Whether one is already a CBD user or a potential user, the question may arise – how is CBD oil made? What exactly is CBD oil and what is it used for? Before addressing those questions, it is important to understand the different terms related to cannabis.

The term cannabis refers to a genus of plants within the Cannabaceae family, consisting of three primary species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis (1).

Cannabis Plant

There are two main categories of cannabis plants. Hemp plants are categorized as those containing less than 0.3% of the cannabinoid THC, whereas other varieties contain more.

Hemp plants are incredibly easy to grow, and it is believed that hemp was the first crop ever cultivated by humans (1). Hemp fibers have been used for centuries to make a large variety of things, from sails for ships, to rope, to clothing and concrete. Hemp flower, hemp seeds, stalks, and leaves are all parts of the hemp plant that get used (18). The hemp seed is used for many foods and nutritional benefits (2, 18).

Other varieties of cannabis contain more than 0.3% THC (1), sometimes up to 30% (2). These plants are much harder to grow than hemp, and require strict conditions and maintenance. They have also been utilized for centuries for their psychoactive properties and medicinal benefits (31, 32).


Cannabinoids are specialized compounds produced by cannabis plants (9).

Named after them, endocannabinoids are similar compounds that are produced by the human body. Endocannabinoids are part of a complex system located throughout the body, but they essentially work to maintain internal health by facilitating communication between cells. When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites in the body and brain, with different cannabinoids providing different effects (26).

Cannabis plants produce hundreds of cannabinoids, over one hundred of which have been identified (14, 21). When the cannabis plant is still in the ground, it produces what are called acid cannabinoids. The cannabinoids that are most abundant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), but in their original forms they are THCA and CBDA, with the “a” standing for acid (9). When heat is applied to these cannabinoids, a process known as decarboxylation, the chemical structure changes and they become the THC and CBD that are familiar to users (9).


CBD can be extracted from any cannabis flower, and is exactly the same molecularly from either type of plant (1, 2, 23). Only small quantities of THC are found in hemp. Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids, but have different properties and effects. THC causes psychoactive effects, or the feeling of being “high”, while CBD does not.

Like all cannabinoids, THC and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. These two cannabinoids actually have the exact same molecular structure, but due to the way the atoms are arranged, they cause different effects (25). THC binds with the CB1 or cannabinoid 1 receptor in the brain, whereas CBD does not. CBD can actually interfere with the binding of THC, which decreases the psychoactive effects (25).

Terpenes are similar to cannabinoids in that they are chemicals produced by cannabis plants and there are many different kinds (27). Terpenes are aromatic oils that are secreted from the cannabis plant, as well as many other plants. Terpenes give different strains of cannabis particular aromas, which also causes different looks and flavors (15). It is thought that terpenes may play a role in the entourage effect by interacting with cannabinoids to cause a variety of different effects (27).

The entourage effect is the term for the anecdotal reaction that different combinations of cannabinoids produce different effects, and that CBD may have more successful effects when combined with THC (11). In addition, it has been reported that CBD may help combat negative psychological effects from THC (22).

How to Make CBD oil

cbd oil

There are a few ways to extract CBD from the cannabis plant.


The most popular method is using CO2, in which carbon dioxide is used to extract CBD oil from the plant. The specific type of CO2 used is called supercritical CO2, which means that it can function as both a liquid and a gas (29). Two pressurized chambers are used for the process, one containing CO2 and the other containing the plant (28). The CO2 is pumped from its chamber into the plant chamber, where it turns into liquid due to the pressure (29). The CO2 extraction method uses high pressure and extremely low temperatures which is the best environment to isolate and preserve the purity of CBD oil (30, 24). In the chamber, the liquid CO2 breaks down the plant and causes the oil to separate, absorbing it (16, 29). Then the CO2 containing CBD is pumped into a third chamber, where it turns into a gas state and leaves behind the oil (29). The CO2 extracts with 90% efficiency, creating a high concentration of CBD from this method (24). This process requires the proper machinery, which is very expensive, but is the preferred extraction method for CBD oil. It is safe, efficient, and free of bad-tasting chlorophyll (30). This process also allows for creating oil with varying amounts of CBD concentration (16). 


Solvent extraction is another method and has many risks, but has some benefits as well. This process can be achieved through either hydrocarbon extraction or by using a natural solvent like ethanol. The hydrocarbon method involves solvents such as butane, propane or petroleum (16). The benefit of this method is that it is incredibly effective at separating the wanted materials like cannabinoids and terpenes from unwanted materials like chlorophyll. This process creates wax or potent cannabis concentrates called shatter, which look like brittle candy. These products are consumed through inhalation with a dab rig or vaporizer (30). The major risk with this method is that if the toxic solvents are not completely evaporated from the CBD extract, traces could remain in the resulting products, which has occurred (16). Hydrocarbons are also highly flammable, so not only are they harmful to consume, but have been known to explode during the manufacturing process (30).


Ethanol is a good solvent option, because it is a high grain alcohol and safe for consumption. One benefit of using ethanol is that it can create very concentrated and potent CBD oil. The cannabis flower is soaked in ethanal and strained, which produces an oil that is then heated. The result is a highly concentrated goo texture, just like with hydrocarbon solvents. When using ethanol, there is a risk of also extracting chlorophyll, which gives the resulting product a bad taste (16).


Steam distillation is a method that uses steam to separate CBD oil from the plant. The steam actually extracts CBD vapors, which float up and are captured in a vessel where they are condensed into oil and water. Then the liquid is distilled, and the CBD oil is extracted from the water. This method works well, but is more difficult, less efficient, and requires more plants. There is also a risk of the hot steam damaging or altering the cannabinoids (16).


One of the oldest methods, which is also used for making THC edibles, is oil infusion. In this process, the cannabis flower is decarboxylated by heating it at a particular temperature for a particular length of time. This changes the acid form of CBDA into CBD, which is the desired form of the cannabinoid. Then the plant is infused into a carrier oil like olive oil or hemp seed oil. The downside is that carrier oils do not evaporate, so the end product has a big oil to CBD ratio (29).

If a cannabis plant with THC is being used for the extraction, a full spectrum CBD oil will be produced, meaning it contains all of the cannabinoids including THC. If wishing to create broad spectrum CBD, which does not contain THC, a hemp plant should be used for extraction. Some users prefer full spectrum CBD due to the entourage effect, while others prefer broad spectrum, since THC is not legal everywhere and not every user wants psychoactive effects.


Winterization is the process used to create CBD isolate (29). This method is used to further purify the oil after its extracted and remove unwanted materials (24). The extract is combined with 200 proof alcohol and frozen overnight. The next day, the mixture is run through a filter to remove extra fats. It then gets boiled until the alcohol evaporates, which is effective because the alcohol has a lower boiling point than the oil (29, 24). You can also repeat this process and continue to boil off different compounds at various boiling points to further refine the oil (29). The resulting product is a flavorless, odorless powder containing only CBD (16). Many users report that CBD isolates are not as effective as oil, due to the lack of other cannabinoids and terpenes needed for the entourage effect (24).

How to Consume CBD oil

sublingual cbd oil

CBD oil is consumed sublingually, meaning under the tongue. Using a dropper allows for a fairly precise dose, and also allows for experimentation with dosage.

CBD tinctures are similar to CBD oils but differ in ingredients. The major difference is that tinctures by definition contain alcohol. To create tinctures, cannabis is soaked in alcohol or watered down alcohol, which breaks it down and extracts the CBD. Tinctures also contain more ingredients than just CBD. These additions could be vitamins, herbs, or essential oils (12). Not all tinctures are the same, but they must either contain alcohol or additional ingredients to be classified as tinctures. There are also products sold called CBD oil tinctures, which usually contain a carrier oil and no alcohol, but do contain additional ingredients. Tinctures and oil tinctures often have a better flavor due to the extra ingredients added (12), but because of the alcohol content, not every consumer will want to or be able to consume tinctures. CBD oil can be purchased in its natural flavor, but also in a variety of other flavors. Natural additives like flavorful essential oils can be added for a more pleasing taste.

Both CBD oil and tinctures are consumed sublingually or can be added to foods and beverages. 

Why CBD oil instead of other consumption methods?

There are many other types of CBD products available for purchase and consumption. In addition to CBD oil, CBD can be consumed in the form of flower for smoking, concentrated oil for vaping, topical creams, edibles, and oral sprays. There are some benefits of consuming CBD in the form of CBD oil.

Consuming CBD sublingually provides more bioavailability than edibles, and the effects are fast acting (17). Bioavailability refers to how potent a drug or ingredient is by the time it reaches the treatment site (20). CBD oil takes around 30-90 minutes for effects to kick in, and tends to last for at least four hours (19).

Consuming CBD in oil form has far reduced health risks compared to smoking or vaping. Unlike those methods, CBD oil does not damage the lungs, and no studies have yet to show health effects from consuming CBD oil. It is also easy to carry around a CBD oil bottle and consume it on the go.

Health benefits of CBD oil

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding successful use of CBD to treat health problems (3). CBD research has been minimal in the past, but recently some studies have emerged that show successful results. CBD may be useful in treating pain (7), psychosis (5), and anxiety (4). There is also now an FDA approved CBD medication, which is prescribed for treating extreme cases of epilepsy (6).

The only reported side effects of CBD have been changes in appetite, changes in weight, drowsiness, diarrhea, and mood change (13). In addition, it is important to keep in mind that certain combinations of medications should not be consumed, so users should check with a doctor before taking CBD with other medicine. 


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