It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about CBD these days and you may already be an expert. Below, we’ve provided a basic introduction to the molecule and if you are an expert already, scroll to the end for a deeper dive from our Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Robert Davis.
So, what is CBD? CBD stands for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is 1 out of 100+ cannabinoids or compounds that can be accessed through the cannabis plant. Considering they all start with “can-” it’s easy to get confused.
CBD is found in both the industrial hemp and marijuana varieties of the cannabis plant. The CBD you find in the grocery store is derived from hemp and the CBD you find in the dispensary could be derived from marijuana or hemp. There is no scientific difference between CBD derived from marijuana or CBD derived from hemp, except for how it's regulated. Treehouse only manufactures CBD derived from industrial hemp that is compliant with the 2018 Farm Bill.
How The Hemp Plant Makes CBD
Hemp produces cannabinoids at the end of its growth cycle, mostly in the flowers of the plant in small glandular hairs known as trichomes. The first cannabinoid created is CBGa, which converts into CBDa (the acid form of CBD). To obtain pure CBD isolate from the plant, the flowers are extracted using CO2 or a solvent like ethanol. The solvent is removed by evaporation to provide a crude hemp extract. This extract is then distilled to generate an amber extract that typically contains 70-80% CBD by mass, most commonly referred to as distillate. From here the extract is crystallized to yield pure CBD isolate as a white powder with >98% purity. In the crystallization stage of the process a solvent must be used to create CBD isolate even if CO2 extraction was used to create the crude extract. This means there is no process to create CBD isolate that is solvent-less.
CBD As An Ingredient
CBD as an ingredient is very easy to use. Because it’s a pure compound, it will yield highly consistent results in any formulation as long as you are working with a skilled formulator and the CBD isolate purchased is always at least 98% pure. Powders are also simple to measure out and there is less overall product loss in manufacturing processes that utilize powders. Powders are easier to incorporate into products especially if they have a consistent particle size. You may want this data from your CBD isolate manufacturer depending on your needs. If the manufacturer has this data, it’s a good sign that quality is important to them.
CBD has a melting point of 66 °C and is very soluble in fats and oils especially upon heating. It is not soluble in water (think mixing olive oil with water, the two components are completely immiscible). In order to get CBD into water, it must be encapsulated or emulsified with a carrier to dissolve. This is one reason why there are many oil based tinctures available but water based solutions are more rare. Unlike THC, there is no reported psychoactivity reported with CBD, i.e. no “high” feeling. CBD also has a very neutral scent and taste so there is little to no effect on smell or flavor profiles of end products.
There is truly limitless potential for products that can be made with this cannabinoid. In fact, it seems like a novel application is announced everyday. If you are thinking about making a CBD product or are already sourcing CBD, it’s important to remember that not all CBD isolate is actually the same even though it is so widely available. The differences lie in consistency of purity, testing, and compliance. Make sure that the starting hemp source has been vetted thoroughly by your supplier, that the isolate is manufactured in a safe cGMP certified facility, and that all of the testing you receive is from an accredited 3rd party lab. Every batch should be traceable back to the individual lot of compliant hemp.
Now, CBD for Geeks
While anecdotal evidence suggests therapeutic value, much more research based on well designed studies is needed to substantiate these observations. Every bioactive compound acts on a specific receptor in the body. For example, THC acts on a receptor called “cannabinoid receptor 1”. This interaction results in the “high” feeling associated with marijuana use. When it comes to CBD, the degree to which it interacts with either the CB1 or CB2 receptor is not fully flushed out and CBD likely acts on other receptors as well. While the structures of CBD and THC differ by only one chemical bond, this bond turns out to be very important.
Depicted below, CBD has much more freedom to rotate in 3-dimensional space. While THC has a relatively planar conformation, the flexible axis of CBD allows for a non-planar conformation. This energetically favorable state is the reason CBD does not activate the CB1 receptor in the same manner as THC, despite the high structural homology of these compounds.
Another compound gaining interest is CBDa, the acid form of CBD. As described above, the plant first synthesizes CBDa. Upon heating, the acid forms of cannabinoids decarboxylate to produce the neutral form of the molecule (pictured below). The heat required for decarboxylation is a typical part of industrial processing, but even the act of smoking the plant will decarboxylate the cannabinoids. To obtain pure cannabinoids in acid form, milder methods are required. For instance, distillation cannot be employed for purification. In fact, the acids will decarboxylate naturally over time. The cannabinoid acids are not well researched, mostly due to this lack of stability, and only recently has attention turned to them.
Though there is certainly a lot of hype out there surrounding CBD, it is important to understand that the science behind this cannabinoid is still in its infancy. That means there is huge potential for a variety of applications for CBD but science moves slow relative to marketing campaigns. When sourcing CBD, make sure you do your due diligence. Any health claims should be highly scrutinized and anyone selling you CBD should be more than willing to provide you a plethora of documentation including: compliance documents, certificates of analysis, and industrial hemp regulation documents.
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