This is the most comprehensive and easiest to understand explanation on what CBD oil exactly is.
After reviewing over 50 different CBD oils, having had close contact with countless of CBD oil producers, and scrutinizing the results of 100+ scientific papers about:
- CBD oil;
- Hemp cultivation, and;
- Oil extraction processes,
we literally know everything there is to know about CBD oil, and more importantly:
What pieces of information are essential for you to know to be a well-informed consumer of CBD oil.
In short: if you want to become an expert on CBD oil, in just a few minutes, you’ll love this guide.
Let’s get started.
First…What Is CBD and What Potential Benefits Are Associated with It?
To understand what CBD oil is, first we have to understand what CBD is, and why it’s gaining so much popularity.
CBD stands for cannabidiol. Just like THC, cannabidiol is one of the many cannabinoids found in Cannabis Sativa plants (both Hemp and Marijuana variants of the cannabis sativa species). Cannabinoids are a specific set of compounds found only in the Cannabis Sativa plant species and they have specific pharmacological effects.
In the past decades, research has shown that CBD has many potential health benefits including:
- Painkilling effects, and;
- Many more effects.
For a full list of potential benefits of CBD, check out our guide where we review scientific studies that looked at the effects of CBD:
And while THC is associated with many health benefits as well, CBD has one very big advantage compared to THC:
CBD has no psychoactive properties. You can’t get ‘high’ with CBD. Although many health benefits have been associated with THC, the fact that it’s psychoactive has always kept products containing THC from becoming mainstream, widely legal products.
Products with CBD and little to no THC are legal products in large parts of the world. CBD does not get you ‘high'.
CBD oil without THC is legal in all of the U.S. and Europe. CBD oil with THC is legal in the U.S. as long is it contains less than 0.3% THC. CBD oil with THC is legal in most parts of Europe as long is it contains less than 0.2% THC.
Now that you understand what CBD is and why it's gaining so much popularity, let’s look at the most common form it’s being used: CBD oil.
The Definition of What CBD Oil Exactly Is
CBD oil is an umbrella term for any oil that contains high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD). There are many different ways to produce CBD oil (and many different types of CBD oils, keep reading if you want to learn about those). But the most common way to produce CBD oil is by extracting CBD and other compounds like terpenes from the Hemp plant, and by a separation process like distillation or winterization, isolating and keeping only those compounds in the extract that you want in your end-product.
This isolation process can go so far that in the end, only the CBD is left, and every other compound that was in the original Hemp extract is filtered out. An end-product with only CBD left is called a purified CBD product.
Most Hemp extracts also undergo a process of decarboxylation (scroll further down if you want to learn more about this process).
In short, what happens in this decarboxylation process is the following:
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, and for an oil to be sold as ‘CBD oil’ it needs to contain high levels of CBD and not necessarily high levels of CBDA.
Most CBD oils sold today are broad-spectrum oils, which means, besides CBD, they can contain various other compounds that are extracted from the Hemp plant, like other cannabinoids and terpenoids. But broad-spectrum oils don’t contain a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes as found in high-resin Hemp plants (more about that later).
Most CBD oils also contain a carrier oil like olive oil or MCT oil, to improve taste and increase the bio-availability of the CBD.
That said…there are different types of CBD oils and if you want to be an informed consumer, you have to know about these.
The Different Types of CBD Oils
Based on how the CBD oil is exactly manufactured, you can get qualitatively very different products.
The main variables that influence the type and quality of CBD oil you get are:
- The source of the oil, meaning the type of Hemp plant (including how it’s cultivated and processed) that’s used to extract the compounds found inside your oil. But also what parts of the Hemp plant are used to extract the goods (the flower of a Hemp plant contains way more beneficial compounds compared to the stalk and stem);
- The extraction method (CO2 vs solvent extraction);
- The compounds kept inside the end-product (in some cases you have a pure isolate where only the CBD is left).
Basically, all CBD oils fall under 3 different categories:
- Full plant extract/full-spectrum CBD oils;
- Broad-spectrum CBD oils;
- CBD isolate or purified CBD oils;
Let’s dive a bit deeper into these.
Full Spectrum/Full Plant Extracts CBD Oils
Full plant extract/full-spectrum CBD oils are as the name implies, an as complete as possible extract from the Hemp plant, containing:
- A full spectrum of cannabinoids including other cannabinoids than CBD like CBC, CBG, THC (although in much lesser concentrations);
- A full spectrum of terpenes, and potentially also;
- Vitamins, and;
- Other anti-oxidants naturally occurring in Hemp plants.
A full plant extract CBD oil can either be a CBD oil in its raw/crude form (the first unaltered extract from the plant), or a very sparsely distilled or winterized CBD oil. A full plant Hemp extract in its raw/crude form is often extremely thick, sticky and fragrant and there aren’t many sellers that sell these types of oil.
Most full-plant extract/full-spectrum CBD oils are distilled or winterized to remove waxes, lipids, and phosphides while keeping a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes.
The easiest way to make such a true full-spectrum CBD oil is by extracting the compounds out of high-resin Hemp plants with the use of solvent extraction. CO2 extraction is not the easiest method to extract the full spectrum of terpenes especially (more on extraction methods later).
Since a true full-spectrum CBD oil contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids AND terpenes, a full-plant extract makes the best case for the so-called ‘entourage effect’. This effect refers to the fact that all the compounds in the Hemp plant influence each other’s effects, in some cases enhancing each other’s beneficial effects, and in other cases, mitigating each other’s negative effects.
In fact, a recent study has found that a full-plant extract CBD oil can have the same effects as a purified CBD product, with a dose that’s 4-times smaller.
Now, since a true full-plant extract CBD oil should contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, PLUS in relatively high concentrations, full-spectrum CBD oil, is best made from the flower of high-resin non-industrial Hemp plants.
Here’s why from the flower (and not the stems and stalks):
The flower of a Hemp plant contains significantly more beneficial compounds than its stems and stalks. The trichomes which are packed with cannabinoids and terpenes are mainly found inside the flower.
And here's why from high-resin non-industrial Hemp plants:
Industrial Hemp is a low-resin plant, that means it contains low concentrations of trichomes, cannabinoids like CBD, and terpenes. This also means to create a relatively potent CBD oil from industrial Hemp, you would need to beef up the CBD-content with CBD crystals/isolate. A true full-plant extract (unmodified with added CBD crystals) produced from industrial Hemp plants will contain very low amounts of CBD.
Add to that the fact that because industrial Hemp contains low amounts of resin it doesn't contain high concentrations of other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenoids either, and you’ll quickly understand why industrial Hemp can never be the preferred source plant for a full-plant extract/full-spectrum CBD oil.
True full-plant extract CBD oils are made from the flower of Hemp plants that are:
- Have a wide cannabinoid-profile and high cannabinoid content,
- Have a wide terpene-profile and high terpene-content,
- Are low in THC, and;
- Preferably organically cultivated
Of all types of CBD oils, full plant extracts, or full-spectrum CBD oils, are closest to the plant in the biochemical make-up.
True full spectrum/full-plant extract CBD oils are our preferred CBD oils.
Classic examples full-spectrum CBD oils:
Broad-Spectrum CBD Oils
Broad-spectrum CBD oils, just like full-spectrum CBD oils, besides CBD, can contain additional compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes extracted from the Hemp plant. But unlike full plant extracts, broad-spectrum CBD oils don’t contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found in high-resin Hemp plants, but only a select set.
Usually, broad-spectrum oils, start out as a full-plant extract but undergo a process of distillation or winterization where some types of cannabinoids and/or terpenes get removed completely.
Sometimes, for example, the THC and a set of terpenoids get fully removed from a full-plant extract. Or the CBD inside the raw hemp extract gets decarboxylated through a heating process and the terpenes evaporate (which could later be reintroduced in the oil if they are captured).
Most ‘full spectrum’ CBD oils being marketed as such are in reality, broad-spectrum oils.
Keeping especially a full spectrum of terpenes inside the end-product is difficult and requires a very delicate manufacturing process from the moment a high-resin Hemp plant gets harvested to the last step that's involved in producing the end-product. Terpenes are highly volatile compounds that not only evaporate very quickly but also degrade quickly if Hemp isn’t handled and stored properly.
Unlike a full-plant extract, a broad-spectrum CBD oil CAN be made from industrial Hemp. Because there’s no real definition of what a broad-spectrum CBD oil really is. If a CBD oil contains a few more compounds in addition to the CBD, it can already be classified as ‘broad-spectrum’.
That means if you want a broad-spectrum CBD oil that’s of high quality, it’s important that you know the source of your oil: what kind of Hemp it’s made of. Industrial Hemp can never be a good source of the highest quality broad-spectrum CBD oil, mostly because industrial Hemp is a low-resin plant and contains neither high amounts nor a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes.
The taste of broad-spectrum CBD oils can be very good because the producer is basically free to remove any compounds that might have a negative effect on the taste of the oil.
As explained before, most broad-spectrum CBD oils get advertised as ‘full spectrum’. What some CBD sellers refer to as ‘full spectrum’, is just that their CBD oil contains other compounds extracted from the plant besides CBD, but not necessarily the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes (like you would have with a full-plant extract).
A true full-spectrum CBD oil contains:
- The full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found inside high-resin Hemp plants, and;
- Contains these in high detectable amounts (not just trace elements).
A broad-spectrum oil contains:
- CBD, plus;
- A random set of cannabinoids and/or terpenoids in high or low amounts.
Classic example broad-spectrum CBD oil:
Isolate/Purified CBD Oils
Isolate CBD oils are oils that only contain purified CBD and a carrier oil like olive oil or MCT oil.
Basically, you’re only getting CBD and nothing else. The source of a purified CBD product isn’t really important because:
The chemical make-up of a CBD molecule is always the same. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from an organically cultivated high-resin Hemp plant or an industrially cultivated industrial Hemp plant. The quality of a CBD molecule is always the same.
If you’re going for a purified CBD product like a CBD isolate oil, just go for the cheapest you can find. Just make sure the carrier oil is of good quality.
The plants used to produce a CBD oil and the extraction method are only important when it comes to full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD oils.
In general, CBD isolate or distillation oils are cheaper than full-plant extracts or broad-spectrum oils, but also less potent because they won’t provide any of the afore-mentioned entourage-effect.
If you want to test out CBD in its purest form (most CBD-related studies tested a purified form of CBD), this is the type of product you should get.
- HempBombs CBD Oil
The Different Extraction Methods to Produce CBD Oil: Pros and Cons
On CBD-selling websites, you’ll find that extraction methods are sometimes being used as a unique selling point or a strong point of marketing.
For example statements similar to:
Our CBD Oil is CO2-extracted and leaves behind no toxins!
Our CBD oil is food-grade ethanol extracted and is truly full spectrum!
But what difference is there exactly between all these extraction methods? And how do these differences matter for you, the consumer?
CO2 Extraction of CBD
Supercritical/subcritical CO2 extraction refers to an extraction method that extracts the goods out of the Hemp plant with the use of carbon dioxide and the manipulation of temperatures and pressure.
Although CO2 extraction is very clean and non-toxic, it’s not the best method to extract especially terpenes from Hemp.
Although there are CBD oil producers that make it work, for a full-spectrum CBD oil, CO2 extraction isn’t the best extraction method. For any other type of CBD oil, whether that’s a broad-spectrum CBD oil that doesn’t contain a full spectrum of terpenes or a purified CBD product like CBD Isolate, CO2 extraction generally works fine.
One benefit of CO2 extraction is that you can be relatively sure that no residual solvents are left inside your end-product, without any test results showing you that.
The methods that extract terpenes and cannabinoids in the most efficient and effective way (the full spectrum of them and in high amounts) are solvent-based extractions.
Solvent-Based CBD Extraction
Solvent-based extraction refers to extracting the goods out of the Hemp plant with the use of organic solvents like:
- Propane, or;
And while butane and propane are extremely effective in stripping the Hemp plant of its most essential compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes, these solvents aren’t interesting to most large-scale CBD oil manufacturers because propane- and butane-based solvent extraction is difficult to scale. Therefore, you won’t find many butane- or propane-extracted CBD oils being commercially sold.
That leaves us with ethanol-based extraction. Ethanol is, just like butane and propane very effective in extracting cannabinoids and terpenes, but there's a catch:
Because ethanol is an extremely polar solvent, it’s also highly effective in extracting other ‘unwanted’ compounds from the Hemp plant, like waxes, lipids, and chlorophylls. This means that ethanol-based Hemp extractions often undergo an additional distillation process to:
- Remove these unwanted compounds like waxes, lipids, and chlorophylls, and;
- Because ethanol has a relatively high boiling point, remove the ethanol itself from the end-product.
Now, if in this distillation process, any cannabinoids or terpenes get permanently removed, it ceases to be a full spectrum product and becomes a broad-spectrum product.
Also, important to mention is that for a true full-spectrum CBD oil to stay full spectrum, it can’t be heated at high temperatures and/or for long periods of time.
Terpenes are highly volatile compounds, and easily evaporate when heated. When you lose the terpenes, the CBD oil ceases to be a full spectrum product. Terpenes are essential to a full spectrum CBD oil.
Brings us to the next point…
Decarboxylation of CBD
Cannabinoids like CBD can be found in raw and fresh Hemp, largely in their acidic form. In the case of CBD, its acidic form is called CBDA. CBDA becomes CBD when it undergoes a process of decarboxylation. The decarboxylation process already starts at room temperature, but processes at a very slow speed at this temperature. To speed up the decarboxylation process, you need to heat up the CBDA.
By why would you want to decarboxylate the CBDA in the first place? Well, 95% of research in the past decades has focused on CBD and found many potential benefits related to CBD and not necessarily CBDA.
Does this mean that CBDA doesn’t have any benefits?
Not at all. In fact, more and more research is showing that CBDA could have even more potent benefits than CBD itself. But research on CBDA is new and rare, especially human studies are extremely rare. What this means is that most CBD manufacturers decarboxylate their CBDA by heating it.
Now, depending on the temperatures and timestamps CBD manufacturers use to decarboxylate the CBDA to CBD in their raw Hemp extracts, it could mean that during the decarboxylation process significant concentrations of terpenes evaporate.
This, in turn, means that a true full-spectrum CBD oil, can’t have undergone a decarboxylation process involving high temperatures, unless the manufacturer captured these evaporated terpenes through condensation and re-introduced them into the final product.
How can you know if your ‘full spectrum’ CBD oil truly contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes of a high-resin Hemp plant? Well, either:
- You fully know and understand the implications of the manufacturing process of your CBD oil provider, or;
- You have a clear lab-test report showing you cannabinoid and terpene-profiles and contents.
Just realize that these lab-test reports usually don’t show all terpenes and cannabinoids, but they can give you a good indication as to the ‘full spectrumness’ of that particular CBD oil.
Today you’ve learned everything there is to know about CBD oil.
You now know more about CBD oil than 95% of CBD oil 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 CBD oil, 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 CBD oils that we currently recommend, check out our:
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: