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With the abundance of cannabis oils on offer on social media and the internet, those who want to self-medicate are often faced with the daunting task of separating the good from the bad, the mediocre from the exceptional. So much information is available at the click of a button, but so much misinformation and outright falsities exist too. MCDSA, have long prided themselves as the leader in top quality cannabis products, with consistency and reliability. Because we acknowledge that our clients need to be armed with the right information to make educated decisions, we have compiled an authoritative step-by-step guide to buying cannabis oil in South Africa.
Because some suppliers will market their product as legal, whilst others will cite imminent legalization and pending licences for the growing and manufacturing of cannabis and its related therapeutic products, we feel that we need to nip this in the bud. Allow us to remind you that purchasing any part of the cannabis plant and any of its derivatives (oils, balms etc.), is still a criminal offense in South Africa. Despite the media frenzy that followed the Davis Ruling and the subsequent reserving of judgment by the Constitutional Court, no laws have changed and no legalisation has been amended. As it stands right now in South Africa, if you are found to be trading in cannabis and any cannabis related products, you are still deemed a delinquent by the state. Until otherwise notified, do not presume your innocence. Yes, the Medicines Control Council (MCC) has rescheduled the substance and the Constitutional Court is expected to rule in our favour, but that does not mean you cannot be charged with a criminal offense.
Knowing that you are essentially breaking the law (albeit for a good cause), can be stressful enough when sourcing your cannabis products. Add to that the stress of finding the right product for your needs, from a reputable supplier who is selling a high-quality product, and suddenly finding your oil can become a very daunting and stressful task. Ask the right questions though, and this burden may very well become a much lighter one.
Always remember the phrase “from soil to oil”. The where is as important as the how, so make sure that the supplier is able to tell you where the cannabis they are using for their oil is sourced from. Cannabis oil is made from the same dried plant material (flowers or buds), that one would smoke or vape. And in this instance, “BUDS” is the buzz word! You want to make sure that whoever you buy your cannabis oil from, makes use only of the cannabis flowers in their production process. No leaves, trimmings or waste material! Always bearing in mind that the cannabis plant is an excellent means to clean the soil it grows in, absorbing all the toxins – so ideally you would want your supplier to be able to tell you that the plant is free from toxins (heavy metals) as well as herbicides and pesticides. Organically grown cannabis is the key word here! If the flowers used to make your cannabis oil have impurities in them, like pesticides, fertilizers and residual solvents, then the health risk associated with those substances exponentially increases as well. This is no small concern. Studies have shown that over 80% of analysed cannabis was contaminated in some way.
Not everyone is an expert on cannabis extractions. Non-suspecting buyers are often told that cannabis oil should be black. A falsity that needs to be addressed. Saturation of colour is equally as important as the source of the cannabis. Typically, an oil with more compounds of little therapeutic relevance, will be dark and almost black, even when held against a light source. Pure cannabinoid oils are clear to yellow (honey coloured) and anything short is indicative of pigments, waxes and fats. Secondly one can consider the consistency, the oil should be viscous but not like a vegetable oil. Rather you should look for a consistent density that does not hold its’ shape. Of course, many buyers will only get the oils once it has been suspended in a carrier oil, which is an equally important aspect to consider when purchasing your cannabis oil – discussed later in this article.
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
RSO gained popularity amongst medical users when a person popularised the use of simple hydrocarbon/alcohol solvent washes to extract the desired oils. These oils usually contain the most amount of plant compounds and were extremely popular with medical users in years gone by. Essentially a crude oil of the cannabis plant, RSO is usually high in THC, with the risk of residual solvent/extraction chemicals still present in the finished product.
Butane Honey Oil (BHO)
As the name implies, these oils are extracted using Butane. Generally producing a recreational product, most BHO users tend to “dab” or vaporise these oils. These oils are usually high in THC and flavours or “terpenes”. BHO is simply the term coined and these days producers use a variety of light hydrocarbons, most popularly Butane and Propane. BHO may vary in consistency from crumbly waxes and glass-like shatters to golden, sticky honey.
Supercritical CO² oil
Supercritical fluid extraction, more commonly referred to as CO², doesn’t involve any solvents. Carbon dioxide is compressed until it becomes a supercritical fluid, which is a substance that acts as both a liquid and a gas. The supercritical carbon dioxide strips away the cannabis plant’s essential oils in a controlled manner, and this allows the final product to contain more terpenes. The most appealing thing about this process is that it is solvent free – that eliminates any possibility of toxic compounds being left behind in the oil that you consume. Supercritical fluid extraction requires sophisticated machinery which is only found in a laboratory. Often hailed as the holy grail of medicinal cannabis.
Typically made using a solvent or oil, tinctures are concentrated liquids that often include a small amount of alcohol, allowing for rapid absorption in the mouth. As with the previous alcohol-based oils, tinctures are primarily for medical use and often disregarded as a recreational substance. Many Supercritical CO2 oils are also called tinctures, so always be sure to ask about the extraction process.
The extraction methods above are the more popular and widely used methods of extraction, though these are other methods used as well. For therapeutic purposes, assimilated oils, such as cannabis infused into grape seed oil, sunflower oil and olive oil, can not be concentrated, so much more is needed – this type of infusion is used more by cooking enthusiasts than for medicinal purposes.
Always be sure to check what carrier oil your potential supplier makes use of. The most popular oils include coconut oil and olive oil, but some use glycerine as well. In numerous tests, MCT (medium chain triglycerides) has come out tops in terms of taste, absorption and the ability of the human body to metabolize. Where MCT oil lacks the lauric acid that coconut oil contains, this is extremely beneficial to those who suffer from liver conditions, where lauric acid should be avoided. As any serious athlete will also attest to, MCT oil (C6, C8 & C10), will always be the preferred oil for those who are serious about their health.
Laboratory tests aren’t always accessible to many users, and South African laboratory tests are also limited in the information that they provide. While it is always preferable to ask for a laboratory test, local laboratories are unable to test for all the cannabinoids in the spectrum. What they can tell you, is that your product contains a certain percentage of THC or CBD. Local laboratories can also test for residual extraction liquids, such as alcohol and other solvents, as well as the presence of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. What they can not tell you is whether your product contains any of the minor cannabinoids, such as THCA and CBN. They are also unable to advise on the volume of cannabinoids (mg) in your product. This is why you need to ask the right questions from your potential supplier, so that you do not fall victim to poor quality or poisonous cannabis oil.
At the end of the day, cannabis oil remains an illegal substance that is not regulated or controlled. As a user, the responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders to ensure that you are making use of a safe product, that can render maximum therapeutic benefits. Do as much research as you possibly can about the different oils available and their main applications. Always question your potential supplier and if they don’t know the origin or process, insist on more information.
It is important to know the ratios of the cannabinoids in your product (CBD vs THC for example) and knowing the difference between full extract cannabis and isolate is equally as important. Always remember that hempseed oil and hemp oil are entirely different products. And while industrial hemp may have nutritional benefits, nothing less than a full extract cannabis oil will have any therapeutic value at all!
Beware of snake-oil salesmen and scammers. Make sure that your potential supplier has an in-depth website and a social media presence, so that you can see what others have to say. When starting your medical cannabis journey, falling victim to sub-standard and low-quality products can do more harm than good. Ask your supplier what strain/s are used and what the ratios of cannabinoids are in the product they are offering. Never compromise on quality in favour of price, and remember, size doesn’t matter – it is the number (in .mg) of cannabinoids present in the oil that is important. Anyone can dilute an oil – this simply means that you would need to take more in order to get the same therapeutic effect!
MCDSA endorses only the finest, high quality medical cannabis products, and our trained staff have in-depth knowledge of the various strains of cannabis and which type of product – including suppositories, tinctures, oils and balms – is right for your condition. Get in touch with any questions you might have or browse our FAQ.