CBD vs. THC: An Overview
Cannabis has changed a great deal over the decades. From becoming widely popularized in the 1960s to the gradual state-by-state legalization from 1996-2019, a growing body of scientific data has enabled us to better understand the plant and to harness various traits through breeding.
In recent decades the majority of cannabis breeders have been pursuing ever-higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, sometimes approaching a whopping 30%, while a quiet subset of cannabis breeders have been pursuing lower THC content and increased levels of CBD (cannabidiol). This distinction between THC-dominant and CBD-dominant plants has resulted in what we now refer to as cannabis and hemp.
Cannabis for medical or recreational drug use (also referred to as marijuana) and hemp (the source of nationally legal CBD products) are two varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis spp. There are over 100 cannabinoids within the highly complex cannabis plant.1
These are chemical compounds that interact with the ECS (endocannabinoid system), a large network of receptors in the human body, and offer therapeutic value which scientists are just beginning to understand. THC is the compound that produces a cerebral high. It is also recognized for regulating pain and nausea. 2 Benefits like these paved the way for legalization of medical marijuana which began in the US in the 1990s. 3
Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating and offers many of the same benefits without the high. Some refer to the effects of CBD as a “body high.” Interestingly, when consumed together, both work synergistically in the body in a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect, in which the therapeutic potential of each compound is enhanced. This is the reason full-spectrum CBD extracts offer greater benefit than CBD isolates.
In the United States, the limit for THC content in hemp is 0.3%. Modern breeds of hemp grown for CBD look nearly identical to the high-THC cannabis grown for medical and recreational use since the goal for both is to maximize flower production. Hemp grown for fiber or seed production looks very different (tall and skinny) as it is grown to produce long, straight fibers or a maximum amount of seed per acre.
The extraction process for cannabinoid oil from the hemp plant is the same whether you are producing high-THC oil or high-CBD oil. Both these oils come primarily from cannabis and hemp flowers. Extraction is the process of separating the desired compounds from the plant matrix.
Sometimes the aim is to create a full-spectrum concentrate which is high in cannabinoids and separate from plant matter. Other times, this means isolating specific compounds like THC and CBD into their purest forms. There are three main methods of extraction: Ethanol, CO2, and chemical solvent.
Ethanol Extraction involves soaking dried cannabis flowers in ethanol for 12-24 hours. The ethanol binds with the desired plant compounds, removing them from the plant. The spent plant matter is then separated from the cannabinoid-rich ethanol, which gets filtered. The alcohol is evaporated in a rotary evaporator, which leaves behind an oil rich in cannabinoids and other plant compounds.
Further purification measures such as winterization, secondary filtration, and molecular distillation can be taken to achieve the desired CBD content. Ethanol extraction, if done using clean, organic ethanol, produces a safe and pure CBD oil for end consumers. Frogsong Farm uses certified organic cane ethanol for the extraction process.
CO2 extraction is another popular method of extracting CBD. This method uses carbon dioxide to remove CBD from the plant matrix. In order to do this, high pressure and temperatures must be reached to turn the CO2 supercritical, a state in which it behaves like both a liquid and a gas. When condensed, the supercritical CO2 becomes a liquid and can be reused. The residual CO2 simply evaporates, leaving a clean extract for the end consumer.
Finally, there is solvent extraction using propane, butane, or other chemical solvents. This is the lowest cost and most problematic method of producing CBD oil. Using butane as the extraction solvent creates what is known as butane hash oil. The process starts by combining cannabis and liquid butane in a pressurized and heated system to draw out the desired compounds. Then, using evaporation under a vacuum, the butane solvent is removed. Solvent residues are common in these types of extracts, and there are negative ecological impacts of these chemicals as well.
Does Cannabis Oil Get You High?
Technically speaking, both high-CBD and high-THC oils are psychoactive, which means they interact with the brain, cannabinoid receptors, and the nervous system. However, only cannabis oils containing significant amounts of THC will produce intoxicating effects. CBD oils produced from hemp must legally have less than 0.3% THC. This level is quite low and is not enough to cause psychoactive effects, also known as “feeling high.”
When a person consumes adult-use cannabis, the THC within the cannabis binds to the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, producing a high. This chemical activity produces feelings of relaxation, well-being and euphoria. Some users note increased focus, creativity, and sleep as well. As noted earlier, studies have also demonstrated the benefits of high-THC cannabis for pain and nausea.
For those who do not want to get high, hemp-derived CBD oil offers a promising alternative. CBD interacts indirectly with CB1 and CB2 receptors, and is partially responsible for regulating pain response, temperature, inflammation, immune response and more. Many users note what is called a “body high” whereby the body has reduced levels of pain and discomfort, and simply put just feels good.
A note on drug testing: drug test sensitivities vary widely from test to test. While uncommon, it is possible to fail a drug test solely from using hemp-derived CBD topicals, tinctures, vapes and other ingestible products, even if you don’t get high. This is due to trace amounts of THC found in hemp flowers and hemp extracts. Those concerned about drug testing are advised to abstain from consuming CBD oils until they have discussed the matter with their employers and other relevant parties.
Reasons To Consider CBD Oil
It used to be that the only way to reap the benefits of CBD was to consume cannabis and embrace the mood-altering effects that came with it. Now there are options for people from all walks of life. Because CBD performs most effectively in the presence of at least trace amounts of THC, full-spectrum CBD products offer the best of both worlds.
The Entourage Effect is a phenomenon in which CBD and THC maximize their benefits when consumed together. Other options include CBD isolate products; however, the efficacy of CBD isolate is uncertain and results may be inconsistent. The general consensus in the scientific community is that full-spectrum CBD products offer the most benefit in most situations.
Benefits of CBD Oil
Scientific research and studies are only just beginning to emerge demonstrating the health benefits of CBD oil. Anecdotally, it has been noted for its ability to regulate chronic pain, reduce inflammation, promote a sense of calm and well-being, reduce anxiety, and promote neurogenesis. CBD is also a powerful antioxidant, which is a compound that has the ability to neutralize free radicals before they do damage to cells.
CBD is a safer alternative to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relief meds, which can have negative long-term health effects. Side effects associated with CBD use are generally mild and may include dry mouth, nausea, diarrhea, and changes in mood and appetite. For more on the benefits of CBD oil, visit our blog here.
Where is CBD Legal?
In 2014, it became legal to grow hemp in certain states under industrial hemp pilot research programs. Sales and purchasing of CBD oils was a gray area that carried challenges for both producers and customers. Then, in 2018, the federal farm bill legalized hemp nationally. In 2019 the TSA announced that cannabis products would be allowed on flights.
Now, while regulations are still forming and future rules for the industry are undetermined, CBD is legal and generally easy to access nationwide, thanks to widespread access to online ordering. In a handful of states it is more complicated. In Virginia for example, CBD is only legal with a prescription. In Texas, Iowa, and Ohio, local law enforcement have raided hemp and CBD retailers this year. It is the responsibility of each CBD user to know the laws and regulations where they live.
Many of us are managing conditions that may be aided by CBD, be it pain, inflammation, anxiety, sleep issues, or others. Cannabis, a long-misunderstood plant, is gradually winning the hearts of a nation, thanks to its promising benefits, emerging science, and the recent legalization of hemp and CBD. Those who want to reap the health benefits of CBD without getting high can now do so with hemp-derived CBD oils. Full-spectrum CBD oils contain a broad array of cannabinoids which offer safe, natural, low-side-effect support for many chronic conditions. Check out Frogsong Farm’s line-up of hemp derived CBD tinctures, salves, and aloe gel. Start experiencing the benefits of CBD.
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Until Next Time,
All Of Us at Frogsong Farm
Becca Recker is Director of Communications for Frogsong Farm. With a background in organic farming and permaculture design, Rebecca has been writing about soil health and local food access for nine years. The author of several blogs, she has contributed to articles for Oregon Leaf and Green Living PDX magazines, as well as the following websites: Civilized, Splimm, Miss Grass, and Flowertown. She has been a featured guest on the Periodic Effects and Your Highness podcasts.