CBD is used to produce some of the most popular wellness-focused consumer products, such as CBD oil tinctures, topicals, vapes, and tasty edibles like CBD gummies. To accomplish this, CBD manufacturers must first know how to extract CBD from an industrial hemp plant.
The extraction method used to create CBD-rich consumer goods directly impacts the quality and efficacy of broad-spectrum CBD and full-spectrum CBD products, but not necessarily pure CBD products.
In this article, I cover the following topics:
- Traditional CBD extraction methods
- Alternative Extraction Methods
- How using the wrong CBD extraction method can impact the most effective CBD products
- Quotes from CBD extraction experts and authoritative cannabis news outlets
- Extraction FAQs including, What is the best CBD extraction method?
CBD Extraction Methods
While humankind continues to create ways to better extract the chemical compounds from the plant matter of hemp plants, people have practiced these CBD oil extraction methods for years.
The most common methods for extracting CBD from Hemp plants are the following:
- CO2 Extraction: Subcritical & Supercritical (Most Common)
- Solvent-based Ethanol Extraction (Highest Quality)
- Hydrocarbon Compound Extraction
- Dry Ice Extraction
- Vegetable/Olive Oil Extraction
#1. CO2 Extraction: Subcritical & Supercritical
CO2 extraction is the most popular way to extract CBD because the yields are excellent, and this process uses no harmful additives or solvents. Since this method is not a solvent extraction, it is limited to producing only high-quality pure CBD and broad-spectrum CBD products.
- It is the perfect method to manufacture high-quality broad spectrum CBD oil products.
- It is capable and efficient in extracting cannabinoids with favorable potency and offers great phytochemical preservation results in every batch.
- Since this process doesn’t use flammable or combustible solvents, it is considered safer for the manufacturer in charge of the extraction process.
- Supercritical CO2 extraction is known to dissolve plant material and denature/destroy the more sensitive and beneficial compounds in cannabis plants like chlorophyll, fatty acids, and terpenes because of the extremely high pressures used, ranging between 2500-4000 PSI.
- The machinery/equipment needed is expensive, with an average cost for large production ranging between $150,000-$600,000.
- This method needs additional equipment and solvents to manufacture high-quality full spectrum CBD products (cold separation techniques, fractional extraction, & Winterization).
How CBD Is Made Using The Supercritical CO2 Extraction Method (Step-By-Step)
- Add hemp-derived plant material to a pressurized chamber known as a closed-loop extractor.
- Next, adjust the carbon dioxide temperature and pressure to 1071 psi and 31.1°C to reach a supercritical state, compressing the CO2 gas into a liquid form.
- Unique pumps from the CO2 extraction system force the newly converted carbon dioxide liquid through the hemp flowers and begin breaking down the trichomes; this high pressure consequently dissolves some of the actual hemp flowers. Once complete, this leaves behind a hemp extract with most of the desired hydrophobic compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids) and some undesired plant material.
- The left behind hemp extract is removed from the extraction chamber and put into a separator to split up the individual compounds and remove any unwanted plant matter.
- The hemp extract that remains after the separation phase is a high-quality, broad-spectrum hemp CBD extract.
- (OPTIONAL) To manufacture a pure CBD product like CBD isolates or pure CBD powder, crude hemp extracts must go through a multi-stage, precise distillation and refinement process using solvents until all that is left is the pure CBD.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction Systems For Sale
- For small to mid-size operations, visit IsolateSystems.com.
- For significant commercial needs, we like The Parallel Pro by Green Mill.
#2. Ethanol Extraction: Solvent-Based
Ethanol, short for ethyl alcohol, is perhaps the best way to extract an authentic full spectrum CBD product from cannabis plants and might be the only CBD extraction method capable of producing a true full spectrum CBD product.
This method, along with our Cherry Wine hemp cultivars, patents, and a few trade secrets explicitly on the temperature we use and for how long, is how we manufacture our 100% organic flagship full spectrum CBD oil.
- Cheaper production costs than CO2 extraction
- Does not destroy plant material
- Capable of manufacturing a genuine full spectrum CBD hemp extract
- No cons for retail CBD customers
- Less safe for the manufacturer as it requires extreme professionalism and precision when purging the ethanol during the extraction process
How CBD Is Made Using Ethanol Extraction (Step-By-Step)
- Place hemp flowers in a decarboxylation machine. Failure to complete this step leaves the cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, in their acidic and inactive forms (CBDA and THCA). Completing this step allows the cannabinoids to engage with your Endocannabinoid System as they become bioavailable.
- Once the plant material is decarboxylated, place the plants in a large storage container to be soaked in ethanol. The ethanol gently strips the desired hemp compounds from the undesired plant material.
- Next, pour the entire contents of the soaking containers into an industrial strainer to strain the ethanol from the hemp extract.
- Place the hemp extract in a heating system to evaporate any leftover ethanol.
- After the heating system removes the ethanol, place the full spectrum hemp extract in a large mixing container to dilute the distillate into a full spectrum CBD oil.
Pro Tip: Capture the vapor and residue found on the walls of the containers after the soaking process is complete. Drip the secured condensation and residue back into the ethanol and wait a few minutes before pouring the hemp extract into a strainer to be filtered.
Equipment Needed For Ethanol Extraction
- Industry-specific commercial decarboxylation machine
- Large soaking storage tanks (used to soak the hemp plant material in the ethyl alcohol.
- Industrial strainers
- Industry-specific heating systems/vacuum oven
- Large storage mixing vessels (used to homogenize the hemp extract with a designated carrier oil like MCT coconut oil or olive oil)
#3. Hydrocarbon Compound Extraction
Hydrocarbon compounds, such as hexane, propane, and butane, are relatively inexpensive solvents; however, these types of solvents leave toxic residues in the final product because they are difficult to purge.
This scientific study shows that over 80% of the tested cannabis concentrate samples showed contamination of solvents or pesticides.
Furthermore, explosion and burn safety concerns when using butane for cannabinoid extraction are well-documented.
How To Extract CBD with Hydrocarbon Compounds
- Immerse the hemp plant in a hydrocarbon compound solvent to permeate the biomass/plant material, which separates the cannabinoids, terpenes, and chlorophyll from unwanted plant matter.
- Once the solvent has extracted sufficient phytochemicals, place the hemp extract into a heating machine to evaporate the solvent.
- Take the resulting thick liquid and infuse it with a fatty-rich carrier oil.
#4. Dry Ice Extraction
Dry ice extraction is an excellent DIY (at home) method if you can safely access dry ice. It’s a much simpler process since it doesn’t require denaturing solvents or expensive equipment, resulting in a cleaner, purer hemp extract.
The downfall of this method is that the process is difficult to measure, and the quality of the final product isn’t consistent.
How To Extract CBD with Dry Ice
The trichomes are separated from the hemp extract and filtered through a mesh bag.
- Using the dry ice, flash-freeze lightly chopped plant material
- Take the frozen trichomes and vigorously sieve them through a mesh bag.
- Lastly, infuse the hemp extract with a fatty-rich carrier oil.
#5. Vegetable Fats Oil Extraction
This method is well-known in the cannabis extraction industry, with grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and olive oil being the most used; however, olive oil is the preferred choice.
Olive oil is the least commercially refined oil, and its high levels of oleic acid help preserve the terpenes within the plant.
You can use this method for at-home experiments, but it is not practical for large-scale or commercial production. Further, the quality of the hemp extract is considered low to subpar and results in a more perishable CBD product.
Alternative Phytochemical & Cannabis Extraction Methods
While the extraction methods listed previously are the most noted and most common, a few lesser-known alternative extraction methods are worth mentioning and listed below:
- Hydrodynamic Cannabis Extraction
- Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE)
- Pressurized Liquid Extraction (PLE)
- Microwave-Assisted Extraction (MAE)
- Ultrasonic-Assisted Extraction (UAE)
To learn more about each of these methods, click here.
Why The Type of CBD Extraction Directly Impacts The Efficacy Of Certain CBD Products
If you were unaware, there are three types of CBD products; Full Spectrum CBD, Broad Spectrum CBD, and Pure CBD. You can learn more about their differences here. Before we tell you why the type of CBD extraction matters so much, you need to have a complete understanding of what the Entourage Effect is and how it works.
The Entourage Effect suggests that if a person consumes a higher array of the different chemical compounds naturally found in cannabis hemp plants, like cannabinoids and terpenes, the consumer experiences an amplified effect, leading to a more effective, higher-quality CBD product.
With that understanding, full-spectrum CBD products are deemed the highest quality and most effective products in the market.
Key Points To Take Away
- The supercritical CO2 Extraction method cannot produce an authentic full spectrum CBD product without additional equipment and knowledge of fractional extracting and cold separation processes.
- Any CBD company that utilizes the supercritical CO2 Extraction method and sells full spectrum hemp-extracted CBD products should raise a red flag. Further investigation is needed to ensure they are not directly or indirectly committing false advertising.
- Full spectrum means the entire array of compounds in the plant has made it to the final product. The term Broad spectrum means a single phytochemical, such as a terpene or THC, either wasn’t extractable, wasn’t detectable in the third-party lab test, or was purposely removed from the end product.
- If the product isn’t a genuine full spectrum CBD product, then it isn’t considered the highest quality and is not the most effective CBD product.
What CBD Extraction Experts & Cannabis Professionals Say
We sourced a handful of quotes from leading Cannabis news outlets, the most reputable cannabis labs, and cannabinoid extraction professionals in the United States. Here is what they have to say:
- Ethanol turned out to be effective, efficient, and safe to handle. The FDA classifies ethanol as GRAS, which is safer than butane and more effective than supercritical CO2. | View Source
- Ethanol is one of the safest and best ways to draw out the subtle flavors, aromas, and synergistic compounds in the cannabis plant. These compounds work with one another to amplify (Entourage Effect) the beneficial compounds of hemp extracts. Thus, ethanol extraction methods may be among the best for health and wellness purposes. | View Source
- CO2 extraction, often marketed by CBD brands to be “solvent-free,” insinuates it’s a better and safer method. However, the hemp extract produced after CO2 extraction requires a solvent-based refinement process known as Winterization. Ironically, the most commonly used solvent for this Winterization is ethanol. | View Source
- After using supercritical CO2 extraction, the hemp extract produced seemed to be significantly different from the chemotypic fingerprint, a chemically distinct entity within a specific plant, of cannabis flowers. | View Source
- How is CBD extracted?
Lab technicians and scientists extract CBD from cannabis and industrial hemp plants in several ways. The two most common methods are supercritical CO2 extraction and Ethanol extraction (solvent-based). Lesser-common methods include hydrocarbon extraction, dry ice extraction, and Vegetable/Cooking Oil extraction.
- What is the safest way to extract CBD?
The safest way to extract CBD from home for self-medication is with the vegetable fat oil method, using olive oil, specifically. It’s cheaper, non-flammable, and non-toxic, according to a whitepaper published by ResearchGate.com.
- What is Winterization?
The procedure used to convert crude oil into a purified cannabinoid-rich oil by eliminating unwanted plant matter such as fats, lipids, and waxes. Conducted after the initial extraction process, Winterization gets its name from a specific step in the process that freezes the hemp-extracted oil with ethanol.
- What is short-path distillation?
SPD, short for Short-Path Distillation, is an additional and further refinement phase completed after the Winterization process. SPD is the process that involves reduced pressure to enable lower-than-normal boiling temperatures to boil impurities away, leaving only pure CBD oil in the collection chamber.
- Is steam distillation still used to extract CBD?
Using steam distillation is not commonly used for CBD extraction because the high heat from the steam tends to destroy the essential oils and structure of the hemp plant.
- What Is The Best CBD Extraction Method?
Cold Ethanol Extraction is the best way to extract Cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp. A 2021 scientific study published by the Journal of Cannabis Research concluded that the most convenient extraction method for medicinal cannabis extraction is by using organic solvents. Furthermore, a 2018 study stated that the highest yield they achieved for all chemical compounds in the cannabis plant was from a mixture of non-polar and polar solvents.
- How is CBD extracted?