Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Because CBD carries so many health benefits, the average user needs a controlled form of the product which can be tested, measured, and taken without the ‘high’ effects associated with THC use. This is where extraction comes in.
The first step to creating any of the CBD products available on the market today is to create an oil extract. This CBD oil contains CBD and other cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. This oil can be extracted from cannabis plants including marijuana and hemp.
In this article, we cover the various methods of extraction used to create CBD oil. Understanding these methods is important because the resulting oils are not all the same. As a consumer, you should be educated on the best CBD extraction methods available when shopping for any CBD product.
Everything Begins with Cannabis
Today, hemp is the primary source of CBD oil extraction. Many CBD companies source their hemp from Europe and the United States. In the USA, the 2014 Farm Bill put the power to make CBD grow laws in the hands of the states. A number of states jumped at the chance and have allowed hemp farming within their borders. This ‘industrial hemp’ is a form of cannabis which contains no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
When extracting CBD oil, the quality of a hemp source is extremely important. Currently, hemp is not a USDA certified organic product. That being said, there are growers out there adhering to the same standards. When looking for a CBD product, you should be looking for a high-grade oil extracted from non-GMO, pesticide-free, industrial hemp that is tested for contamination.
You’ll also want to be sure that your oil is being extracted from the whole hemp plant, not just the seeds and stalks. The seeds and stalks of the plant contain minimal amounts of cannabinoids and are not adequate for use when creating CBD oil.
Knowing the hemp source for your CBD products is just the first step in choosing the right CBD product. Next, we are going to discuss the various processes used to extract oil from the plant material.
CBD Extraction Methods
The following methods are all commonly used to create the CBD oil extracts found on the market and in various products today:
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
CO2 extraction is the best method used to create CBD oil. The ‘supercritical’ or ‘subcritical’ extraction method puts carbon dioxide under high pressure while maintaining a low temperature. The gas is transformed into a liquid due to the pressure and then passed through the plant material with up to a 90% extraction efficiency. The resulting extract a highly concentrated, totally pure oil extract.
This process requires expensive equipment and experienced operators. Because of this, the resulting oil is often higher priced for the end consumer, but of a higher quality. A supercritical extracted oil will be an amber color similar to honey in appearance. If you’re searching for a CBD product, we always recommend something that began as a CO2 extracted oil.
Before the rise of popularity of CBD oil use, a Canadian man named Rick Simpson extracted an oil from marijuana to heal his own skin cancer. After proving to himself the benefits of ‘Rick Simpson Oil’ or RSO, he set out to help others. This extraction method uses an alcohol solvent – most commonly ethanol.
Ethanol is ‘Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS)’ by the FDA. It is commonly used as a food preservative and additive found in many products at the grocery store. Using ethanol as a solvent is more efficient than CO2 extraction, but comes with some downsides.
Ethanol is a polar solvent which means it will mix with water and dissolve water-soluble molecules. Chlorophyll is one of the compounds that ethanol will co-extract along with the cannabinoid filled oil. The result is a dark colored oil with a bitter and grassy flavor. The chlorophyll can be removed from the oil using a filtering method, but the process also removes some of the cannabinoids resulting in a lower quality CBD oil product.
The result is safe to use oil that is a lower quality than a CO2 extracted oil.
This early extraction method was created using a light hydrocarbon solvent like to extract cannabis oil. Commonly butane, pentane, propane, hexane, isopropyl alcohol or acetone are used as solvents. These hydrocarbons have a low boiling point and can be easily used to extract CBD oil.
This cheap and easy method of extraction comes with a variety of issues that make it non-ideal. The resulting oil usually contains a lower concentration of terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD and a higher concentration of THC. There is also unsafe residue that can remain that may interfere with immune function.
This extraction method proved to be both dangerous an inefficient. This method of extraction is rarely used by commercial CBD companies today.
One of the lesser used extraction methods is called lipid extraction. This method uses the fats, or “lipids”, to absorb and encapsulate the hemp-produced compounds. Often organic coconut oil is ued in this extraction process. Lipid extraction does not require the use of any harsh solvents or CO2.
Additional CBD Extract Processing
After a CBD extract is created, there are some additional steps that are performed to get the product ready for consumption.
Activating via Decarboxylation
The naturally occurring cannabinoids found on the cannabis plant come in an acid form. For example, the following common acid forms of cannabinoids found in CBD products are:
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
- THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
When a low temperature method like supercritical CO2 extraction is used, the original acid forms of the cannabinoids is preserved. In order to activate these cannabinoids and removed the acid molecule, the CBD extract undergoes a process called decarboxylation.
Though this process sounds fancy, it is simply the heating of an extract. Through this heating process, the acid molecule is removed and CBDA change to CBD, THCA changes to THC and so on. The result is the extract becomes what the industry refers to as ‘activated’.
These molecules interact with the body differently than the ‘activated’ or non-acid forms of these same substances. For example, THCA is non-psychoactive, while THC is psychoactive. Limited research and anecdotal user experiences point to these raw cannabinoid forms providing some unique health benefits. This is driving some companies to include the acid forms of these cannabinoids in addition to the activated non-acid forms.
Purifying via Winterization
When an extract is created from cannabis, there are a wide range of fatty acids, plant materials, chlorophyll, cannabinoids, and terpenoids contained in the extract. There is an optional process called winterization which works to further purify the extract.
The process of winterizing consists of soaking the CBD extract in alcohol and freezing it in order to separate the waxes, lipids, and residual solvents. The end result is a more concentrated extract in terms of cannabinoids.
This process is not always desired because through this process some of the terpenes are also removed from the extract. This can have a negative outcome on the entourage effect.
How to CBD Isolate is Made?
Now that you understand CBD extraction, its time to take things a step further. Today you’ll commonly find single-molecule CBD isolates. At their purest form, these isolates are a crystalline white powder comprised of 99%+ cannabidiol. All other cannabinoids, terpenes, plant materials, oil, and chlorophyll is removed in the creation of this powder. All that is left is naturally sourced CBD crystals that carry no odor or flavor.
This isolate is made by first extracting oil using one of the methods we discussed above. Next, chemists use a process known as chromatography to remove plant materials and other cannabinoids. Lastly, the compound is heated and activated from CBDA to CBD using a process called by decarboxylation.
This isolate is often desired because it can be dissolved in liquid, added to food products, tinctures and more. The isolate is also beneficial because it is clearly defined as legal under the Drug Code 7350 for Marijuana Extract.
Isolates are Not Full-Spectrum
As a consumer, you should understand that while isolate products are versatile, they are not as effective as an oil containing a full-spectrum cannabinoid profile. The single-cannabinoid CBD is less effective than a full-spectrum product due to the entourage effect.
Oils & Products Made from Isolates
As a consumer, you should also beware that low-quality isolate is often added to a carrier like MCT oil or hemp seed oil and sold as a full spectrum oil. These products are simply sub-par when compared to quality extracted oil. Be sure to look for lab tests for every product that you purchase.