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CBD Extraction Methods

How Are CBD Products Made?

Many people know that CBD comes from cannabis. It’s right there in the name: cannabidiol.

But, how exactly does CBD oil get made? What happens in the transition from the hemp plant to a product you can buy online or in your local health store?

All CBD products contain CBD oil, which is extracted from the hemp plant. This is why you’ll often see “hemp extract” on the label and in the ingredients list. After extraction, the oil is added to various products, including CBD oil tinctures, gummies, capsules, topicals, and vape oils.

CBD Extraction Methods

When people talk about how CBD products are made, they’re mainly talking about the specific extraction method. The most common methods to extract CBD oil use carbon dioxide, steam distillation, or hydrocarbon or natural solvents. We review each of these below.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction

CO2 extraction uses supercritical carbon dioxide to separate the CBD oil from the plant material. “Supercritical” refers to the CO2 containing properties of both a liquid and a gas state, which is why you’ll sometimes see this method referred to as Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE).

During CO2 extraction, a series of pressurized chambers and pumps are used to expose CO2 to high pressure and very low temperatures, resulting in an extracted oil containing high amounts of CBD.

  1. At the start of extraction, one chamber will hold pressurized CO2, while a second pressurized chamber holds the hemp plant.
  2. The CO2 is then pumped from the first chamber into the second. The presence of supercritical CO2 breaks down the hemp also in the chamber, causing the oil to separate from the plant material.
  3. Finally, the CO2 and oil are pumped together into a third chamber. The gas evaporates, leaving an extract of pure CBD oil behind.

While it requires expensive specialized machinery, CO2 extraction is the preferred method for making CBD products. It’s extremely safe and efficient at producing high concentrations of CBD in the resulting oil—as much as 92% according to one analysis.

The precise nature of CO2 extraction also makes it suitable for producing specific concentrations of CBD oil. Manufacturers can simply adjust the solvent and pressure ratios to achieve the desired concentration of CBD.

The CO2 extraction process is also widely used to create many other products besides CBD oil, such as decaffeinating coffee or tea, or extracting essential oils for use in perfumes.

Steam Distillation

With steam distillation, steam causes the CBD oil to separate from the hemp plant. The hemp plant is contained in a glass flask, with an inlet and an outlet. The inlet connects to another glass container, beneath the plant flask, that contains water that is set to boil. The outlet connects to a condenser tube.

  1. As the water heats up, the steam travels upwards into the plant flask, separating the oil vapors that contain CBD.
  2. These vapors are then captured in a tube that condenses them into oil and water.
  3. Once collected, the oil and water mixture is distilled to extract the CBD oil from the water.

The steam distillation technique is tried and true, having been used to extract essential oil for centuries, but it’s less preferred than CO2 extraction due to its inefficiency. Steam distillation requires significantly larger amounts of hemp plant, and it’s more difficult to extract exact amounts of CBD concentration using this method.

There’s also an element of risk with this method. If the steam gets too hot, it can damage the extract and alter the chemical properties of the cannabinoids it contains.

Solvent Extraction (Hydrocarbons and Natural Solvents)

Solvent extraction follows a similar process to steam distillation, except that it uses a solvent rather than water to separate the CBD oil from the plant material. This creates a resulting mixture of the CBD oil with the solvent. The solvent then evaporates, leaving pure CBD oil behind. Solvent extraction uses either hydrocarbons or natural solvents.

Solvent extraction is more efficient than steam distillation, and it’s also less expensive. However, the solvents used in hydrocarbon extraction (including naphtha, petroleum, butane, or propane) create cause for concern. The solvent residue can be toxic and increase one’s cancer risk if they aren’t fully eliminated during the evaporation step—which doesn’t always happen. Some studies have found traces of petroleum or naphtha hydrocarbons residue in CBD products that used solvent extraction.

To avoid the risk of toxic residue, solvent extraction can use natural solvents instead, such as olive oil or ethanol. These solvents are just as effective at extracting CBD oil, but remove the risk of toxic residue.

However, natural solvent extraction is not without its downsides. When natural solvents like ethanol are used, chlorophyll may also be extracted. This gives the resulting oil an unpleasant taste. If the CBD is used in capsules or topicals, this isn’t a big deal, but many CBD products are eaten or inhaled (such as gummies, tinctures, vape oils), so this can make them harder to sell.

The larger problem with natural solvents, though, is that they don’t evaporate very well. As a result, the CBD extract contains a lower concentration of CBD than it would with other methods.

What Is the Best Extraction Method for CBD Oil?

There are pros and cons to each extraction method. At CBDOil.org, we recommend CO2 extraction. While it is the most expensive extraction method, it consistently produces the highest concentration of CBD, resulting in a quality product. It’s also one of the safest extraction methods, leaving behind no neurotoxic residue.

Extraction Method Pros Cons
CO2 Extraction Efficient
Highest concentration of CBD
Easier to adjust concentration
No toxic residue
No chlorophyll
Expensive
Steam Distillation Inexpensive
No toxic residue
No chlorophyll
Inefficient
Inconsistent concentration of CBD
Potential for heat to damage CBD oil
Hydrocarbon Solvent Extraction Efficient
Inexpensive
Consistent concentration of CBD
No chlorophyll
Potential for toxic solvent residue
Natural Solvent Extraction Efficient
Inexpensive
No toxic residue
Presence of chlorophyll affects taste
Lower concentration of CBD

When purchasing CBD products, find out which extraction method the company uses, as this can be an indicator of the quality and value of their products. Products that use CO2 extraction may be more expensive, but they also tend to be higher-quality.

CBD products made using other extraction methods can be safe and high-quality as well, but there can be more risk with these products. Specifically, CBD products that were made using hydrocarbon extraction may contain solvent residuals. And while steam distillation and natural solvent extraction are lower-risk, they can produce lower or inconsistent amounts of CBD, which can affect the cost/mg value of your CBD product.

Beyond their extraction method, also confirm that the company uses a third-party lab to test the concentration of the CBD in their products, as well as the safety of the other ingredients. Any reputable manufacturer will make these test results readily available on their website, with their product packaging, or upon request. The test results will show the potency of the CBD and other cannabinoids (described in milligrams). They’ll also reveal any potential contaminants, as well as the presence of any solvent residue, if the product used hydrocarbon solvent extraction.

What Happens After Extraction?

After extraction, the resulting CBD oil is described as “full-spectrum.” This means that other cannabinoids besides CBD, including CBDA, CBDV, THC, and others, are still present. As long as the product is sourced from hemp, the amount of THC will be 0.3% or less (which makes it legal anywhere in the U.S.).

Full-spectrum CBD oils also contain other beneficial elements from the plant material, such as terpenes and amino acids. Many people prefer full-spectrum CBD oil because of the “entourage effect.” While this effect has not been proven, some users believe that the CBD is able to engage the endocannabinoid system more effectively when more cannabinoids are present.

However, some people would rather have no THC in their oil, even in very low, legal amounts. These people prefer CBD isolates. To create CBD isolate, the extract is cooled and further purified into crystalline isolate form. This results in a white, flavorless powder. Because it contains only CBD, CBD isolate is less expensive per milligram, contains no THC, and has no flavor or odor.

Finally, regardless of whether it is turned into a CBD isolate or remains full-spectrum, the CBD oil is added to other substances to create various CBD products.

  • The CBD may be mixed with a carrier oil like hemp seed oil or coconut oil to create CBD oil tinctures.
  • To create CBD gummies, the CBD oil may be combined with natural flavoring, juice, and organic corn syrup.
  • The CBD oil may be mixed with a variety of ingredients to create CBD edibles like baked goods or chocolates.
  • With CBD capsules, the CBD oil is often added to MCT oil (a coconut oil extract) to give the capsule volume. If it’s a softgel, the capsule may also use olive oil to create the casing.
  • To create CBD vape oils, the CBD oil is combined with a mix of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol (to make it suitable for inhalation) and natural flavoring (for better taste).
  • The CBD oil may be combined with various essential oils, shea butter, aloe vera, and waxes to create CBD creams, skin salves, and other topicals.

How is CBD oil extracted from the hemp plant? Is one CBD extraction method better than another? Discover how CBD products are made.

Which CBD oil extraction method is the best?

Extract the full spectrum of CBD

When prioritising the best CBD products, it’s important that each step of the process is carried out with care and precision. You can grow high-quality hemp, with a large percentage of cannabidiol (CBD), but all of that goes to waste without the proper extraction techniques. So, that raises the question: which method is best?

At Vitality CBD we often discuss the importance of choosing a quality CBD oils, and how premium extraction techniques contribute to a better product. To truly understand why high-end extraction methods matter, let’s first explore how CBD is synthesised.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of over a hundred different cannabinoids found in plants from the Cannabis family. The most famous of these cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the one that induces the “stoned” effects typically associated with recreational Cannabis use. On the other hand, studies have repeatedly shown that CBD does not get you high.

Currently we know that when introduced to your body, CBD interacts with your pre-existing endocannabinoid system. Understanding that the human body already generates cannabinoids that bear a great similarity to CBD in structure and function is step one in understanding why CBD oil is proving so popular.

Cannabidiol is actually synthesised in the trichomes of the female hemp plant, alongside the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. The need to create CBD oils that retain CBD and other cannabinoids whilst removing the THC is part of why extraction techniques are so important.

How do you extract CBD?

When we extract the best CBD, the end goal is to harvest it in a concentrated form so that it can then be mixed into CDD e-liquids, CBD oils and CBD topicals. That’s why we use a strain of hemp called Cannabis sativa L., renowned for its high CBD levels.

As we’ve mentioned, CBD is actually a constituent in a vast sea of hemp compounds, so extraction isn’t as easy as it first may seem. However, all of these techniques were first developed for other purposes, like extracting essential oils from flowers.

At Vitality CBD we use two different techniques specifically (typically in conjunction) but we’ll discuss all the options available, and how they affect the end result. As always, if you have any further questions drop us an email on our contact page.

CO2 extractions of cannabidiol

The most expensive and most popular CBD extraction method (particularly amongst manufacturers offering a premium product) involves using CO2. This is because it provides a clean, precise extraction that massively reduces the contamination potential of other methods.

The applications of CO2 extractions stem far beyond just hemp products. CO2 extractions are used to decaffeinate coffee beans, to extract the nicotine from loose-leaf tobacco, and to precisely extract spices and flavours.

CO2 extractions can be split into supercritical and subcritical categories (there’s also ‘mid-critical’, a halfway point between the two), but supercritical is the most common, and the one we use at Vitality CBD for all of our CBD products. We’ll breakdown the differences between each below.

The shared methodology between the two essentially entails running pressurised carbon dioxide across the hemp plant to strip away the desired phytochemicals (literally: plant chemicals). When treated to certain conditions, CO2 actually acts like a solvent, without any of the potential side-effects.

Supercritical CBD extraction

Starting with the liquid form of CO2, a supercritical method involves increasing the temperature and pressure of the CO2 until it becomes ‘supercritical’. This means that the CO2 has properties of both gas and liquid: it is able to fill a container like a gas, whilst also having the density of a liquid.

In this supercritical state, CO2 acts as a solvent when applied to the hemp plant without denaturing any of the compounds. The need to maintain the right pressure and temperature explains why CO2 extractions use expensive equipment, resulting in the best CBD.

Once the supercritical CO2 has been passed through the hemp extract, the resultant solution is passed into a separator to be (you guessed it) separated. The CO2 is stored to be used again, whilst the desired hemp compounds are removed and taken to the next step in the process.

Subcritical CBD extraction

The immediate distinction with a subcritical hemp extraction is the lower temperature and lower pressure. As a result, the process takes longer, but it also further reduces the chances of denaturing the more delicate compounds, like terpenes.

Whilst the yield is smaller than with supercritical, it also allows for lighter oils and other sensitive compounds that might otherwise be dismantled in the process to be extracted. However, the trade off is that heavier, more resinous material will typically get left behind.

Solvent CBD extractions

Probably the cheapest and easiest of all the methods available (you could easily do it at home without buying any specialist equipment. not that we recommend this), solvent extractions are also generally considered to be the most likely to cause issues with the end product.

A solvent extraction involves running the solvent in question—typically either butane or ethanol—to the hemp plant matter. This strips the cannabinoids into the liquid, which is then evaporated so as to leave behind a concentrated oily residue with the hemp compounds in.

The main problem is that the solvent not only removes the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, but also inadvertently extracts chlorophyll. This occasionally leads to unwanted side effects, and will cause the taste to become much more bitter.

Likewise, the compounds that the solvent does remove can either be denatured, or just degraded entirely during the extraction process. As such, whilst it’s the cheapest and easiest method to do on a mass scale, there’s a reason why many companies are phasing it out. When you buy CBD with us, you can be confident it’s not been treated this way.

Olive oil CBD extraction

An olive oil extraction is most commonly done by home brew enthusiasts looking to create their own CBD oils. Though near any oil can be used in this process, olive oil is preferred due to its masking flavour and versatility.

The first step is to either grind the hemp very finely, or to decarboxylate it, a complex word which here means: heat it at a certain temperature. Through this process, several of the cannabinoids have their chemical make-up converted, making some more potent and others easier to extract.

After the initial heating, you then heat the hemp matter further in the olive oil, a process by which the compounds are extracted to the oil. Whilst this is perfect for home users, it results in a low yield and a highly perishable product that isn’t practical on a mass scale.

Dry ice CBD extraction

Whilst the name alone suggests high-tech scientific experimentation, this is another method that can be performed at home (assuming you have access to dry ice). It also benefits from the lack of denaturing solvents, resulting in a cleaner and purer end product.

The process involves flash-freezing the loosely chopped hemp extract, and then sieving the frozen trichomes through a mesh bag. These in turn can then be used as the basis for your cannabidiol oil—it’s really that simple.

Since this is a relatively haphazard and difficult to measure method, the quality is not always ensured depending on how well the hemp is frozen and how vigorously it is sieved. However, if you can get safe access to dry-ice this is a clean alternative to solvents for creating your own CBD oil.

Which CBD extraction method is best?

At Vitality CBD, we would recommend either of the two mentioned CO2 extraction techniques, depending on what compounds you want to prioritise extracting. All of the others have their uses, of course, but CO2 is the best all-rounder.

For an example of utilising the right method for the right situation, whilst we predominantly use CO2 extractions, when creating our whole plant e-liquid we will simultaneously use solvents. The reason? Certain waxes and oils are too stubborn to be removed with a CO2 extraction alone, so we use both methods in conjunction.

Learn more about CBD

As mentioned earlier, grasping why a clean and accurate extraction is important is premised on understanding just what is being extracted. Read on here for our piece on whole plant CBD, and our supporting articles on terpenes and flavonoids.

If you’ve got any further questions about CBD extraction techniques, or some information you’d like to share with us, our experienced team are always on hand to field any questions. You can reach our friendly team via our contact page, or alternative you can go check out our full CBD range here!

Extract the full spectrum of CBD When prioritising the best CBD products, it’s important that each step of the process is carried out with care and precision. You can grow high-quality hemp, with a large percentage of cannabidiol (CBD), but all of that goes to waste without the proper extraction techniques. So, that ra