What exactly is CBD oil?

Chances are you’ve already heard the term CBD bantered around, but if you haven’t, that will most certainly change in the very near future as CBD oil and products that contain CBD continue to become increasingly established as the world’s new alternative wonder drug.

Not only has CBD oil been hailed as a potential treatment for sufferers of chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and even cancer, it is also remarkable because it has very few side effects compared to similar prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

Attributes like these have triggered a ‘CBD gold-rush’, and the range of products which now allegedly have CBD as their key ingredient, cover everything from serious pharmaceuticals through to bath bombs, cosmetics, and even dog ice-cream!

Yet despite the assertion by sceptics that CBD is the emperor's new clothes, there is a growing body of evidence to support the hype surrounding it as a genuine cure-all. A claim legitimised by numerous research projects currently going on around the world that are examining the properties of CBD under rigorous scientific conditions.

But what are some of the real factors behind CBD’s inexorable rise? And furthermore, if it comes from the Marijuana plant why doesn’t it make you high when you use it?

Let’s start by sorting the fact from the fiction:

  • The term CBD is short for cannabidiol, an abundant chemical found in the cannabis plant. However, unlike its notorious cousin Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it doesn't contain the psychoactive ingredient that gets you stoned.
  • It is also the percentage of THC in the cannabis plant that determines whether the oil is classified as hemp or Marijuana.
  • Cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC is commonly and legally known as hemp, whereas the same plant species containing more than 0.3% THC, is automatically classified as Marijuana.

What is and isn’t legal?

As you might expect with a product that's categorised on such narrow margins, the legality of CBD has at times been mired in confusion and controversy.

However, with the recent explosion of CBD based products onto the market, there are finally some definitive legal guidelines both in the U.S. and Europe. Currently, in the USA, CBD oils processed from the hemp plant, are legal to possess (and sell) under new Federal law (otherwise known as the Farm Bill of 2018) as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.

Any part of the cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC is considered a controlled substance.

Additionally, even CBD with less than 0.3 percent is still subject to regulation when sold with a claim of therapeutic benefit.

In Europe, the percentage of THC in hemp-based CBD products has to be less than 0.2% to be legal. This is true for all EU countries including the UK.

What's more, if any of these products claim to be medicinal, without obtaining a license from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, they would automatically be classed as illegal. Also deemed to be illegal, would be any products seen to be misleading consumers regarding quality. This could include such practises as overemphasising the CBD content of hemp oil to imply that it is essentially the same as CBD oil, or (as some unscrupulous retailers do), imbuing standard vegetable oils with small quantities of CBD and claiming that it is, in fact, CBD oil.

Since November 1st, 2018, it has also been made legal for specialist doctors in the mainland UK (but not Northern Ireland) to prescribe cannabis-based medicines with a THC content of more than 0.2%.

How is CBD oil produced?

The ultimate aim of commercial growers is to produce a cannabis crop high in CBD and very low in THC.

This is achieved by using specially cloned cuttings taken from previously grown cannabis plants, which are already known to contain only trace amounts of THC.

Once the growing cycle is complete the plants are harvested and air-dried for three to four weeks until cured.

The cured flowers are then stripped from the rest of the plant and ground down to the consistency of coffee grounds before being steeped in methanol to remove any terpenes (the organic compounds in the plant that gives it it’s distinct smell).

Next comes a process called winterization, which dramatically cools the mixture to draw out lipids and fatty acids that can potentially alter the chemical make-up of the oil.

The penultimate part of the process involves turning the mixture in a warm bath until only the very raw oil remains before a final distillation delivers a clear finished product.

When all these processes are complete, the CBD oil is then tested for quality and strength by an independent laboratory before being bottled with a carrier oil or added to the multitude of CBD products now available in the market.

Full-spectrum hemp extract or CBD isolate?

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different phytochemicals including cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds.

Full spectrum hemp extract – sometimes known as ‘whole plant’ extract, generally refers to products that contain these other plant molecules and because of its’ minimal refinement, most of the cannabinoids and terpenes remain intact.

CBD isolate, on the other hand, is a crystalline powder that contains 99% pure CBD. All the plant matter contained in the hemp plant, including oils, waxes, and chlorophyll has been taken out.

One advantage of CDB isolate is that it allows users to easily get large, very accurate amounts of CBD into their system, which is particularly useful when the right dosage is critical.

Unlike full spectrum hemp, which can taste unpleasant to some people, CBD isolate has almost no taste and therefore makes it an easier choice for cooking or mixing into some CBD products where aroma could be an issue.

Isolates can sometimes be more expensive than full spectrum CBD because they undergo more extensive refinement and require more plant matter to get higher levels of isolated cannabidiol.

Some researchers still believe that equal ratios of CBD to THC are the most effective in treating inflammation, chronic pain, and neurodegeneration, but even a twenty to one ratio of CBD to THC can produce significantly stronger therapeutic effects.

To get the full benefits of THC without getting high (an inevitable side-effect of high-THC, low-CBD strains), it is advised to try the marijuana-derived CBD oil.

Unfortunately, this is only an option if you live somewhere where that would be legal, either medically or recreationally.

If on the other hand, you require a legal product that will still offer the full spectrum of cannabinoids with only trace amounts of THC, then hemp-derived CBD oil is a more realistic choice.

CBD hemp oil or hemp seed oil?

Both CBD hemp oil and hemp seed oil come from the same plant but have significant differences, including their constituents and benefits.

The main one being that hemp seed oil - sometimes referred to as Cannabis sativa seed oil - contains no CBD or THC at all and is more like other carrier oils such as sunflower seed oil and jojoba oil, which are cold-pressed and extracted from seeds.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you - far from it. Being high in antioxidants, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, hemp seed oil is generally viewed as a superfood, and as such is found in abundance in many edible and skincare products.

CBD hemp oil, on the other hand, does contain CDB oil (the clue’s in the name!) and in line with other CDB derivatives is increasingly in demand by the medical profession where it is used as an anti-inflammatory or to treat anxiety and depression, as well as relieving some of the side effects associated with certain cancer treatments.

CBD oil concentrations?

The concentration or strength of CBD refers to the total amount present in a given product and is measured in milligrams.

This is different from the recommended dosage, which is the amount of CBD per serving.

The key factors dictating dosage are a person’s body weight, the desired effect, and their tolerance over time, which can result in a reduced effect from the same dosage.

Ultimately, however, achieving the optimal dose will often just come down to the level of pain and/or discomfort the user is experiencing.

Finally, it should be said that regardless of the above factors, first-time consumers should consult their physician before using any products containing CBD.

How do you take it?

There are four main ways to take CBD oil; ingestion, sublingual, topical and inhalation, and the proposed outcome will dictate which one to use.

For conditions that affect the whole body, like anxiety, depression, sleep issues, or arthritis, then oral products such as capsules, pills, gummies or one of the other edibles currently available, would probably be a good option.

For a faster effect, CBD oil administered sublingually might be a better option. A few drops held under the tongue for up to 90 seconds allow the mucous membranes in the mouth to absorb the oil's active ingredients. The compound is then able to reach the bloodstream, and therefore start interacting, more quickly.

For isolated pain relief – for example, an arthritic knee or addressing a skin condition - then a topical CBD oil would be ideal because it can be applied directly to the point of pain or inflammation.

Topical CBD products allow the active ingredients to be absorbed through the skin so that they can interact with cells that are near the surface without ever entering the bloodstream.

Finally, CBD can also be inhaled by vaporizing the oil just enough to release its active compounds and avoiding the harmful by-products created by combustion.

During vaporization, CBD enters the lungs and diffuses directly into the bloodstream. As with the sublingual method, the digestive system and liver are bypassed allowing CBD to enter the body’s circulation more quickly.

How does the body react to CBD?

CBD interacts with the body through its native endocannabinoid system ECS. This complex signalling network is present in all mammals and within the human body is responsible for regulating many of the body's natural functions including mood, memory, appetite, immune response, pain and temperature.

It is made up of cannabinoid receptors, which are present in all the major organs, as well as substances called endocannabinoids, which are synthesized by the body on demand.

There is still a lot that is unknown about the use and effects of CBD on the ECS, but it is a growing area of study that is expected to reveal a multitude of potential benefits. Indeed, the effects of CBD are already widely exploited by doctors all over the world to provide palliative care for HIV and epilepsy.

Oncologists too, prescribe CBD to patients for reducing post-chemotherapy side effects such as insomnia, emesis, reduction in appetite, nausea, vomiting, depression and neuropathic pain.

Benefits of CBD

  • Using CBD hemp oil restores the chemical balance in the body by stimulating the endocannabinoid system.
  • As almost every organ in the body, including the skin and digestive tract, has endocannabinoid receptors, it follows that almost everything in the body can be brought into a state of balance with the help of CBD.
  • On a prosaic level, this leads to an enhanced quality of life.
  • That maybe a bold claim perhaps, but everyday research is finding more and more evidence to show that CBD could bring a whole host of benefits to the human race.
  • Research is currently being done on how CBD can be used to treat conditions of the brain and spinal cord such as epilepsy, migraines, Dystonia, lupus, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.
  • Even some lesser-known illnesses that are connected to the nervous system like Tourette's syndrome are being looked at.
  • Acne and heart disease are further areas showing promising results with CBD.
  • As health professionals and legitimate influencers around the world shed light on the extraordinary properties of the humble hemp plant, its reputation just keeps on blossoming.

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