Cannabis oil. You won’t find it at the grocery store next to the extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
What is it? Here’s the quick answer: Cannabis oil is a thick substance made up of cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant.
But that’s not very helpful, is it?
If that definition means nothing to you, don’t worry — it’s about to get a whole lot clearer.
You might have questions like:
What exactly counts as cannabis oil?
What are cannabinoids?
How do you extract cannabinoids from cannabis to make cannabis oil?
But before we get into answering those questions, it’s important to clarify what we’re talking about when we say “cannabis oil”.
The many names of cannabis oil
Will the real cannabis oil please stand up?
Grasping what cannabis oil is would be much easier if it didn’t go by nearly a dozen different terms.
You might’ve heard cannabis oil called different names, such as:
How about Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)?
Maybe you’ve heard someone refer to it as Rick Simpson oil (RSO)?
Perhaps you’ve read about it recently as butane hash oil (BHO) or honey oil?
As you can tell, different names can be confusing. It’s hard to understand these terms in relation to each other because they don’t necessarily fall into the same category.
What do we mean? Well, THC oil and CBD oil are cannabis oil, but a particular cannabis oil may or may not be considered THC oil or CBD oil.
In other words, cannabis oil is an umbrella term for different, specific oils. This has implications on what the oil is used for and in some jurisdictions, its legality. As you can probably guess, THC oil isn’t as acceptable as CBD oil.
To further confuse matters, sometimes two terms refer to the same thing like Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO) which is just another name for Rick Simpson oil (RSO).
Meanwhile, honey oil is a nickname for butane hash oil (BHO) and butane hash oil just refers to the process in which individuals use butane to extract the cannabinoids.
Butane hash oil, which also goes by “shatter” and “wax”, has blown up over the past few years, both literally and figuratively.
It gained widespread recognition through “dabbing”, a dance move craze allegedly based on the act of sneezing after using BHO. At the same time, FEMA warned the public about BHO literally blowing up: There was a reported spike in kitchen explosions due to people using butane for extractions.
To bring us full circle, hash oil is just another umbrella term that’s equivalent to cannabis oil or marijuana oil.
And what about hemp oil, you ask?
It has nothing to do with hash oil outside of their shared cannabis ancestor.
What “cannabis oil” usually refers to
To answer the question “what is cannabis oil?”, one has to have a clear understanding of what cannabis is.
Cannabis is the name of the plant’s genus. Its two major species, among others, are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.
Strains of both sativa and indica produce what’s popularly referred to as “marijuana”, which is used for recreational and medicinal purposes.
Hemp, another misunderstood term, is a strain of cannabis sativa and it is used for industrial purposes like textiles.
While marijuana and hemp both come from the same species, they’re different strains bred for different reasons. In short: They are not the same thing. Their concentration of specific cannabinoids is different as well.
Specifically, hemp’s concentration of CBD is high while its concentration of THC is quite low. This hasn’t stopped the two from being linked in the popular imagination so much so that hemp was viewed as a “pariah plant” for decades.
The key takeaway here is that the concentration of THC in hemp is low. The acceptable level of THC in hemp is about one percentwhile marijuana has at least three percent.
So if the distinguishing factor is THC and CBD, what exactly are they and how are the two related? That leads us to our second big question.
What are cannabinoids and how do they relate to cannabis oil?
Cannabinoids are a category of active compounds in cannabis, and they’re responsible for marijuana’s physical effects.
That said, not all of these cannabinoids are necessarily psychoactive, meaning they don’t all cause the mind-altering effects we associate with smoking weed.
Cannabinoids engage with several receptors throughout the body that affect functions like sleep and appetite. According to a 2005 study, there are over 100 known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
Explore In-Depth: CBD vs. THC
Out of the several identified cannabinoids, the two most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Put bluntly, THC is the compound commonly known as the stuff that gets you “high”. On the other hand, CBD is associated with medicinal benefits.
In essence, this answers one of the biggest questions for people considering using medical cannabis: Will smoking marijuana as medicine get me high?
Yes and no. It depends on the concentration of either of these active compounds in the plant you choose to use.
By extracting these cannabinoids to make cannabis oil — also known as cannabinoid oil — you get a higher concentration and a stronger effect for either recreational or medicinal purposes.
How cannabis oil is made
The medical extraction process is complex, intensive, and requires multi-million dollar machinery. Alternatively, creating cannabis oil at home can be a relatively straightforward process and some people do make their own.
Individuals use a solvent to extract the cannabinoids. Popular solvents include ethanol and olive oil. Once the cannabinoid oil is extracted, the solvent gets evaporated.
Interest in cannabis oil grew thanks to Rick Simpson, who claimed to have cured his skin cancer using cannabis oil and shared his method for extracting it. Since then, several other cannabis oil enthusiasts have come out to promote their own variations on the recipe.
What are the medical benefits of cannabis oil?
Governments have criminalized the use and sale of cannabis for decades, but conversations about its medical benefits have caused a shift in public opinion. It’s no wonder then that people who use it for treatment welcome the availability of highly concentrated products like cannabis oil with open arms.
There still isn’t much research on the medical benefits of cannabis and cannabis oil. Moreover, studies focus on the health benefits of specific cannabinoids as opposed to cannabis or cannabis oil in general. Nevertheless, there are some studies that lend support to claims from cannabis users about its efficacy.
Palliative care for cancer patients
For individuals with terminal illnesses, the focus shifts to comfort as opposed to finding a cure. The daily struggle of living with certain diseases can be unbearable and severely limiting.
Interestingly, using cannabis (or cannabis oil) for palliative care isn’t innovative. Doctors in the 19th and early 20th century used cannabis to manage symptoms for patients suffering awful deaths.
One nineteenth century doctor, Sir W.B. O’Shaughnessy, used a cannabis extract to ease the suffering of a rabies patient. The patient, Hakim Abdullah, could barely drink water without experiencing intense paroxysms. The extract allowed him to eat and eventually die in comfort.
Today, studies indicate that cannabinoids do indeed reduce nausea and pain and return appetite, particularly for cancer patients.
Inhibition of cancer cells
People like Rick Simpson may be onto something, although it isn’t yet clear to what extent that is.
Researchers in China studied the impact of a synthetic cannabinoid on a very deadly form of liver cancer. They found that the cannabinoid could potentially be used to treat this devastating illness.
Cannabis oil may offer relief for yet another painful, and at times debilitating, condition: arthritis. Studies have found that cannabidiol (CBD) can be used as an anti-arthritic therapeutic.
While costly pharmaceutical-strength drugs can lead to dangerous side effects over time, CBD oil can suppress T-cell function which causes the development of rheumatoid arthritis
In 2016, researchers found that inflammation and pain could also be reduced using a transdermal cannabidiol.
There’s growing evidence that cannabinoids can provide relief from multiple sclerosis symptoms such as pain, tremors, spasticity, and nocturia. In addition to anecdotal support, researchers have evidence from limited clinical trials and animal testing.
The high-profile medicinal benefits of cannabis oil get the most attention. Needless to say, there are several other uses for cannabis oil that may not be as game-changing as curing cancer or multiple sclerosis. However, they are useful in their own right for improving a person’s day-to-day lifestyle.
- Alleviates stress and anxiety: Coping with the stress of modern life can be challenging. Cannabis oil offers some exciting anti-anxiety benefits for those who don’t respond well to the usual prescription medications.
- Treatment for insomnia: Some preliminary studies suggest that THC helps individuals cope with insomnia and other symptoms that prevent proper sleep.
- Pain relief: Cannabis oil has therapeutic properties that offer pain relief for patients who want alternatives to stronger, more addictive medications.
As scientists conduct more research, it’s only expected that we’ll learn more about the treatment possibilities of cannabis oil.
Explore in-depth: Cannabis for Anxiety
How can you use cannabis oil?
Cannabis oil’s versatility allows it to be used both:
- Topically: One study suggests cannabis oil can help with inflammation and acne.
- Orally: Cannabis oil can be taken orally to treat some of the many ailments listed earlier.
Cannabis oil can also be used in cooking or baking.
The Sum Up
In conclusion, cannabis oil is simply a more concentrated version of cannabis. People who take cannabis oil feel the effects of cannabis — recreational or medicinal — much more intensely. Its power derives from the cannabinoids which are extracted from the plant.
While it is illegal in Canada with the exception of authorized users, the stigma around cannabis and cannabis oil is dissipating more and more with each day that goes by.