Recently, Cannabis oil uses have received a significant amount of attention; particularly because scores of online testimonials claim it can cure cancer and a number of other diseases. There is a lot of confusion regarding this plant, which is the point of this article – to clear up some of the mess and to share the truth about cannabis oil uses.
My request is that you read about cannabis oil uses and CBD health benefits with an open mind and an open heart. Let’s allow history and research to lay the groundwork so we can have a healthy, balanced discussion about cannabis, CBD, and marijuana.
Table of Contents
The Key to Understanding Cannabis Oil Uses
The key to understanding the truth about cannabis oil uses is to learn what hemp is compared to marijuana, which are both made up of the Cannabis sativa plant.
- Marijuana is a breed of the Cannabis plant that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrated in the buds, which is the chemical that produces the psychotropic effects that gets people “high.”
- Hemp is also a breed of the Cannabis plant, but is bred without THC-containing plants. It is farmed for its height due to the usefulness of its stalks and is rich in cannabidiol (CBD), which is the “major nonpsychoactive component of Cannabis sativa.” (1)
- Both have a rich history and are praised for their practical utility, particularly their medicinal benefits. Typically the strains used for hemp and CBD oil production have a THC content below 0.3%.
The breeding practices and utilization of the plant actually determine which term we should use. Meaning this: Marijuana is the correct term to use when describing a Cannabis plant that is bred for its medicinal or recreational use. It is known for it psychotropic effects due to the high amounts of THC that are extracted from the resinous glands (known as trichomes). Cannabis plants engineered as marijuana (not hemp) contain levels of THC ranging from 3% – 15% while plants grown for industrial hemp contain less than 1%. Usually they strive for less than 0.3% THC content when creating CBD oil for therapeutic purposes. There are 3 primary ways marijuana is cultivated and manufactured:
- Herbal – consisting of the dried flowering tops and leaves.
- Resin – compressed solid made from the resinous parts of the plant
- “Oil” – which is actually a solvent extract of cannabis (more on that below).
Hemp, on the other hand, is the proper term to use for Cannabis strains that have been cultivated for its fiber and/or seeds, which are used to make a wide variety of products. Cannabis grown this way contains trace amounts of THC and rich amounts of CBD, which has been shown to block the effects of THC on the nervous system. It has been suggested that “low THC levels and high CBD levels in hemp plants negate any psychoactive effects.” (2)
Products made from industrial hemp are supposed to contain less than 0.3% THC, which is the legal amount to buy, consume, sell and ship the product. This 0.3% is the standard to distinguish between what is classified as “hemp” and what is classified as “marijuana,” but there has been some concerns that the amount of THC in hemp seeds and other consumables are not consistent.
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Cannabis: What It Is & What It Isn’t!
First off, while there is a steam-distilled oil, most of what is offered for retail that is called “Cannabis oil” is not an essential oil and the name can be misleading. At least I know it was for me when I first started to study this topic. Here’s the low-down:
- Hemp oil is readily available online as a food product and praised for its 1:1 omega-3/omega-6 ratio. It is made from hemp.
- CBD oil (also known as “CBD hemp oil”) contains high levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels, which is regarded as medicinal, but not psychotropic. It is also made from hemp.
- Cannabis oil is essentially an extract and is typically taken orally – ingesting a few drops several times per day. It is made from marijuana.
From what we can tell – although this conclusion is mostly based off of personal reports and not clinical trials – conventional Cannabis oil (being rich in THC) gets people “high,” whereas CBD oil cannot.
Absolutes & Extracts not Essential Oils
So, what is cannabis oil? This is where things get really fuzzy. I’m sure you’ve seen the term “Cannabis oil” being thrown around the Internet the last few years. Heralded to cure everything from cancer to glaucoma, activists are using research and countless miracle testimonials to convince legislatures nationwide to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. One of the reasons why we’re hearing so much about Cannabis oil is because of Rick Simpson.
In 2003 Rick utilized a homemade Cannabis concoction as a cure for skin cancer. He shared his success with his doctors and some cancer organizations, but no one paid attention to his story. His reaction is somewhat intriguing as he responded by growing his own plants and produced his own Cannabis extract, calling it “Cannabis oil.” Giving it away for free to people in need, he reports healing over 5,000 people with this medicine. The confusion enters the scene here because Rick didn’t make Cannabis oil, he made a Cannabis extract. Big difference!
Technically-speaking, regardless if we’re talking about conventional “Cannabis oil” or CBD oil, both are extracts, NOT usually essential oils.
So, referring to them as “oils” is misleading. Not to get too deep in Aromatherapy 101, we need to clarify this a little…Essential oils today are manufactured primarily through steam distillation or expression (“cold-pressing”). Another technique is referred to as solvent extraction. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy explains the process this way: (3)
“Some plant material is too fragile to be distilled and an alternative method must be employed. Solvent extraction is the use of solvents, such as petroleum ether, methanol, ethanol, or hexane, to extract the odoriferous lipophilic material from the plant. The solvent will also pull out the chlorophyll and other plant tissue, resulting in a highly colored or thick/viscous extract. The first product made via solvent extraction is known as a concrete. A concrete is the concentrated extract that contains the waxes and/or fats as well as the odoriferous material from the plant. The concrete is then mixed with alcohol, which serves to extract the aromatic principle of the material. The final product is known as an absolute.”
Let me assure you that the difference between essential oils, extracts or absolutes is not merely semantics. Each contain different chemical compositions, which means they all have different effects on the body, and each have different safety concerns. In the context of our discussion about Cannabis oil uses, these terms are oftentimes used interchangeably in the scientific literature. This adds additional mire to our understanding because the research is somewhat unclear as to what substance(s) is being addressed, and conclusions are oftentimes taken out of context of the actual chemicals being evaluated.
Cannabis Chemical Composition
In the 2013, the journal Cannabinoids published a full report on the chemical constituency of 5 different preparations of cannabis extract based off of the following solvents: ethanol, naphtha, petroleum ether, and olive oil. Here are the main takeaways directly from the article: (4)
- Most extracts contained only a small proportion of THC (5-10% of total THCA + THC content).
- A notable exception was the naphtha extract, which was found to contain 33% of total THCA + THC content present in the form of THC.
- The major components present in the cannabis material used were the monoterpenes beta-pinene, myrcene, beta- phellandrene, cis-ocimene, terpinolene and terpineol, and the sesquiterpenes beta-caryophyllene, humulene, delta-guaiene, gamma-cadinene, eudesma-3,7(11)-diene and elemene.
- The extraction solvents showed comparable efficiency for extracting terpenes, with the notable exception of naphtha. While this solvent generally extracted terpenes less efficiently than the other solvents, several terpenes could not be detected at all in the naphtha extract.
- The use of olive oil as extraction solvent was found to be most beneficial based on the fact that it extracted higher amounts of terpenes than the other solvents/methods, especially when using an extended heating time.
- Treatment of the ethanolic extract with activated charcoal, intended to remove chlorophyll, resulted in a considerable reduction of cannabinoid content.
- Pure ethanol efficiently extracts chlorophyll from cannabis, which will give the final extract a distinct green colour, and often unpleasant taste. Removing chlorophyll by filtering the ethanol extract over activated charcoal was found to be very effective, but it also removed a large proportion of cannabinoids and terpenes, and is therefore not advised.
As an added note, the study was clear to state that, “All the solvent components should be considered harmful and flammable, and some of them, such as hexane and benzene, may be neurotoxic. Both naphtha and petroleum ether are considered potential cancer hazards according to their respective Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided by manufacturers. Moreover, products sold as naphtha may contain added impurities (e.g. to increase stability) which may have harmful properties of their own.”(4)
Using Cannabis Oil As Medicine
In the words of a 2007 article in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neurosciences, “Despite the mild addiction to cannabis and the possible enhancement of addiction to other substances of abuse, when combined with cannabis, the therapeutic value of cannabinoids is too high to be put aside.” (5) Modern research shows that the compounds in Cannabis can: (6)
- Reduce pain (analgesia).
- Help reduce side-effects related to chemotherapy in cancer patients (especially pain and vomiting).
- Reduce muscle spasms and neurological overactivity in MS and cerebral palsy patients.
- Help reduce ocular pressure in glaucoma patients.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Relieve symptoms of asthma, constipation, depression, epilepsy and insomnia.
While we don’t know precisely the reason why Cannabis is such an effective healing agent it’s theorized to be because it contains “an enormous variety of chemicals. Some of the 483 compounds identified are unique to Cannabis, for example, the more than 60 cannabinoids, whereas the terpenes, with about 140 members forming the most abundant class, are widespread in the plant kingdom.” It can also be a synergistic effect of these compounds working together.
Regarding cannabinoids, they are “a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain.” (7) Essentially, TCH potently activates the G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptor CB1 and also modulates the cannabinoid receptor CB2. (7) Few substances on the planet can do this.
Nonetheless, as an article in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences points out,
“The well-known psychotropic effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which are mediated by activation of brain CB1 receptors, have greatly limited its clinical use. However, the plant Cannabis contains many cannabinoids with weak or no psychoactivity that, therapeutically, might be more promising than Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol.” (8)
Interestingly, research has shown that several other non-cannabinoid plant constituents have been reported to bind to and functionally interact with CB receptors. Certain natural products from other plants, also target other proteins of the endocannabinoid system, such as hydrolytic enzymes that control endocannabinoid levels. For example:
- Coumarin derivative rutamarin from the medicinal rue plant (Ruta graveolens),
- Diindolylmethane (DIM), which is found in broccoli and has anti-cancer properties.
- And indole-3-carbinol is commonly found in cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, broccholi, cabbage, kales, radish, and others.
A Note About Cancer
There are several blog posts out there that have gone viral sharing 42 Medical Studies that Prove Cannabis Can Cure Cancer and other similar topics. One thing is clear: THC and other cannabinoids have been shown to inhibit tumour growth and angiogenesis in animal and human in vitro (cells in a petri dish) studies. However, the antitumoral effect of cannabinoids hasn’t been tested on humans to a great extent, and we need to be careful not to jump to any premature conclusions. Otherwise, we’ll start see reports that Cannabis can cure everything but death!
The list below is promising and should give researchers and legislatures reason to investigate the effect(s) that Cannabis can have as a natural cancer solution. When clicking through, take note that several studies report non-psychotropic effects when THC was administered to cancer patients. This should be of particular interest to people who are against Cannabis because of its ability to get people “high.”
Biliary Tract Cancer
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Uterine, Testicular, and Pancreatic Cancers
There are a variety of ways people make Cannabis oil, and the most popular method has been outlined by Rick Simpson – who recommends using naphtha or petroleum ether as a solvent. This is where the danger lies. According to Dr. Arno Hazekamp – phytochemical researcher at the Department of Plant Metabolomics of Leiden University, The Netherlands:
“All the solvent components should be considered harmful and flammable, and some of them, such as hexane and benzene, may be neurotoxic. Both naphtha and petroleum-ether are considered potential cancer hazards according to their manufacturers. Moreover, products sold as naphtha may contain added impurities (e.g. Coleman® fuel) which may have harmful properties of their own.” (9)
Regarding solvent residues, Hazekamp points out that,
“Although Cannabis oils are usually concentrated by evaporating the solvents that were used for extraction, this does not completely eliminate residual solvents. As a result of sample viscosity, the more concentrated an extract becomes, the more difficult it will be to remove the residual solvent from it. In such a case, applying more heat will increase solvent evaporation, but simultaneously more beneficial components (such as cannabinoids or terpenes) may be lost as well.” (9)
Hazekamp recommends using safer solvents such as ethanol, or preventing exposure to organic solvents altogether, by using olive oil. As he states, “Of the solvents tested, this leaves olive oil as the most optimal choice for preparation of Cannabis oils for self-medication. Olive oil is cheap, not flammable or toxic, and the oil needs to be heated up only to the boiling point of water (by placing a glass container with the product in a pan of boiling water) so no over- heating of the oil may occur. After cooling down and filtering the oil, e.g. by using a French coffee press, the product is immediately ready for consumption.
As a trade-off, however, olive oil extract cannot be concentrated by evaporation, which means patients will need to consume a larger volume of it in order to get the same therapeutic effects.” (4) At the end of the day, Cannabis oil uses inherently lead to a variety of potential health risks and it is important for anyone interested in using this plant as medicine to read The Truth About Cannabis.
I am keenly aware that the health benefits far outweigh the risks of using Cannabis as medicine. However, many faiths and religious systems have prohibitions against becoming inebriated – whether getting drunk or “high” – and this would prevent them from using certain products because of their ability to contribute to psychotropic effects and psychosis. Personally, I am not as well-versed in other faiths as I am with Christianity and Judaism. So it is with my Biblical Health Educator hat on that I make the following comment:
- Christians need to be very careful about using Cannabis oil with thc content and should stick to CBD oil or low-thc cannabis because it will help prevent you from getting high.
It should be clear to all followers of the Bible that getting high on medical marijuana is synonymous to getting drunk on wine and these same warnings apply:
- Proverbs 31:6 – Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.
- Proverbs 23:29-35 – Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.
- Isaiah 5:11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them!
- Habakkuk 2:15 – “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!
- Isaiah 5:22 – Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink.
- Proverbs 23:20-21 – Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
- Ephesians 5:18-20 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
- Galatians 5:21 – Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
- 1 Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- 1 Corinthians 6:10 – Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 – But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
- Titus 2:3 – Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good.
- 1 Timothy 3:8 – Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.
- Proverbs 31:4-5 – It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
- Romans 13:13 – Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
- Leviticus 10:8-11 – And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”
After it is all said and done, I hope that you have enjoyed this short journey into the truth about Cannabis oil. My hope and prayer is that you make the right decision for you and your health. Please consider all of the facets surrounding medicinal use before making a rash decision in either direction.
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- Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine