Posted on

what are cannabis oils

Cannabis oil is a term applied to any type of extract of the cannabis plant, including extracts from both marijuana and hemp. The goal of the cannabis oil extraction process is to remove the plant’s naturally thick, viscous oil from dried or fresh cannabis.

Marijuana is grown to emphasize higher levels of THC, which is the compound that gets users intoxicated and produces psychoactive effects. Marijuana can be used either medically or recreationally and can be applied topically, consumed orally, or vaped. Since marijuana oil and other marijuana extracts contain high levels of THC, it can only be used legally in states that have passed medical or recreational laws. We cover the topic of marijuana legality more below.

How Are Cannabis Extracts Made?

If you are looking to use marijuana to appreciate the psychoactive and euphoric effects rather than use it for medical reasons, some U.S. states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. In Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, and Nevada, all you need is proof that you are over 21 to get access to a legal dispensary and buy recreational marijuana. Usually, a state ID or driver’s license from any state is adequate proof that you are over 21.

To access medical marijuana in most states where it is legal, you will need a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana for an approved medical condition. Once you obtain your doctor’s recommendation, you can access marijuana from a licensed dispensary near your home.

If you want to learn more about cannabis oil uses, cannabis oil products, and how to use cannabis oil, read our complete cannabis oil guide.

Four drugs based on cannabis compounds are already on the market in Europe. Among them are Nabilone, a synthetic compound that mimics THC, is prescribed for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and Sativex, an oil that contains equal parts THC and CBD, is used to treat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis. Both contain too much THC to administer to children. “The only medicines that are approved in the UK would get children stoned,” said David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London.

CBD is an anticonvulsant, and some other compounds in the plant, including THC and cannabidivarin, may be too. There is good evidence from clinical trials in the US and Europe that pharmaceutical preparations of CBD can treat two severe forms of childhood epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Both forms of epilepsy often fail to improve with existing epilepsy drugs. CBD is generally considered safe, but some trials have reported side effects including dry mouth, lightheadedness and altered liver enzyme activity.

Other forms of cannabis are solid and are usually sold either as resin or dried plant material. In commercially-produced medical cannabis oils, the concentrations of CBD and THC tend to be well-controlled, which makes it easy to calculate doses.

Don’t we already have cannabis-based drugs?

Cannabis oils are extracts from cannabis plants. Unprocessed, they contain the same 100 or so active ingredients as the plants, but the balance of compounds depends on the specific plants the oil comes from. The two main active substances in cannabis plants are cannabidiol, or CBD, and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Oil extracted from hemp plants can contain a lot of CBD, while oil from skunk plants will contain far more THC. THC produces the high that recreational cannabis users seek, while oils for medical use contain mostly CBD.

Cannabis oil can only be sold legally in Britain if it contains less than 0.05% THC. But the nation’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, announced recently that even pure CBD could not be sold as a medicine without first going through the usual clinical testing and safety checks required for all new medicines. This month, the US Food and Drug Administration will consider the approval of Epidiolex, a CBD-based medicine from GW Pharmaceuticals, which has completed such clinical trials. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will rule on the drug early next year. If the EMA approves Epidiolex, it could be available to prescribe to named patients in Britain next year, Brexit notwithstanding.

Europe is a patchwork of cannabis legislation. In the Netherlands, doctors can prescribe cannabis and cannabis preparations for symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, long-term pain and the tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Other European nations are following suit. In the US, at least 29 states allow medical uses of cannabis, and earlier this year, California became the eighth state to permit recreational use of the drug, too.

Because of this classification, it’s not easy for researchers to get their hands on the drug. “That’s not to say you can’t do it, but there are hoops you need to jump through that can be a pain, which may deter researchers from going into this space,” Bonn-Miller said. “Relatively speaking, it’s a small group of people in the U.S. that do research on cannabinoids in humans.”

It’s important to know that the research in this area is in its infancy, partly because we haven’t really understood much about CBD until relatively recently,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. He pointed out that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA makes it difficult to get material to use in laboratory studies. Schedule 1 drugs have a high potential for abuse, according to the DEA, and are illegal under federal law.

“Two people may eat a brownie [made with cannabis oil] and one may absorb massive amounts of cannabinoids and the other may not,” Ward said. “How long it takes to work and how long it stays in the system differs greatly.”

Why do people use cannabis oil?

Cannabis plants produce thousands of compounds but the most well recognized belong to a class called cannabinoids. There are several cannabinoids but the two that are most well-known among consumers are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

The side effects and risks involved with consuming marijuana-based products aren’t clear, either, Bonn-Miller said. It’s important to “determine cannabinoids that are useful therapeutically while understanding and using cannabinoids that are associated with less risk,” he said. At least with CBD, he said, it doesn’t appear to have the potential for addiction. That’s different from THC, which has been associated with addiction, he said, and negative side effects, including acute anxiety.

Similar to other herbal extracts, the chemicals in cannabis oils vary depending on how the extract is made and what chemicals were in the plant to begin with.

And the products on the shelf aren’t all the same, Ward said. “There can be many, many different varieties, and if you’re thinking about doing this for medical reasons, you want to find a trusted source and do your research,” she said. “Where does that oil come from, and how confident can you be that you know the exact percentages of the different cannabinoids in the product?”