Guide to CBD Extraction Methods: The Best Way To Extract CBD
Cannabis is an incredibly versatile plant. There are an incredible amount of medicinal properties to it, and these are present because of the various different compounds of the plant, known as cannabinoids. Some sources boast that there are dozens of compounds whereas other sources will say there are hundreds or even thousands; it is hard to pin down exactly how many compounds can be found in the plant, but there are a lot of them.
Cannabidiol, more commonly referred to as CBD, is one of these cannabinoids or chemical compounds. The great thing about CBD, in particular, is that it is not psychoactive in nature and has no side effects associated with its use, but it also boasts a lot of health benefits. In fact, CBD encompasses a lot of the health benefits that other compounds offer, and more. In this guide, you will learn how CBD is extracted from the plant, which is the process that separates it from the other compounds. CBD extraction methods affect the quality and purity of the final product as well as what other compounds may be present.
Where Does CBD Come From?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is one of the chemical compounds or cannabinoids that is present in the cannabis plant. CBD is known for having a range of profound medical benefits that range from fighting chronic ailments such as pain and anxiety, to promoting wellness through protecting brain health and aiding in weight loss. The way that this cannabinoid can do so much for our bodies is by interacting with our Endocannabinoid System. This is part of our central nervous system that is responsible for maintaining balance in the body.
The majority of CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, which is a term used to describe strains of the cannabis plant that contains .3% or less of THC. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant, which causes the high or euphoria associated with other methods of consumption.
What is CBD Extraction?
CBD extraction is the method used to isolate CBD from the plant and separate it from the other cannabinoids present. There are a variety of ways that this is done, some of which are better than others. The manner in which the CBD is extracted will impact the quality and purity of the final product, which is then used in a variety of different ways for consumers to reap the benefits. Some methods of extracting CBD can leave trace amounts of other cannabinoids or harmful residues that can compromise its effects, so it is essential to consider when you’re searching for the best product for your needs.
These are the main ways that CBD is extracted:
- The Rick Simpson Method
- Carrier Oil Extraction
- Alcohol Extraction
- CO2 Extraction
The Rick Simpson Method
This method is named after the man who initially used it. This is the cheapest and most straightforward method of extraction; however, this is the worst possible means of isolating CBD. A hydrocarbon such as butane, pentane, propane, hexane, or acetone is used. The plant material is submerged in the solvent, and as it steeps, the compounds are stripped from the plant material and are left in a liquid form. Because these hydrocarbons have a low boiling point, they are then boiled to evaporate them, leaving behind the CBD oil. The solvents are highly flammable, which makes this dangerous right off the bat. Additionally, this method destroys certain plant waxes and can leave behind very harmful residues. So, this method of extraction leads to more harmful contaminants than any other and is not recommended.
Carrier Oil Extraction
This method has a very straightforward name. An oil, most commonly olive, but also coconut, hemp seed, or some other oil, is used in this method. First, the plant material is decarboxylated. Decarboxylation is the process of heating the plant to a specific temperature for a specific length of time, cooking it in such a way that it activates the chemicals inside the plant material. Next, the plant material is added to the carrier oil and heated again for several hours. This draws the cannabinoids out of the plant and into the carrier oil. This is an affordable method that does not put consumers at risk of consuming any contaminants; however, it is not considered very effective at all. Oil extracted this way is perishable unless preservatives are added, and it produces low yields of the active cannabinoids. Any CBD oil extracted this way can’t be concentrated, either, which leads to very low potency oil.
Ethanol or ethyl alcohol extraction is another method that can be used but has lost its popularity in favor of a more efficient and effective method. Ethanol is considered safe by the FDA, and it is in a range of products, from paint to personal care items that you probably have in your house right now. This method works similarly to other solvent methods, but better for a few reasons. Most notably, ethanol is safe for consumption and doesn’t create the same residues or contaminants as other solvents might, so you get a more pure CBD. Ethanol also is a polar solvent, which allows it to pull more water-soluble molecules. This can also pose problems though because it can pull more chlorophyll from the plant matter. In this method, plant matter is decarboxylated and then packed tightly into a container.
Ethanol is then dripped through that container, stripping the cannabinoids with it as it drips through into the collection reservoir. This can be done in hot or cold conditions. Another way to use ethanol is to soak the plant matter in the liquid until the CBD, and other cannabinoids have been drawn out of the hemp, and then ethanol is boiled away. But, due to the way the ethanol pulls out plant waxes and other components, as well as its high boiling temperature, there is a lengthy purification process, and certain CBD products can’t be made this way.
CO2 is carbon dioxide. This is the most widely-used and best method for extracting CBD. Because of its efficacy and purity, it is quickly becoming an industry standard. There are three types of this process, which are supercritical, subcritical and ‘mid-critical.’ Supercritical is the most widely used so, for the sake of simplicity, that’s what we’ll be covering here.
In the simplest possible terms, CO2 acts as a solvent when used at the proper temperature and pressure. However, it poses none of the dangers that come with using other solvents. That makes this method incredibly safe and effective for CBD extraction. Specialized equipment is used to convert the CO2 into a liquid that is at supercritical cold temperatures. When the CO2 is in this state, it is perfect for extracting the cannabinoids because it isn’t going to cause any damage to the plant matter or compounds therein. The supercritical carbon dioxide is passed through the plant matter and pulls all of the good stuff out so that it can be further filtered and used. The resulting solution passes through a separator that draws out at all of the cannabinoids and terpenes and the best part of this method for companies, is that the CO2 can be reused for this method. The ability to reuse it makes this a very economically sound extraction method for companies who create CBD products on a large scale.
Subcritical and mid critical extraction is gentler and won’t pull out some of the larger molecules that companies may not want to use. Either of these methods can be used to create full-spectrum CBD oils that contain other cannabinoids as well. Supercritical extraction is best for pure CBD products.
Which method is the best?
For the company and consumer alike, CO2 extraction is the best possible method of extracting CBD. It is completely safe and creates very little waste for the company producing it. CBD extracted this way is going to be the purest it can possibly be and contain no harsh chemicals or contaminants. When you’re looking for CBD products for yourself, you should look for companies that extract their CBD in this method. Reputable companies all list their extraction method on their site so you can be sure you’re getting the best possible products.
Best method for extracting cbd oil
CBD has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years and, while most people are familiar with the term and may have even sampled a few CBD-containing products, it’s rare that the average consumer knows the intricate details of the process used to create them. At Pharmstrong™, the entire process from seed to final product fascinates us – especially the extraction methods, as the various techniques used greatly affect the quality, taste, and potency of the final product. We believe it’s worth sharing tidbits about the most popular extraction methods on the market today because knowing this information is not only interesting, but helps the consumer make an educated decision when it comes to selecting the right CBD provider for their needs. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular extraction methods and a few advantages and disadvantages of each.
Quick Review of the Basics
Before diving into the specific extraction methods, it’s helpful to review a few simple, yet important, frequently asked questions about CBD in general:
What is it and where does it come from?
CBD is a cannabinoid, a chemical compound extracted from hemp plants.
Is it legal?
Yes! However it must be hemp-derived and contain .3% or less THC to be legal according to the 2018 Farm Bill. If you purchase a hemp-derived CBD product from a reputable company, who is transparent about the source of their products and provides lab results verifying the levels (or in many cases, the complete absence) of THC, you have nothing to worry about.
What are some common uses of CBD?
This unique and powerful compound is very versatile, making it the perfect addition to many products. CBD is commonly added to carrier oils – such as organic olive oil or MCT oil – to create fast-acting oral drops (which go under the tongue), mixed with beeswax and essential oils for soothing topical balms, or broken down into tiny nanoparticles for incorporation into easy-to-swallow, highly bioavailable softgel capsules. CBD is also commonly used in vaping products and added to gummy candies and energy drink mixes.
Popular CBD Extraction Methods
In order to make beneficial and highly-effective products, the CBD must first be carefully extracted and preserved from the hemp plant. Maintaining the quality and purity of the main ingredient is essential to creating a premium CBD product.
There are several methods for extracting CBD from the hemp plant, and even a few DIY versions (which we don’t recommend). But let’s take a look at several of the most common extraction methods:
Extraction by Solvent:
With this method, a solvent – commonly food grade ethanol, or a hydrocarbon like butane or propane – is soaked or washed over plant trimmings, drawing out the desirable compounds. In the case of hydrocarbon extraction, the resulting mixture, which now contains the cannabinoids and other useful compounds such as terpenes, is then further refined (the refinement method depends on the desired end product) and the majority of the solvent is removed. From there, a final purging of any remaining solvent is done, leaving a concentrated CBD oil. With ethanol extraction, the resulting liquid is then distilled to separate the hemp oil from the food grade ethanol and further isolate the desired compounds.
Pros: The process is efficient, fairly inexpensive, and does not require as specialized equipment as other methods. Solvents are superior at locking onto and drawing out the desirable compounds. Hydrocarbons, in particular, are known for preserving the plant’s flavor and aroma well.
Olive Oil Extraction:
“Natural solvents”, like olive oil, are used as well for the extraction of CBD – not commercially, but rather by CBD/cannabis aficionados. The raw hemp is heated to a specific temperature (decarboxylated) and then added to the oil and heated again to extract the cannabinoids. The olive oil does not evaporate like ethanol or hydrocarbon solvents, so the final product will not be as concentrated and is more of a CBD-infused oil instead of a concentrated extract.
Pros: Inexpensive and easy to do in your own home and eliminates concerns over residual solvents, expensive equipment, and safety.
This popular, tried and true method for extracting essential oils can be used to extract cannabinoids as well. Steam is used to free the volatile compounds (cannabinoids in this instance) from the raw plant material. The resulting vapor, full of the desirable compounds, is then cooled and condensed. The resulting oil and water are then separated.
Pros: Inexpensive, straightforward, and a solvent-free method.
In this method, CO2 (which stands for carbon dioxide) is used to pull cannabinoids and other desirable compounds from the harvested hemp plants. This scientifically advanced, yet fascinating process generally involves three chambers. In the first chamber, CO2 – which is in a gaseous state under normal circumstances – is converted to a liquid state by increasing the pressure and significantly decreasing the temperature. Next, the temperature and pressure are slowly increased until the liquid CO2 reaches a “supercritical” point. This is the neat part. At this point, the CO2 is somewhere between a liquid state and a gaseous state and retains some of the properties of each; it expands like a gas, but is more concentrated like a liquid. Once in this optimal state, the CO2 is pumped into the second chamber, which holds the hemp plant material. The CO2 then passes through the hemp, separating the oil (rich in cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds) from the plant material. The oil and CO2 then make their way to the third and final chamber where the two separate and the residual CO2 simply evaporates. What’s left is a highly concentrated CBD oil extract.
Pros: An extremely precise, solvent free method that is safe (no flammable solvents) and environmentally-friendly (uses less energy and plant material).
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the products they use and the methods used to create them. But, we can probably all agree on one thing: a minimally processed and expertly crafted product, sourced from simple, quality ingredients is the best choice when it comes to products in the health and wellness category – CBD included. At Pharmstrong™, we create all of our scientifically-formulated Pure + Potent products with that commitment to quality and purity in mind, and we can promise that our safe, proprietary, and precisely executed extraction and purification process isolates all of the desirable compounds our customers want, and excludes those that they don’t. We would be honored to chat with you more in person in our Breckenridge, CO store, over the phone, or via email at any time to answer any remaining questions you may have about the extraction method we use, CBD in general, or one of our premium grade products.
How to Extract CBD Oil: Different Methods That Works Best
Wondering how your CBD oils are made? You’ve come to the right place.
CBD extraction is an advanced process that requires many skills and high-tech equipment to yield clean and potent products. Without extraction, the CBD space would revolve around hemp flowers, limiting diversity in the cannabis industry to a great extent.
Can you imagine the cannabis market without oils, gummies, vapes, capsules, and topicals?
Today, we’ll elaborate on how to extract CBD from hemp plants, compare different extraction methods, touch down on their pros and cons — and pick the best technology for making safe CBD oils on a broad scale.
How Is CBD Extracted?
CBD can be extracted from cannabis plants, meaning you can use both hemp and marijuana for extraction.
The source of CBD determines the chemical profile of the end product and has a profound impact on its legality.
Hemp-derived CBD oils have less than 0.3% of THC and thus can’t get the user high. The lack of intoxicating effects makes hemp plants and their derivatives legal on a federal level. You can buy them in all 50 states without a prescription.
Marijuana, on the other hand, comes with significant concentrations of THC — usually upwards of 10% — which is enough to induce intoxication. The federal law still holds THC on the list of controlled substances, making marijuana illegal on a federal level. Individual states can interpret these laws independently; so far, 16 states have fully legalized marijuana, while 48 states have some sort of a medical marijuana program.
As mentioned, there are several ways to extract CBD from hemp.
Let’s start with the golden standard — CO2 extraction.
CO2 behaves like a gas; however, this can be easily changed when you use different pressure levels and temperatures.
CO2 extraction yields optimal results in terms of the product’s potency and preserved phytochemical profile. When the temperature of CO2 gets below -69 F, with pressure levels above 75 PSI, it turns into a supercritical state.
Supercritical CO2 can fill an extraction chamber where the plant material is contained, being just the perfect solvent. It results in a clean product with consistent concentrations of CBD and terpenes throughout the batches.
The carbon dioxide efficiently pulls the desired compounds by breaking up the trichomes in the extraction vessel, leaving away insoluble molecules.
Then the manufacturer uses a separator and splits the extract into individual compounds. Once there, CBD and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are sent back to the collection container. Meanwhile, CO2 leaves the extraction chamber condensed into a liquid form and transferred to a special storage tank for future operations.
CO2 Extraction Equipment
The CO2 extraction equipment includes multi-chamber machines that use special pumps forcing supercritical CO2 into the extraction vessel where it interacts with the plant and breaks the trichomes, dissolving part of the plant material. These machines are costly; they usually cost around $150,000, which is the main reason why CO2-extracted CBD oils are more expensive than products obtained with other solvents, such as alcohol.
Ethanol extraction is one of the least expensive methods to extract CBD from hemp. Alcohol is generally considered safe, although purging it from the final product requires caution and precision on the manufacturer’s part; otherwise, it can trigger explosions.
Alcohol extraction requires soaking the hemp plant in ethanol. The liquid will run through the plant matter, stripping it from the valuable compounds along with chlorophyll. Once the solvent has gathered enough cannabinoids and terpenes, the liquid is strained and then heated in a special dish. After evaporation, the extract is suspended in a carrier oil to thin it down and improve its bioavailability.
Just keep in mind that ethanol is highly flammable, and you should never extract CBD this way at home unless you can ensure the necessary safety measures.
Ethanol Extraction Equipment
Ethanol extraction is usually employed by small-scale manufacturers because it doesn’t involve such heavy financial investments as CO2 extraction. Ethanol extraction equipment involves a professional decarboxylator, large storage tanks where the plant matter can soak in alcohol, industrial strainers, a gentle heating machine, and storage containers that will contain the extracts before they are infused into the carrier oil and bottled up.
Let’s compare the efficacy and safety of both extraction methods.
CO2 vs. Ethanol Extraction
Ethanol is called a “polar” solvent, and as such, it will be more hydrotropic, meaning it will attach to more water-soluble compounds like chlorophyll. Consequently, the final product is generally less potent and pure — requiring more post-labor than CO2 extraction.
People advocating for ethanol extraction usually argue that these downsides can be avoided using very cold temperatures below -5F. While this is true, the process becomes more time-consuming and less efficient if the manufacturer wants to scale up its operations.
Properly performed CO2 extraction can still maintain many of the plant’s phytonutrients, not to mention that it can continuously yield potent products.
Other Ways to Extract CBD
The idea behind CBD extraction is to pull the desired phytochemicals from the plant matter and transform it into a viscous liquid full of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Although CO2 and ethanol are the most popular solvents, they aren’t the only ones. As mentioned, there are several ways to capture these valuable compounds, including:
- Dry Ice Extraction
- Hydrocarbon Extraction
- Vegetable Oil Extraction
Dry Ice Extraction
The dry ice method is one of the best ways to extract CBD at home. However, it requires more time than CO2 extraction or organic solvent extraction.
The dry ice strips CBD and other phytonutrients from the plant material. It’s a relatively inexpensive method of making high-quality CBD hash without using aggressive solvents.
Solventless extraction always produces cleaner extracts than solvent-based methods — not to mention that using dry ice brings a lot of fun to home extraction
How to Extract CBD Using Dry Ice
- 3 lbs of dry ice
- A large mirror or plexiglass sheet
- Heat-resistant gloves
- I goggles
- A putty knife
- A clean 5-gallon bucket
- 3 bags of bubble hash mesh (73, 160, and 220 microns)
- 3 large jars with lids
Dry Ice Extraction (Step-by-Step)
Put on the gloves and goggles. Next, grind your CBD buds into smaller pieces and place them in the bucket.
Cover the CBD buds with dry ice, leaving them there for 3 minutes. Make sure you only fill the bucket halfway. Doing so will freeze the resin so the trichomes can be separated from the plant material and transferred to the special mesh bags.
Fold each bag over the bucket with your CBD and dry ice, and shake it several times to cause the trichomes to fall off from the plant.
Turn the container upside down on the mirror and continue shaking to collect as much of the resin as possible. Once you’ve gathered the hash of the mirror, you can place it in one of the jars.
Do the same with the remaining bags and be proud of your homemade dry-ice CBD hash.
Hydrocarbon compounds include substances like propane, butane, and hexane. These solvents are relatively inexpensive, but they’re difficult to purge from the end product and thus can leave toxic residue at the bottom of the extract.
Hydrocarbon extraction requires soaking the hemp plant in the solvent. The liquid runs through the biomass, pulling the cannabinoids and terpenes from the flower along with water-soluble compounds such as chlorophyll.
Once the solvent has extracted enough phytochemicals, it is heated in a special dish to evaporate it and create a thick liquid.
Vegetable Oil Extraction
CBD can be easily extracted at home using vegetable cooking oils. These oils act as solvents, but the whole process follows similar rules as all other extraction methods.
Any common cooking oil can be used for this kind of extraction, including:
- Coconut oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Argan oil
- MCT oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Olive oil
If you want to extract CBD for homemade edibles, it’s best to go with a product with the highest amount of saturated fats, as they significantly improve the bioavailability of cannabinoids. People typically choose butter and coconut oil for cooking with CBD, while for salves and creams, argan oil and sweet almond oil are the most common choices.
How to Extract CBD with Cooking Oils
Cooking oil extraction is pretty straightforward. First, you need to decarboxylate your dried CBD in the oven. Set up the heat at 250 F and bake the flowers for 30-60 minutes, depending on how dry they are.
Then you combine the decarbed herb with the oil in a saucepan or slow cooker and slowly heat the mixture to gently simmers. Maintain the low heat and keep the CBD infusion for up to 2 hours.
Once done, strain the liquid from the plant matter and place it in a glass jar. You can keep it in a fridge for up to 6 weeks.
Why Is Decarboxylation Important for CBD Extraction?
Most CBD products are decarboxylated, which involves heating the CBD buds to transform the acidic precursor of CBD into its active version.
If you’ve ever cooked something with cannabis, you should know the process very well.
Decarboxylation, also known as decarbing, removes an extra carboxyl group from CBDA (the acid form of CBD), allowing it to interact with the endocannabinoid system immediately.
If you see a CBD product labeled as “raw,” it means it hasn’t been decarboxylated.
Final Thoughts: What’s the Best Way to Extract CBD?
Knowing how CBD is extracted allows you to evaluate the efficacy of different products based on the solvents used in the process.
People have been extracting cannabinoids from cannabis plants for hundreds, if not thousands of years, to use them for therapeutic purposes. Thanks to the current scientific breakthroughs, we can enjoy a wide range of cannabinoid-based extracts with a lot to offer in terms of their therapeutic properties.
Some extraction methods are superior to others when it comes to broad-scale manufacturing. CO2 extraction is currently the golden standard because it yields the purest products without bringing water-soluble compounds such as chlorophyll.
It does, however, require higher costs when it comes to equipment and lab workers, which is why some manufacturers turn to ethanol as their go-to solvent.
If you want to perform CBD extraction at home, you can either go with a solvent-based method — using cooking oils — or take a solventless approach and use dry ice to capture the desired compounds into DIY CBD hash.
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.
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