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The Best CBD Extraction Methods Explained

The Best CBD Extraction Methods Explained

Whether your CBD is a tincture, cream, edible, or something else, have you ever given a thought about what’s in it and how it’s made? A quick look at the container should tell you that one of its main ingredients is CBD oil, an extract made from industrial hemp. But how do you get the CBD out of the plant? Keep reading to find out about the different extraction methods for CBD and the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Ways to extract CBD

There are at least five ways to extract CBD from hemp, where each process has a definite impact on the type and purity of the final CBD product. Extraction methods include: 

  • CO2 extraction, which provides a very pure and eco-friendly CBD oil
  • Solvent extraction, which uses chemicals like ethanol, isopropyl, butane or alcohol that are later removed from the product
  • Olive oil extraction, the oldest method of extraction that makes a mixture of olive oil and CBD oil
  • Dry ice extraction, a mostly DIY process which freezes and separates the CBD from the hemp
  • Hydrocarbon gas extraction, which uses high and low pressures and produces high-quality CBD oil

What is hemp?

Said to be one of the first plants used for spinning yarn, hemp is extremely strong, so strong that it has been historically used and continues to be used for everything from building materials to rope and everything in between.

Industrial hemp is a bio-accumulator, or in laymen’s terms, it can absorb nearly anything from the soil. In fact, hemp is so absorbent that it is often used to clean oil spills and radiation. 

It’s Important to know the source of the hemp

Hemp’s highly absorbent qualities are also the reason why CBD manufacturers are very concerned about the purity of the soil where their hemp is planted and grown. Working according to Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP) and other regulations, the purity of the soil must be continually examined and only specific fertilizers can be used. 

From industrial hemp to CBD oil

Image of CBD oil

Cannabidiol, aka CBD, is a natural chemical compound that’s found in Cannabis Sativa L. plants, especially in the flowers, stalks, and stems. 

People have been using cannabis for medical relief for over 5000 years. Research indicates that CBD works by attaching itself to receptors in the body, mainly in the brain where CB1 receptors handle functions like pain, coordination and movement, emotions and mood, thought processes, appetite, and memories.

CBD oil extracted from industrial hemp can come in three final forms:

  • Full-spectrum CBD: includes the entire hemp plant and also THC up to the allowed limits
  • Broad-spectrum CBD: includes the entire hemp plant but completely filtered out any trace of THC
  • Isolate: includes only pure CBD, with no other compounds present

The pros and cons of the different CBD extraction methods 

Chemical structure of cannabidiol

As already mentioned, CBD oil can be extracted in a number of ways. Not all methods produce the same level of quality and some are more suitable than others for consumer-grade CBD.

CO2 extraction 

CO2 extraction is generally implemented in a closed-loop extractor machine that has three chambers. During the extraction process, CO2 flows from the first chamber into the second chamber. While doing so, it turns into supercritical CO2, which puts it in a state between a gas and a fluid. In the second chamber, the supercritical CO2 runs over the dry hemp. The mixture is then pumped into the third chamber, where the CBD is extracted and sinks to the bottom of the chamber leaving the CO2 to rise to the top.

Solvent extraction – Ethanol extraction CBD

Solvent extraction uses chemicals like ethanol, butane, propane, isopropyl or alcohol to dissolve the plant waxes and to separate the CBD. During the process, the hemp flowers, stems, and shoots are placed in a container to which the solvent is added. As it runs over the hemp, the solvent extracts the CBD oil and then evaporates. It’s important that producers properly remove all solvent. Lower quality CBD products that were produced through solvent extraction were found to still have traces of ethanol or other chemicals.

Olive oil extraction

Using no chemicals, olive oil extraction is the oldest and safest method. During the process, the hemp flowers, stems, and shoots are heated to a specific temperature and then combined with the olive oil. This essentially infuses the compound found in the hemp into the oil. The mixture is then heated again and the CBD oil is extracted. 

Dry ice extraction

Although not used as an industrial solution, since the process is chemical-free, dry ice can extract a very pure CBD product. During the process, dry ice is placed in a dry ice extraction mesh bag together with the hemp flowers, stems, and stalks. The dry ice freezes the hemp into a brown powder which is then collected and pressed. 

Hydrocarbon gas extraction   

Hydrocarbon gas extraction uses chemicals like propane or butane at either very high or low pressures. During the process, the gas is pumped into the container holding the hemp’s flowers, stems, and stalks in a closed-loop system. As the gas is pressurized it separates the CBD which is then recovered as sticky oil. Many companies prefer not using this method for edible products.

MethodProsCons
CO2Produces potent, safe and high-quality CBDEquipment is extremely expensive
SolventInexpensive and fast – Very dangerous use of inflammable liquids

– Bitter aftertaste and not always pure

Olive Oil – A very pure and gentle product

– Safe and inexpensive

– Very short shelf-life

– Must be kept in a dark cool environment

– Not a solution for most manufacturers

Dry IceGreat if you are going to DIY – Dry ice is dangerous

– Not an industrial option

Hydrocarbon GasFast and efficient production of all types of CBD end-products – Concerns about residual solvents generated by the process

– Dangerous due to the use of gas

What happens after the CBD oil is extracted?

After its extraction, the raw CBD oil is purified and prepared for the production of the end product via the following processes:

  • Winterization, which is a purification process that removes any remaining chemicals, solvents, waxes, or impurities to provide a clean hemp oil with 70-90% CBD.
  • Distillation, where heated water and steam are used to separate oil vapors holding the CBD. The vapors are captured and condensed into oil and water which is then distilled after which the CBD oil is extracted from the water. 
  • Liquid chromatography, which tests and profiles the quality of the CBD oil and checks that there are no chemicals, toxins, or contaminants.

They’re all CBD, so what’s the difference? 

Full spectrum

Sometimes also called pure spectrum, full-spectrum products contain all the cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant in nature, rather than just CBD (Cannabidiol). Having a dark or gold color, full-spectrum CBD products undergo less processing than broad-spectrum or isolate CBD.

Broad spectrum

Broad-spectrum CBD contains terpenes, flavonoids, and lesser-known cannabinoids, but has no discernable THC. Having a dark to gold color, broad-spectrum CBD products are great for anyone who doesn’t want to run the risk of testing positive for THC.

Isolate CBD  

Sometimes called CBD crystals, isolate CBD is the purest form of naturally occurring CBD. Usually a very pale gold color, CBD isolate can be further processed into crystals or a fine white powder. While it is the purest form of CBD, it also lacks all other compounds in the cannabis plant that work together in what is called the entourage effect.

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