What Is The Best Way To Extract CBD From Hemp?
Keep reading to find out how to extract CBD, and which method produces the highest-quality CBD oil. While they all harness the power of CBD, they don’t all achieve the same degree of purity.
Why does CBD extraction matter?
To produce CBD oils, cosmetics or supplements, you must first extract the cannabinoid from raw plant material. Fortunately, the most abundant source of CBD is hemp, a selectively bred crop used extensively in dozens of commercial industries.
Although there are many ways to extract CBD from hemp, some methods are much more efficient and safer than others. It’s essential to know the difference, since how you extract CBD affects the purity and efficacy of the final product.
What are the options for extracting CBD?
Below, you will find a breakdown of some of the most common extraction techniques used, including their main pros and cons.
Solventless CBD extraction (by hand)
How does one make CBD extracts without using a solvent? Simply enough, you just have to apply heat, pressure, or a bit of friction to hemp flowers and leaves. How do you do that, you wonder? Well, if you freeze hemp flowers, you can shake the small trichomes loose and gather them together. These trichomes, as you might know, contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the hemp plant.
Pros of solventless extraction
• No additional equipment needed
• Makes use of the whole hemp plant
• Cheapest method of extraction
Cons of solventless extraction
• Yields are low and impractical
• No way of controlling purity, with minimal levels of CBD
• CBD extract contains plant material and unwanted cannabinoids
Olive oil CBD extraction
First, to perform olive oil extraction at home, you need to make sure your plant material is decarboxylated. In short, that means it undergoes the process of acidic cannabinoids being activated via heat. That, of course, happens when you smoke or vape it, but it can also happen if you put it in the oven.
Once decarboxylated, mix your plant matter with olive oil and heat it on the stove for several hours. CBD, other cannabinoids and essential terpenes will bind to the fats in the oil, creating an infused product. Finally, the mixture is left to cool before being filtered to remove any leftover plant material.
Pros of olive oil extraction
• Can be performed easily at home
• Relatively safe, with no previous extraction experience needed
• Greater degree of purity compared to solventless extraction
Cons of olive oil extraction
• Little control over the final extract
• Weak and unreliable CBD content compared to more professional methods
• Not suitable for commercial sale
Basic solvent CBD extraction
Solvent extraction is a rudimentary and risky practice, but it has fans. Essentially, it involves running a liquid solvent through decarboxylated hemp to remove cannabinoids and terpenes. The usual solvents include butane, ethanol, and hexane, so you need to safely evaporate any residual solvent post-extraction to ensure usable CBD extract.
Pros of solvent extraction
• Cheap and requires relatively small amounts of equipment
• Solvent CBD extracts have a respectable degree of purity
• Easy to scale for commercial production
Cons of solvent extraction
• Working with solvents can cause injury if not used correctly, they are highly flammable
• The oil can remain contaminated with solvent, which is dangerous for the end-user
• Higher temperatures risk destroying some essential terpenes and other smaller compounds
Supercritical CO₂ CBD extraction
In this method, CO₂ is manipulated to enter a supercritical state. With characteristics of both a gas and a liquid, it’s pumped through raw plant material under controlled conditions, stripping away essential terpenes and cannabinoids without damaging them.
Pros of supercritical CO₂ extraction
• Allows for the extraction of clean and safe concentrates without the use of additional additives or contaminants.
• Offers highly efficient yields, getting the most out of the hemp plant.
• CO₂ extraction is sustainable and environmentally friendly
Cons of supercritical CO₂ extraction
• Co₂ extraction is an industrial process, making it highly expensive
• Requires expertise to perform correctly
Which CBD extraction method is the best?
CO₂ extraction has significant advantages over other methods of producing CBD oil. First, you can pump supercritical CO₂ through hemp in such a way that it selectively picks up the cannabinoids and other compounds, leaving everything else behind.
Second, since it uses CO₂, it produces CBD oils free from chemicals and contaminants. And, when the extraction process is over, you can either reuse the CO₂ or release it safely back into the atmosphere. Thanks to this outstanding level of control, supercritical CO₂ has become a leading tool extraction and one that Cibdol uses to create all of its CBD extracts.
However, highly sophisticated extraction is only the beginning. Cibdol goes above and beyond for its customers, publishing a detailed analysis of every CBD product batch. Performed by an independent third-party, these analyses indicate levels of all common cannabinoids, allowing you to make the most informed decision possible.
You can browse the complete selection of our third-party tested CBD products from the Cibdol store, including CBD oils, cosmetics, supplements and isolates. Or, discover more about independent testing and what its means using our beginner-friendly CBD Encyclopedia.
If you want to learn more about extracting CBD, including which methods produces the highest-quality CBD oils, and which methods you should avoid.
How to Extract CBD: CBD Extraction with CO2 & More
- Supercritical CO2 extraction
- Steam distillation
- Solvent extraction
- How to extract CBD at home
- Activation and purification
- CBD extraction: the takeaway
We’d like to thank CBDfx and Natural Hemp Solutions for supplying us with images of the processes used in their labs. You can find our review of CBDfx’s various product lines here.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an organic compound that is found in the cannabis plant, with the flowers of the hemp plant being the richest source. And in order for CBD to be added to a wide array of consumer products—think CBD oil, lotions, topicals, or CBD vape juice—the first step that manufacturers need to take is to extract it from the plant.
This guide will present the various CBD extraction methods, essentially explaining how full-spectrum CBD oil is obtained from the CBD strains of cannabis. Some of these methods have been used in various industries for decades or even centuries, far before CBD oil was even a thing. Examples include essential oil extraction, decaffeination (and caffeine extraction) of coffee beans, and even beer production. In all cases, the idea is the same: how to extract a valuable resource out of plant material.
If you are interested in the ins and outs of CBD extraction, or if you want to find out how to extract CBD oil at home using cannabis strains high in CBD, you’re at the right place. Here’s a breakdown of the most commonly used CBD extraction methods.
Supercritical CO2 extraction
The word “supercritical” sounds real fancy, but it is actually a term that’s very commonly used in chemistry. Simply put, a substance in its supercritical state possesses characteristics of both a gas and a liquid.
When supercritical CO2 is used in CBD extraction, its gas properties allow it to effuse through all plant matter, while its liquid properties allow it to extract compounds efficiently. The exact process varies, and some labs start the extraction with liquid CO2 while others start with CO2 in gas form. In both cases, manufacturers add CO2 in a chamber that includes plant material and use the exact amounts of pressure and temperature needed for CO2 to reach its supercritical state. At this point, and with the help of some additional heat, CO2 acts as a solvent and causes the plant material to separate, carrying with it all the essential compounds. Once done, CO2 is separated from the organic compounds, and manufacturers are left with full-spectrum CBD oil.
While it requires qualified personnel and there are higher costs associated with the equipment needed for supercritical CO2 extraction, it is by far the most efficient and quickest method to extract CBD. It is also environmentally friendly due to the limited amount of emissions, and safer than extractions that use certain solvents as CO2 is “generally regarded as safe” by the FDA.
- The most efficient method
- CO2 is regarded as generally safe
- Quick (once everything is in place)
- Environmentally safe
- Expensive (equipment costs)
- Needs qualified personnel
CBDfx CBD Oil Tincture
CBDfx offers some of the finest organic full spectrum CBD oil. They’re blended with MCT oil derived from coconuts and are now available in a few exciting flavor varieties. They start at 500 mg and go up to 1,500 mg CBD. CBDfx employs a special supercritical CO2 extraction process using only the finest organic hemp.
Steam distillation is a centuries-old process that’s commonly used to distill alcohol as well as extract essential oils from organics. The process is much less complicated than CO2 CBD extraction. First, plant matter is introduced in a distillation tank. With the use of water and heat, the produced steam carries oils to the top of the tank, and it is then passed through a condenser, resulting in a mix of water and oil. The mix then goes through further distillation to separate water and oil, and the result is full-spectrum CBD oil.
While this CBD extraction process is much simpler, there are some downfalls. It is more prone to error, much less efficient, and may potentially damage part of the essential oil profile of the plant. Due to these reasons, steam distillation is very rarely used to extract CBD nowadays, but many labs still use some type of distillation in the process of isolating CBD from full-spectrum oil.
- Relatively easy to perform
- Low cost
- Not very efficient
- Not consistent
- Resulting CBD oil is less potent
This method is also centuries old and is somewhat of a middle point between CO2 extraction and steam distillation when it comes to complexity and efficiency. It bears many similarities to CO2 extraction, albeit without the advanced methodology that’s behind the “supercritical” part.
In layman’s terms, this type of extraction involves mixing plant material with some type of solvent that will carry the essential oils given the right conditions and enough time. Some of the most popular natural solvents are alcohol (ethanol) and natural plant oils (including olive oil), with alcohol being much more efficient in dissolving the plant’s compounds. But due to the higher cost associated with ethanol, many manufacturers choose to go with synthetic solvents (hydrocarbons like butane or hexane), which may end up in lower quality, or even CBD oil that’s unfit for consumption if they’re not removed properly from the final product.
Solvent extraction is a delicate CBD extraction process and its pros and cons, as well as the consistency of the resulting oil, varies greatly depending on the solvent used. It can be more efficient than steam distillation if performed properly, but it carries a lot of risk and most labs choose CO2 extraction if they can afford it.
- More efficient than steam distillation
- Can be performed with natural oils
- Relatively safe if natural oils are used
- Varied results in final product
- Not as efficient as CO2 extraction
- Synthetic solvents are dangerous to handle
- Synthetic solvents need to be completely removed from final product
How to extract CBD at home
At this point, you may be wondering if there’s any way you can extract CBD at the comfort of your own home. The short answer is “yes”, but it really depends on how willing you are to do further research. The following is not going to be a real step-by-step guide, but it can serve as a starting point and give you some basic guidelines.
Olive oil extraction
Possibly the simplest way to extract CBD oil, as it only requires some CBD-rich bud, olive oil, and some basic kitchen equipment to ensure a steady supply of heat. If you’ve ever made cannabutter, then technically you have already utilized this method before. The only difference in this case, is that you are using hemp and olive oil—but olive oil can easily be swapped out for the oil or butter of your choice. This includes regular butter, coconut oil, hempseed oil, etc.
The first step for olive oil extraction is decarboxylation, i.e. activation of the compounds of plant material with the use of heat (there’s more info in the following section). Trimmed hemp flower in an oven tray heated between 240 and 280°F (115-135°C) for up to an hour should do the trick. Once this step is taken care of, the resulting activated cannabis is mixed with olive oil and heated at low temperature (ideally in a double boiler) for around two hours. The only thing left to do at this point is to use a filter to strain the mixture and separate the oil from the plant material. The result: CBD-infused olive oil.
While this is the easiest and least risky way to extract CBD oil, it is certainly not the most efficient. As with most DIY projects, there’s always room for user error. But even if you do everything right, you are going to sacrifice a large part of the organic compounds of the plant and you will produce less potent oil than a lab would. For these reasons, extracting CBD at home is an interesting experiment, but if you want to reap all the benefits of CBD it is advisable to get it from a reputable source instead.
Activation and purification
While technically not steps of CBD extraction, activation of active organic compounds and purification of CBD oil are two processes that are very important in CBD production. The most common methods used for these purposes are decarboxylation and winterization.
The active organic compounds of the cannabis plant come in their acidic forms. In order to go from THCA and CBDA to THC and CBD, manufacturers need to apply heat and decarboxylate the compounds—that’s the lab equivalent to lighting up a joint. Heat removes a carbon molecule from the organic compounds and turns them into their active counterparts.
Decarboxylation may take place before or after the extraction, and the exact methodology followed is highly dependent on this choice. But it is an essential part of the CBD oil production process, as non-activated compounds have little to no effect on the user.
While not as essential as carboxylation, winterization is a very common process that ensures that the final product of the extraction is as pure as possible. Simply put, the process of winterization employs solvents (usually ethanol) and low temperatures to ensure that lipids and other impurities are removed from an oil extract. This takes place as one of the final steps before full spectrum oil is obtained.
Winterization is not always performed, but it is a very important process when the final product is intended to be vaped. Some terpenes and other compounds are also filtered out during this process, but many manufacturers choose to add terpenes to their CBD oil after winterization.
CBD extraction: the takeaway
These are the most commonly used CBD extraction methods and, as expected, each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The main takeaway from this guide should be that the reason you may have seen “supercritical CO2 extraction” in ads and promotions is not just that it sounds cool (although it does!) Simply put, CO2 extraction is by far the cleanest and most efficient CBD extraction method—and a no-brainer for any lab that can actually afford it.
This doesn’t mean that all CO2-extracted CBD products are better by definition. But if a lab invests in the equipment that’s required for the most technically demanding extraction method, chances are that they know what they are doing. When in doubt, check lab tests, and always choose third-party tested CBD products from reputable sources.
How is CBD extracted from the hemp plant, and can you make your own CBD-infused oil at home? Read our CBD extraction guide to find out.