We’ve touched on what CBD is in prior guides, but as a brief summary, it’s a compound derived from hemp that has shown promise in a variety of medical applications. From pain relief to relieving anxiety, it’s not shocking to discover over 14% of US Americans now use CBD as part of their daily routine.
Beyond wondering what CBD is, one might wonder how you get CBD from hemp. What is a CBD extraction? How is CBD extracted from the hemp plant? Today, we seek to answer all these questions and more in our comprehensive guide on the CBD extraction process.
We’ll also tackle the most common CBD extraction methods, as well as provide detail as to how those extraction methods became the most popular in the first place. Let’s dive into our full extraction guide so you can walk away feeling more confident when you purchase your next CBD oil or other CBD product.
Not Every Method is Equal
Before we get too deep into the different extraction methods and how they’re achieved, we do want to stress that they aren’t all equal. There are quite a variety of ways to extract compounds from the cannabis plant to make CBD oil.
Past extraction, there are processes some brands use to refine the products further, sometimes even isolating the CBD compound into a pure form. This is what determines if a CBD product will be a full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate – but that’s an explanation we’ll save for another guide. In the meantime, we just wanted to press that there are both pros and cons to each extraction method we mention.
The most common methods we’ll be talking about today:
- Supercritical CO2 Extraction
- Ethanol Extraction
Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction
Possibly the most popular extraction method for CBD oil involves the use of supercritical carbon dioxide. This means utilizing the fact that CO2 can function in gas, liquid, and solid states of matter. Using this unique property about CO2, the extraction method starts with a solid piece of carbon dioxide.
This solid piece of carbon dioxide gets pumped into a second chamber, which contains the hemp or cannabis material being extracted. With a supercritical level of pressure, the CO2 is forced into a liquid state instead, absorbing the flavonoids, cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds from the hemp or other plant material.
From the second chamber, this new CO2 and cannabinoid combination of a mixture is pumped into a third chamber where the carbon dioxide is finally allowed to turn back into its natural gas state. In this final state, it dissipates immediately. This leaves behind only the oil, flavors, and other goodies found in the hemp plant – including rich concentrations of CBD, depending on the strain.
While there are different closed-loop extractors across the CBD industry, this is a rough explanation of how they all typically function. The most important thing to take away is that the extraction machine is designed to use CO2’s versatile states of matter to extract the hemp compounds we need from cannabis.
Pros and Cons of CO2 Extraction
Even though it’s the most popular and widely used method for extraction across the CBD industry, there are still both pros and cons when considering this as your go-to extraction method. Brands will specify the process they use to extract their CBD from hemp, so this may be something you need to consider when you purchase your own CBD oil.
- Closed-loop extractors mean that the CO2 doesn’t have to be wasted once it’s used to extract hemp – instead, it can be reused consistently thanks to the closed-loop process involved
- When CBD is extracted using CO2, there is no harmful or toxic residue left behind, unlike other methods have the potential to leave
- Excellent for using when handling materials that are sensitive to temperature, which includes the hemp plant
- Carbon dioxide is completely nonflammable, unlike certain other solvents that might be used for extraction
- Extracting through carbon dioxide requires very expensive equipment, rigorous special training, and a lot of capital to get anything extracted safely and accurately
- The process of CO2 extraction isn’t often repeated consistently – after each extraction batch, all equipment and materials used must be treated and sterilized, which ties back into the special training required behind CO2 extraction
While extracting CBD through carbon dioxide is technically the most widely used in the CBD industry, ethanol extraction dates back far older. People have been extracting beneficial compounds from plants through alcohol for millennia, so the idea behind ethanol extraction is not new or fresh.
However, some still truly believe that while CO2 extraction is the most common, ethanol extraction is the best method. Die-hard extracting fanatics enjoy the science behind extracting something through ethanol. The purity and concentrated level of CBD that can be made possible through this form of extraction is what makes it so favorable.
The practice is not as widely used as CBD products are marketed as non-psychoactive, and ethanol extracted oils have the reputation for causing psychoactive or mind-altering effects. However, a refinement process after this form of extraction can eliminate any psychoactive compounds left from the ethanol portion of the extraction.
Ethanol extraction involves introducing a pure ethanol liquid to hemp to extract the cannabinoids and other compounds into the liquid. Unlike other extraction methods, this form of extraction can yield a cannabis or hemp oil with 99% purity, or a higher quality CBD oil as the final product. The exact concentration of using ethanol over other extraction methods is what keeps is still such a common method, even though most of the industry has transitioned to CO2 forms of extraction instead.
As a bonus, this type of extracting CBD tends to be more cost-effective than using the very expensive CO2 extraction machinery required for that method.
Pros and Cons of Ethanol Extraction
As we mentioned with CO2, there are pros and cons involved when it comes to every extraction method.
- The shelf life is generally longer for CBD oil extracted through ethanol than through other methods, as well as better storage limits than other extractions
- When done correctly, ethanol extraction doesn’t require winterization afterwards, and it’s the safer and cheaper method for extracting a plant material
- Ethanol extraction requires only 20% of the energy that carbon dioxide extraction methods would use
- Slower to carry out than other methods because its boiling point is much higher, and the rate of recovery is reduce in post-processing
- While the method is technically safer, the ability for human error is far more prominent with this type of extraction
- Unwanted compounds like chlorophyll may be transferred into the extract, as ethanol extracts the whole plant
What Comes After Extraction?
There are some additional steps after extraction regardless of the method chosen. However, the method you choose to extract can eliminate some of these steps.
Decarboxylation, however, or the process in which the CBD becomes activate within the extract, is a necessary part of any CBD oil. Without decarboxylation, the CBD is just CBDa, which doesn’t provide the same beneficial properties that activated CBD does. Decarboxylation is what allows you as the customer to have a higher quality and more effective end product.
Winterization is the step that may not be necessary depending on the extraction method you use. If you opt for CO2 extraction, for example, winterization may not be necessary. For ethanol extraction, though, it is a part of the post-processing that ensures it’s ready for human consumption and use.
This step, or winterization, is the method in which unwanted compounds like chlorophyll, fatty acids, and other undesired plant materials are removed. This is typically done through sub-zero temperatures while the plant material is still being extracted, but it forces lipids and wax from the crude extract to the very top of the mixture, where it can be removed through a filtration process from there.
Which Extraction Method is Best?
There are other types of extraction methods out there, but none are quite as common or effective as ethanol or CO2. When you try to narrow it down between these two, however, the decision becomes a little more difficult.
In the end, we must say that you’ll have to weigh the pros, cons, and the factors in order to decide for yourself. While ethanol is safer and more effective than supercritical CO2, it doesn’t come without its issues. CO2, leaving no solvent residue behind, also has its benefits. You’ll want to look at the pros and cons for both methods to narrow down which method you prefer.
And beyond looking at the facts, you can try different CBD oil extracts to see which you seem to favor. This branches out into deciding if you want a full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or CBD isolate.
No matter what you decide, we hope this guide helped answer some questions about the differences in extraction methods and how CBD gets extracted in the first place. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to the next guide!