How to pick cannabis for cbd oil

How to Pick the Best CBD Oil for You

Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.

Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Arno Kroner, DAOM, LAc, is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and integrative medicine doctor practicing in Santa Monica, California.

More and more people are taking cannabidiol (CBD) oil for general health and to treat an array of ailments, especially since the 2018 Farm Bill made CBD and other hemp products legal at the federal level.

Growth in the CBD market has been staggering: In 2018, the global market was valued at $4.6 billion with a projected annual growth rate of just over 125% between 2019 and 2026. In the United States alone, sales are expected to top $20 billion by 2024.

Commercial CBD typically comes from the hemp plant, which is a type of cannabis. Marijuana comes from a closely related cannabis plant that contains CBD in lower levels.

However, CBD does not get you “high.” The cannabinoid (cannabis-derived chemical) responsible for the high of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ-9-THC), which is found at extremely low levels in hemp. CBD products can’t legally contain more than 0.3% THC.

If you’re not familiar with CBD, trying to choose a product can be complicated and overwhelming. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate it, which means there’s no standardization or daily-use guidelines. Research is in the early stages, meaning there are more questions than answers.

Additionally, CBD sellers offer products in numerous forms and formulations. When you’re trying to figure out which products to try, you need to consider several factors:

  • Why you’re using it
  • The best type for you
  • Formulation
  • Strength
  • Ingredients
  • Where it’s grown
  • Whether it’s tested, by whom, and how you can tell
  • Price

More than 25% of Americans say they’ve used CBD. One in seven use it regularly. People who’ve used CBD are more likely than non-users to be:

  • White
  • Female
  • Around 40 years old
  • Middle class
  • College graduates
  • Employed full time

Purpose

The only FDA-approved prescription form of CBD is Epidolex, which is indicated for seizures in hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy. All other forms and uses of CBD are non-prescription and not FDA-approved. People take CBD for a lot of different purposes, including:

  • Chronic pain and inflammation from fibromyalgia, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and Crohn’s disease and migraines , especially in children
  • Mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress relief
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle control and spasticity, such as in Parkinson’s disease
  • Increasing appetite to prevent the extreme weight loss of HIV/AIDS
  • Aiding in smoking cessation , including nausea

Often, people use CBD with their healthcare provider’s blessing and guidance. Any time you consider adding something new to your regimen, even something natural, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider.

If you want to try CBD, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about it first—especially if you have a chronic condition and are on medication. Many pharmaceuticals, including Coumadin (warfarin) and Onfi/Sympazan (clobazam), can interact negatively with cannabinoids.

A few different types of CBD are available. Which one you choose depends in part on what you’re taking it for. The types are:

  • Isolate (pure CBD)
  • Broad-spectrum (many cannabinoids but no THC)
  • Full-spectrum (all cannabinoids, including low amounts of THC)

Isolate

An isolate is CBD that has been isolated from the plant. It’s a pure, tasteless, odorless, crystalline form that can be finely powdered or a little lumpy.

Isolate is especially potent and, if it comes from a reputable seller, should contain absolutely no THC. If you want to cook CBD into edibles, isolate is a good choice because it won’t change the flavor of the food.

The main drawback of an isolate is that cannabis has more than 100 different cannabinoids that may have health benefits that CBD alone does not, so a product containing more cannabinoids may alleviate more symptoms. On the other hand, this feature becomes a benefit if you’re sensitive to any of the other cannabinoids.

Broad Spectrum

Broad-spectrum CBD products typically contain all of the cannabinoids except for THC. These various cannabinoids, with all of their different effects on the body, can cause what’s called the “entourage effect,” which basically means that they all work better together than apart.  

Some of them, when taken together, make each other work better. Some may also cancel out the side effects of others.  

You may be interested in broad-spectrum CBD products if you’ve tried isolate and it didn’t work well for you. It’s also good for people who:

  • Want the effect of a full-spectrum product but live in a state with strict THC laws
  • Have a sensitivity to THC
  • Don’t want the high of THC
  • Aren’t familiar with the effects of marijuana and are nervous about the THC

Broad-spectrum products, however, are less researched and harder to find on the market. Also, many of them have the strong “skunky” odor and flavor associated with marijuana, which some people may find unpleasant.

Full Spectrum

As the name implies, full-spectrum CBD products contain all of the cannabinoids, including THC. To be legal, though, even full-spectrum products can’t contain more than 0.3% THC, which means it’s pretty weak.

You’ll get the complete entourage effect from the full spectrum, so it may have more medicinal benefits than isolates and broad-spectrum CBD.

That “skunkiness” is something you can’t avoid with these products, though. Even though the THC levels are low, it’s possible that it could show up on a drug test. You might also experience the psychoactive and sedative effects associated with THC.

Full-spectrum might not be right for people with anxiety, as THC is known to be associated with anxiety and a rapid heartbeat.

You may be interested in full-spectrum CBD products if:

  • You’ve tried the other types and haven’t had enough relief
  • Your healthcare provider recommends a THC-containing product
  • You have symptoms specifically alleviated by THC
  • Marijuana is legal in your state, thus eliminating legal concerns about the THC content
  • You’re not worried about drug testing for employment or other reasons

Hemp-Derived vs. Marijuana-Derived CBD

Federally legal CBD is derived from hemp seed, which, by law, can’t contain more than 0.3% THC. In states where marijuana is legal, dispensaries may sell CBD that’s derived from marijuana seeds and contain much higher levels of THC. Depending on the ratio of THC to CBD, these products may cause a high, impair you, or show up on a drug test.

Formulation

CBD products come in a variety of formulations, some of which may have different absorption rates or be better for certain applications. Available formulations include:

  • Oral
  • Topical
  • Capsules
  • Where marijuana is legal, edibles

Oral CBD

Typically, CBD oils, isolates, and tinctures are taken sublingually (under the tongue). Liquids may come as a spray or with a dropper. You hold it under your tongue, usually for a minute or two, and then swallow it.

Pros

Sublingual delivery offers the advantage of quick absorption into your bloodstream through the tissues in your mouth. This gives you the effects faster and prevents the CBD (and any other cannabinoids in the product) from being filtered out by your liver or degraded by the digestion process.

Sublingual forms are also easier to take if you have trouble swallowing pills.

Cons

Keeping a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum product under your tongue may be unpleasant if you’re bothered by the taste.

The dosage of isolates can’t be tricky to get just right, as you don’t need much of these potent products and will likely be measuring powder in a tiny spoon. If you have vision problems or an unsteady hand, you may be better off with a sublingual liquid or a capsule.

Topical CBD

You can get CBD oil in creams, lotions, balms, waxes, and liquid that are meant to be applied directly to places where you have soft-tissue or nerve pain.

Pros

Topical CBD gives you relief quickly and right where you need it. According to animal studies, this appears to be a safe and effective way of relieving pain and inflammation without side effects.  

Topical CBD doesn’t produce the “burn” associated with capsaicin. If you’d like to avoid the minty fumes of many topicals, it’s easy to find CBD products that don’t contain menthol.

Cons

You may benefit from some of the systemic effects of CBD, which you won’t get with this method. Additionally, these products tend to cost significantly more than most topicals on the market.

Don’t confuse skin care products, such as eye creams, for topical pain products (or vice versa) as these are unlikely to give you the results you want.

Capsules

You can buy capsules and softgels that contain CBD oil or isolate and swallow them just like any pill. Some products may also contain other supplements, so be sure you know the full ingredient profile of anything you purchase and want to take everything that’s included.

Single-ingredient products may be best when you’re adjusting to something new so you know what’s causing any benefits, side effects, or allergic reactions.

Pros

If you already take several pills, it might be easier to add one more capsule than to tinker with sublingual products. On top of that, the dosage is consistent in this formulation, whereas you may get more variation if you’re counting drops or measuring isolate with a tiny spoon.

Cons

This may not be the best formulation for you if you have trouble swallowing pills. Because of the time it takes to digest, you won’t experience the benefits as quickly as you would with sublingual CBD. Your liver and the digestive process will also have an impact on how much CBD reaches your bloodstream.

Edibles

Edible products containing CBD aren’t legal at the federal level, but you may find them at marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Common commercially produced edibles include gummies, chocolates, flavored sprays, gum, chewy candies, hard candies, cookies, teas, and cold drinks. Keep in mind that these products may be made with marijuana-derived CBD.

Pros

Some people choose edibles just because they like the taste. Others want a discrete way to use it publicly.

Cons

Exact dosing is difficult with edibles because a batch of something may end up with uneven amounts throughout. Anything resembling candy or soda may attract the attention of children, and packaging may not be child-proof.

Edibles and THC

Because marijuana dispensaries often sell CBD edibles that are made with marijuana-derived CBD, they may contain substantial amounts of THC.

This can lead to problems if you transport them into a state where marijuana is illegal, if you give them to someone who’s underage or doesn’t have a medical-marijuana card, or if you have to take a drug test for any reason. If you’re not accustomed to the effect of THC, you may also find yourself impaired.

The Lowdown on Vaping CBD

Vaping, which is smoking substances with an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) device, has grown in popularity among CBD users just as it has for nicotine or THC. However, a rapidly growing body of research shows that vaping any of these substances poses serious health risks.

In a 2019 study, researchers state: “Research on the health effects of vaping, though still limited, is accumulating rapidly and making it increasingly clear that this habit is far from harmless.

“For youth, it is a gateway to addiction to nicotine and other substances. Whether it can help people quit smoking remains to be seen. And recent months have seen reports of serious respiratory illnesses and even deaths linked to vaping.”

In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that vaping, in adolescents and young adults, represented a “major public health concern.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has issued warnings that you should refrain from vaping entirely.

A 2019 study of vaping both with and without nicotine showed damage to the airways and temporary impairment of arterial function. A 2020 study reported consistent lung injury in people vaping cannabinoid oil.

Another study reports that multiple forms of pneumonia and other throat and respiratory illnesses are associated with vaping in general.

The problem with vaping stems from the heated ingredients becoming aerosolized—forming small particulates—that are then inhaled deeply into the lungs. Along with the CBD or nicotine, the product may contain flavorings and solvents that are known to damage the lungs and have other negative health consequences.

Among the known chemicals used in some e-liquids is propylene glycol, which is a volatile organic compound that turns into formaldehyde when heated. In people who do vape, Consumer Reports recommends looking for products labeled “solvent-free oils” to ensure it doesn’t contain this dangerous chemical. However, avoiding this one chemical doesn’t protect you from all potential harm due to vaping.

From the CDC

1/21/2020 UPDATE: Recent illnesses have been associated with the use of e-cigarettes (vaping). Since the specific causes of these lung injury cases are not yet known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends refraining from all vaping products.

Much about vaping remains unknown since it’s a relatively new area of study. However, much of what researchers have learned suggests that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking, as many people mistakenly believe it is. With other, safer delivery methods available for CBD, you have many options that don’t pose the same risks.

Strength

So far, no CBD dosing recommendations are available for general health or specific conditions. Your healthcare provider may be able to help guide you, and you may be able to find information on dosages used in medical studies on your illness(es). Short of that, it’s generally considered best to start with a low dosage and build up gradually.

Different CBD products express potency in different ways. Don’t confuse this with the percentage of CBD in the product—that has to do with purity, not potency. Instead, look for milligrams (in topicals) or milligrams per milliliter (for oils and isolates). The higher that number, the stronger the product.

When considering how strong a product you want to try, remember that the way you take it has an impact on how it affects you. For example, if you’re taking an edible or adding CBD to juice, you’ll need a stronger product or more of it than you would if you took it sublingually.

Everyone responds to CBD differently, so finding the best strength, type, and formulation can take trial and error.

Ingredients

Unless you’re buying a crystalline isolate, the product you buy will contain more than CBD and other cannabinoids. You should be sure you understand what ingredients are in the product you buy and what their purpose is. If you have allergies or sensitivities, be sure you carefully check the ingredients list for anything that may bother you.

Carrier Oil

A carrier oil is a fat-soluble oil that’s there to help you absorb the CBD. Many different oils are used in CBD products, including:

  • MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil (derived from the fat of emus)
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Safflower oil

Some of these oils come with their own purported health benefits and each has its pros and cons.

Essential Oils

Some CBD products contain essential oils such as menthol, orange, or lavender. These may be added for flavor, fragrance, and/or the purported health benefits of the particular oil.

Keep in mind that essential oils are generally poorly researched and aren’t regulated by the FDA. Because they’re fat-soluble, essential oils may increase absorption, as well. The presence of these oils may make certain types of use dangerous.

For example, some essential oils shouldn’t be ingested. You may be allergic to some of them. Others can irritate the skin and therefore shouldn’t be used topically. Others may increase the risks of vaping. Be sure you research any essential oils in these products before using them.

Flavorings, Extracts, Sweeteners

Especially in broad- or full-spectrum products, these added ingredients may help it taste better. Even isolates contain these at times. Some extracts, such as those from fruits and vegetables, may be added for potential health benefits, as well.

While flavorings, extracts, and sweeteners are in a lot of our foods and should be safe to ingest, you should check for allergens and know that these substances may add more risk to vaping (which isn’t recommended, anyway.)

Arnica

Arnica is a homeopathic pain remedy that’s common in CBD creams, balms, and rubs. It’s a popular ingredient for arthritis relief and muscle pain. Thus far, research on arnica is in its early stages, but research is promising.  

Arnica is considered safe for most people, but allergies and side effects are possible.   If you’ve never used arnica or CBD before, it’s best to try one at a time to make sure you tolerate them well before taking them in combination.

Nutritional Supplements

Some CBD formulations contain vitamins and other supplements that may offer additional health benefits, especially for muscle pain, joint health, inflammation, and sleep. Common ones include:

While these ingredients are generally good for you, anything can be harmful in large amounts. Before buying these products, consider your diet and any supplements you already take. You may already be getting enough of these nutrients, which means adding more could lead to side effects or just be a waste of money.

Terpenes

Terpenes are aromatic compounds, and cannabis naturally contains dozens of them. They’re not just fragrances, though—many of them are believed to have benefits, such as improving the absorption of cannabinoids, though these properties are not yet well understood by the scientific community.   However, they are suspected of being part of the entourage effect.  

Terpenes aren’t generally added to CBD products but will naturally occur in broad- or full-spectrum formulations and may be mentioned in the product description. If you see the term “terpenoid,” though, it’s referring to terpenes that have been extracted and processed. Less is known about these, so you may want to avoid them in favor of naturally occurring terpenes.

If you want to avoid terpenes due to their smell, taste, or affect on your breath, you may prefer isolates or products with strong added flavors.

Peptides

A peptide is a compound consisting of linked amino acids, some of which have health benefits. A popular peptide to combine with CBD is collagen, which may have some benefits for joint function and skin health.  

Some products say they contain peptides with certain health benefits without saying exactly what those peptides are. Ingredients lists have to contain all of the substances in the product but many use scientific or common names and may not specifically identify them as peptides.

This shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but if you want to know more about the peptides in a product, contact the company. It should be able to provide that information.

Other Considerations

Once you know about the products themselves, it’s time to find a reliable place to purchase them. A lot of Internet scams have cropped up to take advantage of the huge market growth, so you need to know who you’re buying from.

Know Where It’s Grown

Location counts. Stick to companies that use U.S.-grown hemp for their CBD products because imported products aren’t subject to the same testing standards. Even further, look at what state it was grown in.

According to Consumer Reports, Colorado has the best hemp program, followed by Oregon, because those states changed their laws well ahead of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Third-Party Testing and Certificate of Analysis

Don’t just trust that the company is selling legitimate products—make sure test results are available for you to look over. That way, you know you’re not giving your money to a disreputable company that sells an inferior or even dangerous product.

A certificate of analysis (COA) will show you the CBD levels, THC content, and any contaminants that may be in the hemp itself. Some companies go beyond what’s required by law and pay to have the finished product tested, as well.

Specific things to check the COA for are:

  • ISO 17025, which means the testing lab meets high scientific standards.
  • Validation by one of these organizations: Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
  • If one of those organizations isn’t listed, check with the International Organization for Standardization to see if the testing lab is accredited.

If the company doesn’t have this information freely available, buy elsewhere.

Consider Organic Hemp

All agricultural products carry a risk of exposing you to pesticides and other chemicals. Brands that are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are less likely to cause this exposure.

Reputable Companies

You can take further steps to check on the company selling the CBD.

    to see if they’ve issued warning letters about questionable products or unproven claims.
  • Beware of grandiose health claims, as it’s illegal for companies to make them and can be a red flag that they’re disreputable.
  • Be sure product labels include contact information on the company. It’s required by law to be there and is a sign that the company is legitimate and following regulations.

Price

You can find CBD products with widely varying prices. While there’s no guarantee that more expensive products are better, be wary of extremely low prices.

The process of growing and processing CBD is time-consuming, tedious, and expensive, so a price that’s well below the market average is likely too good to be true. Don’t let a low price persuade you to take a risk on a company or product that doesn’t meet standards.

Knowledgeable Employees

If you’re buying from a local shop or dispensary, look for one with knowledgeable employees who can answer your questions and help guide your selection.

Ask Around

Talk to people you know who’ve used CBD products about where they buy and which products they prefer. Check online support boards for people with your health concerns and see what people there recommend. (You should still research the company and products yourself, but this can give you a place to start.)

A Word From Verywell

This may seem like a lot to go through, but if CBD has a beneficial impact on your health and well-being, it may be worth the time and effort. It’s also worth it to make sure you’re getting a quality product and not being scammed by a disreputable company.

As always, be sure to include your healthcare provider in the conversation, both before you take CBD and as you experience any benefits or side effects.

How to Make Homemade Cannabis Oil (or CBD Oil)

Are you interested in making your own cannabis-infused oil? I don’t blame you! Making homemade cannabis oil is a great way to create a highly healing, concentrated, and versatile cannabis product. It is ready to use in edible recipes, topical salves, or even enjoy straight on its own. Especially if you use organic homegrown cannabis like we do, this is an excellent way to use up any extra or “fluffy” stuff too. It also happens to be very easy to make cannabis oil at home!

Follow along with these step-by-step instructions to learn how to make homemade cannabis oil. We’ll also briefly discuss the science behind cannabis oil, and what types of cannabis to use to make oil. Finally, we’ll go over various ways to use homemade cannabis oil, including some notes about caution and dosing with edibles.

What is Cannabis-Infused Oil

Cannabis oil is made by lightly heating (and thus infusing) cannabis in a “carrier oil”. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC, the most active components in cannabis, are both hydrophobic. That means they don’t like water, and are actually repelled by water molecules. On the flip side, CBD and THC are both fat-soluble. They like to bind with fatty acid molecules – such as those found in oil. When cannabis is steeped in oil, the THC and CBD molecules leave the buds or plant material and become one with the oil instead.

A wide variety of oils can be used to make cannabis oil. However, coconut oil and olive oil are the most popular and common. Coconut oil and olive oil are both pleasant-tasting and very nourishing for skin, making them versatile options for either medicated edibles or topical applications. Plus, they both have strong natural antifungal and antimicrobial properties. This helps prevent mold and extends the shelf life of your cannabis oil. Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat, which may bind fat-loving cannabinoids even more readily than olive oil.

Hemp Oil, CBD Oil, THC, or…

Your choice! You can make cannabis-infused oil with hemp or marijuana, depending on what is legal and available in your area. Or, what you’re desired end-results are. Hemp oil will only contain CBD (or a very minuscule amount of THC), while marijuana-infused oil will likely contain both THC and CBD. The ratio and concentration of THC and/or CBD depends on the strain of marijuana and particular plant it came from.

Generally speaking, THC is psychoactive and CBD is not. But THC does a lot more than change your state of mind! Studies show that THC has even stronger pain and stress-relieving properties than CBD, which is known to help with insomnia, seizures and inflammation. While they each have notable and distinct stand-alone benefits, an oil or salve containing both CBD and THC has the highest potential for a wide array of health benefits (albeit illegal in some places). Known as the “entourage effect”, the synergistic combination of both THC and CBD through whole-plant cannabis consumption and extracts is more powerful than either one on its own.

I personally like to use strains that are high in both THC and CBD to make oil and salves. To learn more about the differences between strains, CBD and THC, see this article: “Sativa, Indica & Autoflowers, the Differences Explained”.

Why Make Cannabis Oil

Cannabis oil is the foundation ingredient for ultra-healing homemade topical lotions, ointments, and salves – my favorite way to use it! Both THC and CBD have excellent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that cannabinoids have the ability to reduce acne, fine lines and wrinkles, soothe redness and irritation, and balance natural skin oils. Also, cannabinoids (THC especially) are analgesic – meaning they reduce pain. I regularly use our homemade cannabis salve on my knees, ankles, and other aching or inflamed joints and muscles.

Furthermore, making cannabis oil is one of the most reliable ways to create medicated edible cannabis products. Even so, it is extremely difficult to determine the exact potency of homemade edibles or cannabis oil. Because of this, it is suggested to consume with caution in very small doses at first. Cannabis oil can be consumed on its own, or added to other edible cannabis recipes. (I personally prefer to make homemade cannabis tinctures over edibles.)

On the other hand, simply chopping up weed to add to your brownie mix is not a good idea, for many reasons. As we already explored, cannabinoids are fat-soluble. That means that they not only bind with oils during the infusion process, but also that cannabinoids are more readily absorbed and digested in our bodies when they’re consumed with fat – such as oil. If you add raw cannabis to baked goods, it is less likely that the cannabinoids will bind to fats for a consistent and effective edible experience. Using decarboxylated cannabis to make cannabis oil further increases precision and consistency.

Using Decarboxylated Cannabis for Oil

The cannabinoid compounds found in raw cannabis (THCA and CBDA) are not the same as those found in cannabis that has been heated – such as those inhaled (THC and CBD) when you ignite or vaporize cannabis, or when cooking with cannabis. The process of heating and “activating” cannabis is called decarboxylation. It is what makes cannabis psychoactive, and also more potent for medicinal applications.

Yet when it comes to heating cannabis, it is best to do so low, slow, and methodically. There are time and temperature “sweet spots” where raw THCA and CBDA are converted into active THC and CBD. But without a precise process, over-heating or under-heating cannabis can lead to uneven activation of THC and CBD. Even worse, it may even destroy the THC or CBD altogether!

The content (activation or decomposition) of THC with time and temperature. Note that CBD takes about 2x as long at the same temperatures. Graph courtesy of 420 Magazine

Most cannabis oil recipes call for cannabis that has already been properly decarboxylated first. The most common and fuss-free way is to decarb cannabis in the oven, and then add it to oil over a very low heat afterwards – avoiding further decarboxylation. Some folks choose to decarb their raw cannabis on the stovetop simultaneously with the oil infusion process. However, that requires significantly more careful monitoring to hit that time-temperature sweet spot (and not ruin it).

Therefore, our cannabis oil recipe calls for decarboxylated cannabis as well. I provide very brief instructions on how to decarb raw cannabis below, but you can read further information about exactly how and why to decarb cannabis in the oven in this article.

    1 cup of loosely ground decarboxylated cannabis. To be more precise, I suggest to use a kitchen scale to weigh out approximately 7 to 10 grams (a quarter ounce or just over), depending on your tolerance.

How to Harvest and Dry Hemp for CBD Production

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Estoy de Acuerdo / I agree

There is a lot of interest in growing industrial hemp for CBD production, especially since hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Take a look at some of my previous articles regarding the potential risks and rewards in the CBD market as well as agronomic considerations for successful industrial hemp production.

Fresh cut hemp drying. Whole plants hung in this fashion during the drying phase may have humidity trapped in the center due to the ‘closed umbrella’ shape that an entire plant takes on. Breaking off and hanging individual branches is recommended. Photo by George Place.

CBD oil extraction process. Photo by George Place

Harvesting hemp is a critical stage for CBD production. The presence of molds and mildews will lower the value of hemp floral biomass so a timely harvest is essential. There are visual clues on the hemp bud that growers should monitor. When trichomes on the hemp bud shift from white to milky white it may be time to harvest.

Weekly testing of CBD content can inform the grower of when harvest should be initiated. This is in addition to the required THC test with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. While some of the tests for CBD, cannabinoids, terpenes, pesticide residue, mold, and heavy metals can cost as much as $300 the return on investment can be significant. For example, if 1000 lbs of biomass will be harvested on one acre the difference between harvesting when the crop is at 6% CBD versus when the crop is at 7%CBD is equivalent to 10 pounds of CBD oil. Current prices for CBD oil are $5 per gram. With 454 grams per pound, a 1% discrepancy in CBD content on one acre can be a $20,000 crop value difference. Growers need to test frequently to make the right decision regarding harvest timing.

Weather will also be a key factor in determining when to pull the harvest trigger. Harvest time for hemp coincides with the hurricane season. Growers will have an easier time drying and curing their hemp floral biomass if they can bring it in before the arrival of a storm. This is the time when adequate labor is crucial. The vast majority of hemp growers for the CBD market are relying on labor to cut the stalk (the machete is the current tool of choice) and load the biomass. This takes a lot of time and physical exertion. I have heard reports of growers that had an excellent crop of hemp floral biomass but suffered massive losses because they could not harvest it in time (their two-person harvest team was not adequate). The importance of measuring the labor requirement is a big reason why we recommend that first-year hemp growers for the CBD market start with 1 acre or less. Growers need to keep track of the amount of man and woman hours that it takes to bring in the harvest. Maintaining sharp tools during the harvest process will also save time and effort.

Drying and Curing Hemp

Hemp biomass made from chipping the entire hemp plant. This biomass is low quality and will receive a reduced price. Photo by George Place

Once hemp is harvested growers should immediately move the floral biomass to the drying facility. This could be a simple structure like a barn. The facility should be under roof, out of direct sunlight, and well ventilated. Growers need to set up several fans and have them blowing continuously. Significant ventilation is crucial! Ideal temperatures for drying and curing are 60 to 70 degrees F at 60% humidity. Some processors say that hemp growers should not dry their floral biomass at the same temperatures as flu-cured tobacco. Those temps are too high and dry the hemp too quickly. A slow drying with high airflow will cure the hemp, produce a higher quality end product (better cannabinoid and terpene spectrum), and fetch a higher price.

It is difficult to estimate the square footage of drying space needed per plant. Using a flu-cured tobacco with 800 square feet a grower was able to dry 1 acre worth of plants (approximately 1350 plants) in 3 days. Another grower was able to dry approximately 1.5 acres worth of hemp (plant number not stated) in a 2500 square foot barn.

Hanging entire plants upside down on wires in the drying barn is a common practice. Unfortunately, as those plants dry the branches droop down in the formation of a closing umbrella. That closing umbrella shape results in less airflow to the center of that entire hemp plant. Thus more mold and mildew will grow in that center portion. We advise growers to break off the individual branches from the hemp plant and hang branches on the drying wire, not whole plants. This step is more labor intensive but will help minimize mold and mildew.

Dry and shucked (stem removed) hemp flower biomass. Photo by George Place

Dry hemp biomass still on the stem, referred to as unshucked. Photo by George Place