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What Is CBD Oil? A Primer on CBD Tinctures

A drop of tincture falling out of the bottle with cannabis flower in background and text overlay What is cbd oil?

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Is CBD synonymous with hemp or marijuana? Will CBD oil get me high? For the newly initiated, we realize there are a lot of questions swirling in your head. This primer will seek to answer the most frequently asked questions for first-time CBD users.

It’s not easy to differentiate between different CBD products. What is CBD? How about CBD oil? These are the questions we will answer in this post.

Our aim is for you to have a baseline understanding so you’re not a complete fish out of water when buying your first round CBD oil.

What is CBD?

CBD is an acronym for the tricky-to-pronounce cannabidiol (cannah-bid-all). CBD is a type of cannabinoid found in most strains of the cannabis plant, but heavier concentrations in the hemp plant. Cannabinoids are a class of naturally-occurring chemical compounds found in cannabis. While the number differs depending on who you ask, there are anywhere between 60 and 113 cannabinoids. The estimate also increases as more research yields new findings.

CBD and THC are the two most studied and documented cannabinoids. We’ll talk a bit about the latter later. Countless research over the years, though, have revealed tremendous potential benefits regarding CBD use. There is a swath of evidence for CBD use for treating a number of ailments, including nerve pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and more. We have written extensively about CBD that specifically covers each of those areas. For an overview of why CBD is effective as a medicine and what it can be used to treat, see our post on the medicinal benefits of CBD.

We can talk more about CBD and how it affects the body through the endocannabinoid system and CB receptors. However, the focus of this piece is specifically about CBD oil. Please see our introductory CBD post for a lengthier and more scientific breakdown of this highly touted cannabinoid.

What Is CBD Oil?

Explaining what is CBD hemp oil with clear CBD dropper on lip of bottle.

Now that you know what CBD is, let’s talk a bit about CBD oil. After all, this is the most common form of CBD and is the type we recommend for first-time users. Aside from oil, CBD is also available in juice and dabs like wax and shatter. These are designed for use with a vape pen.

For beginners, CBD oil is a better starting point since administration is a lot easier and convenient. You simply ingest the oil as is or pour a few drops on your food. Most oils are flavorless so no need to worry about the taste of dirty socks or anything like that.

How Do You Make CBD Oil?

There is a DIY process for making CBD oil. However, we do not recommend any homebrews for beginners. Please only buy from a reputable manufacturer if you’re a newbie. With homemade CBD oils, there is just no way of knowing the precise CBD content or traces of other cannabinoids, including THC. The process also includes the use of highly flammable and toxic materials, which pose a serious risk hazard.

How Do the Manufacturers Make CBD Oil?

CBD oil - An image of CBD oil in the middle of production.Manufacturers extract CBD from cannabis through several methods. One of the more common methodologies is via alcohol extraction. Makers soak the plant in a solvent like ethanol or grain alcohol. This allows the cannabinoids to leach out of the plant and into the liquid.

The next step is to use a heat source to evaporate the alcohol until you’re left with an oily residue. That oil is the final product for consumer consumption.

Another method is the CO2 extraction, which is far more complex and requires commercial equipment. The plant is exposed to CO2 via a series of chambers. Under the right temperatures and pressure, the cannabinoids begin to react with the CO2 before separating from the plant.

Both the alcohol and CO2 extraction involve more steps than what we just described. The extracted oil doesn’t exactly taste like Campbell’s Soup. Manufacturers have to take further steps to dilute the oil to modify both the taste and potency levels.

Check out this great video from Project CBD about how we take a plant and turn it into medicine.

Carriers for CBD Oil

Now that you know about CBD oil, let’s discuss the importance of carrier oils. The extraction methods we just described leave behind oily extracts. However, extractors have to add additional oil to the final product because the resulting extract from CO2 is so thick.

Cannabinoid extracts are fat soluble. This means they are stored in the body’s fat rather than in water. This means bioavailability is also at its peak when consumed with a fatty substance like oil.

Saturated fat is especially an effective carrier. This is why coconut oil is a predominant carrier; it has a roughly 80% saturated fat content.

Aside from coconut oil, any other oil with medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) will do. The liver quickly metabolizes MCT into usable energy where the endocannabinoid system and CB receptors can use the cannabinoids right away.

Other forms of oil and suitable carriers for CBD include olive oil, hempseed oil, avocado oil, and palm kernel oil.

CBD Oil Isolate Vs. Full Spectrum

Don’t shop for a CBD oil just yet, at least not before you understand the difference between isolate and full-spectrum CBD oil.

Isolate contains CBD and zero other cannabinoids.

Full-spectrum CBD oil, on the other hand, contains additional cannabinoids. The number of cannabinoids differ between brands and strains used for extraction, but may include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) just to list a few. Each of these cannabinoids have their own benefits, many of which interact synergistically with CBD.

Which one is best for you? We can’t definitively say that isolate is better than full-spectrum or vice versa. Medically, all of the evidence points to full-spectrum being the best bet if you don’t have to worry about the minor possible THC content. This is because of the entourage effect, a phenomenon where cannabinoids work better together than alone. At the end of the day, it comes down to individual needs. Some athletes prefer CBD isolate, as there are concerns that the additional cannabinoids may yield a failed drug test.

What Is Hemp CBD Oil?

You may also see some products with the label “hemp CBD oil” or merely “hemp oil.” Is this the same thing? What exactly is hemp? For a detailed primer, we suggest seeing our in depth article on hemp. In short, hemp is a species of cannabis known as cannabis sativa. Hemp is the go-to source for most manufacturers due to its rich CBD content and nearly non-existent THC levels. If a CBD product is merely labelled “CBD oil,” then chances are that it’s derived from industrial hemp. Always read the label, though, to be certain.

In the end it boils down to marketing and conveying a message to a consumer via the label. Some manufacturers want to emphasize hemp, even though their competitors also use hemp to extract CBD.

What About THC?

Okay, now we got to talk about THC. This is the most studied cannabinoid next to CBD and it’s also the psychoactive compound that makes you high. While some states permit medical THC use, any cannabis product containing over 0.3% THC is illegal.

Rest assured that the vast majority of CBD products have THC levels well below this limit. Trustworthy manufacturers are well aware of the state and federal laws and will not risk violation by including THC in their products. This is why hemp is often the extract of choice because it has negligible amounts of THC. Even full-spectrum CBD oils, which have other cannabinoids, are unlikely to contain THC.

For more on this cannabinoid, see our article on THC.

How to Use CBD Oil

Most CBD oils come in a tincture with a dropper. The typical application is to place a few drops under your tongue and let it dissolve and merge with your saliva. Others choose to add a few drops to their beverage of choice. For external pain, some people choose to apply the oil topically, though there are topical medicines made specifically for this method of delivery.

One way not to use CBD oil, though, is to smoke it using a vape pen. Oils are intended for oral ingestion. If you choose to vape CBD, then that’s what CBD vape juices and concentrate dabs are for. If you choose to get your dose in this manner, then learn about the ins and outs of CBD dabbing.

How About Dosage?

The easy answer is to tell you to follow the instructions on the bottle. However, it can get a bit confusing since dosage instructions across different brands aren’t always consistent. The general consensus is about 12 mg taken twice daily for individuals weighing up to 150 pounds. Increase the dosage to 18 mg if you weigh above 150-pounds. A single drop from a dropper contains about 2.5 mg.

Keep in mind these are very ballpark estimates. Everyone responds differently depending on their genetics and degree of pain or whatever they’re taking the CBD for. Since these are rough estimates, they’re definitely not set in stone. If you weigh just over the 150 mark, perhaps 155 or 160, then you can just as easily stick with 12 mg or just raise it slightly to 14-16 mg. We always recommend sticking with the lowest dosage possible that gives you satisfactory results.

Final Thoughts

CBD oil is a great introductory way to reap the benefits of cannabidiol. Later on, if you so choose, you can always experiment with different CBD dabs, wax, and juices. For first timers, though, we suggest ingestible forms of CBD, such as hemp oil, soft gels, and gummies.

Regardless of your CBD of choice, always buy from a reputable and licensed seller. You can check out our Where to Buy section for a list of recommended suppliers. For more about CBD products, see our pillar post outlining all of the available options on the market.


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Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker has a degree in Neuroscience from Duke University, and is the research writer for The Universal Plant. He has dedicated his life to helping men and women around the world educate themselves and take action to improve their health with natural plant-based and nutrient therapies. Follow him on Instagram @_christopherwalker