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

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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.

Hemp Anatomy

(Photo: Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance)

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

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

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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 Hemp Oil Controversy

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.

As a result, there have been many reports of inconsistent cannabinoid levels in CBD hemp oil products.

Benefits and Uses of CBD

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

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, anecdotal reports from patients who have tried CBD seem to support the notion that it can be an effective treatment for a long list of diseases and conditions, including:

How CBD Works

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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.

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

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CBD hemp oil is most commonly available as a tincture or concentrated oil extract. These products are preferred due to their higher purity, since they are a natural result of the extraction process.

Tinctures and oil concentrates 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 (lotions, salves and skin balms), oral sprays and vaporizer e-liquids.

Dosing Advice

For many patients, determining what dose of CBD hemp oil to take can be a challenging process.

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 and gradually increase the dose as necessary. This method provides the most caution and safety in case undesirable effects should occur.