What is cannabis oil?

For many years we have been involved with clinical cannabis and the production of cannabis oil with friends who are suffering major illnesses. As the medical group of our local cannabis association expands, more people are coming to the open support meetings, some of whom are successfully treating themselves, others who are looking for information about what is cannabis oil? The cannabis bud can be vaporized or used in a tincture to alleviate many ailments. But to treat serious diseases such as cancer or Alzheimers, you have to ingest a more concentrated amount of cannabinoids for these to have an effect. (for an overview on how cannabinoids can be used therapeutically please read our Novice Guide to Medical Marijuana)

So what is Cannabis Oil?

When you read about “cannabis oil” in relation to debilitating diseases, the piece you are reading refers to Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO). This is also popularly known as RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) as it was through his website describing how he put his cancer into remission using cannabis oil that thousands became aware of how to make it.   Cannabis Oil is a highly potent and extremely concentrated means of ingesting cannabinoids. Solvent (or rarely, CO2 extraction) is used to separate the resinous glands (trichomes) from the plant and this solvent is then removed through a careful process of heating. The end result is a highly viscous material which almost solid at room temperature, and a deep translucent black – until it is smeared thinly when its golden shine is made apparent.



cover the cannabis bud making it appear to shine



seen under the microscope these crystals are glandulous trichomes producing cannabinoids and terpenes



50G of Cannabis Oil looks like a black tar

spill some oil

and smear it thinly

as you spread the oil

you see a golden shine

under the microscope

Oil is made up of trichomes

Millions of amber trichomes – so many they appear black

How much bud (cannabis flowers) do you need to make cannabis oil?

As the final slide above shows, medicinal cannabis oil is made entirely of trichomes, the minuscule glands which cluster over female cannabis flowers. There should be no plant material at all. Gas chromatographical analysis of a well-made oil should show something like 80-90% combined THC & CBD content, with the remaining 10% being made up of other cannabinoids. Thus it takes a great deal of bud to make a quantity of pure cannabis oil. The amount of oil produced will depend in part upon the strain, and in part upon the method used to separate these trichomes from plant matter, but a general guide is that it takes 500g of well-dried bud to make 50-60ml (g) of medical grade cannabis oil.

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How to make cannabis oil:

  1. Firstly, buds are decarboxylated by gently heating in order to activate the chemical compounds. Place in an electric oven on its lowest setting – 100C – for an hour. When finished, crumble the dried buds into a powder. (you can use a blender for this)

we use a custom bought countertop oven:  its not been used for cooking food there are no residual fats etc to contaminate.

2. Then a solvent extraction process is used to separate the cannabinoid-laden trichomes from the plant matter.

  • We use 99.9% Isopropyl Alcohol and steep the bud material for 6 minutes. Isopropyl Alcohol leaves virtually zero oil traces and is relatively non-toxic. The short steeping time is to lessen the chances of other plant elements making it into the wash.

TIP: freeze both bud and solvent prior to steeping as this increases trichome release from plant material

Using wide-mouthed jars like those below, three-quarters fill with ground, frozen bud and pour in alcohol up to the brim so that all plant matter is well covered. Set a timer to countdown.

3. Prepare a line of filtering bottles – we place a coffee filter inside a metal cone inserted into the top of a wide-mouthed glass jar. As soon as the time is up the steeped bud and liquid is poured into these cones to separate plant material from the liquid. This waste material can now be disposed of.

** note: the mashed up bud might still be recognizable as bud, so be careful where you put it. Also until the solvent evaporates from it, it is highly flammable. If you use a wood fire, small amounts (a scoop full) makes an excellent fire starter.

The end result of this stage is a dark brown water like liquid.

4. Next is the first stage of evaporating the solvent out of the liquid. Remember that the cannabinoids you want to keep will vaporize at 125-145C, but luckily isopropyl and food grade alcohol reach boiling temperature at 88C. You can get the bulk of the solvent out of your potential oil solution by heating it quite gently. Many people use a purpose bought rice cooker for this, but we much prefer to use an essential oil still.

Rice cookers are the cheapest means of gently heating off the solvent. However, WARNING!! the solvent is highly flammable, which means just the tiniest drop of alcohol condensing near an electrical spark can cause an explosion. ALWAYS USE THE RICE COOKER OUTDOORS ON A WINDLESS DAY TO MINIMIZE RISKS – AND ALWAYS BE SUPER-CAREFUL!!! (and watch out for the fumes too)

These stills are relatively inexpensive and work well enough. As the alcohol evaporates from inside, it condenses and pours out into a collecting jug. Some fumes are produced, but the risk of explosion is minimal and they are safe enough to use in a well-ventilated room. There is a difference between water stills and essential oil/alcohol stills – the former heat faster and hotter and can burn the oil. Tip: There is a rubber seal that fits between still and lid. Placing this in the freezer for a few hours prior to use makes for a better fit.

Purpose built essential oil still – safe to use and highly efficient.

Be vigilant whichever means you use: the aim of this stage is to evaporate the bulk of your solvent, but none of these methods are exact enough to remove all of it, and you don’t want to burn the oil, which may happen as it becomes thicker. As soon as the oil becomes the consistency of engine oil, remove from the still/rice burner and move on to the next stage.

5. The final stage of making medical grade cannabis oil is a little time-consuming and needs careful attention. Transfer your oil to a heat-proof glass and over a gentle heat bring it up to 120C to evaporate any residual solvent and water. It can take hours to reach this temperature, and once there, you must keep the oil at 120C (not higher!) until all bubbling ceases. You should be left with a tar-like substance which solidifies as it cools.

You can use a coffee warmer or hotplate on the minimum setting for this process, but we’ve invested in a digital magnetic stirring plate: this spins whilst heating, removing the possibility of “hot spots” and burning. Invest in a laser temperature reader to see how hot the oil is getting.

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Made properly, cannabis oil is both pure and potent: and its quite easy to pay proper attention during the process to make this happen. For some reason though, there are many cannabis oil providers who cut corners resulting in contaminated oil that may even have little THC or CBD content. Some parts of the world have testing facilities that can analyze oil samples.

Be careful buying cannabis oil online: beware cannabis oil scammers!

Unfortunately, because cannabis – and thus cannabis oil – is illegal in many parts of the world, many people have to resort to the black market to get hold of this medicine. They may not feel confident or that they have the right contacts to source the raw material to make their own oil, or are so incapacitated by their illness to go through the process. Made desperate by a serious diagnosis, such people are vulnerable to “scammers”, awful individuals who actively seek out buyers for their poorly made oil. If they are lucky, these people only lose money: what can be worse can be to receive an oil contaminated with pesticides, diluted with other substances, or dangerously “unfinished” with remnants of solvents. The cannabis oil scammers do not care about the purity of their oil, and will often bulk out the substance in order to maximize profits. Some oils contain no useful cannabinoids at all!

Read how to spot a cannabis oil scammer here

Where possible make contact with a cannabis dispensary or cannabis association for advice on sourcing cannabis oil. If you are a member of a Facebook group relating to your illness, you make the first step in contacting other patients to see where they got their medicine from (but do not buy directly from them). If you have any doubts, please contact us and we will try to help you verify the authenticity of a potential provider. Remember that valid cannabis oil makers should be able to provide an independently provided analysis of what the oil contains.

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How do you take cannabis oil?

Firstly, you need to find out your dosing regime. Different illnesses need different amounts administered daily to have sufficient effect. And unlike conventional medicines which are prescribed by a doctor, you are going to have to be responsible and involved in your own medication. Research online what other sufferers have found helpful and make personal contact to ask for detailed information about how much and when they took their oil. Always start with a tolerance plan: if the advice is to take 1 gram/ml of oil per day (for example if treating cancer), understand that it can take up to a month to ingest that amount with ease. Start off with a small fraction, eg 0.1g/day and increase until you achieve the required dosage. This is where a tolerance plan can be useful. To accurately measure dosage, we advise mixing a small amount of oil with a neutral agent such as olive or coconut oil.

Start with a low ratio eg 0.5 ml of oil with 18.5 ml of coconut oil. This 19ml of medicine is easily divided up into daily doses (You can buy empty capsules online). Once you are comfortable with 1ml per day take 2 capsules daily, either both at once or morning and evening. Continue increasing in increments and the next time you “dilute” your cannabis oil use a higher oil:mixing agent ratio. It’s not necessary to fuss around with filling capsules: gently heating the oil in a bay marie will soften it enough to draw into a 1ml syringe (without needle). Although not as accurate you can use the syringe’s measurements to mark out 0.2ml quantities either directly under the tongue or onto a piece of bread. Oil is sticky (and doesn’t taste pleasant) and will stick to your mouth and teeth so be warned!   NOTE: whilst treating cancer with cannabis oil has a defined recommended dosage plan of 1ml/day for 60 days or until remission (when you move onto a maintenance dose), other illnesses such as COPD suggest taking a smaller amount – but as large as is necessary for your individual body to feel the benefits. If this happens for you, once the oil starts working, try decreasing the daily amount and see if it still works.

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Is Cannabis Oil safe to use? What are the side effects?

Apart from its potential to alleviate a wide range of medical conditions cannabis is unique for its low toxicity. There has NEVER been a recorded cause of death due to cannabis overuse. Additionally, new studies often refute previous claims of addiction/gateway drug/onset of schizophrenia and so on. However cannabis oil is an extremely concentrated form of ingesting cannabinoids, and you need to realize that these WILL have a temporary effect on you: taking cannabis oil should be taken seriously.

  • can reduce blood pressure, so if you suffer from low blood pressure you need to be especially careful, especially when standing up
  • until you build up a tolerance to the drug, it will likely induce a deep drowsiness, and desire to sleep – and sleep longer. Of course, for many ill people, lack of sleep is a problem, and getting a good rest is in itself beneficial. But start taking the oil 2 hours or so before you usually go to bed, but head to the bedroom an hour earlier so you are already reclining when it starts to take effect. You may feel unsteady and uncoordinated so its best to be lying down. This sleepiness will last into the morning so have no plans for early activity.
  • THC is psychoactive, and it’s possible you could experience mild hallucinations. Most likely you will find your mood lifted and more liable to laughter at silly things. But what is most important is that you recognize that any mental effects or disorientations are merely the result of the oil, they will pass, and will have no lasting consequences. Repeat to yourself: “all is well with the world”.
  • While building up tolerance levels – and when making any jump in dosage – create a safe place to take the drug. Have your partner or a friend with you so that you know that have physical and mental support should you feel disorientated or out of control. Simply making this so lessens the likelihood of paranoia or a “bad trip” immensely.
  • Cannabis may increase the effects of other drugs that cause drowsiness, including antidepressants, alcohol, antihistamines, sedatives (used to treat insomnia), pain relievers, anxiety medicines, seizure medicines, and muscle relaxants. It doesn’t conflict with these medications but can boost them. You may need to consider reducing these medications as you take the oil.
  • some people experience restlessness which can present as stress. If this happens to you, change the scene – even from one room to another. Get into a good film to distract your self.
  • increase in appetite: often a good thing, as many illnesses reduce appetite, but be careful what you eat if you need a special diet. You may not have the same mental control.
  • If you find the psychoactive effects too disorientating, consider taking cannabis oil in a suppository.

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What is CBD oil?

Many people get confused between cannabis oil, CBD oil, hemp oil and even hash oil. And I don’t blame them: at times over the past few years its seemed as if the terms are interchangeable. We used to describe our oil made from cannabis plants with a high CBD content as “CBD oil”. When Rick Simpson first referred to the oil he used to beat his cancer, he described it as “hemp oil”. So: cannabis oil (RS oil) / CBD oil / hemp oil: they’re all the same right?

No: Cannabis Oil is made from the Cannabis plant. CBD oil and hemp oil are made from hemp. The cannabinoid content is not the same in both species.

Yes, hemp contains CBD, but in such low quantities as to be negligible for therapeutic purposes. Taking CBD oil is at the same level as taking vitamins: it will be beneficial to your overall health but won’t treat any illness. The thing is, in many parts of the world, CBD oil made from hemp is classed as legal (because it has no psychoactive effect) and thus can be made freely available for sale through the internet and marketplaces such as Amazon. Remember my warning about cannabis oil scammers above? I’m going to get contentious here and suggest that some – although not all – of these internet companies selling CBD oil fall into the same category. For example, one site states that their CBD oil can be used to treat epilepsy – and even has an article stating:

  Their sales site is very user-friendly, full of useful graphics and information pieces. But they’re not quite telling the truth. “Clinical trials of Epidiolex, a plant-derived medical marijuana extract intended to help children with severe epilepsy, …  is quickly making its way towards FDA approval after successful Phase III trials”. (November 2016)   did you spot the difference?

  • The drug seeking FDA approval is a plant derived marijuana extract.
  • The company selling its product through giving you all this information is selling a plant derived hemp extract.

(and as a note, the company developing this drug,  GW Pharmaceuticals, has a license to grow 20 tonnes of cannabis in the UK, a country which believes there is no medical application for cannabis)   Here’s another deliberate misnomer:  

This company is not lying: hemp is a subspecies of the Cannabis Sativa genus: but hemp is not the same plant as cannabis and its chemical composition is different. They call their product ™Canabidol a cannabis oil: but its not. But if you were a cancer patient and had read about how you could possibly put your life-threatening illness into remission using cannabis oil, would you know the difference? Cannabis oil does not cure every cancer sufferer (but it will help mostly all have a better quality of life): how many do you think were robbed of that chance through such misinformation? I’ll say it again: oil made from hemp is not the same oil that Rick Simpson used to treat himself with. As Rick Simpson himself has said, THC plays an important part in therapeutical use. Researching CBD OIL products made me aware of another grey area, especially if you are thinking of buying Oil Drops. Some companies don’t list the % of CBD in the drops at all – eg Medipen sells 15 x 1ml Cartridges for £299 / 349€ / $367, but only describes them as being “high strength cannabinoid oil”. Canabidol sells a 10ml bottle for £20 / 23€ / $24.50. Sounds great doesn’t it? How much of that liquid is CBD? Who knows? They describe it as being “Canabidol CBD Oil 10,000mg Cannabis Sativa L. Full Extract Hemp Oil 250mg (10ml)”. As a grow shop in Spain, we can buy CBD drops from our distributor: the retail price for a 10ml bottle containing 15% CBD (or 1500mg) is around £230 / 280€ / $295. So if you see drops for sale for a tenth of that some, and a description stating “made from high content 15% CBD, you can guess that they’ve diluted it 10 times. That whole bottle only contains 150mg of CBD and a drop a day means you will be getting 0.75mg CBD daily: it simply isn’t going to be enough to reset your body’s malfunction. If you smoked just one joint a day of high CBD weed, you’d be getting 28-36mg CBD. Remember the introductory paragraphs to this article? Cannabis Oil has such potential to treat illnesses because it is a highly concentrated, potent means to ingest cannabinoids. CBD oil (in drop form) is not just NOT concentrated, it is a pathetically diluted means of ingesting cannabinoids. To suggest that it has a medicinal quality is misleading and exploiting the innocence / ignorance of consumers.

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What illnesses can be treated with cannabis oil?

Hundreds of different disorders are thought to be treatable with medical marijuana, but not all of these need the high concentration of cannabinoids found in cannabis oil. For example, muscular pain can be easily and effectively relieved with a quick vape of cannabis bud as and when it hurts. Some illnesses have an either/or aspect: Parkinson’s sufferers can either treat their tremor attacks at the time with a joint, or choose to microdose cannabis oil daily to reduce/remove the likelihood of such attacks taking place.

Some illnesses need the high concentration of cannabinoids in cannabis oil: the following is not a comprehensive list, but includes:

  • cancer
  • skin cancer
  • psoriasis
  • bi-polar disorder
  • epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • diabetes
  • COPD and emphysema
  • leukemia