How Does CBD Work?

What is CBD Oil?

There’s a good joke about a mom asking her five-year-old son where milk comes from and he replies, “The grocery store.” There is a CBD revolution taking place in America right before our eyes, but have you ever wondered where CBD oil comes from and how it’s made? After all, what is CBD oil? We thought it might be helpful to provide some information about it without needing a Ph.D. in biology to understand it.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD is an abbreviation for Cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in both hemp and traditional cannabis plants. The two plants are part of the Cannabis family and look very similar. The most important difference is that hemp contains little to no Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces the psychoactive effects in traditional cannabis. To be legally classified and sold as hemp, it can’t contain more than 0.3% THC by volume. That’s a very tiny amount and no matter how much hemp-based CBD you consume, you will never feel “high.”

From Farm to Table

Most CBD products use a form of CBD oil that’s extracted from the harvested hemp plant. It is an incredibly strong and versatile plant that requires special farm equipment to harvest it properly. CBD oil generally comes from the fibers of the plants, although some CBD products also use hemp seed oil in the formulation. Keep in mind that hemp seed oil and CBD oil are two different products. Hemp seed oil is basically created by pressing the seeds to extract the oil.


In order to extract CBD from hemp, the flowers and leaves must be separated from the stalk and larger branches. These harvested parts are called “biomass.” On smaller hemp farms it’s common to cut hemp is by hand with a sickle. It’s an extremely slow process and is too time-consuming and expensive for larger farms. They tend to use commercial, specialized harvesting equipment such as a disc mower or a straight sickle mower among other options on their commercial farming equipment. After harvesting, the collected biomass is dried for several weeks prior to shipment for processing into oil.

Getting Oil From The Biomass

The next step is to get the oil from the biomass. This is known as the extraction process, and there are several ways to go about it. In the end, the oil needs to be separated from the biomass itself. Some CBD products use all the plant’s compounds to create the CBD oil, and you may have heard the phrases “full-spectrum” and “whole-plant.” This process keeps most of the naturally occurring cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids in the hemp plant. The theory is that all these elements work better together for the desired effect.


Other CBD products only keep the CBD molecules, and this is known as creating an “isolate.” These products do not contain any other cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids from the plant. They tend to be more expensive because the extraction process is more complicated in order to refine the oil into pure CBD. We’ll dive into the differences between full-spectrum and isolates in another article, but let’s just say it’s as controversial as debating whether to use synthetic or regular oil in your car’s engine. In the end, it’s really about what’s best for you, and sometimes, where you work and live.

Common Commercial Extraction Methods

Common commercial extraction methods use carbon dioxide, or solvents such as ethanol, butane or propane to break down and separate the CBD from the other compounds in the plant. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common commercial methods:

Carbon Dioxide: 

Carbon dioxide gas (C02) is pumped into a special extraction chamber under supercritical, high pressure. This keeps the C02 in a quasi-liquid and gas state to extract oil from the biomass plant material. At the end of the process, the plant material is placed in another high-pressure chamber where the C02 evaporates from the oil without leaving any leftover C02 residue, chemicals or other solvents in the oil. Many CBD professionals consider C02 extraction as the cleanest and safest CBD oil extraction method.


This is a form of alcohol and depending on the manufacturing preference, the plant material is either heated or kept cold during the extraction process. Either way, the plant material is soaked in ethanol within a chamber to separate the various compounds. After having a good soak, the chamber is flushed or filtered to separate the remaining ethanol solvent from the plant matter. The hemp is then removed from the chamber and the remaining ethanol is stripped away leaving only CBD oil. Ethanol is a solvent created from plants and many people in the CBD community feel it the best way to maintain the whole-plant components.


This extraction method generally means using butane or propane solvents to extract the CBD oil from the plant material. The process is similar to the ethanol method, except that in the end, the CBD oil is commonly heated to burn off the leftover butane or propane from the CBD oil. This method is the least expensive and is very efficient for creating CBD oil and is used for a variety of products.

Just Add Oil

No matter the method utilized, the CBD oil is then combined with “carrier agents” to complete the finished product. For tinctures, you may have read about coconut oil, MCT oil, and hemp seed oil. They all have advantages in one form or another, including the most appropriate method for a particular product. For example, MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) is probably not the best for use in a vape cartridge as it has a low flash point, so heating MCT oil is not a great idea. On the other hand, many professionals prefer MCT oil for tinctures and other ingestible CBD products because it helps pass the CBD molecules through our livers in a more efficient way. In the end, the CBD oil is combined with a carrier agent, other compounds, herbs, food, or beverages to create the finished CBD oil product.

CBD oil is now found in a variety of products such as tinctures, lotions, balms, cosmetics, infused edibles, beverages, and vape cartridges. The fun is being able to experiment with different products to see what may work best for you. It’s a personal choice, and we’re happy to talk it over with you. Please let us know how we can help!

Receptors that Send and Receive CBD Messages

Our brains naturally create a chemical called Serotonin that affects our sense of happiness and feelings of wellbeing. Its scientific name is the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, and CBD appears to directly affect this happiness receptor resulting in anxiety reduction along with better relaxation and sleep.

Another important receptor in the brain is called Adenosine. These receptors affect our cardiovascular system by improving oxygen levels and blood flow. As a result, CBD is able to act as an anti-inflammatory agent throughout the body. A limited 2017 study indicated that it might also help in lowering blood pressure which makes sense if blood is flowing better in our bodies.

Allosteric Receptor Modulator

As we mentioned earlier, CBD affects how certain receptor transmitters work in our bodies. Scientists believe that CBD also acts as an “allosteric receptor modulator.” In non-scientific terms, CBD changes the shape of the receptor which affects the signal it transmits. A good example is a receptor called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). CBD changes the shape of the GABA receptor causing it to increase its natural calming properties. It is thought that this contributes to CBD’s ability to help people relax and fight anxiety.

Vanilloid Receptor

Scientists have also studied a receptor known as “a transient receptor potential cation channel, subfamily V. Known as a “vanilloid receptor,” TRPV1 was named after the vanilla bean that contains a compound called eugenol which is also found in cinnamon and cloves. Eugenol is an essential oil that has been used in natural medicine remedies due to its antiseptic and analgesic effects. CBD directly impacts TRPV1 which influences our perception of pain and body temperature that play a large role in homeostasis. The study also indicates it may help unclog blood vessels as found in the 2017 study referenced earlier.

More Research is Coming

The 2018 Farm Bill contained language that essentially re-legalized hemp production in the U.S. for the first time since the 1930s. While hemp farmers need to follow the provisions outlined in the Bill, there is no doubt that it led to the incredible growth and interest in hemp-based CBD products over the past year. The legislation also opens the doors to additional scientific research of this amazing cannabinoid. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration is currently working on regulations to govern hemp-based CBD products.

Acceptance of CBD as natural, plant-based medicine is going global as well. A 2017 report from the World Health Organization stated, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

Cannabis And Hemp Works As A Natural Medicine

Slowly but surely, science is catching up with the knowledge that cultures around the world have known for centuries ⎼ that cannabis and hemp provide a natural medicine to help keep us healthy and our bodies in balance. It may take some experimentation to find out what works best for you, your body, and your medical condition. If you’re currently taking medications and are new to CBD, be sure to consult with a medical professional to understand how CBD may interact, complement, or perhaps even reduce your need for pharmaceutical medications. In the end, it is a journey to better health and wellness that is well worth exploring. Let us know how we can help you along the way.

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