Cannabis is a remarkably versatile plant. You can smoke it, eat it or even infuse it into topical skincare products. You can vaporize it, drink it as tea, indulge in an extra potent cannabis concentrate or even get it in an inhaler.
This article will focus on cannabis oils and helping you navigate the various types.
How to Use Cannabis Oil
Cannabis oils are often placed under the tongue (sublingually) where they are then absorbed through the mucous membrane lining in your mouth and enter the bloodstream much faster.
Sublingual absorption also bypasses the gastro-intestinal tract, where compounds are broken down before they are metabolized. It also boosts how much cannabis is absorbed by your system (bioavailability), thereby amplifying its effects.
The following is a guide to the most common cannabis oils.
Hemp Seed Oil
The terms CBD, hemp, and hemp seed oil are not interchangeable. While the terms may be colloquially used this way each one denotes a very specific, unique part of the cannabis plant.
Humans have been using hemp seeds as nutritional and wellness products for thousands of years. Hemp seeds have been used in Chinese medicine to relieve constipation. They’re also full of beneficial compounds such as α-linolenic acid, an omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that may prevent coronary heart disease. It is also a great source of protein, vitamin E and minerals.
Hemp seed oil (also called sativa seed oil) is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds together. You can use hemp seed oil in cooking or even in beauty products. Though incorporating hemp seed oil to your wellness regimen could be beneficial, it isn’t medical cannabis oil.
Be wary of brands that claim to sell CBD products that list “hemp seed oil” as the sole ingredient. This is a misleading practice used to trick consumers into believing they’re purchasing CBD oil, a much more expensive product.
The most common question surrounding hemp oil is whether or not that is the same thing as “CBD oil.”
Hemp is, in simplistic terms, a CBD-rich cannabis plant. The only difference between the two is that the amount of THC in hemp is federally regulated. In the US, hemp must contain no more than 0.3% THC.
Hemp oil, therefore, is derived from hemp plants and alongside CBD and other elements, contains trace amounts of THC. It can be made in one of several different ways. We’ll learn a little more about how hemp oil is made further down when we discuss CBD oil.
Like CBD oil, hemp oil can be full or broad spectrum. The term full spectrum means that all of the hemp plant’s compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes and many more) are preserved in the final product. Broad spectrum products contain all of the plant’s cannabinoids except for THC.
Full spectrum oils are often recommended for patients as they provide the most potent health benefits. This is due to the “entourage effect,” a theory states that the full spectrum of compounds found in the cannabis plant are more powerful when they work together — as opposed to extracts containing only one isolated cannabinoid.
The most refined version of hemp oil available is made with an isolate, a lone, extracted cannabinoid (in this case CBD). Some manufacturers may dissolve CBD isolate, into carrier oils for easy use.
Hemp flower extractions aren’t considered medical cannabis in most cases. Often this has to do with the production process and quality standards in place in the medical cannabis industry but lacking in the CBD industry. Nevertheless, some CBD brands have very high quality products.
If you have no access to CBD oils extracted from marijuana for medical purposes, these oils are probably the best alternative out there. But make sure to only use high quality products as the CBD industry is characterized with extremely poor regulation and standards.
The term ‘cannabis oil’ is incredibly broad. Without any additional context it can be used to denote any type of oil made from any part of the cannabis plant. This can include anything from hemp seed oil to hemp oil as well as CBD based oils. It can also be used to loosely denote high-THC oils like RSO (Rick Simpson oil).
Cannabis oils can have different absorption rates depending on how they’re consumed, which is why many patients favor sublingual absorption. You can, of course, also consume cannabis oil that’s been incorporated into food (an edible). While the bioavailability of edible THC is 4-12%, edibles tend to last a little longer (6-8 hours) than sublingual oils (4-6 hours).
Some cannabis oils may even be made with lesser-utilized parts of the plants like stems, or may contain a mix of oils, such as hemp seed oil blended with another carrier oil. A few common carrier oils include coconut/MCT oil, sunflower oil, and olive oil.
There are several different ways you can make cannabis oils. These include:
Manufacturers can use CO2 to extract cannabinoids from the plant. This method is often considered to be one of the safest ways to extract cannabis as it does not require the use of an additional solvent.
CO2 extraction can be supercritical or subcritical. Supercritical CO2 is carbon dioxide that’s been heated and or pressurized until it exists in a state between liquid and gas. This type of extraction is very useful as it produces a large yield of CO2, but the extreme temperatures can destroy volatile compounds like terpenes. Subcritical CO2 extraction uses lower temperatures to preserve the plant’s compounds.
Lipid-based extractions infuse fats, usually carrier oils, with cannabis until cannabinoids are absorbed. While less precise than CO2 extractions they tend to preserve more of the plant’s cannabinoids, making this an ideal extraction method for patients.
Another way to make cannabis oils is to extract the plant’s cannabinoids with ethanol. This technique soaks cannabis flowers in ethanol, a process that strips the plant of its cannabinoids. The resulting mixture is then subsequently processed.
Ethanol based extractions are often more cost effective than other extraction methods. However, the polarity of ethanol means it has a proclivity to bind to water soluble parts of the plant such as chlorophyll, which can produce a bitter flavor if not removed.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of at least 140 cannabinoids found in the plant. It is often the primary constituent found in cannabis, which means that breeders have typically focused on cultivating plants with high THC yields. Flowers today can express THC concentrations of up to 35%.
Unlike CBD, THC is psychotropic. It has a wide variety of applications and can be used as an analgesic, an anti-epileptic, or as an antiemetic.
THC oil is oil made from THC-rich cannabis flowers. It can be made in several different ways and infused into several different types of carrier oils. You can buy (and make) full spectrum THC oils as well.
You may have also heard the term “hash oil” used before. This is a slight misnomer as the term is actually referring to a resin extract derived from cannabis. Hash oil is made by stripping the plant’s cannabinoids with alcohol. The alcohol is cooked off, leaving a sticky residue oil behind.
One of the most popular cannabis oils is CBD oil (cannabidiol). This oil can be made from the flowers of hemp plants or CBD-rich strains. Like THC oils, it can also be made using a variety of techniques including CO2 extraction and ethanol-based extraction methods. It can be bought or made as a full- or broad-spectrum product.
The amount of THC allowed in hemp from a regulatory perspective is generally between 0.3 and 1% THC. As such, CBD oil made from hemp contains THC levels below 1%. CBD oil made from CBD-rich cannabis flower that is no classified as hemp, on the other hand, can contain higher levels of THC.
BHO (Butane Hash oil, also sometimes called Butane Honey oil) is a resinous oil extracted from cannabis plants. This is usually done using butane as the primary solvent.
BHO oil can take on several different consistencies depending on the heat and humidity used. These include: budder, shatter, pull, and snap, wax, crumble and sap, among others. BHO oils are a type of concentrate that can be consumed in a variety of different ways, primarily through dabbing or vaporization.
This technique has grown decidedly less popular with time as BHO is flammable and prone to igniting when exposed to a spark during the manufacturing process.
RSO (Rick Simpson Oil)
Rick Simpson Oil is another resinous oil left behind when cannabis is extracted with alcohol. It’s one of the most highly concentrated forms of cannabis you can get today. The creator of this type of oil, Rick Simpson, claims to have used it to successfully treat his skin cancer.
RSO is made by stripping the cannabis plant of its terpenes and cannabinoids via isopropyl alcohol. The plant is stripped and the mixture is cooked off until nothing but the resinous oil remains. As such you can find CBD-only RSO, THC-only RSO, and RSO that contains a mixture of both THC and CBD.
Ideal administration of RSO is sublingual as it maximizes bioavailability. However many find the taste of RSO to be extremely bitter and may opt to consume it orally instead. Its effects are extremely strong.