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What is CBD oil and how did it become a $1 billion industry?

You may have noticed three distinct letters on a lot of products lately: CBD. CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it’s part of the cannabis plant from which we also get marijuana. We spoke with Martin A. Lee, author of “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific” and the director of Project CBD, an educational site about CBD and its benefits, to find out what exactly CBD is and how it’s made. Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: With all the weed trucks and imagery all over New York these days, you might think to yourself, “Hey, is marijuana legal now?”

Not quite.

What these companies are selling is actually something called CBD. It’s found in everything from lollipops to lattes.

And business is booming.

CBD products are part of what is estimated to be a roughly one billion dollar industry in the United States. And it’s perfectly legal.

So, what does CBD have that marijuana doesn’t?

Martin Lee: The fact of the matter is we’re kind of in the midst of a CBD craze right now.

Narrator: Martin Lee is the director of Project CBD, an educational platform that focuses on cannabis science and therapeutics.

Lee: CBD stands for cannabidiol. That’s a component of the cannabis plant that has significant therapeutic properties, but it’s not intoxicating. It doesn’t get you high like THC.

Narrator: As it happens, not all cannabis plants are created equal. Take a look at these two varieties. One is marijuana, the other is hemp. One gets you high, the other doesn’t. The key difference is what’s on the inside.

Lee: THC and CBD are the main components of the cannabis plant.

Narrator: THC is what makes you feel high, and marijuana plants are loaded with it.

Dave Chappelle: I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t even move.

Narrator: Hemp, on the other hand, has hardly any THC at all. But what it lacks in THC it makes up for with higher amounts of CBD. Now, CBD won’t get you high, but it does have a redeeming quality: it’s legal. And at least according to the marketing, it has a relaxing effect. So since this stuff is all the rage, let’s see how it’s made.

So, once you have a cannabis plant, one simple way to make extract can be done in your own kitchen.

Lee: As simple as using olive oil or butter and heating the trim from the plant or a little bit of the green material from the plant. Obviously that’s not very useful for mass industrial production, to be cooking up something in your kitchen with butter and cannabis.

Narrator: But the more common way involves a specialised, complex machine.

Lee: One very widespread way is using what’s called a supercritical CO2 extraction. It’s ground up to have the texture initially of like a coffee grind. And it’s poured into vessels, literally, of a supercritical CO2 machine. It will stay in that machine for upwards to 24 hours under different pressures and temperatures at different times of the extraction process. And ultimately you’ll end up with a thick, golden oil that’s very waxy in texture.

Narrator: You can also extract it using ethanol and hydrocarbons.

You can find this oil in a number of different products these days.

Lee: It can be administered in various different forms. It might be ingested, it might be applied topically.

Narrator: They even have CBD oil products for your pets. I stopped by a cafe in New York which sells all sorts of CBD-infused products. I tried a CBD matcha latte and a CBD macaroon. These snacks tasted great, and I felt a little more relaxed after, but it was hard to tell if the CBD was actually doing anything for me or if it was all in my head.

Scientists are actually still trying to figure out exactly how CBD affects the body.

Lee: So, there really is a scientific basis for understanding why CBD can work, but we’re still really a long way of mastering the hows.

Narrator: Still, CBD may have more benefits than just a relaxing afternoon. Some initial studies have shown that CBD can help with a number of different medical conditions. In fact, in June 2018, the FDA approved the first CBD drug, Epidiolex, which is used to treat epilepsy.

So, who knows?

Perhaps we’ll be seeing CBD in more places than just cannabis-decorated vans in the future.

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