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How is CBD Extracted?

CBD Extraction

If you’re one of the growing numbers of people who are enjoying the benefits of CBD oil, CBD capsules or topical creams, you’re no doubt already aware of how CBD can boost your wellbeing and help promote a healthy balance. 

But have you ever stopped to wonder how CBD oil is made?

You probably know that CBD is derived from the hemp plant, but how exactly do CBD manufacturers extract this powerful compound from the plant?

The truth is, there is no one method to extract CBD. In fact, there are a number of different ways to extract CBD from hemp plants, each with their own pros and cons.

Later we’ll go over how each of these processes work, but first, let’s start with the basics:

What is CBD oil made from?

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, a kind of compound that is only found in cannabis plants. It is well known for its benefits, and is becoming increasingly popular to help with managing pain, promoting better sleep, reducing anxiety and more.

Before CBD can be used to produce products such as CBD oil, tinctures, edibles or topical creams, it first needs to be extracted from the cannabis plant. CBD can be extracted from any kind of cannabis plant that contains high enough concentrations of the cannabinoid. This means that CBD can technically be derived from both hemp and marijuana.

However, in most countries, CBD can only be legally extracted from hemp plants. In both the UK and the US, for example, only CBD products that are derived from specific types of hemp can be legally manufactured and sold. Check this article to learn more about CBD and the law.

We need to extract CBD from cannabis in order to effectively use it or several reasons:

  • Cannabinoids cannot be effectively absorbed by the human body in plant form
  • Extracting the CBD allows us to know the amount of CBD present and therefore control dosages
  • Chewing on raw cannabis is rather unpleasant!
  • Raw cannabis may contain a number of microbes which could be harmful to our health
  • There are many other cannabinoids present in cannabis, not all of which may be as desirable as CBD

Therefore, CBD extraction is a way to not only separate the CBD compound from a cannabis plant, but also isolate it from other cannabinoids that are present.

This can include THC, albeit in small concentrations. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana that produces its famous “high”. Although CBD is only legally derived from certain types of hemp plants that contain minimal amounts of THC, it is important to control the extraction and refining process so that THC in the final product is kept to very negligible levels. Therefore, it is important to extract CBD from hemp in order to make oil and other products that can be used by consumers.

But wait: that’s not the end of the story.

There’s more than one method that can be used to extract CBD from hemp. In fact, there are an array of different ways that CBD can be extracted from the cannabis plant. Later in this article, we’ll cover the five most common extraction methods and how they work.

But first, let’s take a look at why it’s important to know the difference:

Why are CBD extraction methods important?

Before you buy any CBD product, it is important to know how the CBD was extracted. This is because each extraction method can produce a very different end product. In turn, these different end products have variable benefits. Different companies use vastly different CBD extraction methods, meaning that not every CBD product is the same, nor does it deliver the same benefits.

This makes understanding the different ways CBD oil is extracted important. It will allow you to make an informed decision when you buy CBD products: by checking how the product was extracted and fully understanding the implications of that information.

Different companies may choose a particular extraction method because it produces a high-quality product, or they may be driven by economic motives. For example, solvent extraction is much cheaper and more efficient than other methods, but may leave a toxic residue that could contaminate the final product. Similarly olive oil extraction is an affordable extraction process, and is safe, but typically produces a highly perishable, low-yield product.

On the other hand, CO2 extraction is a highly complex and expensive process, but also produces high-quality and very safe CBD products. That’s why we use this process to make all of our products! Having said that, the most important thing is that regardless of the extraction method chosen, it is carried out properly.

How to extract CBD: Key extraction methods

The large range of CBD products we find on the market today are extracted from hemp in different ways. CBD can be derived from cannabis plants using relatively simple methods such as hydrocarbon liquid extraction or olive oil, to much more complex processes such as CO2 extraction.

Let’s break down the most common ways that CBD manufacturers extract CBD, how they work, and the pros and cons of each.

CO2 Extraction

The CO2 method is one of the most complex, advanced and expensive ways to extract CBD, but it is also one of the most effective processes that produces the most high-quality CBD. Evopure’s products are made using this extraction method because it keeps as much of the plant as possible in its original form. CBD products that are derived using CO2 extraction, as long as it is carried out properly, are concentrated, extremely safe and free from contaminants.

There are a few variants in the CO2 extraction process, but generally this is performed using a machine called a closed-loop extractor.

A closed-loop extractor has three sections or chambers:

  • The first chamber has pressurised CO2, either in solid form or dry ice
  • The second chamber contains dry hemp materials: as the CO2 is pumped from the first to the second section, it takes on a state between gas and liquid, called “supercritical CO2”, extracting the cannabinoids from the hemp plant material.
  • The mixture is then pumped into the third chamber, where CBD stays on the bottom of the chamber while the CO2 rises to the top, effectively extracting the CBD from the mixture.

In terms of disadvantages, the downside of CO2 extraction is that it is expensive and requires a large investment from manufacturers to set up the appropriate equipment. Most quality CBD manufacturers will use this process, but this is, naturally, reflected in the price tag of the final product.

So essentially, there are no real disadvantages of CO2 extraction for the consumer, only for the manufacturer. Although, of course, the investment and cost of this advanced extraction process does translate into a higher price for CBD customers.

Liquid solvents

One of the most common ways how CBD is extracted is by using a liquid solvent. There are a variety of different solvents that can be used to extract CBD from the cannabis plant, including ethanol, butane, hydrocarbon, propane or isopropyl. Most commonly, hydrocarbon or ethanol (alcohol) solvents are used, and we look at those exact processes a little later.

First, however, let’s look at the general process for extracting CBD with a liquid solvent.

This method works by dissolving the waxes in the cannabis plant in order to release the cannabinoids, including CBD. Typically, hemp flowers and plant trimmings are soaked in the solvent. Alternatively, the solvent may be run over the plant pieces. Finally, the trimmings and the solvent are evaporated, leaving behind the concentrated cannabinoid solution.

For CBD manufacturers, liquid solvent extraction has many benefits:

  • It is cost-effective: in fact, it’s one of the cheapest ways to extract CBD
  • It is relatively easy to do
  • The process is much quicker than other extraction methods

On the downside, this process is also quite dangerous as it involves using liquids that are highly flammable. Because the process breaks down the plant waxes, it releases not only cannabinoids but also other components in the cannabis plant. This includes chlorophyll which has a bitter taste and can therefore make the CBD product taste bitter too.

Most seriously, if not done properly, this process may leave toxic residues behind that contaminate the final product. In order to avoid this, the manufacturer must ensure that the solvent is completely evaporated during the process.

Studies found traces of petroleum residue or naptha hydrocarbons in some CBD products that were extracted using solvents. This means that in buying an inferior or low-quality product you may unknowingly ingested harmful and toxic chemicals.

Hydrocarbon solvents

Hydrocarbons is one of the most common types of solvents used to extract CBD from hemp plants. Hydrocarbons are a type of solvent that is highly effective in separating CBD oil from the raw plant material. Hydrocarbons are a broad term used to describe a number of natural solvents, including naptha, petroleum, butane and propane.

After soaking the plant and flower trimmings in the hydrocarbon solvent, this produces a mixture that is a combination of CBD oil and hydrocarbon solvent. The hydrocarbon solvent evaporates at a lower temperature than CBD oil, and so can be evaporated off, leaving the CBD oil behind.

Given that the hydrocarbon solvents mentioned above are also fuels that we use to power our vehicles, the risk of ingesting these toxic compounds is, frankly, a little scary. Hydrocarbons can be harmful to human health if ingested, including increasing the risk of contracting cancer.

As mentioned, if the extraction and evaporation is performed correctly, the hydrocarbons will be completely evaporated and you will have nothing to worry about. It just highlights the importance of buying a high-quality CBD product and being cautious of buying cheap products, particularly if they have been extracted using hydrocarbons.

Ethanol solvents

One solution to the potential risks associated with using hydrocarbon solvents to extract CBD from cannabis plants is to use a natural solvent instead. Alcohols, and ethanol in particular, are a popular and safer alternative to toxic and carcinogenic hydrocarbons.

CBD extraction using ethanol works in an almost identical way to hydrocarbons, breaking down the structure of the plant in order to release the cannabinoids, including CBD. Ethanol is as effective as hydrocarbon solvents in extracting the CBD compound from cannabis plant, but without the risk of leaving behind harmful chemicals.

At this point, you may be wondering why hydrocarbons are used at all, why alcohol is not used all the time as the preferred liquid solvent in CBD extraction. This is because ethanol isn’t perfect for this purpose, and also has it’s disadvantages.

Ethanol and other natural solvents are more likely to extract chlorophyll at the same time as cannabinoids, leading to that bitter taste that we mentioned earlier. Of course, this isn’t a great concern for CBD that will be used to manufacture capsules or topical creams, but for oils and edibles this is far for desirable.

Ethanol and natural solvents are also less likely to evaporate than solvents like hydrocarbons. This means that the final solution will have a higher concentration of the solvent. These natural solvents are not generally harmful, but this does lower the overall CBD concentration in the final product. Therefore, when buying CBD products that have been extracted using ethanol, it is prudent to check the CBD concentration to make sure that the product is good value, as well as to ensure you take the correct dosage.

Olive Oil

Olive oil can also be used as a natural solvent to extract CBD from hemp plants. In fact, this is believed to be the method that was first used to derive CBD. The process is similar to the liquid solvent extraction methods we described above, but there are some important differences.

Most notably, the raw plant cuttings and flowers must first be heated to a certain temperature and for a set amount of time. This activates the cannabinoids, including CBD, through a process known as decarboxylation.

After heating, the plant pieces are soaked in olive oil. This olive oil and cannabis mixture is then heated once more in order to extract the CBD compounds. Olive oil is most commonly used, but the same process can be used with other natural oils such as coconut oil and, fittingly, hemp seed oil.

Unlike solvents such as hydrocarbons and ethanol, olive and other natural oils do not have a low boiling point. This means they cannot be evaporated off like those solvents and remain present. However, the specific heating process activates the cannabinoids, including CBD, making them ingestible by the human body.

Olive oil extraction has a number of advantages: it’s safe, it’s easy and it’s affordable. On the other hand, because the oil is not evaporated off, the result is a CBD and olive oil mixture that has a lower CBD concentration compared to some other extraction methods. This is not necessarily an issue if you increase your dosage accordingly, but it is something to keep in mind.

Another drawback of olive oil extraction is that the resulting product is very perishable. This type of CBD must be kept in a cool, dark place, making it largely impractical for commercial CBD operations and not suitable for many consumers.

Steam Distillation

Another way to separate or extract CBD oil from the hemp plant is by using steam.  This is an ancient method that has been used to extract essential oils from various plants and flowers for hundreds of years. More recently, it has been used to extract CBD from hemp plants.

In this method, hemp plant fibres are placed in a glass flask. This flask contains an inlet and an outlet to connect it to other apparatus. The inlet runs from another glass flask below that is filled with water. The outlet runs from the central flask to a condenser tube.

The water in the container connected to the inlet is then heated, producing steam which travels through the connection into the main flask. This steam then works on the hemp plant fibres, breaking down the oils and waxes in the plant and releasing the CBD compounds.

The vapours are captured within the glass flask. From there, they move into the condenser tube, and as they cool they condense, turning into CBD oil and water. This produces a mixture of CBD oil and water. Finally, the oil and water mixture is distilled, separating out the CBD oil and the water.

On the upside, steam distillation is a very safe method of extraction without the risk of leaving behind dangerous contaminants. However, it is also much less efficient than other CBD extraction processes, requiring a much larger amount of raw hemp material to produce the same amount of CBD concentration. Additionally, the process has to be carried out quite precisely, ensuring the correct temperatures to avoid damaging the extract or damaging the chemical properties of the cannabinoids.

What is the best way to extract CBD?

It is difficult to say which method of CBD extraction is the best, because each process has its pros and cons. It could be argued that CO2 extraction is the superior method because it produces the highest quality results along with a very safe product, this does, of course, have higher associated costs. For this reason, this is the method used by most leading manufacturers and recommended by many CBD sites and publications.

Let’s take a look at the various extraction methods, and the pros and cons of each:

 ProsCons
CO2 ExtractionHigh CBD concentrations, no toxic residue, efficient, no chlorophyllHigh cost and high investment
Hydrocarbon SolventsEfficient with a consistent concentration of CBD, inexpensive, no chlorophyllThere may be toxic residue from the solvent
Ethanol SolventsEfficient, inexpensive, no toxic residueLower CBD concentration, chlorophyll residue may cause bitter taste
Olive Oil ExtractionEasy, inexpensive, no toxic residueLower concentration, highly perishable product
Steam DistillationNo toxic or chlorophyll residue, low costIn efficient leading to a low or inconsistent concentration of CBD, heat may damage the CBD oil

From Extraction to the Final Product

Following extraction, the CBD oil is further refined and purified. Residual solvents, chlorophyll, waxes and lipids are stripped from the mixed to create the final CBD product. Most commonly, the refining is done through a process called “winterization”.

Other refining processes are also becoming increasingly common, particularly CBD distillate, whereby the raw CBD mixture is brought to a high heat. This separates out the compounds in the mixture, refining down the CBD to a pure and strong concentrate.

Through this refining process and depending on the level of purification, either a full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, or a CBD isolate can be produced. Broad spectrum CBD delivers the greatest amount of benefits, thanks to the positive entourage effect generated by the combination of various cannabinoids.

CBD isolate, an extremely pure form with high concentrations of CBD has its advantages and disadvantages. The pro of CBD isolate is that this is a pure form of CBD with no contaminants and makes it easy to deliver your desired dosage. You can also be fairly confident that you will not be exposed to any THC, even the minute levels found in other CBD products, and so minimise risk of a positive result on a drug test. On the other hand, there are few if any terpenes present, meaning you miss out on the positive benefits of the entourage  effect.

Summing up

If you’ve ever wondered how CBD oil is made, thinking you may be able to make your own yourself, you’ll be pretty disappointed. Aside from the legal concerns and licenses required to manufacture CBD products, you’ve seen above how complicated it is to extract CBD from hemp.

CBD extraction methods vary greatly in terms of their complexity, efficiency, cost and the quality of the product they produce. There is much debate in the industry about which is the best method, but the most important thing for consumers to keep in mind that buying a quality product will help to ensure the extraction process is carried out properly, regardless of the method.

Don’t forget to keep checking our blog for more news and information about CBD, and feel free to share our articles with your networks!

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