Things I’ve Learned While Developing Cannabidiol (CBD) Products

In 2016, we realized cannabidiol (a.k.a. CBD) was trending towards the next big ingredient in supplements. I didn’t realize how big and fast the trend would grow, but as I studied CBD – and cannabis in general – I quickly realized the broad potential for a lot of hype and hope.

Antiquated laws were limiting CBD’s access. The medical marijuana movement signaled these laws would one day change. I didn’t realize how soon they would change. I just wanted to be ready when the day came. I started researching cannabis and the best approach for developing supplements.

My journey into cannabis started with a pile of textbooks. The history of cannabis is fascinating. Humans have a long – like more than 12,000 years long – and intimate relationship with this plant. Cannabis’s versatile role in traditional medicine highlighted the plant’s potential for use as a supplement. The textbooks gave me a great foundation, but after decades of prohibition, the library of cannabis books was small. I decided the best way to learn would be to visit the farms and production facilities that were actively growing and processing cannabis.

Here’s what I learned in the textbooks and travels.

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant. To this day, scientists believe cannabinoids are exclusive to the cannabis plant and not found in any other botanicals.

Our bodies produce endocannabinoids. The discovery of similar compounds naturally occurring in humans led researchers to discovering a communication network in our bodies called the endocannabinoid system. Humans produce two endocannabinoids that engage the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system helps the body maintain homeostasis. This is a very important function. Homeostasis is the state of balance in our bodies where health thrives. We need to maintain this balance to avoid chronic illness and diseases.

Cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, engage the endocannabinoid system in a similar manner as our naturally occurring endocannabinoids. This is where a lot of the hype around CBD starts.

The theory – and right now it’s mostly theories – is that by consuming cannabinoids like CBD, we can support the endocannabinoid system. The additional support to the endocannabinoid system then helps keep the body in homeostasis. If we are able to help keep the body in homeostasis, the natural regenerative healing qualities of our immune system protect us from a wide range of disease states. Right now, it’s more a leap of logic than a scientific theory, but the early research is promising.

How can CBD help me?

CBD is an antioxidant and anxiolytic. CBD binds to endocannabinoid receptors that are found mostly in your immune system – which is why scientists are so excited by its possibilities.

They are researching the possibility that by supporting your immune system, your immune system can go to work healing what needs to be healed. This would mean CBD could help support a wide range of issues.

Lately, most people are turning towards CBD for help with pain, sleep and anxiety.

To date, the science isn’t very strong. The research confirms isolated CBD is an effective treatment for epilepsie. There is some evidence it may help acute anxiety, but more research is needed.

Is CBD legal? Is CBD safe to use?

The laws around cannabis are rapidly evolving at nearly every level of government. With the exception of 3 states, medicinal cannabis is legal to use in some way. In 11 states, including Illinois, recreational cannabis – sometimes referred to as marijuana –  is legal to use for residents over the age of 21.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp – a type of cannabis which is high in fiber and contains less than .3% THC – from the list of Schedule 1 substances, and it made hemp an agricultural commodity no different than soy or corn. This change on the federal level is leading to changes on the state levels, and each state is handling the change differently. 

In Ohio, Bill 57 recently was signed into law. This bill clearly distinguished hemp CBD as a legal product to sell in stores and instructed Ohio’s agricultural department to start figuring out the rules for cultivating hemp in the state. 

As the laws continue to change, it is best to check with your local and state government to understand how they’re applying new regulations in your community. 

Cannabis research is still a relatively young science, but so far, cannabis – and it’s cannabinoids – appear to be very safe.  There are no studies that show long-term harm from consuming CBD, even in relatively high dosages. The dangers with consuming CBD products stems less from the CBD and more from the quality of CBD and other additives used in the product. The popularity of CBD attracts a lot of business interest. There are companies taking shortcuts, so it’s important to understand what exactly is – and isn’t – in the CBD products you’re consuming.

Baby hemp plants growing up in a green house before heading to the farm.

What’s the difference between CBD and THC?

The short anwser, CBD won’t get you “high.” You wont “feel” anything after taking CBD. On the other hand, you will feel different after consuming THC.

THC likes to bind to receptors mostly found in the brain, and when this occurs, THC creates the euphoric effects – also known recreationally as a “high” – that people may experience when they ingest cannabis in certain forms. CBD – which is short for cannabidiol – likes to bind to receptors mostly found in the immune system and gastro intestinal tract.

CBD does not create any disorientating or euphoric effects. Early research suggesting a potential to support a variety of health functions is driving a rapid rise in popularity. A recent gallop poll found 14% of American now take CBD.

Cannabis plants contain a special type of compound called cannabinoids. By some counts, there are more than 100 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plants. Most of these cannabinoids are slightly different versions of 10 main types of cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the two most popular types of cannabinoids.

Fun fact, CBD may actually balance the unpleasant side effects of THC. CBD has an antagonistic relationship with THC. This is fancy scientist-speak for saying CBD could turn “off” the things THC turns “on” when the cannabinoids bind to the same receptors.

What’s the difference between CBD oil and hemp seed Oil?

There is a lot of confusion around this.  Hemp seed oil is made by pressing hemp seeds. It’s a similar process as other culinary oils, like olive oil. Hemp seeds do not contain cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are created as the plant matures, so hemp seed oil will not contain any cannabinoids like CBD.  Hemp seed oil offers a great ratio of essential fatty acids, and due to its low-smoke point, it is used as a finishing oil on foods. Hemp seed oil also contains antibacterial and antifungal qualities, so it makes for a great moisturizer or carrier oil for essential oils. 

CBD oil can come in a few different forms: Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate. Full-spectrum CBD oil will contain all the cannabinoids found in cannabis – including THC. Full-spectrum offers some benefits, but if you need to be drug tested, even the low levels of THC found in full-spectrum CBD oil can show up on drug tests. 

Broad-spectrum CBD oil usually does not contain THC, but does contain CBD and additional hemp compounds. 

CBD isolate oils – also known as pure CBD oils – are simply CBD isolated from the hemp plant and added to an oil. CBD isolates offer the advantage of being 100% THC free, so you don’t have to worry about failing a drug test. They also avoid any complications that could result from interactions with other cannabinoids like THC. Both full-spectrum and CBD isolate oils have been found to be equally effective in studies. The research does suggest full-spectrum oils can achieve the same results with smaller doses, so if you’re using CBD isolate, you may need to use a larger dose. 

How is the best CBD oil made?

It’s a beautiful process. The journey to the shelf starts in the Spring as little hemp seeds on regenerative organic farms in the United States.  

Farmers carefully select strains with a high ratio of CBD. The hemps seeds are germinated and start their lives as seedlings in greenhouses. The best greenhouses use automated window panels to control the amount of sunlight captured and maintain a comfortable temperature for the plants.

The farm’s watch dog takes a break in the door way of the dehydration barn.

After the last frost of the season, the little hemps plants are taken out to the field for planting. They will grow to about 6 feet high and become the shape of Christmas trees by the start of the Fall. They are never exposed to any herbicides, pesticides of fungicides.  In the Fall, the hemp trees are cut down at the base of their trunks. The root systems are left in the soil to decompose and nourish the soil for next season’s crop. The trees are hung upside down in a big barn to dehydrate before the branches and flowers – where most of the cannabinoids are concentrated – are stripped from the trunk.  

The branches and flowers are then sent to a facility where the cannabinoids are separated from the plant matter through a cold ethanol extraction process. This is basically a big washing machine, but instead of filling up with water and soap, this machine fills up with cold alcohol and spins to separate the plant compounds from the plant mass. This is one of the most gentle and pure ways to extract cannabinoids from hemp.

The cannabinoid extraction is then gently heated to decarboxylate the CBD. Decarboxylation makes is possible for the body to use CBD.  They then use a special process to isolate the CBD by turning only the CBD into crystals on top of the cannabinoid extraction. The crystals are milled and mixed with coconut or hemp seed oil and flavored with oils like peppermint oil. 

The final step is testing and analytics. Every batch must go through our cutting-edge lab to be analyzed for cannabinoids and any potential issues that could have accidentally made its way into the product. When the lab results confirm a pure and potent batch, the oil is bottled, labeled and ready to land on the shelves at stores.  

Also published on Medium.

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