For something that’s meant to relax you, buying cannabis oil can be a stressful process for some.
What do all of the different names mean?
What are my options?
How can I trust this supplier?
How do I consume it?
Fortunately, Canada is a country where medical cannabis can be easily accessible, and with this comes more ways to ingest medical cannabis beyond just smoking it, too.
One of the most popular consumption methods is cannabis oil. Taken under the tongue or infused into food, cannabis oil is a handy way to reap the therapeutic benefits of the plant without smoking or vaping. It’s a discreet method of consumption as well.
But actually buying cannabis oil can be a bit of a daunting process, especially if you’ve never done so before.
So pull up your chair and get close as we give you as much information as possible about buying cannabis oil.
Make sure the cannabis oil comes from a good source
Cannabis oil is sourced from the same dried buds you’d use to vape or smoke.
“Buds” is the key word there, as you want to make sure that whoever you buy cannabis oil from only uses cannabis flowers in their production process — no leaves, trimmings or waste material.
It’s also critical to make sure that only the highest-quality cannabis is used in any oil that you decide to buy.
Because cannabis oil is incredibly concentrated, it’s exponentially more potent than dried flower on its own.
So if the flowers used to create your cannabis oil have any impurities in them — like pesticides, fertilizers or residual solvents — then the health risk associated with those substances exponentially increases as well.
This is no small concern, either. One study looked at 57 samples of concentrated cannabis to check for residual solvents and pesticides. Over 80 percent of the samples were contaminated.
If you’ve already ordered dried cannabis from a licensed producer, ask yourself:
How appealing does it look?
Does it have a robust colour?
Does it give off a good aroma?
High-quality cannabis boasts deep, vibrant colours with very noticeable trichomes and pungent aromas. Lower-quality cannabis can have more of a brownish colour, is very dry, and crumbles easily. It doesn’t have a strong smell and it’s harsh to smoke, vape, or ingest.
In addition, lower-grade cannabis is usually improperly dried.
Why does this matter?
As cannabis dries, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) becomes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When cannabis goes through this process improperly, it contains a high amount of cannabinol (CBN). CBN is a breakdown of THC, and it is much less psychoactive than THC.
This means that aged, improperly dried cannabis won’t have as much of a therapeutic effect as you’d expect it to.
Evaluating cannabis flowers yourself only gives you an idea of the cannabis quality of your oil.
To be as sure as possible, contact the licensed producer(s) you’re looking to buy cannabis oil from and ask them about how they grow their product.
Remember, you want to make sure that their cannabis is grown in as natural and pure of a way as possible.
CBD vs. THC in cannabis oil
Carefully selecting the source plant of your cannabis oil is important for another reason: the cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are the active compounds in cannabis that cause its most popular effects.
The most well-known cannabinoid is THC. It gained notoriety for its psychoactive effects, but it’s responsible for more than just making you feel high.
It has several medicinal benefits, including:
- Working as an antiemetic for cancer patients going through chemotherapy. (An antiemetic is a drug that reduces the side effects of another drug, like vomiting or nausea.)
- Helping reduce pain and sleep disturbances for patients with multiple sclerosis
- Reducing intraocular pressure for patients with glaucoma
- Stimulating appetite in cancer patients
Interest in CBD, aka cannabidiol, in the medical cannabis community has exploded in recent years. This is because CBD has a number of medicinal benefits, but it doesn’t cause any psychoactive effects.
After learning about CBD, more people who were opposed to using cannabis now consider it as a treatment for health conditions because CBD can:
- Have antipsychotic effects
- Act as an antiemetic
- Help manage and reduce anxiety
- Work as a treatment for inflammation
What are THC/CBD ratios, and what do they mean?
As discussed earlier, THC and CBD have different effects on the body. The ideal ratio differs for each person based on their needs, but there is a general understanding of what the effects are at certain ratios.
Here’s what sorts of symptoms one can expect to experience at the following ratios:
|0:1||Strong psychotropic effect with anxiety as a possible side effect|
|1:2||Relatively strong psychotropic effect with mild anxiety as a possible side effect|
|1:1||Relaxation, light psychotropic effect, minimal side effects|
|2:1||Mild sedation, few or no psychotropic effects, few side effects|
|1:0||No psychotropic effects at all, very high potential for therapeutic use (i.e. anti-psychotic benefits, treatment for epilepsy, etc)|
Cannabis oil vs. dried cannabis
You consume dried cannabis by either smoking it or using a vaporizer. Cannabis oil can be taken directly under your tongue, applied topically, or incorporated into your food.
Cannabis oil adds precision to the process.
If you use cannabis recreationally, getting the dosage wrong is irritating, but not a big deal. But for those who use cannabis to treat ailments like chronic pain, epilepsy, spasticity, or insomnia getting the right dosage every time is desirable.
It’s harder to be precise with dried cannabis. Different strains offer different concentrations of cannabinoids.
Alternatively, store bought cannabis oil tells you exactly how much of your chosen cannabinoid (THC or CBD) it contains. Once you’ve determined how much you need, it’s easy to get that exact dosage every day.
Cannabis oil is also easier for those who are selective about their cannabinoid concentrations. If you want to reap the benefits of CBD without experiencing the psychoactive effects of THC, you can buy cannabis oil with a higher concentration of CBD.
How is cannabis oil made?
Producers make cannabis oil by extracting the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. To try and make your own oil, soak your cannabis in a solvent, let the solvent evaporate, and what’s left is your oil. Popular solvents include ethanol, petroleum ether, olive oil, and naphtha.
How does the extraction method affect the cannabis oil?
The extraction method you use is important since harmful solvents can compromise your health.
Several European researchers looked at popular extraction methods and published their findings in Cannabinoids.
While there were several popular methods of cannabinoid extraction in circulation, they noticed that there wasn’t a lot of research around the health and safety of these extraction methods.
As a result, they conducted extractions using these popular solvents: ethanol, petroleum ether, olive oil, and naphtha. They also conducted an additional test using a mixture of olive oil and water.
They weren’t just testing the safety. They took a look at the effectiveness of each method as well. They specifically analyzed each final product for cannabinoid content and terpene content.
Unsurprisingly, there was variability between the final results.
What they found was that using naphtha was the least desirable option while ethanol and olive oil were the safest and most effective.
The findings about naphtha are particularly important because of how popular that method of extraction became.
Supercritical Fluid Extraction (CO2 Extraction)
Supercritical fluid extraction, more commonly referred to as CO2 extraction, doesn’t involve any solvent.
Carbon dioxide is compressed until it becomes supercritical fluid, which is a substance that acts as both a liquid and a gas.
The supercritical carbon dioxide strips away the cannabis plant’s essential oils in a controlled manner, and this allows the final product to contain more terpenes.
The most appealing thing about this process is that it doesn’t need any solvents. That eliminates any possibility of toxic compounds being left behind in the oil that you consume.
So, why doesn’t everyone use this method?
Well, it’s pretty expensive.
Supercritical fluid extraction requires sophisticated machinery which is another way of saying pricey equipment you’d only find in a lab.
What is a carrier agent and why does cannabis oil need one?
Carrier oil is a necessary component of cannabis oil. It’s what enables the body to absorb the concentrated cannabis. Carrier oils include MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, olive oil, hemp oil, or grapeseed oil.
Consumers should carefully read the label of any cannabis oil product they buy to check for any allergens in a manufacturer’s carrier oil of choice.
What is the purpose of certifications or third-party testing?
Cannabis is only legal for medicinal purposes in Canada, and it is slowly being legalized for recreational purposes in different U.S. states. This means that there isn’t a lot of standardization for products like cannabis oil.
For people who are new to cannabis, this lack of standardization makes choosing the right products rather confusing. But as time goes on, more and more consumer standards will be implemented.
In the meantime, what is the purpose of certifications or third-party testing? They:
- Build consumer confidence if there’s a central certifying body with published standards that offers its stamp of approval to brands who comply
- Offer transparency by providing scientific proof that verify the contents of a bottle of cannabis oil
- Keep cannabis producers in line with specific regulations
- Prevent a conflict of interest since a selected third-party lab should not have any affiliation with the manufacturer (or the brand if they are two separate entities)
Third-party labs test for a number of variables including:
- Terpenes and terpenoids which affect cannabis’s scent
- Residual solvents (This is especially important since consumers want to be confident they aren’t consuming any harmful substances)
- Pesticides (This kind of testing lends legitimacy to a brand’s claim of using organic cannabis)
Not only does this protect consumers from harmful substances, it also protects their wallets from paying for a premium product that doesn’t live up to its promise.
For example, if a brand claims to use supercritical fluid extraction (CO2 extraction), which is a much pricier method, there shouldn’t be any solvents left over.
Additionally, if a brand claims that their cannabis is organic, there should not be any pesticides in the final product.
In Canada, the closest thing we have to certification is checking whether a seller is an Authorized Licensed Producer of Cannabis for Medical Purposes as determined by Health Canada.
Licensed producers must follow Good Production Practices (GPP). This includes testing products for contaminants or solvent residues in cannabis oil. It also requires the existence of a recall system and sanitation program.
Additionally, there needs to be a clear label that lists features like the THC and CBD percentage. In the case of GPP, the percentage doesn’t have to be consistent each time – just detailed on the label.
Some manufacturers choose to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) as well. In addition to rigorous quality control and sanitation requirements, there are specific implications on the labelling.
Under GPP, it’s okay if the concentrations of cannabinoids change so long as they are clearly stated on the label.
With GMP, the concentration is the same each time, offering users consistency.
Cannabis Oil is Versatile, Easy to Dose, and Discreet
It’s no surprise that cannabis oil is such a popular product. It’s easy to incorporate into food, easy to dose for effective medical treatment, and discreet to use whether at home or at work.
While the Canadian market currently lacks a selection of certifiers, the government’s licensing offers some measure of protection. The hope is that when the laws around cannabis change in 2018, entrepreneurs will be emboldened to innovate in terms of technology, products, and standardizations.
In the meantime, understanding your CBD vs THC needs, looking for high-quality, organic cannabis, and avoiding toxic solvents should serve you well while using cannabis oil.