How Are CBD Products Made?


Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of many cannabinoids produced by a cannabis or industrial hemp plant. Often confused or negatively associated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not have the same psychoactive components as THC, which is the reason why it doesn’t make people feel the “high” that is often accompanied with THC.

In addition to these popular compounds, there are many other cannabinoids produced by the cannabis family, some of which hold promising beneficial components that are currently being studied.

CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the human (and animal) endocannabinoid systems. While the science is relatively complex, in the simplest terms, CBD is accepted by two specific receptor sites in our brain known as CB1 and CB2. When the molecules of CBD bind with these sites, they signal our central and peripheral nervous systems to calm down. The receptors also send signals to our immune and digestive systems, which may help to explain the research behind CBD and IBS/Crohn’s.

With the various legalization efforts occurring across the U.S, more and more studies are launching to test the efficacy of CBD and various health conditions. According to one database of clinical trials happening in the states, there are more than 150 trials being conducted to test CBD for a myriad of applications.

Current literature demonstrates that CBD can be effective in helping people who are struggling with addiction to harmful and dangerous substances, reducing anxiety and potentially depression, combating the symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease, and as an addition to current pharmaceutical treatments for epilepsy, schizophrenia, and migraines. To date, only one drug with CBD as the primary active ingredient has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Dravet Syndrome – a rare form of epilepsy.

In the field of cosmetology and physical therapy, there is promising evidence for the use of CBD on inflammatory conditions, including arthritis – which is inflammation in the body – and dementia – which involves inflammation in the brain.

The major contraindication for CBD use and general health and wellness is among pregnant and breastfeeding individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Marijuana use during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby’s health. The chemicals in marijuana (in particular, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) pass through your system, [past the placental barrier] to your baby and can harm your baby’s development.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with impaired fetal development, often leading to lower birth weight. Use during pregnancy may also increase the risk of rare forms of cancer.

So how do CBD products on the shelves get there? How does a plant become a balm or an edible gummy? CBD-rich oils are extracted from either a cannabis plant or an industrial hemp plant. While there are many ways to extract CBD oil from a plant, the most popular methods include: CO2 extraction, steam distillation, hydrocarbon solvents, and food-grade solvents.

CO2 Extraction

Many industry leaders today use the CO2 extraction method to process their CBD oil. Using expensive equipment and knowledge of chemical processes, this method occurs by exposing CO2 to low temperatures and high pressure. Pressurized CO2 is pumped into a separate chamber containing the plant. During the pumping process, the CO2 is kept between two states (liquid and gas) as it breaks down the plant and pulls the CBD oil out. Lastly, the CO2 and the CBD oil mixture is transferred to a third, pressurized container which lifts the CO2 gas, leaving just the CBD oil in the chamber and ready for processing. Although this process seems costly and time-consuming, many companies are committed to this step because of the high concentrations of CBD that can be yielded from the plants and maintained in the oil.

Steam Distillation

Steam distillation uses heat and heat alone to extract the CBD oil from the cannabis or hemp plants. As steam passes through the plant, it releases vapors that can be distilled to pure CBD oil. As one may assume, this process requires a lot of plants, as the steam is inefficient in generating CBD oil at its first pass. The heat level is also relatively uncontrollable in the distillation process, meaning that when temperatures get too high, the steam can damage the oil that has been extracted and change the chemical and molecular properties of the compounds.

Hydrocarbon Solvents

The use of hydrocarbon solvents is relatively outdated in today’s CBD oil industry due to the potentially harmful effects of the solvents on human beings. With this method, liquids such as butane and petroleum strip the cannabinoids, including CBD, from the cannabis and hemp plants, creating a mixture of chemicals and cannabinoids. In the final step, the chemical solvents are evaporated, in theory leaving behind only CBD. Although this process is efficient and cheaper than CO2 and steam distillation processes, the empirical evidence on hydrocarbon solvents demonstrate that the chemicals used in this process may be neurotoxic and may be potential cancer hazards.

Food-grade Solvents

Food-grade solvents used in the extraction of CBD oil utilize common kitchen ingredients, such as olive oil and butter. These ingredients will strip the cannabinoids from the plants and create a mixture of chemicals and cannabinoids. Then, similar to the hydrocarbon solvent method, the compounds are separated – leaving only the CBD oil behind. One major criticism of using food-grade solvents during this extraction process is the unpleasant taste accompanying the CBD oil and the final products. For this reason alone, many companies have stopped using food-grade solvents to produce CBD oil for their products.

As the popularity of CBD increases due to more evidence and knowledge of its beneficial health effects, the market industry continues to expand. In addition to the well-known, online retailers with a variety of product offerings, it is not uncommon today to walk into a local coffee shop and find CBD drops for sale at the counter.

Different types of products are more beneficial or useful for certain conditions. For example, balms and salves may be particularly useful for muscle and joint pain relief, whereas CBD oil taken sublingually may be favored among those taking CBD for anxiety or stress. The bioavailability of CBD should also be taken into consideration when selecting a CBD product on the market, as different strengths and strains and ways of taking CBD have an effect on how our bodies process and react to the CBD.

If you find a CBD oil online that seems to be sold by a reputable company, how can you make sure it is safe to use? Just like any other medicine or food, we typically like to know what exactly we are taking and if it has been “regulated,” or “tested,” or even “certified.”

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) position on the regulatory status of CBD for use in food, beverages, and dietary supplements is that CBD is not a legally permissible ingredient. In the absence of federal guidelines from the FDA, some states have taken steps to assure the safety of commercially available CBD products.

Many states require CBD to be tested for THC, CBD, and contaminant levels, as well as requiring standardized labels and restricting sales to only state-licensed stores. However, the CBD marketplace, which tends to incorporate and sell CBD from hemp plants in their products, is not as well-regulated. These products are primarily being tested for purity and potency of CBD – for example, trying to promise consumers that THC levels are below the industry standard 0.3%. Some states, such as Oregon and Vermont, are required to test CBD after extraction for CBD and THC levels, but also for contaminants, such as pesticides, and chemical solvents that may be used during the hydrocarbon extraction process.

The industry itself is also trying to provide consumer protection when buying CBD and CBD products. The U.S. Hemp Roundtable and the Hemp Industries Association have a program that offers certified seals of approval to companies that meet certain standards with their products. As of April 2019, 13 CBD companies achieved this designation.

So, what can you do to ensure you are buying high-quality and safe products?

  • Look for the Hemp Authority stamp of approval, as mentioned above.
  • Find or ask for a certificate of analysis from an independent, third-party lab. Many online retailers offer this lab sheet for its various batches of products. They can typically found on each product buying page in the photos of the product itself. Online retailers that use this method of quality testing usually promote it on their website as well!


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