How is CBD extracted from cannabis?
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All the cannabidiol (CBD) you find in your favorite gummies, drinks, and oils has to go through an extraction process first. CBD, for those who don’t know, is a cannabinoid found in cannabis. Extracting CBD involves isolating the chemical compound from the surrounding plant material and distilling it in high concentrations. Research has shown that cannabinoids may have beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and extraction makes it possible to consume more of those cannabinoids with less effort.
All the cannabidiol (CBD) you find in your favorite gummies, drinks, and oils has to go through an extraction process first. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
In this article, you’ll learn about how CBD is extracted from hemp and cannabis, as well as which extraction process yields the best results.
How to extract CBD from cannabis
Extracting cannabinoids from cannabis or hemp can be as simple as making cannabutter at home. But for large-scale manufacturing purposes and more potent results, there are two primary methods for efficient CBD extraction. Each method presents distinct benefits in creating a high-quality, highly-potent CBD product.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction method: Carbon dioxide is a versatile gas with a variety of commercial uses, including extracting compounds from plant matter. The CO2 method uses the gas in its normal state as well as in supercritical liquid form. Through the use of a pressurized chamber, called a closed-loop extractor, CO2 gas is compressed until it becomes a liquid. The liquid is forced over the cannabis material where it strips away cannabinoids like CBD. The entire solution is brought back to temperatures and pressures at which the CO2 reverts to gas and evaporates, leaving behind the CBD extracted out of the cannabis plant material.
Andrew Leising, VP of Strategic Sourcing for Balanced Health Botanicals, elaborated on the process: “CO2 is a scalable and highly versatile form of extraction. There are CO2 extraction units built to process anywhere from 1 to 1,200 pounds of biomass in a single run. With CO2 extraction, you can not only extract cannabinoids on a large scale efficiently, you can extract specific compounds like terpenes.”
Terpenes are the naturally-occurring compounds that infuse cannabis with its signature aromas and flavors as well as potential therapeutic benefits. Full-spectrum CBD products rely on extraction methods that can keep these compounds intact.
Solvent extraction method: The solvent extraction process is similar to using CO2, but it’s notably cheaper and faster. Butane has long been used in cannabis extraction but ethanol and propane are also popular. This method also uses a closed-loop system wherein the liquid butane, propane, or ethanol washes over the cannabis, releasing the CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes. The solvent then has to be carefully heated or cooled to separate the solvent from the extracted compounds without damaging them. The main drawback of solvent extraction is that some solvents may extract impurities from the cannabis plant material, which could give the end-product an unpleasant taste.
Both of these extraction methods use highly combustible chemicals and can be dangerous. Only trained professionals in properly equipped labs should attempt any kind of chemical extraction.
How long does CBD extraction take?
The process of CBD extraction is fairly expedient and can take place in a single afternoon. According to Leising, it takes about three to four hours to process up to 1,200 pounds of cannabis.
What happens after CBD oil extraction?
After CBD oil is extracted from hemp or cannabis, the process of winterization begins. This process removes the impurities and unwanted elements that made it through the extraction process, such as fats, lipids, and waxes. In essence, winterization transforms crude oil into purified oil. The process gets its name from a step which involves mixing the extracted oil with ethanol and freezing the solution. The impurities and undesirable compounds solidify and fall out of the solution, which is then passed through a filter, separating wax, lipids, and fats from the oil. The final step involves removing the ethanol from the solution.
CBD may go through further refinement after winterization to create the purest possible CBD product. The additional refinement phase is known as short-path distillation. The process is similar to winterization, but it involves using reduced pressure to allow lower-than-normal boiling temperatures. The solution is heated just enough for the impurities to boil off and travel a short path out of the system, leaving pure CBD oil to distill into the collection chamber.
Which CBD extraction method is best?
Many cannabis experts agree that the CO2 method is best for producing premium oil that stays potent longer because the hemp or cannabis compounds remain stable during this type of extraction. Full-spectrum CBD oil, prized for its potency and purity, is made via CO2 extraction. Other methods may destabilize the compounds, potentially creating lower-quality CBD oil with a shorter shelf life.
Leising agrees that the CO2 method is superior. As he shared, “CO2 is generally preferred for the extraction of cannabinoids that are meant for ingestion or further refinement. Due to the nature of the extraction process, you can be assured that your extracted oil will be free of any residual solvents, microbes, and fungi.”
The same is not true for the solvent method, which often fails to eliminate such impurities.
Can I extract CBD oil at home?
It depends on what extraction method you’re considering. Let’s say you have a thriving indoor cannabis garden and want to consume the cannabis you’ve harvested without having to smoke it all. You can safely make CBD oil at home via a simple infusion and consume a high concentration of cannabinoids without risking life or limb.
You can safely make CBD oil at home via a simple infusion and consume a high concentration of cannabinoids without risking life or limb. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
What you don’t want to do is attempt to make a CBD extract using inedible solvents or CO2. Leising explained, “You cannot perform CO2 extractions at home. The equipment is cost prohibitive, and if you don’t know how to operate the equipment, it could be extremely dangerous. The equipment runs at extremely high pressures between 2500-4000 PSI and could be very dangerous if the operator is not properly trained.”
Bottom line: don’t risk your life for CBD oil. Visit a reputable dispensary and shop for high-quality, lab-tested products instead.
Learn about the two methods for large-scale CBD extraction and how they affect the final product.
CBD Extraction Methods – The Production of Healthy Products
By Guest Author
Proving to be more than a passing craze, hemp-derived CBD products have swept the world’s markets in the form of promising supplements, topicals, and medicinal alternatives. But, with so many new products being formulated every year, the CBD market has turned into a kind of “wild west” with some businesses that keep customer health in mind, and others that disregard safety in the interest of profit.
But, what is it that differentiates the trust-worthy products from the shotty, profit-focused ones? While there are many tip-offs that customers can pick up quickly when determining the quality of their CBD products, t here are several underlying factors that are lesser-known that are vital to determining the quality and safety of a CBD product. One of those factors is the method by which it was extracted.
CO2, Ethanol, or Hydrocarbons CBD Extraction?
Whatever kind of CBD product you like to use, it wasn’t created simply by cutting up hemp flowers and mixing it in. The CBD itself must be extracted from the hemp plant, distilled and isolated before being formulated into a final product and there are several methods by which CBD can be extracted. But, are all of them similar in safety and quality? Let’s take a look at the common methods to find out:
There are typically three common extraction methods in the world of hemp products: hydrocarbon, ethanol, and supercritical CO2. You may be asking, “what’s the difference if they all make the same products?” Well, it may be surprising, but some of these extraction methods can be hard to guarantee safety when consumed daily.
One relatively common kind of cannabinoid extraction is hydrocarbon. This technique involves an extremely volatile solvent such as butane or propane to extract the desired CBD. The residual solvent is then removed through applied heat which in turn results in a usable CBD oil.
There are several concerns to think about with this extraction procedure – the first being the volatile tendency of those solvents. There are several reported cases of hydrocarbon extractions gone wrong resulting in explosions, home fires, and even death. While reports of these dangerous errors are less prevalent in a proper extraction setting, it is still more dangerous for producers and their employees to extract CBD using such volatile solvents.
When it comes to customer safety, there’s no absolute way to eliminate the entirety of a hydrocarbon solvent in a final product. This ultimately means that continual usage of a butane or propane extracted CBD merchandise will inevitably entail the ingestion of those solvents. While the remaining quantities of the solvents may be reported as low as just a few parts per million (PPM) there are still unknown concerns that could result from daily use of CBD products with trace amounts of hydrocarbons in them.
Ethanol CBD Extraction
Another widespread extraction system, ethanol is a common solvent used to extract cannabinoids from hemp and cannabis. Though the FDA does indicate food grade ethanol to be “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS), the challenge is that ethanol considered to be organic or “food grade” is quite expensive to use for extraction purposes. Because of this, many producers resort to what’s referred to as “denatured ethanol.”
Even though it is less costly, denatured ethanol may have a range of chemical contaminants that will necessarily wind up in a CBD distillate to some degree that may include ketones, isopropyl alcohol, methanol, and others. Despite this, the FDA classifies these contaminants as “safe” and permits maximum levels of them in a final hemp or cannabis product.
But, there are several unknowns when it comes to prolonged ingestion of chemical denaturants. It may be possible that continued ingestion of those residuals could have negative outcomes that have been unstudied as of today. These unknown variables coupled with what we do know about the risks of chemical denaturants should beg into question whether or not this extraction method is entirely safe.
Supercritical CO2 CBD Extraction
The final common extraction system uses CO2 as a solvent. Contrary to hydrocarbons and ethanol, supercritical CO2 extraction includes no dangers for chemical contamination and isn’t volatile like butane, ethanol, or propane. With this assumption alone, products extracted through supercritical CO2 are undoubtedly safer for customer health.
In fact, CO2 extraction is so safe, it has been used for many years as a way to decaffeinate coffee. Because CO2 is a chemical fee solvent, it allows for a safe way to create a consumable, decaffeinated coffee product without the risk of residual chemical contaminants. While you may hear of companies using certain hydrocarbons for this purpose (a questionable method at best), you will not find a single reputable company using denatured ethanol. Perhaps the same should be said of manufacturers in CBD extraction.
What makes a CBD product safe?
As stated previously, the cleanest and safest CBD goods are produced using CO2 as an extraction method. This process of extraction creates a product that is completely free from any residual compounds and enables a particularly pure and health-conscious product.
So, when looking for a CBD product with health and safety in mind, it is important to check what extraction method a company uses for their brand. If they use butane, propane, or denatured ethanol to create their product, the healthy choice would likely be to steer clear. If a product has been extracted with clean and natural CO2, there is no doubt that it will be the safest, healthiest CBD product on the market.
Jon Thompson, PhD, is a separations scientist and CEO of extraktLAB, an accredited engineering company for the CBD, hemp and cannabis industries.
There are several factors that are vital to determining the quality and safety CBD products. One of those factors is the CBD extraction method.