You may be asking yourself: how do you get CBD from the plant? Are there different ways of doing this? Which is the best way?
We're glad you asked (or didn't - that's cool too). We're here to give you a simple guide on how its done, and cover a few benefits and drawbacks of each method.
We strongly encourage you to do additional research as needed, and always think for yourself.
We'll be covering 3 common methods of extraction used in the cannabis industry. Keep in mind, there are many methods / processes in addition to the ones listed below:
Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)
Hydrocarbons and Natural Solvents
In CO₂ extraction, carbon dioxide is pressurized in metal tanks until it becomes a supercritical fluid. The CO₂ acts as a solvent, which extracts many compounds from the plant including the essential active compounds such as CBD. This is the same process used for the decaffeination of coffee.
What exactly is supercritical CO₂?
Think of supercritical as the state that is neither gas nor liquid. The CO₂ will fill the container like a gas, but remain dense like a liquid. Supercritical CO₂ plays an important role as an environmentally friendly commercial and industrial solvent used to extract specific chemicals from biomass.
How it's done
Pressurized supercritical CO₂ is added to an extraction chamber filled with ground cannabis / hemp.
The CO₂ acts as a solvent, dissolving the cannabinoids and others compounds which flow to a separation chamber.
The pressure is relieved, causing the CO₂ to turn back into a gas leaving behind cannabis oils, waxes, and resins.
Pros of CO2 Extraction:
CO₂ is a non-toxic method of extracting CBD, and the gas can be reused.
Heat-sensitive nutrients and substances come out mostly intact.
CO₂ is non-flammable and requires fewer safety precautions compared to alternative methods.
Cons of CO₂ Extraction:
CO₂ requires expensive machinery to run creating a high upfront cost to manufacturing facilities, and also carries higher operating costs.
CO₂ Extraction can take longer than other techniques like ethanol extraction and this long process can sometimes damage the terpenes and cannabinoids being extracted.
Supercritical and subcritical CO₂ extraction is not the most effective method for extracting the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes out of hemp plants. Terpenes are highly volatile compounds and can be lost quickly to evaporate under high temperatures.
Steam Distillation Extraction
Steam is used to free the volatile cannabinoids from the raw plant material. The resulting vapor containing the compounds is cooled and condensed. Oil and water separate as they collect in a receptacle.
How it's done
Ground cannabis / hemp and water are heated in a receptacle similar to the example above.
Vapor rises and condenses in the condensation chamber (glass tube pictured above). To encourage condensation, cold water is pumped through a separate chamber encompassing the first chamber.
The water and oils are naturally insoluble and separate easily after processing.
Pros of Steam Distillation Extraction:
Easiest and oldest (traditional) method of extraction
Safe and doesn't require extensive safety measures, equipment knowledge, or the use of chemicals.
Cons of Steam Distillation Extraction:
Inefficient and requires significantly larger amounts of hemp plant than other methods.
It's difficult to extract exact amounts of CBD concentration.
If the steam gets too hot, it may damage and alter the chemical properties of the cannabinoids.
Hydrocarbons and Natural Solvent Extraction
Ethanol, alcohol or butane is added to the hemp biomass. The liquid solvent draws out the cannabinoids, terpenes and natural phytochemicals from the hemp in a process called Decarboxylation.
How it's done
Ethanol, alcohol or butane is added to the hemp biomass.
The liquid solvent draws out the cannabinoids, terpenes and natural phytochemicals from the hemp in a process called Decarboxylation.
Solvents evaporate and leave behind CBD oil which can be distilled or further processed into an isolate.
Pros of Solvent Extraction:
Solvent extraction methods have a higher yield of CBD per lb. of biomass than the CO₂ extraction method.
Ethanol and solvent extraction is a cheaper process involving less sophisticated machinery than CO₂ extraction.
Our process uses food grade ethanol in place of other organic solvents as a non-toxic, even edible substitute to other organic solvents such as butane.
Solvents are superior to CO₂ at locking onto and drawing out terpenoids and cannabinoids. This ensures a true full-spectrum product with all the beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids.
Cons of of Solvent Extraction:
The solvent extraction method requires more safety equipment to use effectively than steam based extraction, but a bit less than supercritical CO₂ extraction.
Trace amounts of FDA food safe ethanol may be leftover from the extraction process. Some find this concerning, but ethanol is a safe and commonly used preservative for mouthwash, candies, and cakes (if distilled spirits are used in the flavoring process).
Not a recommended process for smokable oils.