skin. Unlike other CBD products, topicals allow patients to apply CBD directly to the affected area for faster and more targeted relief. CBD topicals are often used for the treatment of pain and joint-related arthritis. The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD also make topicals useful for treating various skin conditions such as allergies, eczema, acne and psoriasis.
CBD Oral Sprays
Similar to tinctures, CBD oral sprays are made by extracting CBD into alcohol or vegetable oils. Patients take the medication by simply administering a few sprays under the tongue and holding it in the mouth for 30 seconds before swallowing. This allows the CBD to be absorbed sublingually and provides a faster onset of effects. Oral sprays usually begin to work within 15-45 minutes after dosing and peak at around 90 minutes. Oral sprays tend to be less concentrated than other CBD oil products, with each spray containing just 1-3mg of CBD.
CBD Vape Oils / E-liquids
For patients who prefer to vaporize, CBD vape oils and e-liquids offer a great way to consume pure CBD without experiencing the typical psychoactive effects of cannabis. CBD vape oils can be purchased in a bottle as a refill or as a one-time use cartridge for certain vape pens. Depending on the product, a bottle or cartridge of CBD vape oil may contain anywhere from 25-300mg of CBD. Unlike other CBD oil products, vape oils allow you to feel the effects of CBD almost immediately after inhaling the vapor.
For many patients, determining what dose of CBD hemp oil to take can be a challenge.
This is because, unlike conventional medications, CBD oils have not undergone the proper scientific trials to determine dosing and safety. Further complicating matters is the lack of consistency across different CBD hemp oil products, which makes it difficult to trust the advice of most sellers.
As a result, patients are left with little options other than trial and error or word of mouth to determine the appropriate dose to take.
Most health professionals recommend that patients start with a very low dose (usually 2-3mg of CBD) and gradually increase the dose as necessary. This method provides the most caution and safety in case undesirable effects should occur.