Cannabis oil is a concentrated extract obtained by extraction of the dried flowers or leaves of the cannabis plant. It is not actually an oil, but derives its name from its sticky and oily appearance. The purpose of producing cannabis oil is to make cannabinoids and other beneficial components, such as terpenes, available in a highly concentrated form.
Medicinal cannabis oil extracted from Bedrocan’s standardised varieties is currently only available in The Netherlands, Germany and Canada.
Pharmacies in many countries where medicinal cannabis is regulated are permitted to compound oils from standardised cannabis plant material (cannabis flos). Patients must receive a prescription from their doctor in order to use oils which are to be dispensed and used for medicinal purposes.
Pharmaceutical companies producing oils are subject to a pharmaceutical production licence for controlled drugs, issued by government regulators. Currently there are no pharmaceutical companies producing cannabis oil as a medicine. This might change in the future when a standardised, GMP-certified production method becomes available, setting the standards for the production of cannabis oil as a pharmaceutical product.
The pharmacist prepares medicinal cannabis oil at the Transvaal Pharmacy, the Netherlands
In general, the preparation methods for unregulated cannabis oil are relatively simple. They do not entail highly specialised equipment, and use easily accessible solvents such as petroleum ether, naphtha, alcohol and olive oil. For this reason, people who have access to cannabis plant material, from either legal or illegal sources, may prepare it at home by themselves.
These cannabinoid-rich extracts can pose risks to patients who consume them. The exact composition of different available oils is frequently unknown. They are not checked for quality by external certified laboratories for the presence of residual solvents, or contaminants such as microbes, pesticides, heavy metals or mycotoxins. The lack of standardisation of both the cannabis starting material and oils makes it impossible to fully evaluate their therapeutic effects over time and, hence, their medicinal value.
Consequently, there is a significant need to standardise and control cannabis extracts and to regulate their distribution as potential medicinal products.
In recent years, a large, unregulated market for CBD (cannabidiol) oils has emerged. These products are typically concentrated extracts from fiber-type cannabis strains (hemp), which contain large concentrations of CBD, but negligible of THC.
In most countries it is forbidden to create oil from cannabis, because cannabis is a controlled substance (i.e. illegal drug). However, CBD, unlike THC, is not a controlled drug, and regulations are minimal by comparison in many places around the world. This has led to the appearance of numerous CBD-rich extracts on the international market. Most of these extracts contain low levels of CBD and high levels of CBD-acid, the natural constituent of the fresh cannabis plant before it is heated.