Author: Jackie Carrillo

Cannabidiol is rapidly becoming a wonder drug that can help people manage conditions as disparate as menstrual discomfort and AIDS — and there is some good initial research that indicates CBD isn’t just a placebo. CBD interacts with the human endocannabinoid system, helping stimulate the body to heal itself in a way many other drugs fail to do safely.

Yet, many people still fail to believe in the potential power of CBD. How can a compound from marijuana be so effective? Why doesn’t it make users high? Can it really be a true cure-all as it is marketed? Thought we don’t have all the answers yet, we can learn quite a bit about CBD by looking into how it is made.

cbd oil in dropper being dropped out

Cannabidiol Inside Cannabis

CBD is the second most-prevalent cannabinoid within the cannabis plant, after psychoactive THC. Unlike THC, CBD is found in all types of cannabis — both marijuana and hemp — but only within the aerial components of the plant, or the stems, leaves and flowers above the soil line. Though the plant fibers themselves do contain some CBD, the vast majority of the cannabinoid is found in trichomes, or tiny glass-like tubes that appear like glittering frosting and make the plant both fragrant and sticky.

Trichomes contain most of the over-100 cannabinoids in cannabis, many of which give the plant resistance to threats like mold and mildew, various pests, ultraviolet radiation and more. This kind of protection is essential for female plants preparing for fertilization and the development of seeds, and that is precisely when trichomes grow in abundance on all plant surfaces touching the air. Thus, farmers need to raise only female crops to sexual maturity before they can begin the extraction process.

CBD Extraction Processes

Once a cannabis crop is ripe with CBD and ready to be transformed into a usable product, it must undergo an extraction process to remove the unwanted components, like the fibrous plant matter and other cannabinoids, from the desired CBD. There are several different extraction processes, and the best involve complex equipment and volatile solvents to strip the CBD from the rest of the plant. Here are some common extraction processes used to make CBD products:

Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

Cannabis is loaded into a tube and rinsed with liquid butane, which dissolves all hydrocarbons (cannabinoids and aroma-producing terpenes) within the plant matter. Then, excess butane is separated from the concentrate through heat and pressure, and the concentrate can be further purified of terpenes with a process called winterization, or rinsing the concentrate with alcohol and freezing it.

Propane Hash Oil (PHO)

Propane functions similarly to butane, stripping cannabis’s hydrocarbons in a wash. However, propane has a much lower boiling temperature and tends to result in colder extractions that produce a less-pure final product, like crumble.

cbd distillate in jar being swirled by scientist
Ethanol Extraction

There are both warm and cold ethanol extraction processes. The former boils ethanol and drips the steam through packed cannabis material, thereby stripping the cannabinoids. This process does require additional dewaxing and clarification steps. Room-temperature or super-cooled ethanol produces much purer concentrates, like shatter.

Supercritical Flued Extraction (SFE)

Entirely lacking a solvent, SFE relies on a specialized machine to freeze and compress carbon dioxide into a supercritical liquid state. Then, the CO2 is passed through the cannabis material, extracting cannabinoids and terpenes.

Extraction is expensive, complicated and dangerous, so it is best left to experienced professionals. Home extractors can make any number of critical mistakes, risking their health, property and more. Because CBD concentrates are so easy to access, most everyone can find and obtain safe, affordable CBD products without worrying about DIY.

Using CBD Products for Health

It isn’t uncommon in discussions regarding THC vs. CBD that CBD be billed as the healthy cannabinoid while THC is wild and disruptive — but that isn’t necessarily true. Both cannabinoids have health benefits, but the manner in which THC overwhelms endocannabinoid receptors within the brain ensures that THC will generate a psychoactive response. In contrast, CBD does not bind to endocannabinoid receptors at all, providing health benefits by encouraging the endocannabinoid system to produce natural healing compounds.

Ignoring high-CBD marijuana strains — which do not undergo the extraction process and contain THC as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes — there is a plethora of CBD-only products worth sampling, from concentrates that require smoking and vaping to oils that are much easier to incorporate into a typical lifestyle. Users disinterested in THC should seek either broad-spectrum or isolate CBD products, both of which eliminate THC.

Cannabis is a complex plant that we are just beginning to better understand. Though we don’t yet know everything about CBD — let alone the dozens of other cannabinoids that might affect human wellbeing — knowing more about how CBD is made might help users feel safer shopping for and using CBD products to improve their health.

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