We’ve all heard of CBD’s supposed benefits to physical and mental health, and to general well being. But what exactly is it, and how is it made?
What It Is
CBD is a phytochemical – a compound made by plants. It has been taking the medical and wellness world by storm for the last decade. CBD comes from the cannabis plant, commonly known in English as hemp.
What It Does
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. This is a network of receptor nerves shared by the vast majority of animal groups, from insects to reptiles, humans, and domestic animals. The fact that it is shared by a diversity of animal families shows that the endocannabinoid system probably evolved many millions of years ago, and is essential to the functioning of the human body.
CBD appears to reduce inflammation – leading to pain relief, among other things. It’s also been implicated in fighting anxiety, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, stress, and dozens of other problems people face on a daily basis.
How It Occurs In Hemp
Hemp has been used for its seeds, fibres, and medicinal substances for millennia. CBD occurs in relatively high quantities in the stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant. CBD must have been working its benefits on hemp users long before we knew anything about the molecule itself.
CBD is one of a suite of cannabinoids. These are the chemicals that interact best with the endocannabinoid system. They are produced in tiny quantities by some species of black truffle and echinacea, but primarily by cannabis.
It is thought that cannabinoids are responsible for protecting cannabis plants against damaging UV rays from the sun. They are also thought to protect the plants against insect grazing. The resinous nature of the cannabinoid cocktail means that it sticks in the mouths of insects who attempt to eat the plant. The terpenes and flavonoids occurring alongside cannabinoids are strong in flavour, and this also contributes to protection against insects.
How It’s Extracted
There are countless products made containing CBD: gummy bears, infused water, pills, vape oil, tinctures, and others. Despite this, there are still only three major ways of extracting CBD from the cannabis plant: Alcohol, Oil and Supercritical CO2 extraction.
Alcohol extraction involves steeping the seeds, stems, and flower parts of the hemp plant in a high-alcohol solution, or pure alcohol. The mixture is heated, and the whole spectrum of cannabinoids is leached out of the plant material and into the liquid. This method is cheap and relatively simple.
Oil extraction works in a similar way to alcohol extraction. Plant parts rich in CBD are fully submerged in a liquid, this time an edible oil. The oil can be olive, coconut, grapeseed, or a range of others. Again, like alcohol extraction, oil extraction extracts a full spectrum of cannabinoid compounds, and is easy to do, and inexpensive.
In more recent years, a small number of companies have perfected the art of supercritical CO2 extraction of CBD. CO2 stands for carbon dioxide, a common gas in the atmosphere. CO2 is super cooled, and then used to dissolve the CBD out of the plant material. This method is costly and complicated, but allows these manufacturers to produce up to 99% pure CBD.