CBD oil is an umbrella term for any oily substance that contains:
- A high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD), and
- At most, 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD is thought to have various health benefits.
Today you're going to get a crash course on CBD oil …
And decide for yourself if it's worth trying.
After countless CBD oil reviews, having had close contact with countless producers, and scrutinizing the results of 100+ scientific papers about:
- CBD and other cannabinoids,
- Hemp cultivation, and,
- Oil extraction processes,
we can confidently say that by reading this post you'll become an expert in less than 5 minutes.
Let’s get started.
What Is Cannabidiol (CBD)?
CBD stands for cannabidiol.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis plants (in both hemp and marijuana variants of the cannabis species).
Cannabinoids are a specific type of compound found in very high concentrations only in the cannabis plant species. Cannabinoids have unique pharmacological effects that are associated with numerous beneficial effects.
A study published in the Journal of Life Sciences, identified over 70 cannabinoids in cannabis plants (1). And there are probably many more unidentified cannabinoids.
The most well-known and well-researched cannabinoid is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC causes the ‘high' that you feel when you use marijuana. THC is associated with various beneficial effects, but negative side-effects as well (2), for example:
- Anxiety, and;
In the past decades, more and more scientific attention is given to CBD.
A simple “cannabidiol” search query in the PubMed database comes up with 2822 studies about the topic.
Based on the findings in the past decades, the pharmaceutical industry brought out at least two different pharmaceutical formulations that contain CBD:
- In 2010 UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the CBD-containing Sativex as a botanical drug that can be prescribed by medical practitioners for MS-related pain and spasticity. Sativex is an oromucosal spray that contains the cannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in a 1:1 ratio (3).
- More recently in 2018, the FDA approved a CBD-based prescription drug called ‘Epidiolex'. Epidiolex is purified CBD in an oral solution and is used for the treatment of epilepsy (4).
Although THC is associated with some beneficial effects as well …
The fact that it’s psychoactive and illegal in most countries has always kept products containing a high concentration of THC from becoming mainstream, widely legal products.
CBD has one very big advantage compared to THC:
You can’t get ‘high’ with CBD.
CBD products, generally, don't get you ‘high'. CBD as a stand-alone compound is legal in many countries and CBD products with little to no THC are legal products in large parts of the world.
Of course, there are products that contain CBD which can get you high. For example, marijuana or cannabis oil. But these products can't really be classified as ‘CBD products'.
You've learned that CBD is associated with various health benefits.
Let's take a closer look now at …
What Is CBD Exactly Good For?
For example, a review study published recently in the Journal of Head and Face Pain identified over 20 potential benefits associated with CBD, including (5):
- Anti-inflammatory effects;
- Anti-oxidant effects;
- Anti-anxiety effects,
- Analgesic (anti-pain) effects,
- Sleep-improving effects.
There are a few studies that looked at the effects of CBD on specific conditions like:
- Different types of pain like arthritis pain and chronic pain;
- Anxiety disorders;
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Seizure disorders like different forms of hard-to-treat epilepsy (for example: Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome).
While most CBD studies are animal studies, human studies are increasing every year.
CBD is thought to produce its beneficial effects by interacting with:
- Cannabinoid receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system, and;
- Other receptors like glycine receptors.
The beneficial effects of CBD are THE reason why it gained so much popularity in the past years.
Because we already have an article where we reviewed the most important scientific research that looked at the potential benefits of CBD, we won't dive deeper into its benefits here.
In this article, we reviewed and analyzed 100+ scientific studies and identified 36 potential benefits that CBD may produce. You can read the article by clicking the link below:
It's important to note here that even though researchers have found many benefits associated with CBD, these findings don't mean that you should use commercially sold products for medical reasons.
Currently, there’s no scientific evidence supporting the idea that commercially sold CBD products can cure or treat diseases or conditions. We strongly advise against using commercially sold products for medical reasons.
Although there are pharmaceutical formulations that contain CBD, these prescription medications are subjected to multiple clinical studies that prove their efficacy and safety before they're approved. Pharmaceutical drugs also are bound to much stricter quality control measures compared to commercially sold health supplements.
It's also important to note that CBD is associated with various side effects, and using CBD products comes with its own set of potential health risks.
- CBD can interact with various pharmaceutical drugs, and;
- CBD oil can be contaminated with various contaminants.
If you want to learn more about all the potential side effects and health risks that you expose yourself to by taking CBD oil, read the following article:
That being said, commercially sold CBD products could provide you with general health benefits like anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
When you extract cannabinoids and other compounds from cannabis plants, you get an oily substance that contains CBD.
Can Every Cannabis-Extract Be Classified as ‘CBD Oil'?
For a cannabis-extract to be considered CBD oil it needs to contain:
- A high concentration of CBD, and;
- A low concentration of THC.
But how much is a ‘high concentration' of CBD and ‘low concentration' of THC exactly?
To answer this question we first have to understand the (legal) differences between ‘Hemp' and ‘Marijuana'.
Botanically, both hemp and marijuana are part of the cannabis plant species and taxonomically they're the same plants.
The difference between hemp and marijuana is based on the percentage of THC and the legal definition that is tied to this difference in the percentage of THC.
The Legality of Hemp and CBD Oil
Legally, a cannabis sativa plant is considered ‘hemp' when it contains no more than 0.3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC is classified as marijuana. Marijuana and its extracts are federally illegal. They're considered as Schedule 1 drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Some U.S. state laws differ from federal law and there are numerous states in the U.S. where marijuana is legal on a state level.
In the EU this limit for a cannabis plant to be qualified as hemp or industrial hemp is 0.2% THC
While marijuana and its extracts are illegal on a federal level, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and sale of hemp and its extracts.
Extracts from marijuana (cannabis plants containing more than 0.3% THC) are federally illegal. extracts from hemp, in contrast, are legal on a federal level.
In some states where marijuana is legal on the state level, it's possible to buy marijuana-extracts that contain high concentrations of CBD. But for the most part, CBD oil is an extract that comes from hemp.
The bottom line:
In the U.S. hemp-derived CBD is legal on a federal level.
And while the THC-content of CBD oil is legally defined …
A ‘high concentration' of CBD, which is another important characteristic for any cannabis-extract to be considered ‘CBD oil', is more of a gray area.
How Much CBD Should CBD Oil Contain?
There are no standardized industry-wide rules as to how much CBD should be inside a bottle of CBD oil. But at Herbonaut, we look at how much CBD (in mg) you get per one dollar, plus we check whether it's easy to ingest large amounts of CBD while using that specific product.
If a bottle of 30ml only contains 250mg of CBD, it's a very diluted bottle, and you would need 4 or 5 full droppers to get to a decent amount of CBD. And if that bottle now also costs more than $30, you know you're getting scammed.
So how much CBD a bottle of CBD oil should contain is dependent on the size and price of the bottle. Generally, a high-quality CBD oil will have at least 2% of CBD inside it.
This brings us to the 3 most important characteristics that define a cannabis-extract as ‘CBD oil':
- To be federally legal, it has to be extracted from hemp plants.
- It has to contain at most 0.3% THC.
- It has to contain at least 2% CBD.
Now that we understand what characteristics define CBD oil, let's take a closer look at which factors make one brand differ from the other.
The 5 Factors That Determine the Biochemical Make-Up of Your CBD Oil
Besides CBD, a hemp extract can contain many different compounds. The most important and most beneficial of these compounds are:
- Other cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), and;
- Terpenes like linalool, limonene.
Which hemp-derived compounds exactly are inside your bottle and in what specific concentrations is dependent on five things:
- Which strain of hemp is used for the extraction;
- Which parts of the hemp plant are used for the extraction;
- What extraction method is used for the extraction;
- What filtering process is used to create the final product, and;
- What decarboxylation process is used to convert CBDA into CBD.
Why does this matter?
It matters because many hemp-derived compounds have uniquely beneficial effects …
PLUS many hemp-derived compounds work together with CBD to enhance its beneficial effects. The first indication that cannabinoids and other cannabis-derived compounds could work together in a process called ‘the entourage effect' was given in a study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology all the way back in 1998 (6).
In this study, researchers found that cannabinoid receptors would sometimes only get biologically activated when exposed to a specific combination of compounds. Individually, these compounds had no effect on the cannabinoid receptors, but together they could activate them.
The entourage effect is the reason why at Herbonaut we always recommend full-spectrum CBD oils, but more on that later. To find a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil, you can also check out our list of best CBD oils and see how they compare other types of products.
The differences in biochemical make-up between different CBD oils are also the main reason why you can experience differences in effect.
How the Strain of Hemp Influences the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
Different strains of hemp have different cannabinoid- and terpene-profiles.
- Some strains of hemp contain more THC than others (never more than 0.3% however).
- Some strains contain more CBC and CBG than others. Both of these cannabinoids have been associated with beneficial effects in animal studies like neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, but through different and unique physiological processes than those associated with CBD (7).
- Strains also come with their different and unique terpene-profiles, and each type of terpene is associated with unique benefits as well (8).
Even though all CBD oils contain CBD, you can see that biochemical make-up between them can differ widely based on the strain of hemp that's used for the extraction.
How the Parts of Hemp Used for the Extraction Influence the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
The majority of pharmacologically active compounds in hemp plants are found in the resin-rich flower parts.
The resinous and trichome-rich flower of a hemp plant contains way more beneficial compounds compared to the stalk and stem.
Although you can extract CBD from the stalks and stems of hemp plants, other beneficial compounds will be mostly absent.
Biochemically, a hemp-extract from the plant's stalks and stems will differ from a hemp-extract that comes from the plant's flower.
Generally, a hemp-extract coming from the plant's flower will contain more beneficial compounds in a wider variety.
How the Extraction Method Influences the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
Different extraction methods have different efficacy in stripping the cannabinoids and terpenes from hemp plants.
The two main methods used for extracting CBD oils are:
- CO2-based extraction, and;
- Ethanol-based extraction.
Both of these extraction-methods have their pros and cons …
But ethanol-based extraction is more effective in extracting especially terpenes, but also needs a more extensive filtering process.
An ethanol-extracted CBD oil will generally contain more terpenes.
You can read more about the different extraction methods used to produce CBD oil by clicking the link below:
How the Filtering Process Influences the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
Every CBD oil that's sold to consumers in its final form starts as a raw unfiltered hemp-extract.
This raw hemp-extract contains a wide variety of hemp-derived compounds like:
- Other cannabinoids,
- Chlorophylls, and
Some of these hemp-derived compounds like waxes, chlorophylls, and lipids, make this raw hemp-extract inconvenient to consume. They have a bitter taste and make the extract extremely thick and sticky.
To remove these unwanted compounds, this raw extract then undergoes a filtering process like distillation or winterization.
This filtering process is another step that can result in CBD oils having a widely different biochemical composition.
This filtering process can go so far that in the end, only the CBD is left, and every other compound that was in the raw hemp extract is filtered out.
The most common compounds that get filtered out of a raw hemp-extract are:
- Lipids, and;
A THC-free CBD product will have slightly different effects than one containing it. Waxes, chlorophylls, and lipids don't have a big impact on the potency of a CBD oil.
How the Decarboxylation Process Influences the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
Then there's the decarboxylation process that can determine the CBDA vs CBD ratio of a product, but also its terpene content.
Let me explain.
In short, what happens in the decarboxylation process is the following:
By heating the hemp-extract, the CBDA, which is CBD in its acidic form and the precursor of CBD, turns into CBD.
Fresh and raw hemp contains a lot more CBDA than CBD. For an oil to be sold as ‘CBD oil’ it needs to contain high levels of CBD and not necessarily high levels of CBDA. But depending on the method used for the decarboxylation-process, the exact CBDA to CBD ratio varies from oil to oil.
The method used for the decarboxylation-process can also alter the terpene-content of a hemp-extract.
Terpenes are volatile compounds that evaporate quickly. If the producer uses a high-heat method for the decarboxylation process, many terpenes will evaporate.
CBD oils can generally be categorized into three different categories:
- Broad-spectrum, and;
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of all these different types of products read:
What's the Difference Between Hemp (Seed) Oil and CBD (Hemp) Oil?
The main difference between hemp seed oil and CBD oil is that hemp seed oil doesn't contain high concentrations of CBD, and CBD (hemp) oil does.
When looking for places to buy CBD oil, you might come across products called ‘Hemp oil' or ‘Hemp seed oil.'
Here's the deal:
In some cases, products called ‘Hemp oil' are hemp-extracts containing high levels of CBD and are virtually the same thing as ‘CBD oil.' These products are sometimes also called ‘CBD Hemp Oil.'
In the majority of cases, however, products called ‘Hemp oil' are ‘Hemp seed oil.'
Hemp seed oil is another super-healthy oil.
But if you're looking for the benefits associated with CBD, avoid hemp seed oil.
There are some critical differences between these oils, which make them completely different.
Hemp seed oil is a useless product if you're looking for the benefits associated with CBD.
1. The difference in the Natural Source of the Product
Although in rare cases CBD-rich cannabis extracts are produced from marijuana, in the majority of cases, oils that get advertised as ‘CBD oil' are produced from the Hemp plant.
Hemp (seed) oil is produced from the seeds of the Hemp plant.
The Hemp plant has a very different biochemical makeup than its seeds, which you'll learn about next.
2. The Difference in the Bio-Chemical Make-Up
The major difference in biochemical make-up between the Hemp plant and its seeds is that the Hemp plant contains CBD.
This means the only way to create an oil that contains high amounts of CBD, is to use Hemp plants or Marijuana plants as a source.
It's simply impossible to extract CBD from hemp seeds.
Besides CBD, hemp plants contain many other beneficial compounds which can't be found in their seeds, like:
- Other cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, CBN;
- Terpenoids, and;
Hemp seed oil contains many beneficial compounds as well like, but no CBD whatsoever!
3. The Differences in Effect
Now you'll also understand why these oils have a different effect on you and your body.
Starting with CBD oil:
CBD has shown to have the potential to be beneficial for the symptoms of a wide variety of conditions and unique beneficial properties for your health in general.
Hemp seed oil is healthy in its own way, but can't provide you any of the benefits associated with CBD!
Today you’ve got a crash-course on CBD oil.
You now know more about the topic than 95% of consumers and that puts you in the spot to buy the best possible CBD oil based on your wants, needs, and budget…without any outside help.
When in doubt about a particular product, never hesitate to contact the manufacturer and ask questions that force them to go deeper into their cultivation, storing, or extraction processes.
If you’re interested in the products that we currently recommend, check out our list of:
If you're looking for the most convenient way to use CBD, check out our list of:
If you’re interested in vaping CBD, check out our list of:
If you’re interested in what potential health benefits science has associated with CBD, check out our article on the:
If you’re interested in unofficial and subjective dosage guidelines based on data from scientific research, check out our:
And if you’re interested in how to use CBD oil for specifically anxiety or pain, check out our articles on:
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Carlini, E. (2004). The good and the bad effects of (−) trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) on humans. Toxicon, 44(4), 461–467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxicon.2004.05.009
Vermersch, P. (2011). Sativex®(tetrahydrocannabinol + cannabidiol), an endocannabinoid system modulator: basic features and main clinical data. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 11(sup4), 15–19. https://doi.org/10.1586/ern.11.27
Rubin, R. (2018). The Path to the First FDA-Approved Cannabis-Derived Treatment and What Comes Next. JAMA, 320(12), 1227. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.11914
Baron, E. P. (2018). Medicinal Properties of Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids in Cannabis, and Benefits in Migraine, Headache, and Pain: An Update on Current Evidence and Cannabis Science. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 58(7), 1139–1186. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.13345
Ben-Shabat, S., Fride, E., Sheskin, T., Tamiri, T., Rhee, M. H., Vogel, Z., . . . Mechoulam, R. (1998). An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. European Journal of Pharmacology, 353(1), 23–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0014-2999(98)00392-6
Rodríguez-Cueto, C., Santos-García, I., García-Toscano, L., Espejo-Porras, F., Bellido, M., Fernández-Ruiz, J., . . . de Lago, E. (2018). Neuroprotective effects of the cannabigerol quinone derivative VCE-003.2 in SOD1G93A transgenic mice, an experimental model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Biochemical Pharmacology, 157, 217–226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2018.07.049
- Cox-Georgian D., Ramadoss N., Dona C., Basu C. (2019) Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes. In: Joshee N., Dhekney S., Parajuli P. (eds) Medicinal Plants. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-31269-5_15