What is cannabis oil ?
Cannabis oil is the concentrated plant oil/resin extracted from the marijuana plant. Good varieties of cannabis produce large amounts of natural plant oils and cannabinoids - which are the chemicals associated with the cannabis effects. Together they form the sticky brown cannabis oil which is used widely as an organic and natural product to assist people suffering from a wide range of medical conditions. In the growing numbers of legal medical marijuana states in the USA, medical oil and similar concentrated plant extracts are a hugely important part of the medical marijuana scene. Of course, cannabis oil can be used purely for pleasure too and is often used in cooking. Many people dilute the resin extracts of cannabis with kitchen oil such as olive oil or coconut oil. This allows the cannabis extracts to bind to the fatty molecules in the carrier oil which allows easy absorption into the body. Diluting cannabis extracts into oil can also make it easier to deliver/measure the right amounts; pure cannabis extracts can be too strong for some people.
Above, a jar of cannabis oil made from CBD SkunkHaze. This contains a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD and is used for a wide range of conditions. Cannabis oil can have different colour/viscosity according to the production method
Good quality cannabis genetics will allow the plants to produce large amounts of cannabinoid compounds, these are the natural chemicals responsible for the medical uses and the pleasurable recreational effects. The trichomes, or resin glands, are resin-filled sacs of oil and cannabinoids which form on small stalks on the buds and leaves. One of the most common ways of producing cannabis oil is to use a liquid (solvent) such as alcohol to strip the oils away from the dried plant buds/leaves. The filtered liquid is removed (safely) through evaporation leaving the cannabis extract which is often in the form of a dark thick paste. 10 grams of cannabis buds produce around 1-2 grams of cannabis extract. Some medical users of cannabis oil will vaporise it, some will make creams/ointments and some will eat it. Much depends on the individual and the condition. Some medical users may need around one gram of oil per day, others may manage with much smaller amounts. In the USA a medical marijuana pioneer of cannabis oil called Rick Simpson became one of the first to make bold medical claims about the healing properties of cannabis oil, since then many have seen him on TV or YouTube videos.
Others including Medical Cannabis Filmmaker Jeff Ditchfield have also seen the relief that cannabis oil can bring to very ill people. Legal mainstream pharmaceuticals companies like GW Pharmaceuticals produce hundreds of litres of cannabis oil for their Sativex product which is diluted and used in an oral spray for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), they also have a sister product called Epidiolex which uses cannabis oil for treating epilepsy.
Above, Trichome resin glands coat the leaves and buds of a mature cannabis plant. Cannabis oils and extracts are concentrates made from the resin glands. (photo Dutch Passion OutLaw)
THC and CBD are the two main cannabinoid compounds which have attracted most attention and both have medical uses. But there are thought to be around 80-100 cannabinoids, possibly more and medical science is only just starting to understand them. We do know that cannabis oil can help reduce pain significantly, it can also improve sleep quality which can be a significant benefit for many fighting ill health. Many cancer patients use cannabis oil to restore their appetite, and it is well known for combatting nausea due to chemotherapy. In the USA there have been dramatic stories from Colorado where cannabis oil from non-psychoactive cannabis varieties such as Charlottes Web, are used as an oral treatments for Dravets Syndrome (extreme epilepsy).
Plants varieties can be bred to contain more CBD than THC, or the other way round. Varieties such as the oil-rich CBD SkunkHaze or CBD Kush have a balanced 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD. As the cannabis oil becomes less THC-rich it also becomes less mentally powerful which makes it easier to manage for some people. By blending oils from different strains the home grower can even experiment and optimise an oil for their own use e.g. by mixing THC-rich oil with CBD-rich oil.
Above, resin glands on Think Different showing a cloudy appearance. This is an indicator that the plant is ready for harvest. Photograph by Hazy
Oil made from the Hemp plant is referred to as Hemp Oil. This will contain very little THC, therefore it is not psychoactive, but it does contain CBD and it is legal in many places. It is becoming a popular health supplement. Hemp seed oil is different to hemp oil, hemp seed oil is composed of only the oil derived from hemp seeds and it contains only microscopic trace levels of CBD.
BHO, or Butane Honey Oil, is the name given to cannabis extracts made by a butane extraction from the plant material. This is often a sticky amber/brown paste rather than an oil. The use of Butane has caused numerous accidents to those foolish enough to use it without understanding the safety risks involved. Green Dragon is a name given to the cannabis extract made by soaking the buds in very pure (90%) ethanol such as Vodka.
Above, cannabis extract made from Dutch Passion Frisian Dew.
On the best cannabis varieties the resin glands will coat the buds and the leaves, if you rub your fingers on the plants they will become sticky and have a great smell. If you rub a plant between your hands for a few minutes you will be able to scrape off a sticky brown resin, which many people would call hash. This is made from the concentrated resin glands of the plant, along with small amounts of plant leaf material.
Once the cannabis plant has been harvested the buds are dried. Then there are several ways to extract the oil. They all rely on the same fundamental fact that a liquid solvent such as Ethanol, IsoPropyl Alcohol, acetone or even butane will dissolve the cannabis oil within a few minutes. The solvent containing the cannabis oil is drained away from the leaf material and filtered. The solvent is safely removed, preferably professionally and legally in a purpose designed laboratory. This is becoming commonplace in the legal USA medical/recreations states.
Above. Graph illustrating decarboxylation of THC. At 145 Celcius (293F) it takes 7 minutes to convert from THC-A to THC. At 122 Celcius (252F) it takes 27 minutes. Leave it for too long and the THC starts to decrease through heat degradation.
The resulting oil will need to be heated in order to decarboxylate cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. This is a simple chemical change to the cannabinoid chemical structure, this makes THC strongly psychoactive. The graph, above, shows how the decarboxylation works at different temperatures. In a joint or a vaporiser decarboxylation of cannabis happens more-or-less instantly due to the heat. When using/making cannabis oil it is important to understand the process of cannabis decarboxylation.
There are many different ways to produce and refine cannabis oil. One of the reasons many medical cannabis users make their own cannabis oil is that it would simply be too expensive to buy it.
We expect cannabis oil to remain a very important topic in years to come, if anything we expect to be hearing more and more about it as the medical marijuana debate intensifies. The key interest for mainstream medical science is to fully understand the true potential of a plant which is attracting medical research in a surprisingly large number of medical conditions.
Above, Cannabis extract made from Dutch Passion Hollands Hope.
Dutch Passion CBD oil, pictured above, contains 5% CBD (Cannabidiol) in cannabis seed oil. The Dutch Passion CBD oil is called CBD Compassion Extract and is offered as a dietary supplement. The Dutch Passion CBD oil is produced using advanced solvent-free CO2 extraction. It contains natural CBD together with the full range of terpenes and other cannabinoids such as CBC and CBG. The Dutch Passion CBD Compassion Extract will not make you high because it’s a CBD oil without the psychoactive ingredients.
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