The Many Forms of CBD: Oils, Isolate, Wax, Crystals and Capsules Explained

By Roy Krebs

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How do you feel about the current popularity and legalization of cannabis products in the USA?

I’m going to guess that, if you’re reading this, you’re probably pretty comfortable (if not very happy) about this situation.

But on the off chance that you’re not so hot on pot, or if you just don’t like the feeling of getting stoned, but you're still interested in the healing properties of cannabis, you're in luck.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive substance that comes from hemp plants.

It gives you all of the same advantages as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) without getting you stoned.  

CBD might be one of the most fascinating new innovations in the world of health products.

But when it comes to how CBD differs from marijuana, its benefits, manufacture and legality, there’s still a lot of confusion.

Things get even more confusing when we look directly at the different forms of CBD, the main ones being:

  • CBD Oil
  • CBD Isolate
  • CBD Crystals
  • CBD Wax
  • CBD E-liquids

In this post, I’ll guide you through the different kinds of CBD products, and give you some tips on finding a high quality CBD product for your personal health needs.  

What is CBD?

Cannabis, or marijuana, is derived from the hemp plant, which has been used for centuries for healing purposes.

Hemp was even sold in US pharmacies until it was taken off the shelves in the 1930s when it was classified as a narcotic, and thus begain the widespread propaganda and fear mongering evident in such films as Reefer Madness. [1]

Now, scientists are finding interesting discoveries in the world of cannabis every day, most of them pointing to the fact that cannabis products are basically harmless, if not beneficial.

You may or may not already know that some US states have standards for growing, cultivating and producing non-psychoactive hemp legally.

In these states, the concentration of THC in not allowed to be higher than 0.3% in the plant or end products. [2]  

This refers to both the cultivated plants and the products — like CBD — derived from it. So if you use a CBD product grown by a state-licensed producer you are, in theory, within the law.

THC vs CBD

Hemp plants contain varying amounts of over 100 known cannabinoids, the two key cannabinoids being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD).   

Cannabis sativa — the actual marijuana plant — contains high amounts of THC. But industrial hemp has high levels of CBD and almost no THC.

To understand why THC and CBD are so different, it helps to get a clear picture of the effect each has on the brain.

Cannabis contains cannabinoids, molecules which are similar to what we have in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body.  

CBD and THC are the two main compounds in the cannabis plant, and both interact with a certain receptor in our endocannabinoid systems (CB1). Most of these receptors in our brains, and a few are in our nervous system.

The two substances activate the same receptors, but not in the same way.

That’s why, on ingesting CBD, most people end up feeling relaxed in a similar way as they do when they “smoke pot,” but they won’t have the same feeling of being “high.”

Scientists aren’t completely clear on how CBD or THC affect the body, but they do know that our ECS is a complex molecular signalling system which appears to keep various functions of the body in balance.

The ECS is regulates sleep, mood, memory, pain response, appetite, and inflammation.

As anyone who has ever gotten sleepy or hungry after ingesting marijuana might guess, THC has an effect on these systems as well. 

Both types of cannabinoids also stimulate the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which might explain why, for some people, they may be useful for managing mood problems like anxiety and stress.  

Related: 13 Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Depression

How is CBD made?

CBD is extracted from hemp plants that contain low amounts of THC, and strains are now being widely cultivated for this particular purpose.

Producers use different methods of extracting CBD from plants, and it’s this extraction method that determines the type of product made.

As far as extraction goes, fresh plants make for the most potent and concentrated types of products.

Extraction methods vary from simple ones that you might use at home to highly technical methods that arrive at a very pure product.

CBD Oil Extraction with Liquid Solvent

Oil extraction is the most well-known way of getting oil from any dried herb. It involves using a solvent like low-grade alcohol to separate and collect the active compounds.

Do do this, the plants are placed into a container and the solvent run through. The solvent takes the cannabinoids out of the plant, essentially “collecting” it. Afterwards, you evaporate the liquid which leaves the chemical compound as an oil.

This is really the easiest and least expensive way of extracting oil from the plant. But it can leave impurities, as well as stripping away other ingredients like chlorophyll, which makes the resulting oil taste strong.

The extract is then blended with a carrier oil, like hemp seed or olive oil, to get a product that is more practical to use.

Reliable manufacturers have their finished product tested for CBD content as well as contamination.

CO2 Extraction

Most commercial producers use Carbon Dioxide (CO2) as a solvent to extract CBD oil. In this case, pressure and heat are used to put CO2 through its three states of matter — liquid, solid and gas — which pulls out the CBD from the plant.

This process typically takes place via “closed loop extractor” with three chambers: one to pressurize the CO2 (dry ice), one holds the plants, and the last chamber is used to separate the CBD from the plant matter.  

Essentially this machine helps to push the CO2 into a state that is somewhat liquid, so that it can move through the plant and “grab” the CBD.

Then this CO2 mixture is sent to the third chamber, where it’s heated. The CO2 turns to gas, and the oils remain at the bottom.  

The end result is a pure oil free of chlorophyll and contaminants.

Extraction in a Tincture

A tincture is a liquid concentrate which is formed via an alcohol-based extraction method.   

This is a simple and safe process that doesn’t need heating. Flavors can be added to a tincture to make it more agreeable for people who dislike the taste of cannabis.

Oil Extraction

The practice of oil extraction is simpel and safe, and it can even be done at home with olive oil.  

The first step is to decarobxylate the plant. This means heating it to activate the desired chemicals. Then you add oil and heat it to 100 degrees.

This will extract the CBD from the plant and, where afterwards it will be “in” your olive oil.

One drawback to this method is that the oil can become rancid if not stored properly, which is one reason why major producers don’t typically use it.

Extraction by Molecular Separation

This is an industrial extraction process where CBD and other substances are separated through vacuum distillation process that doesn’t require high temperatures.

In this case, the end product is nearly pure CBD — usually in the form of a fine white powder.

Benefits of CBD

A quick search online will reveal CBDs potential to mitigate pain, inflammation, anxiety, acne, and possibly even epilepsy and cancer symptoms.

But how valid is this information?   

A 2017 report by the World Health Organization does confirm that CBD can likely treat epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression. [3]

Perhaps more surprisingly, in June 2018, the FDA approved its first cannabis-derived drug, a CBD product used to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy in children. [4]

If federal and global organizations are even jumping on board, this is a good sign that research shows consistently positive results about CBD being both safe and effective. 

This is not to say that it's a cure-all, of course — everyone should use caution when trying a new substance, even if it's legal.

But research shows that CBD has the potential to relieve:  

  • day-to-day stress and anxiety
  • general aches and pains
  • chronic pain, particularly if it’s associated with inflammation
  • pain from auto-immune conditions such as fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis
  • improved sleep
  • mild depression
  • nausea and lack of appetite
  • blood glucose control
  • acne 

Related: CBD Brain Benefits    

Side effects of CBD are possible, but rare. If you take too much, you may experience dry mouth, low blood pressure, dizziness or depression. [5] 

If you have a serious health problem or are taking medications, be sure consult your doctor before trying CBD.

Is CBD legal?

Like it or not, more and more states are on their way to legalizing hemp products in some way or another. 

Depending on where you live, you may or may not be allowed to use CBD legally.

The legal and regulatory issues in the US around cannabis, CBD and hemp are currently a bewildering grey area, since at the federal level cannabis is still an illegal substance.

However, the legal status of marijuana in different US states currently ranges as follows:

  • Illegal
  • CBD and Low-THS allowed
  • Medicinal use on prescription allowed
  • Recreational use allowed
  • Decriminalized

In Colorado there is even a new law that hemp products — including CBD consumables — are to be treated like food, subject to the same regulations and inspections as other edibles. [6]

It’s very likely that CBD will be legalized in the US at the federal level within the next year or two.  When this happens, it will become ever more important to distinguish between medical marijuana — with higher levels of THC — and medical and recreational CBD.

So the bottom line is that, of you want to stay on the right side of the law when using CBD, you’ll have to look up the law that applies to where you live.

You might also want to ask the supplier about the composition of the product, what plant it was derived from, and where it was grown. 

What are the different forms of CBD?

There are three main types of CBD available on store shelves: oils, isolates, and wax.

To confuse the issue further each of these can be on offer in one or more different types of products: oils, tinctures, creams and gels, capsules, sublingual sprays, transdermal patches or vapors.

The concentration, dosage and benefits of CBD can vary by product, depending on the type of CBD and the extraction and manufacturing processes used.

You also need to consider that different ways of consuming the CBD affects its bioavailability (the amount of active substance absorbed by the body).

When you ingest CBD, it will take a while to feel the effects as it has to go through the digestive system and circulate through the liver.

During this process, the amount of CBD available for your body will be reduced, but this is also a way to get lasting effects.  

Products applied under your tongue or inhaled are absorbed directly through the mucous membranes into the blood stream and are available to the body immediately.

What is CBD Oil?

Products containing CBD oil are widely available on the market. You can find it in capsules, tinctures, or added to edibles.

It can also be added to a number of non-edible products, such as balms and lotions. These work well if you’re looking for something to use topically to soothe rashes or sore muscles.

Related: The Health Benefits of Cannabis and CBD 

What is CBD Wax?

Wax comes in different forms, and may be referred to as CBD shatter, live resin, crumble or budder. It’s produced by treating the extract so that it becomes solidified and crystallized.  

This form of CBD is highly concentrated and typically people will ingest it via dabbing.

Dabbing CBD wax is pretty potent and can provide instant relief from pain and other problems. But you should use it with caution, since the substance in this form is quite concentrated. 

What is CBD Isolate?

All-natural CBD isolate is about as pure and natural as it gets. This is in part due to the production process, which eliminates the chance of trace amounts of THC or contaminants.    

CBD isolate contains the actual amount of CBD as in the product (eg: 10 mg of isolate equals 10mg of CBD), which allows for accurate dosing.

CBD isolate is used in many of the same products as those manufactured from oils. Both are easily dissolved in carrier oils.   

CBD Crystals or Sheets

CBD isolate may also be made into crystals or sheets.

You may prefer to buy your CBD as pure crystals in order to choose how you prefer to ingest it. You can use crystals to make your own capsules, edibles and creams.  

You can also add them to food and drinks or sprinkle them on a cigarette.

Crystals can also be used for dabbing, a method of inhaling which is becoming very popular as it give syou a quick “hit” of the substance.

Dabbing requires a special setup, where the substance is dabbed onto a nail that heats it and releases the vapour.

E-Liquids

CBD liquids for vaping (some with nicotine and some with THC) are available for purchase on the market.    

CBD Supplements: What’s Really in the Capsule?

Now you know a little about the many forms of CBD, but how are you to know that a product is of quality, or even legit, before you buy?

First and foremost, you should know that the supplement industry is currently much less regulated than the CBD space.

What does this mean?

It means that anyone can make a CBD supplement without formal regulation or testing.

Though the cannabis industry is booming and will continue to do so, until there is official regulation and control of substances like CBD, you should do your research to have a clear understanding of what you’re purchasing before you do so.  

But as long as your ask the right questions, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the best vendors with premium products.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to vendors with questions like:  

  • Is this a full-spectrum or pure CBD oil, an extract, isolate or wax?
  • What is the actual quantity of CBD in the product?
  • What is this product best used for?  
  • How was this product produced?
  • Can you give me the name of the company that produced this product?
  • Do you have any paperwork to show that this product is authentic?
  • Do you offer exchanges or refunds if I feel that the product is not of the quality that is advertised?  

You may also want to do a bit of research on the business itself to see if other reviewers have had good experiences with products.  

A trusted company should be able to produce a Certificate of Authenticity provided by an accredited independent laboratory.

Have you had any experience with CBD? Share your experiences below!

 

 

 

 

 

1. "Marijuana Timeline." Frontline. www.pbs.org 

2. "State Medical Marijuana Laws." National Conference of State Legislators. 6/27/2018

3. "Cannabidiol Pre-Review Report." Expert Committee on Drug Dependence Thirty-ninth Meeting Geneva, 6-10 November 2017. World Health Organization.  

4. "FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy." FDA News Release. June 25, 2018.  

5. Iffland, K. and Grotenhermen, F. "An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies." Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017; 2(1): 139–154.

6. "FDA and Marijuana: Questions and Answers." US Food and Drug Administration

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