The Ultimate Guide
This guide is written for the layperson and provides relevant information and study references concerning cannabis oil in general, with some specific context for those living in South Africa. Its purpose is to assist those looking for the best medicinal cannabis option for themselves or others. For this purpose, we have kept medical and scientific jargon to a minimum and included explanations for the terms that we have used.
What is Cannabis Oil or THC Oil?
Cannabis oil is otherwise known as THC oil, Rick Simpson oil, marijuana oil and made from marijuana, a variety of the cannabis plant that has moderate to high levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and moderate to high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD), among other cannabinoids. Because it has significant levels of THC, in sufficient amounts, it can cause a psychoactive effect. For the most part, however, because dosages are small and spread throughout the day, these effects can be minimised.
What are Cannabinoids?
There are over a hundred compounds found in the cannabis plant that belongs to a class of substances called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that modulate the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are two types of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids which originate inside the body, and exogenous cannabinoids which arise outside of the body. 2-AG and anandamide are the two most significant endocannabinoids, and exogenous cannabinoids include the THC and CBD found in cannabis.
There are over a hundred compounds found in the cannabis plant that belongs to the class of substances called cannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids in cannabis are Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD typically accounts for over 40% of the total cannabinoid content in the cannabis plant. CBD is well known for its many medicinal benefits. THC is well known because it typically causes a sensation of intoxication in users.
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, is another of the main active ingredients in cannabis oil. While Tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid that has a psychotropic or intoxicating effect in users, it has also been found to exhibit medicinal benefits for various conditions such as Tourette’s, sleep apnea, appetite loss, asthma and many pain-related disorders.
Cannabidiol (CBD), is one of the active ingredients in cannabis oil. CBD is the cannabinoid that has been found to exhibit many medicinal benefits for many conditions. It offers a vast range of healing properties, and studies show that it has significant effects on various neurological and physiological disorders. Such disorders include anxiety, ADHD and ADD, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, bipolar, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia and hypertension. These in addition to such disorders as inflammation, insomnia, migraines and headaches, multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting and OCD. Furthermore, many people use it to treat osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, PTSD, schizophrenia, seizures, spasticity, spinal injury and even stress.
How Does It Work?
The Endocannabinoid System
The human body contains an endocannabinoid system, which according to the Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia:
is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Cannabinoids manifest their effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, that responds to cannabinoid ‘agonists’, or chemical messengers. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the psychological and physiological effects of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are of two types, endocannabinoids and exogenous cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids originate inside the body, while exogenous cannabinoids arise outside of the body.
CBD and the Immune System
The immune system is comprised of structures and processes within the body that protect against diseases and destroy foreign and infectious microbes. In some instances, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, resulting in a condition known as autoimmunity. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown by researchers to be an immune system suppressor: one of the reasons why it’s useful in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease, and why it has improved the quality of life of those suffering from such diseases.
Taken together, these data suggest that CBD suppresses T cell function and that CB1 and/or CB2 play a critical role in the magnitude of the in vitro anti-sRBC IgM AFC response.
CBD possesses a low affinity for both CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors and therefore, does not produce the “high” associated with marijuana use. Despite this, CBD does exhibit immunosuppressive properties.
CBD and the Sleep Cycle
According to research, CBD improves insomnia and increases the amount of sleep because it reduces anxiety and chronic pain, as opposed to making one sleepy. Interestingly, CBD has also been shown to induce alertness when awake, and it has also been shown to improve REM Sleep Disorder.
THC and Alzheimer’s
Research has revealed the therapeutically useful effects of THC in a study of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in an examination of the appetite-stimulating effects of THC. Both appetite and body weight increased, and notably, the disturbed behaviour among patients also decreased.
THC and Glaucoma
THC has also been shown to decrease intraocular pressure in patients with Glaucoma, a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve in the eyes.
What is the Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp?
Marijuana and hemp are simply different varieties of the cannabis plant.
Hemp, otherwise known as industrial hemp, is commonly used to produce textiles, clothing and rope. It has a very high CBD content combined with a low THC content of typically less than 1%. These days, most manufacturers produce their CBD products using hemp, as a result of the significantly reduced cost of production, as the THC need not be removed from the product.
Marijuana, in contrast, has higher levels of THC, the chemical compound responsible for the “high” that marijuana users experience. Marijuana is used to produce medicinal marijuana or cannabis oil, often used by cancer patients and those experiencing extreme pain.
What Other Kinds of Cannabis-Based Oils Are There?
CBD oil is typically made from hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant that has high levels of Cannabidiol (CBD) and trace levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is usually blended with a carrier oil such as Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil, olive oil or hemp seed oil. CBD offers a vast range of healing properties, and studies show that it has significant effects on various neurological and physiological disorders. Such disorders include anxiety, ADHD and ADD, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, bipolar, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia and hypertension. These in addition to inflammation, insomnia, migraines and headaches, multiple sclerosis, nausea, OCD. Furthermore, many use CBD oil to treat osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, PTSD, schizophrenia, seizures, spasticity, spinal injury and even stress.
CBD hemp oil and CBD oil are effectively the same as they are both produced from the same plant. It is vastly more cost-effective to produce CBD-based products from the hemp plant. The reason for this is that hemp naturally has a high CBD content and very low THC content. Manufacturing such products from the marijuana plant would necessitate the removal of the THC content, which would be a costly process.
It is important to note that some manufacturers produce a CBD hemp seed oil which contains CBD in a hemp seed oil suspension, as opposed to olive oil, coconut oil or MCT oil. Hemp seed oil is made from the cold-pressed hemp seeds and contains no CBD or THC. Many experts consider it to be one of the most balanced nutritional oils found in nature. Manufacturers produce the oil by cold-pressing industrial hemp seeds and extracting the oil. It is a natural source of essential amino acids and omega-3 & 6 essential fatty acids but is virtually free of cannabinoids.
Hemp Seed Oil
Hemp seed oil is made from the cold-pressed hemp seeds which contains no CBD or THC. Many experts consider hemp seed oil to be one of the most balanced nutritional oils found in nature. Manufacturers produce hemp seed oil by cold-pressing industrial hemp seeds and extracting the oil. It is a natural source of essential amino acids and omega-3 & 6 essential fatty acids but is virtually free of cannabinoids.
Full Spectrum vs Isolate
In addition to the cannabinoid content of cannabis, are the related terpenes or isoprenoids. These are the fragrant oils that give the various strains their diverse range of aromas. Terpenes also bind to receptors in the brain to produce multiple beneficial effects. The relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes is sometimes called the ‘entourage effect’, and is one of the factors that differentiate the various strains. Many brands of cannabis oil advertise a full terpene spectrum, which indicates that they have not extracted the terpenes from the product. Strictly speaking, full-spectrum products refer to an extraction and processing method that has preserved the entire spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in the original plant matter.
THC isolate, on the other hand, is manufactured using a process whereby the manufacturers refine the raw hemp oil until only the THC is left, leaving a highly pure single cannabinoid THC, usually in a crystalline form, that is around 99.9% pure. Medical practitioners use isolates where they require only pure THC, and the benefits of the rest of the spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are of no consequence.
Cannabis products are available in varying strengths, but it may be misleading to compare various cannabis products, and the reason for this is the ratio of CBD to THC. Some products contain CBD and THC is equal amounts, i.e. a 1:1 ratio. however, this is not necessarily the case with all products. With that said, it is fair to compare various products that contain CBD and THC in equal ratios.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
The supercritical CO2 extraction method utilises a machine called a closed-loop extractor, which employs liquid carbon dioxide under high pressure and ultra-low temperatures to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant matter. When the pressure is relieved and the temperature increases, the CO2 evaporates quickly, returning to a gaseous form, leaving behind no residues or impurities. The resulting oil is amber in colour with no trace impurities.
Liquid Solvent Extraction
The liquid solvent extraction method utilises a solvent, usually butane or hexane to extract the resin from the plant matter. The solution which remains liquid under pressure then evaporates on release, leaving behind a dark oil. Drawbacks of this method are that trace impurities can persist, and it also tends to extract chlorophyll from the plant matter, giving a greener colour and a more bitter taste.
This extraction method involves soaking the plant material for about 5 minutes in high-grade alcohol to expel the resin and then boiling the alcohol off for 15-30 minutes, leaving behind a dark resin that becomes more viscous as it cools. Some suspect that this method may destroy many of the plant waxes, which could have health benefits.
Other Extraction Methods
Oil extraction, often using olive oil, involves heating the plant material and the oil to around 100 degrees Celsius for 1-2 hours. However, this method produces an oil that is perishable and does not last for long. Another extraction method is cold pressing the seeds, but CBD and THC yields are typically low using this technique.
Cannabis Product Types
Cannabis products are available in a wide variety of forms. Finding what’s ideal for you can often be a challenge and may even involve a level of trial and error. A reliable place to start is the reason you’re considering supplementing with cannabis oil. As an example, cancer Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia sufferers are likely to consider much higher concentrations than someone that’s thinking of using it as a treatment for insomnia.
Cannabis Oil Tincture
Cannabis oil is by far the most prolific of all the various types of cannabis supplements available. Compared to the other product types, tinctures and concentrates are probably the purest forms of cannabis oil, as there is no further processing of the oil.
Take oils and tinctures sublingually and do not swallow immediately. It is best to place the drops under the tongue and leave it there for as long as you can. With that said, you can most certainly add the tincture to almost any drink you enjoy during the day. However, it is advisable to avoid adding it to hot drinks, as these may destroy some of the beneficial nutrients.
Cannabis Oil Capsules
Capsules are probably the most convenient way to supplement with cannabis oil. They are naturally much more straightforward to take than tinctures or concentrates. Capsules usually come in a softgel form and are precisely dosed, making it easy to keep track of your daily serving size.
Take one capsule or more as recommended by your healthcare professional, with water or your favourite drink.
Topical Cannabis Oil
Topicals come in the form of salves, creams, balms, lotions and oils. Use topicals to treat muscle stiffness, inflammation and painful joints. Manufacturers sometimes combine topicals with a range of other ingredients to provide additional benefits such as added pain relief or skin conditioning.
Use topical products externally on the skin. They are a great way to provide localised pain relief where one does not require full-body effects. Apply liberally to the affected area and rub into the skin until fully absorbed.
Cannabis Oil Usage
Should I use Cannabis Oil or CBD Oil?
The decision should be determined by whether THC is indicated for a particular condition. If it is, then you should consider cannabis oil.
The Medicinal Benefits of Cannabinoids
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CBD has been under intense scrutiny for many years, and its medicinal benefits are well studied and documented. It is often used for conditions such as:
- Severe and Chronic Pain
- Arthritis and Inflammation
- Epilepsy and Seizures
- Mental disorders and psychoses
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
THC, because of its psychoactive property, is less well researched from a medicinal perspective, mainly as a result of its historical prohibition. It is often used for conditions such as:
- Severe and Chronic Pain
- Muscle spasticity
- Low appetite
Certain circumstances may prevent one from using cannabis oil containing THC such as:
- The need to maintain concentration and focus.
- Job requirements to undergo routine drug tests (pilots).
- Personal incongruence with the use of prohibited drugs.
How Should I Take Cannabis Oil?
Cannabis oil is most commonly taken orally as drops. Take your drops sublingually, or under your tongue and hold there for around a minute before swallowing to allow the drops to be diffused through the mucous membranes beneath your tongue. Because there are a great many capillaries under the tongue, it has a direct route into your bloodstream, allowing it to work faster and more efficiently.
Taking your drops sublingually is preferable to swallowing immediately, as it must first pass through your gastrointestinal tract, the stomach and the intestines where most absorption takes place, but also where some of the Cannabis may be destroyed stomach acids. Then it is filtered by the liver before entering the bloodstream. Cannabis capsules can be swallowed immediately and are preferred by those that can’t handle the taste of Cannabis.
How Much Should I Take?
Ideally, your dosage should be prescribed by a qualified and experienced healthcare professional. Various brands have products offering different strengths. Also, different conditions require different dosages to be effective, and some people may need more than others to have the desired effect.
Typically, one should start with the recommended dose for a week and build up weekly in small increments until no further benefit is felt. Then, gradually reduce the dosage incrementally until you find an ideal dosage for the desired effect.
How Long Does it Take for it to Take Effect?
The time it takes for the effects of cannabis oil to manifest when taken orally depends a great deal on how long ago your last meal was, and how much you ate. Typically, it’s best to take it on an empty stomach for the effects to be felt more immediately, as the more substantial and more recently, a meal was eaten, the more delayed the effects.
What are the Side Effects?
As cannabis oil does contain significant levels of THC, in sufficient amounts, it can cause you to get “high” or experience a sensation of intoxication, making it psychoactive. It may adversely affect your sensory perception, reflexes, reaction time or your behaviour in general. THC can produce stronger effects when taken orally than when inhaled. Users may experience adverse side effects such as panic attacks and anxiety that can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure changes.
Is it Safe to Take Cannabis Oil?
Cannabis oil, when taken at the recommended dosage, is unlikely to cause you to get “high” or experience a sensation of intoxication. We recommend that you consult a medical practitioner to assist you with the correct dosage.
What are some Cannabis Oil Benefits?
It is a potent analgesic, offering pain relief and anti-nausea effects for many conditions such as Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia. Often used as an alternative cancer treatment, the CBD present in cannabis oil has been shown in various studies to have pro-apoptotic effects (forcing programmed cell death) of cancer cells while leaving normal cells untouched.
For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, check out our article Cannabis Oil Benefits.
Cannabis Oil in South Africa
Is Cannabis Oil Legal in South Africa?
The primary law regulating the use of medicines and substances in South Africa is the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 1965. The organisations governing medicines and substances in South Africa are the South African Department of Health, the Medicines Control Council and the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority.
In a landmark judgement on 18 September 2018, the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest court effectively decriminalised the cultivation, storage and use of cannabis in the privacy of one’s home, ruling that the prohibition of private cultivation, possession and consumption of the plant at home was unconstitutional. Before this, it was technically illegal, even for those using medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of diseases such as cancer.
The ruling does, however, decriminalise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Previously many of those who used medicinal cannabis products to alleviate various symptoms, such as cancer patients, and those suffering from anxiety, PTSD, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, were technically doing so unlawfully. Read the full article: Private Cannabis Use Now Legal in South Africa
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There is little doubt that Cannabis truly is one of the wonders of the plant world. Scientific studies are now bolstering what was once just anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of Cannabis in the treatment of so many ailments and maladies.
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