Many people, even CBD enthusiasts and daily users, do not know how it is extracted. But this is important to know. When you fully understand the process, you can understand how easily contaminants and pesticides in CBD oil can come to be. If you’re wondering how CBD is extracted, we’ll walk you through the steps.
The first method of CBD extraction: CO2
First, we have CO2 extraction, one of the most popular methods for producing CBD oil. Since CO2 can function in solid, liquid, and gaseous states, it can create an ideal system for extraction.
The process starts with pumping CO2 into a chamber filled with cannabis or hemp. The pressure keeps the CO2 in a liquid state, allowing it to absorb the oils and compounds from the plant material. Finally, the mixture is then pumped into a third chamber. From there, the CO2 returns to a gaseous state, causing all of the oils and flavors from the plant to get left behind.
This method is popular because it is so efficient and safe. Why? Because the CO2 serves as a solvent in this situation. Unlike other solvents which can sometimes leave a residue or contaminate a product, CO2 leaves nothing behind. Therefore, it doesn’t pose the same type of risk.
Additionally, CO2 can be reused for this process. Other solvents must constantly be replaced. This is a major financial advantage for CBD extractors.
Before we move on to the next extraction method, we want to point out that CO2 extraction is not as simple as one method. There are actually three varieties: supercritical, subcritical, and mid-critical.
Supercritical extraction tends to be more efficient as it can produce more CBD, but the high temperature it creates can damage some of the compounds. Sub and mid-critical extractions produce less heat and keep the active compounds intact better than supercritical, but tends to produce less overall CBD. This can make it more expensive as each batch yields less than supercritical extraction.
Additionally, the use of alcohol extraction is another method that is no longer as common in the CBD world. Ethanol is FDA-approved and leaves less residue than other solvents, making it a favorable option. However, because ethanol is very effective at pulling molecules, it can often pull excessive amounts of chlorophyll from the plant matter and concentrate it into the final product. This does not taste good.
For ethanol extraction, all of the plant material is first decarboxylated (a process to activate the compounds) and packed into a container. Then, extractors drip ethanol into the container, where it strips the cannabinoids from the plant matter. The ethanol falls into a reservoir, taking the cannabinoids with it. Sometimes, extractors will soak the plant matter until the cannabinoids have been pulled from the plant. Then, they boil away the excess ethanol.
Here’s the issue with ethanol extraction: it is difficult to truly eradicate the final product of ethanol. It has to go through a lengthy purification process which can both be expensive and time-consuming.
How CBD is extracted with other solvents
CBD is extracted using several other solvents other than ethanol. However, this is not always the way to go because it can lead to impurities or excess chlorophyll.
Hexane, butane, propane, petroleum, and naphtha have all been used in a method known as hydrocarbon extraction. Extractors typically prefer ethanol over all of these options. Some manufacturers do extract this way, but it leaves a lot of room for impurities. As a CBD consumer, you don’t want to be ingesting concentrated toxins and impurities because of a lousy extraction process.
Unfortunately, traces of these solvents have been found in studies, which just emphasizes the need to shop for pure CBD.
Another CBD extraction method: Steam distillation
This method has plenty of pros and cons. It’s inexpensive and leaves no residue or chlorophyll, but it’s certainly not the most efficient way to extract. There is a lot of room for error which also leaves room for inconsistencies with the final product.
As the name suggests, steam distillation is a process where steam separates the CBD oil from the plant material. It sort of serves as a double boiler, where a flask filled with plant material sits above a flask with boiling water.
The steams travels into the plant flask, causing the cannabinoids to separate from the plant material. A tube captures the CBD-containing vapor and condenses it into water and oil. From there, extractors distill the mixture to create a final product.
Considering this extraction method has existed for ages, there’s no surprise it’s used for CBD. It is a method that any extractor can pull off. However, it is not as efficient as CO2 extraction.
Why? Because you need a lot of plant material to pull it off. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to specific amounts of CBD. This can wreak havoc for manufacturers. Plus, there is always the chance that the steam temperature will exceed the CBD’s boiling point, damaging the cannabinoids and rendering the product less potent.
The post-CBD-extraction process
Following the extraction process, there are still some steps to take before CBD is ready to hit the shelves. At this point, the product is a full-spectrum CBD blend, meaning not only is there CBD, but there are also other cannabinoids like THC present in small amounts. Of course, to legally sell CBD in the United States, the THC level must be below 0.3%, which will not get users high.
Full-spectrum CBD is a popular product, but not everyone wants their CBD to contain other cannabinoids. To create CBD isolate, manufacturers cool their extract and purify it further to create a pure CBD powder.
What is the best way to extract CBD?
As you can probably tell from our description of each process, each method of extraction comes with its own set of pros and cons. CO2 extraction remains the most popular method because it is versatile, safe, and cost-effective.
However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own cons. Many extractors make use of other methods and produce quality CBD products. The most important thing is that the extractor is able to adjust their process and ensure no contaminants make it into the final product.
Unfortunately, Because CBD is an unregulated market, there are many products that have been contaminated by pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, and even excessive amounts of THC. Additionally, some products will say they contain CBD, but test results show no sign of the compound in the product.
The best thing a consumer can do to protect themselves against contaminated and dangerous CBD is to shop from a reputable company. How can you tell? Look for companies that provide test results from an ISO accredited laboratory. This ensures that all of the proper testing procedures were used and verifies that the product is both pure and potent.
Our CBD database is on its way, containing all of the products that have been verified to be tested for purity and potency from a reliable laboratory. Check back soon!