If you have been paying attention to the latest health product trends, you have probably noticed CBD oil popping up left and right. An explosion in the supplements market has happened, with everyone from celebrities to doctors coming out of the woodwork to promote CBD based products.
Did you ever wonder how CBD oil is made? Well, this article is for you. Read on to find out:
- The important role that plant sourcing plays in CBD oil manufacturing
- How genetics is likely the future in CBD health products
- The three main CBD extraction methods – and which is best
- What kinds of products are made with CBD
Table of Contents
Start at the Source: CBD Oil Comes from Hemp
Most CBD oil starts with industrial hemp. This crop is very low in the psychoactive compound THC. Even consuming massive quantities of industrial hemp won’t result in a high. However, it is a strain of cannabis, and it shares that fact with another plant known as marijuana.
There are three main things to be on the look out for when it comes to sourcing the plant material used to make CBD oil:
- Where was it sourced from?
- What strain of cannabis is used?
- Was it extracted from the whole plant or was the flower only used?
Domestic Vs. Imported
Due to Nixon Era paranoia about the dangers of marijuana, hemp has been an illegal crop in the United States for about 70 years. The Farm Bill signed into law in 2014 finally offered American farmers a chance to legally grow this important and lucrative crop, however, only under strict provisions.
Since that time the legal status of hemp and its derivative products including CBD oil have remained in a bit of a legal status grey area, with dramas unfolding at the state level as various states grapple with the confusing and contradictory laws of hemp and cannabis cultivation, sale and distribution.
This means that American farmers have been largely left out of the CBD oil boom. However, growers in California, Kentucky and Colorado (among other states) have been very proactive in their hemp pilot programs and the infrastructure that is needed to get these agricultural efforts to market are starting to develop.
That being said, the big hemp producer on the world stage is, without a doubt, China, where hemp cultivation has been going on unabated for centuries. Chances are if your CBD oil doesn’t say where they source their hemp from, there is a good chance it comes out of China.
There are some concerns about the potential quality of hemp products given a lack of transparency about the use of pesticides and safety regulation in Chinese agriculture, for instance. However, many people are interested in supporting American sourced hemp for reasons that are mostly political: To support the domestic hemp industry to make sure the money goes back into the hands of American farmers and a robust hemp industry is allowed to develop in the states.
High CBD Strains
Most CBD oil that is sold in the United States is made from industrial hemp, a collection of specific strains of cannabis that are developed to be low in THC and high in the fiber content used in the hemp textile industry.
However, you don’t have to be a geneticist to realize that the development of special strains of cannabis that maximize THC have been a cornerstone of the recreational pot industry in the many states where it is now legal.
Some of the best CBD manufacturers are using these same principles of selective breeding in the country in terms of developing high CBD strains of cannabis that are both low in THC and rich in the other cannabinoids found in this plant. Such companies often emphasis “seed to bottle” control over their source hemp. This is generally a good sign of quality because it means there is a commitment to the source material that will impact the quality of the finished product.
As we learn more about the healing benefits of cannabinoids, expect to see special strains of cannabis developed to preserve very specific cannabinoid and terpene ratios to maximize whole plant healing of this vital medicinal plant.
Full Plant vs. Flower Only
In some cases, you will see CBD manufacturers tout their product as based on the “flowers only.” Generally a good sign, the reason this matters is that the flowers and buds of cannabis contain the highest concentrations of the full cannabinoid and terpene profile found in the plant.
Ultimately this means that oils made from flowers only have a higher initial concentration of CBD and need less concentration to yield a highly concentrated CBD oil. This is great news because each step of concentrating the extracted oils can also concentrate on other components such as residues from pesticides.
It is more expensive to make CBD oil from flowers only, but when you see this listed by a CBD manufacturer, it is generally a good sign regarding quality.
CBD Oil Extraction Methods
Full Spectrum vs. CBD Isolate
In the CBD industry there are two major kinds of cannabidiol products: full spectrum and CBD isolate. The difference between the two is important to understand.
Full Spectrum CBD Oil: This oil is made in a way that takes advantage of all of the natural components found in cannabis and will vary greatly based on the strain of cannabis used along with the extraction method used to make it.
Full spectrum CBD oil is often more expensive than products made with a CBD isolate because the process of extraction can be more labor intensive, and the source of hemp is extremely critical for a quality finished product. For example, hemp plants grown with the pesticides commonly used in agriculture can cause a buildup of these toxins in the final product.
Full spectrum hemp oil is often preferred because of the so-called “Entourage Effect,” the idea that there is a synergistic effect when cannabinoids are found together as they appear in the cannabis plant which improves the overall healing power over using isolated compounds. There is some research that supports this claim, although it remains somewhat controversial.
CBD Isolate: Chemical processes can be used to isolate cannabidiol, one of the hundreds of compounds found in cannabis. These processes can remove just about all other chemicals found in the source material which makes it possible to show labs that include a 99% or better pure CBD isolate.
Some people prefer CBD isolates because they are usually cheaper and also have more precise dosing. In addition, given that some state law enforcement agencies seem most concerned about CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC, this allows producers to steer clear of those agencies by making a product with 0% THC.
Petroleum Based Solvents
Widely considered the dirtiest and lowest quality extraction method, the use of petroleum-based solvents to make CBD oil is usually a sign of a poor-quality finished product.
Historically this is the first method of extracting the vital components of cannabis, and it was pioneered by Rick Simpson. He first made ROS, otherwise known as Rick Simpson Oil, from cannabis which he claimed cured his skin cancer. Much of the buzz surrounding the potential healing power of hemp and marijuana oil traces back to this initial oil. (Although to be fair, plenty of scientific research in the last 20 years has also been a major player in growing the CBD industry.)
Unfortunately, Simpson’s original recipe used Naptha, a petroleum-based solvent which is volatile, extremely flammable, irritates skin and lungs and is very carcinogenic. Since trace amounts of this solvent are left behind, CBD oil made in this way may not be safe, although it is still a very inexpensive method for making hemp oil.
This is why you always need to look at the third-party lab testing before you buy CBD oil, and also why most reputable CBD companies show a solvent test along with their lab results to verify they are clean of dangerous petroleum-based solvents.
It turns out that Ethanol, also known as plain old grain alcohol, is also able to break down and free up the vital cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis to yield a full spectrum hemp oil. It has the advantage of also being inexpensive since it is easily made from the fermentation of sugars by yeast.
In addition, ethanol extraction is considered extremely clean both regarding personal health and the environment. The substance completely evaporates leaving behind no traces while it is collected using special evaporation equipment that allows it to be reused in its pure form indefinitely.
The downside of this (and petroleum solvent based) extraction techniques has to do with the difficulty of concentrating the oil, making the finished product extremely dependent on the quality of the source cannabis strain.
Despite that difficulty, many believe that the full spectrum oils made by this method offer the most diverse hemp oil with a well-rounded cannabinoid and terpene profile undamaged by exposure to heat that is used in other extraction methods.
Super Critical CO2 Extraction
This is by far the most expensive extraction method because it requires a great deal of specialized equipment, chemistry expertise and access to purified CO2 on a large scale.
However, proponents of this method claim that it produces the cleanest end product that can provide an extremely concentrated final result that is tailored in terms of pure cannabinoid and terpene isolates. In addition, CO2 extraction can produce full spectrum oils that have 0% THC.
The process works by introducing C02, under pressure, to ground hemp. Using precise temperature and pressure control, the chemists can extract very specific compounds producing a controlled final product by isolating the specific cannabinoids and terpene profile the manufacturer desires.
In addition to being reusable and environmentally safe, CO2 extraction leaves behind no residue and is thus considered very safe in terms of a lack of toxins from residue in the final product. It is also extremely efficient regarding extracting every possible gram of cannabinoids from the source plant material.
Although this process is used to create full-spectrum oils by isolating cannabinoids and then putting them back together in the final product, it is usually associated with CBD isolates because the process can make a very pure CBD crystal that is ready to be added to a variety of products with very precise dosing and a long shelf life.
This is a second step in making CBD oil for the market, and it can be used with any extraction method to finish the final oil into one that is free of unwanted plant material such as chlorophyll. Like CO2 extraction, this process is a bit expensive so not all CBD manufacturers use it.
This step takes advantage of the fact that cannabinoids and terpenes found in hemp are more reactive to chromatographic materials, while less desirable plant components aren’t. It is a little analogous to using a strong magnet to pick up a needle from a small pile of hay while the hay (which is non-magnetic) is left behind.
Another chemical process sometimes applied to hemp products is decarboxylation which essentially converts the cannabinoids extracted from the plant from there acidic form to a neutral form that is more readily absorbed into the body.
For example, CBDA is the component in hemp that becomes CBD when exposed to heat, metabolic processes, or decarboxylation. It is actually CBD the body uses that an interacts with its endocannabinoid system.
CBD Oil Products
Although CBD Oil can be used directly once it is made, it is most often added to a variety of products for different ways to dose this natural compound. Since extracted hemp oil is not very palatable, usually the final step of the production process includes the addition of flavorings to make the final product more appealing.
Here are a few of the most popular CBD products you are likely to see on the shelves or online:
CBD Oil Tinctures: This is CBD oil extract in its most basic form. It usually contains a mix of the CBD oil extract along with a carrier oil that is used to dilute the CBD oil for precise dosing. It is usually sold in small eyedropper bottles and can be taken directly under the tongue, added to foods and drinks, or applied directly to the skin for topical relief. Want to find the best CBD Oil Tinctures? Check out my full review here.
CBD Topicals: These products are specially designed to be used directly on the skin. They often have supportive natural ingredients that support the salve, cream or lotion’s purpose. See our guide to the best CBD skin care products.
CBD Capsules: The pill form of CBD is generally made into soft gel capsules which usually contain gelatin or packed into vegan friendly capsules. They have the advantage of having exact dosing and are the easiest way to take CBD supplements.
CBD Edibles: A recent trend in the CBD oil industry is the use of CBD oil in various edible products including CBD infused gummies, candies, drinks, gum and baked goods. In most cases, edibles use an isolated form of CBD over a full spectrum oil due to the way that the application of heat can degrade the carefully extracted cannabinoids and terpenes found in full spectrum CBD oil.
Vape and Dabs: Finally, some people like to smoke their CBD and vaping and dabbing products make this possible. Some people find that this way of dosing CBD changes the effects, giving them more of a benefit for certain symptoms such as anxiety. For an in-depth look at CBD vape products, be sure to check out my buyers guide.
The quality of any CBD product is dependent on clean extraction, excellent hemp sourcing, and responsibly using the oil in various products that are properly and consistently dosed.
If you take a look at my CBD company reviews on this site, you can check how CBD Oil is made at each company BEFORE you buy, a major advantage when it comes to finding the highest quality products.
Do you have more to add to this article about how CBD oil is made? Please feel free to add a comment below to enrich the conversation regarding this natural supplement.
Will is the editor here at CBD Oil Geek. He is passionate about CBD and other natural alternatives to dangerous prescription medicines. He lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York.