Cannabis is famous for its psychoactive effects and its ability to treat all sorts of physical maladies. Obviously, an easy way to enjoy these effects is simply by smoking the raw plant. But if you’re looking for a purer, more concentrated dose, cannabis oil is the answer. Cannabis oil is simply the name we give to the essential oils extracted from the plant. If you’re interested in learning about the extraction process, you can find out more here, where we also discuss the secrets of how Butane Hash Oil and CO2 Oil are made.
The Origins of Cannabis Oil
The credit for the contemporary interest in cannabis oil goes to a man named Rick Simpson. Simpson was working in a Canadian hospital in 1997 when he was exposed to asbestos while repairing the pipes of the hospital boiler room. For years after the incident, he suffered dizzy spells and ringing in his ears. Simpson did some investigating on his own and learned about the positive medical benefits of using cannabis. He began growing and extracting the oils from his own plants and saw a dramatic improvement in his symptoms. In 2003, a cluster of bumps appeared on his arm and he was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer. Simpson then discovered a study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in which THC was found to kill cancer cells in mice. So, he decided to apply cannabis oil to the bumps and, lo and behold, after just a few days, the cancerous growths disappeared. Simpson began cultivating cannabis to create a specialized form of cannabis concentrate that is now known as Rick Simpson Oil which has been used to treat thousands of patients around the world.
Marijuana vs Cannabis - What's the difference?
Before we go any further into the different kinds of cannabis oil, it’s important to make the distinction between marijuana and cannabis. Cannabis refers to the plant’s genus and is the umbrella term used to describe everything related to the plant. Within the genus, there are two subspecies: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. As their names suggest, these two plant species are the source of the sativa and indica strains and together make up what we call marijuana. Now, there is also a special variety of sativa which you’ve probably already heard of, called hemp, which can be distinguished by its tall, slender plant body and long fibers. Hemp is used industrially in everything from textiles to animal feed. It has taken hundreds of years of selective breeding to produce this particular variety of the sativa plant and, as a result, it is also a poor source of drug material. However, like marijuana, hemp is also used for its essential oils.
Cannabinoids - The Power Behind Essential Oils
The reason the essential oils are so potent is because of a category of compounds known as cannabinoids. Our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids in what’s called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which helps our bodies maintain homeostasis through the regulation of sleep, pain, and even memory, among other things. So, when foreign cannabis is consumed, these foreign cannabinoids bind to the pre-existing cannabinoid receptors in our cells and, along with terpenes, produce the sensation of being high. Of course, the amount of cannabinoids present in a particular batch will depend on the plant source.
THC - An Effective Pain Reliever
The most popular cannabinoid is THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, and is the principal psychoactive component of marijuana. It is responsible for the euphoric mental high you feel in strains like Pineapple Express. High-THC oils are most commonly used for medical purposes as THC is able to interact with specific cannabinoid receptors in the brain to help reduce pain, muscle spasms, and all sorts of other physical problems.
Be an Informed Consumer
A word of caution regarding vaping. It is generally assumed that vape pens are a cleaner and healthier alternative to smoking marijuana, since marijuana smoke contains noxious substances that can irritate your lungs. Vape pens are able to heat cannabis oil without burning it, so no smoke is involved. This is all good in theory, but, due to lax regulation in countries like China, many vape pens today contain additives that can be toxic at high temperatures. In particular, a compound known as propylene glycol is often used as a thinning agent in the cannabis oil contained in vape cartridges. According to a 2010 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, airborne propylene glycol can have a severely negative impact on your lungs, thus posing a real danger to people dealing with asthma and other allergic symptoms. When subjected to high temperatures, the potential harm increases, as heat can cause propylene glycol to transform into carbonyls. Carbonyls are an extremely dangerous group of carcinogenic compounds that includes formaldehyde and have been linked to spontaneous abortions, low birth weight, and even cancer. A completely safe alternative to these sorts of artificial additives is actually terpenes. Terpenes work great as a thinning agent and also work to organically enhance the flavor and aroma of your vaping experience.