What is CBD Oil?
With very little regulation, and tremendous variation in terminology, ingredient names and production techniques, how can the average person be expected to navigate the world of hemp and CBD? In our opinion, they simply can’t.
All companies have to balance the language they use to market their products with technically accurate descriptions to keep their customers safe. In a fledgling industry like CBD, some of those technical terms are evolving in real-time, which can also make it hard to keep up with the lingo. And it’s all too often we see the word “transparency” thrown around as a comfort-term, even in cases where there is next-to-none.
We’ve put together this article with the intent to purely inform and educate so that you, as the consumer, can make more informed decisions about products you purchase. Whether you buy from True State or someone else, we want to make sure that your health is the number one priority.
Estimated read time: 15 minutes
Let’s Get Started
A long list of alphabetized definitions might be a good reference tool but that really doesn’t help shed light on what’s occurring throughout the process of bringing products from farm (or lab) to table. To help sort through all of hemp and CBD-related language, let’s walk through a timeline, starting with a tiny seed and ending as a consumable item.
It’s Just a Plant
Hemp is the natural source for the majority of CBD products on the market today and defined by the United States federal government as a plant of species Cannabis Sativa L. with THC < 0.3%. The THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) level is what differentiates it from marijuana, which has THC of 0.3% and greater (federally illegal at the time this article was written). THC is psychoactive and gives the experience of getting “high.” CBD (cannabidiol) is one of over 100 naturally-occurring chemical compounds within the hemp plant called cannabinoids. THC is also among these compounds.
Regardless of whether someone is growing hemp or marijuana, the plant starts as a seed containing no cannabinoids at all. Hemp seeds are packed with protein, good unsaturated fats like Omega-3, fiber, minerals and vitamins. When pressed, these seeds produce cannabinoid-free, nutrient-rich hemp seed oil. When the remaining seed material is dried and ground, it becomes a protein-packed powder. Both hemp seed oil and hemp protein powder are approved for human consumption by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and can end up directly in your pantry once separated from the seeds.
This is where the term “hemp-infused” becomes relevant. Just because a product contains hemp or a hemp-derived ingredient, does not necessarily mean it contains cannabinoids. Labeling should indicate whether CBD or other cannabinoids are present in the mixture.
More Than a Seed
In the second half of its lifecycle, hemp naturally flowers as part of its reproductive process. Male plants produce pollen sacs while female plants develop resinous floral material in hopes of capturing that male pollen to produce seeds. It’s the floral material in female plants that is so important to the CBD industry because this is where the majority of all cannabinoids in the plant are contained. While it is possible for cannabinoids to be synthesized and developed in a laboratory setting, these are rarely found in CBD products today, but that’s not to say they won’t become more common down the road. In order to delineate between natural and synthetic cannabinoids, the term phytocannabinoid or phytocannabinoid rich is frequently used to indicate that the cannabinoids within the product were derived from the plant-itself and not some other scientific process.
In addition to cannabinoids, naturally-occurring, aromatic chemical compounds called terpenes can also be found in hemp. Unlike cannabinoids though, terpenes are also found in many other plants around the world. Their primary reason for existence is to attract pollinators, heal plant damage and repel pests and predators. Terpene concentrations and combinations can fluctuate dramatically from one hemp variety to another, offering a wide array of scents and flavors.
While terpenes have a different affect on the human body than cannabinoids, they do have an interaction that is believed to be beneficial. Additionally, data suggests that when consumed in conjunction with cannabinoids, they provide an entourage effect that impacts the way in which the human body interacts with the cannabinoids.
Hemp is typically harvested outdoors in September or October. When grown for its cannabinoid content, plants are cut down and dried to a specific moisture level before being sent to a processing facility where the cannabinoids and terpenes can be extracted from the floral material.
High quality hemp flower can also be consumed directly by smoking, but this type of hemp is rarely grown outdoors due to the impact of pests, pathogens, heavy metals and pesticides that may exist in the environment. Consuming this indoor or greenhouse-grown hemp flower can speed up the absorption of cannabinoids and terpenes into the human body rather than waiting an hour or more for an edible or drinkable option to be digested.
Unlike hemp grown for extraction, smokable hemp must not only be dried, but also go through a curing process where the moisture content can homogenize throughout the floral material. Enzymatic activity and ripening also occurs in a similar fashion to the fruit that you purchase from the grocery store.
While this sounds like it might be part of a Keto diet plan, decarboxylation is actually the removal of a carbon dioxide molecule from a chemical compound. Why on earth is that important for consuming CBD? Well, that has to do with the way in which cannabinoids interact with humans. Cannabinoids interact with certain receptors and enzymes in the body. The majority of “CBD” found in natural hemp is actually CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). Preliminary research has suggested that CBDA doesn’t directly activate receptors, but rather inhibits (blocks) enzymes that are responsible for inflammation and, in some cases, its resulting pain. Topical applications and consumption of CBDA are generally used with the goal of reducing inflammation throughout the body.
CBD, on the other hand, has a slightly different interaction with receptors. This is where debarboxylation comes into play. When hotter temperatures are applied to CBDA over a period of time (smoking, vaping or controlled warming), a carbon dioxide molecule is released from CBDA, forming CBD. This new molecule interacts with receptors responsible for controlling anxiety, addiction, appetite, sleep, pain perception, nausea and vomiting while simultaneously inhibiting receptors that control inflammation throughout the body.
When cannabinoid-rich hemp is smoked, the result is the conversion of CBDA to CBD, but smoking hemp isn’t for everyone. That’s why technology has been developed to decarboxylate CBDA for use in tinctures, edibles, beverages, etc., without requiring the consumer to heat it up themselves.
All Over the Spectrum
Let’s assume you’re not smoking hemp flower directly and want to consume CBD in a different fashion. How does the CBD get from a hemp plant into your lotion, balm or tincture? That gets very scientific, but we’ll try to keep it as straightforward as possible.
First, dried hemp plants are processed through methods that either use solvents (ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, butane, CO2, etc.) or are solventless. Depending on the extraction process, there are a few outcomes:
- Full Spectrum: After the extraction process, you’re left with all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavinoids, essential oils and chemical compounds found in the plant. Occasionally, this will go through a process that also removes chlorophyll (getting rid of that “green” taste) and will still be called “Full Spectrum.” Even if this is a federally legal hemp product with THC < 0.3%, it may contain trace levels of THC. If you’re looking for the “entourage effect”, you’ll find that in these products.
- Broad Spectrum: After the extraction process, you’re left with all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavinoids, essential oils and chemical compounds found in the plant EXCEPT THC. Products claiming “Broad Spectrum” should include non-detectable levels of THC. If you’re looking for the “entourage effect”, you’ll find that in these products (sans THC).
- THC-Free / T-Free: There are potentially cannabinoids, terpenes, flavinoids, essential oils and chemical compounds found in the hemp plant, but there is NO THC. This can range from a “broad spectrum” product all the way to a gummy bear that contains the CBD chemical compound and nothing else from the plant. The one thing you can be certain of is that there are no detectable levels of THC in the product. If you’re looking for the “entourage effect”, you MAY find it in these products.
- CBD Isolate: Through scientific processing, you’ve refined the plant material down to a singular molecular compound…CBD (cannabidiol). This is a white/yellowish granular powder that has a very similar molecular weight to sugar. At this point, you have little concern that any other chemical is present, but you forgo any potential “entourage effect.”