As CBD (cannabidiol) continues to grow in popularity due to its health benefits, many are wondering how the compound is extracted from the hemp plant and processed into an array of useful products such as CBD oil, edibles, tinctures, etc.

As you probably already know, there are many ways of consuming hemp, including smoking or inhaling the flower. 

However, CBD capsules, edibles, tinctures, etc. are becoming the most popular CBD consumption techniques. 

Now, to consume CBD in this manner, the compound must first be extracted into an oil form. The oil (CBD oil) is then used to make these consumables and topical products.

In this post, we will look at the common CBD extraction techniques (how they work) as well as how the extract is turned into the purest form of CBD.

CBD Extraction Techniques and Why They Are Important

Your extraction and processing method will have a significant impact not only on the content but also on the purity and quality of the product.

There are three main extraction techniques: Ethanol extraction, CO2 extraction, and hydrocarbon extraction.

Although these methods will require different skills and machinery, they all follow a common general idea; passing a solvent through the hemp plant matter in order to separate or extract the active chemical compounds from the plant.

The resulting compounds (in an oily form) will include cannabinoids, terpenes, and other unwanted elements such as chlorophyll. To obtain pure CBD products, the extracts must be processed further. 

1.      Supercritical CO2 Extraction Method

Considered as one of the best extraction methods for CBD-rich extracts, CO2 relies on carbon dioxide to strip the cannabinoids from the hemp plant.

At room temperatures and pressure, carbon dioxide is considered a gas. 

However, when it’s above 1,071 psi (critical pressure) and heated to above 31.10C (critical temperature), carbon dioxide has properties of both a liquid and a gas. It is then referred to as a supercritical liquid.

In this state, CO2 can dissolve materials, and also pass through porous solids, hence making it ideal for CBD extraction.

Although good, CO2 requires highly experienced operators as well as expensive equipment. It is also time-consuming as compared to ethanol extraction.

2.      Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol extraction is becoming the most preferred CBD extraction method for companies today.

This is because it doesn’t require highly sophisticated machinery, as is the case with CO2 extraction. This makes it a lower-cost method.

The method utilizes ethanol as the extraction solvent. 

Unlike most other extraction solvents, ethanol is classified as ‘Generally Regarded as Safe’ by the FDA. This means that it’s safe for human consumption.

One of the shortcomings of ethanol extraction is that being a polar solvent, it won’t dissolve other unwanted compounds such as chlorophyll. 

Luckily, the chlorophyll can be eliminated via post-extraction filtering processes. Some extractors also argue that the use of cold extraction temperatures can mitigate the extraction of undesired compounds.

3.      Hydrocarbon Extraction

This extraction method uses hydrocarbons such as pentane, butane, hexane, and propane to extract the cannabinoids.

Although cheap, this method has proved to be both inefficient and dangerous. This is because the resulting oil usually contains a lower concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. There is also the issue of unsafe solvent residue which can interfere with the immune system.

It is, therefore, rarely used for commercial CBD extraction.

What Happens After the Extraction?

Regardless of the extraction method, what we have now is a hemp extract that has the desired cannabinoids, terpenes, but also with undesired elements such as fatty acids, chlorophyll, plant materials, and the solvent residue.

The extract, therefore, needs to go through further processing: 

Activation via Decarboxylation

The naturally occurring chemical compounds in the cannabis plant exist in a raw, acidic form which must be activated via heat to produce the desired compounds.

For instance, THCA must be activated into THC, CBDA to CBD, etc. is where decarboxylation comes in.

Decarboxylation refers to the process of heating a hemp extract to remove the acid molecule and produce the active compound. 

Winterization

As mentioned earlier, the hemp extract may contain other unwanted elements such as fatty acids, chlorophyll, plant materials, and other cannabinoids. 

Winterization aims to purify this extract even further.

The process involves mixing the hemp extract in 200 proof alcohol and freezing it for at least 24 hours. 

The following morning, the cloudy mixture is taken through a filtration process, which involves passing it through a filter paper and into an extraction jar.

The product is then warmed up to evaporate the alcohol, which has a lower boiling point than the oil.

Distillation

To obtain pure CBD oil, the hemp extract must go through distillation. This process uses vacuum pressure, heat, and steam to separate the chemical compounds within the concentrate in order to get a highly concentrated cannabis distillate.

Different compounds have different boiling points. By closely monitoring the heat to reach each compound’s boiling point, the compounds are separated. Depending on the level of potency required and the process used, the concentrate may undergo several rounds of distillation.

What Is The Best CBD Extraction Method?

Now, should you use ethanol or CO2 to extract CBD oil? There’s no one better option than the other because, as you have seen, all the extraction techniques have their pros and cons.

There are, however, a few things that you should consider. For instance, do you have enough funds to start and run a CO2 extraction plant? Or do you have the right skills to run ethanol extraction?

It will all come down to your personal preference, what you can afford, as well as what you are looking to achieve. 

Whatever method you choose to use, this is the general breakdown of how CBD oil is obtained from the hemp plant.

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