What is CBD Oil?: An Introduction for Beginners


CBD Product Spread

Today, the marijuana and hemp industries are growing across the globe at a lightning pace. Ever expanding volumes of research and anecdotal evidence continue to drive legal acceptance forward. The booming cannabidiol (CBD) industry has been in the spotlight thanks to wide-ranging media support and the growing hemp farming industry.

Despite this growth cannabis can be a complicated subject, much of the supporting research on the medical side is still in its infancy, and the quality and accuracy of educational content is not consistent. Here at IntelliCBD, our goal is to help educate users and provide a wealth of CBD-related resources presented in a clear and unbiased fashion.

As someone unfamiliar with CBD, you've come to the perfect starting place. Below we provide an overview of the industry and touch on the key points you should understand as a new user. Many additional resources are linked throughout the article should you wish to dive deeper. Without further ado, let's dive in and answer the question: What is CBD oil?

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

CBD Molecule

Both hemp and marijuana are species of the Cannabis Sativa L plant which contain a vast array of chemical compounds. The two main types of compounds are:

  • Cannabinoids: a class of compounds unique to cannabis that interact with a system in our body called the endocannabinoid system.
  • Terpenes: a group of aromatic compounds found in cannabis and many other plants that provide varied therapeutic benefits.

Cannabidiol - known commonly as CBD - is one of the primary cannabinoids found in cannabis. This compound exploded into the mainstream consciousness thanks to its use in the treatment of rare childhood epilepsy cases. CBD's effective use as an anti-seizure medication has resulted in the creation of FDA-approved medicines but the benefits extend far beyond these cases.

Today a thriving consumer market offers a wide range of CBD product types that are designed to provide relief from common ailments like inflammation, anxiety, and pain to the treatment of serious diseases like epilepsy and cancer.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD Tincture

CBD oil is a term that is used to describe the CBD-rich oils that are extracted from cannabis and often also used to describe the products made from these extracts.

This oil is made through one of a few common extraction methods which we cover here. The result of a cannabis extraction is an oily substance containing compounds found in the source material including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, and other plant materials. In the publicly available CBD market, these extracts are sourced from hemp, not marijuana, which contains low/no THC content and is able to be sold legally without a special requirement.

When the contents of these CBD-rich extractions mirror the contents of the source plant material, they are called full spectrum because they contain a full array of plant compounds. A full spectrum extract may be further processed to remove specific compounds as in the case of broad spectrum which includes no THC, or into an isolate which is an extract containing only a single molecule in the case of CBD isolate. See this article more information on extracts and spectrums.

As we discuss spectrums, it is worth noting that the individual compounds found within the cannabis plant provide both unique therapeutic benefits. When taken together, these compounds offer synergistic benefits that increase the overall effectiveness through a research-backed concept called the entourage effect. For this reason, seeking out products with a wider spectrum of compounds will lead to more beneficial experiences than isolate-based products.

THC Gets You High, CBD Doesn't

If you're at all familiar with marijuana, you've probably heard of Δ9-THC or THC for short. Along with CBD, this compound is one of the most well known major cannabinoids. What many don't realize is that these two compounds have vastly different properties and are primarily sourced from different types of cannabis:

  • THC is responsible for producing the euphoric 'high' associated with marijuana use. The compound is found in high quantities in marijuana and in trace quantities at most in hemp.
  • CBD is NOT psychoactive meaning it does not produce any high when consumed. Instead, this compound is known to reduce the psychoactive properties of THC. The compound can be found in high quantities in both hemp and marijuana.

For a new user, this concept is critically important. Since CBD products contain either trace amounts or no THC at all, it's important to understand that these products are not getting you high. We provide a more in-depth comparison of these two cannabinoids for those interested.

CBD Oil Comes from Hemp, Not Marijuana

Field of Cannabis

Until recently, the term cannabis was synonymous with recreational marijuana use. As the public understanding has grown, it is becoming clear that not all cannabis is the same - and specifically not all cannabis is psychoactive. This is important to understand because the plant source has a significant impact on the resulting characteristics of an extracted product.

It must be understood that cannabis sativa is a type of plant which includes two primary species: marijuana and hemp:

  • Marijuana is a species of cannabis that requires precisely controlled growing conditions, often indoors. These plants contain high levels of THC which results in a strong psychoactive high when consumed.
  • Hemp is also a species of cannabis that grows in a wide variety of conditions, often outdoors. These plants are grown to contain trace levels of THC (less than 0.3% by dry weight).

This concept is incredibly important to understand because CBD products available for sale to the public are extracted from hemp, and thus contain no psychoactive properties (they won't get you high). Additionally, this means that these products are also legal to purchase, own, and consume because they are imported or cultivated through legal means.

While there are CBD-rich products extracted from marijuana, these products will only be sold through medical marijuana programs as they contain psychoactive levels of THC. This means that any product available online or locally without needing a medical marijuana card will be sourced from hemp and thus contain trace levels of THC - if any.

For a more detailed look at the differences between these plant sources, see our article comparing hemp and marijuana.

What are the Benefits of CBD Oil?

Now that we understand that CBD is free of any psychoactive effects - the question becomes: why take CBD at all? The answer is quite simple in that this compound contains a wide range of health benefits for people (and animals) of all walks. Some of the most notable, research-backed, benefits include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved sleep quality & duration
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Pain relief
  • Anti-tumor effects
  • Anti-depressive & anti-psychotic
  • Neuroprotective

These benefits, which we cover more in-depth here, point to cannabidiol's effective use in treating a wide variety of conditions including but not limited to:

  • Alzheimer's
  • Arthritis
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • MS
  • Parkinson's
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia

As we mentioned above, this is just the tip of the therapeutic cannabis iceberg since CBD is one compound joined by a wide array of other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant. These other compounds contain unique and complementary therapeutic uses which can't be ignored. To dive into these benefits, check out our article which outlines the major compounds found in cannabis and links off to additional information on them.

Is CBD Oil Legal?

Law Hammer

The blurred social awareness and understanding of THC vs CBD and hemp vs marijuana can be found over in the legal system as well. Thankfully, legal acceptance of cannabis as a whole is catching up. Today CBD products extracted from hemp are legal thanks to import laws and the Farm Bill which has enabled state level farming of hemp.

Despite the federal laws lagging behind, companies operating under the legal shield of the Farm Bill are able to freely sell CBD products across the nation. This legal avenue has created an explosion of retailers since 2015. Things are continuing to expand in positive directions and many signs point to it only being a matter of time before federal laws are in agreeance with common practices.

What Types of CBD Products are Available?

CBD Capsules

As more and more companies open shop, so does the variety of product types available. Today you can find a wide variety of CBD products with varying levels of effectiveness. Some of the most common 'standard' product types include:

  • Capsules
  • Tinctures
  • CBD Isolate
  • Edibles
  • Topicals (Balms, Lotions)
  • Vape Products

While there are an array of products, they are not one size fits all. Different delivery methods have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the product and have an impact on the required dosage. For a full rundown of products available on the market, see our article which dives into the various product types available.

How to Find Quality CBD Products

The huge potential of these products to have a positive impact on the life of so many people has caused a rush of new companies to come to market. Unfortunately, not all these businesses have your best interest in mind. The quality and contents of CBD oil varies wildly and finding a safe product you can rely on takes some digging.

In order to help you along in this process, we've compiled a database of companies and provided recommendations to help you quickly and easily shop for an effective product. See our CBD brands database to get started.

More Education & Resources

As a new user, we highly suggest you take a look at our beginners guide to CBD for a guided tour. Also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for regular updates. You can find subscribe options and links in the website footer below.


Originally Published: June 2, 2018 | Last Updated: October 11, 2018

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