Cannabis Oil 101: What is it? And What is it Used for?

Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Extract for Edibles and Topicals

Gummies, Chocolate, Beverages, Lotions and More Depend Upon C02 Extract

Cannabis butter infused cookies and chocolate, pot tea is as described — bud steeped in hot water — and a marijuana tincture is made by soaking flower in alcohol. Right? Sometimes. Especially if those baked goods or tinctures are homemade. As for the tea? Hot water alone isn’t going to activate the all-important THC.

But if your edibles consumption involves swings through dispensaries, then most of the products you take home that aren’t flower, involve oils and other extractions made from cannabis plants. In other words, before that measure of Mary Jane finds a new home in a brownie, it undergoes a scientific process that withdraws from the cannabis the important stuff, cannabinoids like THC and CBD as well as terpenes, and leaves the rest of the plant behind.

The legalization of cannabis across the United States has led to the widespread use of technologies that turn cannabis into different kinds of extracts. Some of the extracts, like shatter, Live Resin and wax, are heated until they combust, and then inhaled. But many are used to craft the diversity of edible and topical products lining dispensary shelves, everything from pills to bottles of lemonade to lotions, gummy candy and packets of instant coffee and tea.

What’s The Difference Between BHO and C02 Extraction?

Brands and extracts manufacturers turn to different methods to transform so much flower into oils. The most common are butane extraction (BHO) and CO2 extraction.

The BHO approach uses butane and high pressure to extract the cannabinoids, after which heat and more pressure eventually creates the final product. The BHO extract, now a concentrated form of cannabis, is ready to ship to manufacturers as an ingredient, or to dispensaries as a product. Extracts made using the BHO method are common, and especially popular with dabbers due to their THC concentration and terpene expressions. But municipalities are increasingly banning BHO manufacturing, especially in homes, due mostly to the dangers posed by BHO extractions that are not performed with extreme care and rigor. When things turn sloppy with BHO extraction, things explode.

With C02, the flower again experiences high pressure, but instead of infusing a solvent with the plant’s constituent parts, which is the BHO way, C02 extraction essentially uses pressure to remove the cannabinoids and terpenes from the flower. This extraction method is increasingly popular in general, and especially for manufacturers and brands making edibles. One concern with BHO among edibles and topicals brands is the possibility that traces of butane might find its way into edibles. With C02, that worry vanishes. So, too, does the whole explosion thing.

What is Cannabis Oil Used For?


It’s the largest slice of the edibles pie, including everything from lollipops to gummies (which incidentally are the most popular form of edible in states with recreational sales). And most of those sweet treats are infused with C02 oil by spraying finished candy with extract, adding doses of extract to the candy (especially gummies) and then curing the gummies in such a way that the extract disperses through the candy, or by adding the oil to the batches of candy substrate before it gets shaped into individual servings.


Most chocolate manufacturers add oil to the chocolate when it is liquid. Manufacturers then ensure the oil is evenly dispersed throughout the batch of chocolate before it gets poured into molds and turned into bars, truffles or coatings for nuts.

Baked Goods

Some brands do, in fact, make their own cannabis butter to craft lemon bars and sugar cookies. But most turn to extractions, with C02 being the most common. The key to baked goods is ensuring the oil is evenly distributed through the batters. A 10 milligram peanut butter cookie not only needs to contain no more than 10 milligrams; it also needs to have those 10 milligrams of THC spread uniformly throughout the cookie. One bite should not contain all 10 milligrams, or none. It should contain one bite’s worth.


Manufacturers of cannabis pills are some of the most sophisticated pot scientists and engineers in the business. Many come from traditional pharmaceutical backgrounds, and understand how to infuse nearly every particle of tablet or softgel with cannabis extract. The approaches are different, depending upon whether an oil-based softgel or a tablet are produced. But most use C02-extracted oil for their key ingredient. It gets dried and powdered for tablets. Additional technologies emulsify and incorporate the oil in softgels.


Cannabis is not water-soluble, which is one of the reasons pouring hot water over a cup of Blue Dream won’t get you stoned — the plant’s constituent parts won’t disperse into the liquid. So as it goes for other edibles products, the cannabis first must be activated and turned into an oil — usually, a C02 extract. The trick then is leveraging different technologies to infuse the liquid with extract — just pouring C02 oil into a bottle of soda is not going to lead to a satisfying product. The oil will just spread like a film across the top of the beverage. With hot beverages, many manufacturers first dry and then pulverize the extract into a powder. Consumers then pour hot water over the powder and voila — cannabis Earl Grey.


Using alcohol to withdraw properties from botanicals is an ancient practice, and the approach was the first cannabis extract. But first the cannabis must be activated through heat. Many people who make tinctures at home — as well as pot enthusiasts who craft homemade brownies, cookies and cooking oils — first heat the cannabis in the oven, which activates it. And then they turn it into cannabutter or they pour strong alcohol, like Everclear, over the activated cannabis. After a few weeks, the alcohol is infused with cannabinoids and terpenes. It’s a tincture.

But contemporary cannabis tincture manufacturers tend to make their products using extracted cannabis, often C02, rather than steeping activated bud in vats of booze. The extracts are then added to alcohol and a tincture is born.


The cannabinoids like THC and CBD in that tube of lube or jar of lotion emulsify with relative ease with the main ingredients, such as coconut oil or shea butter. Like the main ingredients, the cannabinoids are introduced in oil form. The butters and oils that comprise most of the volume of the products are similar to the cannabis extracts, in terms of texture and composition.

Want more stories like this delivered right to your inbox along with exclusive discounts and access to Caliva events? Sign up now! (we promise we won't blow up your inbox)