What is CBD and where does it come from?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 unique “cannabinoid” compounds that are found in the oily resin of the hemp plant. The sticky, gooey resin is concentrated on the dense clusters of hemp flowers, commonly called “buds,” which are covered by tiny, mushroom-shaped “trichomes.” This is where the magic happens.
Trichomes are specialized glandular structures that contain a treasure trove of oily, medicinal compounds, including CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and various aromatic terpenes. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, and causes the sensation of being “high” that’s often associated with marijuana. However, unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive.
So, why does hemp create these oily compounds? What does the resin do for the plant?
The oily trichomes protect the plant from heat and ultraviolet radiation. The oil also has antifungal, antibacterial and insecticidal properties that deter predators. The stickiness of the resin provides another defensive layer by trapping bugs.
As it happens, the same oily resin that protects the health of the plant includes components that are beneficial for human health.
CBD oil is extracted from the resinous trichomes of hemp plants. There are many different hemp “strains” or varietals. The amount of CBD present in the trichomes will depend on the particular variety of cannabis or hemp. Low resin industrial hemp, which is legally defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, has fewer trichomes – and therefore less oil – than high-resin cannabis varietals.
But most high resin cannabis strains these days are THC-dominant with little CBD. So choosing the appropriate CBD-rich hemp chemovar, a variety of hemp defined by its chemical constituents, is key for extracting CBD oil.
Trichomes are fragile structures that easily break off of the cannabis flower. Even rough handling is enough to shake off the trichomes. Making hashish or “kif” (hashish powder) involves manually removing the resinous trichomes by agitating the flower. Sometimes heat or pressure is applied to partially melt the trichomes together, turning the resin into a congealed slab, referred to as rosin, which can be smoked or ingested.
In addition to the resinous trichomes concentrated on the flowers and to a lesser extent on the leaves of the cannabis plant, there are the tiny sessile trichomes, which dot the stalk, but these contain hardly any oil or CBD. (Shaped like tiny inverted commas, non-glandular hairs without oil also cover the plant’s surface.) CBD is also absent in the roots or the seeds of cannabis and hemp. Companies that claim they derive CBD from hemp stalk or hemp seeds are making false claims.