How to Extract CBD – Cannabis Extraction Methods Explained

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There are plenty of ways to extract CBD from hemp, but none as effective as supercritical CO2. Still, this method requires heavy financial resources and thus most homemade extractions are performed with different substitutes. Learn the science behind cannabis extraction.

Have you ever wondered how some of your favorite CBD products are made?

Oils, concentrates, waxes, and isolates are all highly technical products. They’re made using a variety of extraction methods, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Knowing how your CBD is extracted will give you a good understanding of how all high-quality CBD products are made.

But most importantly, extraction is where all the magic behind CBD oil happens. Without this process, people would be left with nothing other than flowers and edibles to consume.

Could you imagine the cannabis market without oils, concentrates, capsules, and topicals?

Neither can we.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How CBD is sourced
  • How to extract CBD from the hemp plant
  • Why reputable companies use CO2 extraction to make their CBD products
  • How to perform the CBD extraction without expensive CO2 extraction machines

But before we get into the job, let’s have a quick warm up and reiterate the main properties of cannabidiol.

What Is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the two major active compounds in the cannabis plant — belonging to the group of phytochemicals known as cannabinoids.

Unlike its psychoactive cousin THC, cannabidiol doesn’t have mind-altering properties. In other words, it’s impossible to get high or “stoned” when using CBD.

Instead, this versatile compound allows you to experience the therapeutic benefits of cannabis like reduced anxiety, improved immune response, effective pain relief, and sleep support.

Interestingly, CBD produces these effects without binding directly to any of the cannabinoid receptors.

Instead, it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce more of its naturally produced cannabinoids; at the same time, it slows their breakdown — allowing the body to maintain its delicate chemical balance.

Moreover, CBD acts on several other molecular pathways. For example, it activates the TRPV-1 receptor — which controls a variety of biological functions, such as inflammation, pain perception, and body temperature.

Finally, CBD is known to counter the psychoactive effects of THC by inhibiting the action of the FAAH enzyme that breaks down anandamide. With more anandamide in circulation because of the CBD, it competes with, and reduces the psychoactivity of THC indirectly. That’s great news for those seeking relief from their symptoms without having to deal with certain side effects of THC.

How Do We Source CBD?

CBD can be sourced from hemp or marijuana plants grown either in the US or overseas.

The source of CBD matters a lot because it also determines what other compounds are collected during the extraction process.

There are two main sources of CBD:

  1. Hemp (Cannabis sativa containing less than 0.3% THC by dried weight)
  2. Marijuana (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica — no restrictions on THC content)

The main difference between hemp-derived and marijuana-derived CBD is the ratio between CBD and THC.

Marijuana plants typically contain significant amounts of THC, ranging between 15 and 30%. Most marijuana strains offer far less CBD, typically between 0.1% and 3%.

Hemp, on the other hand, has more CBD (5 to 30%). In fact, industrial hemp is bred to contain less than 0.3% THC to meet the legal limits in the US.

Hemp Sources State-by-State

States like California, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, and Tennessee are known for growing and processing the largest amounts of industrial hemp and hemp seeds.

Now that President Trump has signed the Farm Bill 2018, hemp is legal for commercial use on the federal level, which heralds great changes for the industry, especially when it comes to manufacturing standards.

The best  CBD companies source their hemp from local farms that use organic, non-GMO farming practices. The problem is that growing hemp organically on small farms is more expensive. Some companies prefer to use lower-quality, industrial-scale hemp to cut costs. These industrial farming operations often require heavy pesticide and chemical fertilizers.

Make sure you always double-check the credibility of your CBD provider and see where they get their hemp from. Most CBD manufacturers using premium-quality hemp will make this blatantly clear through their advertising.

The CBD Extraction Process

CBD extraction serves one purpose; to isolate the target chemical compounds from the hemp plant, and eliminate all the unwanted compounds — like fiber, minerals, and plant sugars.

Extracting CBD from cannabis calls for selectively-bred, high-CBD marijuana strains, or various strains of hemp. Selective breeding results in strains high in the target cannabinoids, such as THC or CBD; this, in turn, can improve the efficiency of the extraction process.

Let’s say you have a 30% CBD strain and another with 5% — which one is going to give you a more potent extract? It goes without saying that your thoughts are leaning toward the 30% strain. And you know what? You couldn’t be more right. Selectively bred strains are preferred if the goal is CBD isolates.

Once harvested, the plants are brought to an extraction facility.

There are several ways you can extract CBD from the hemp plant including:

  • Supercritical CO2 extraction
  • Cold water extraction
  • Dry Ice extraction
  • Oil extraction
  • Solvent extraction

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the above CBD extraction methods.

1. Supercritical CO2 Extraction

Supercritical CO2 extraction is by far the most popular CBD extraction method — and for good reason:

  • It’s extremely safe — avoiding the use of toxic solvents
  • It’s highly efficient, wasting almost nothing during the extraction process

Simply put, pressurized CO2 acts as a solvent at certain temperatures and pressure levels to isolate the active compounds from the unwanted phytochemicals and plant matter.

While it’s safe and effective, it also requires using extremely expensive equipment —costing around $40,000–$100,000 dollars for even the most basic CO2 extraction setups.

How Does Supercritical CO2 Extraction Work?

In its natural environment, CO2 behaves like a gas, but you can easily change it to a solid by putting it into different temperatures and pressure levels.

The sweet spot for our extraction method is the supercritical form of CO2. It can be achieved by decreasing its temperature below -69 F while increasing the pressure to over 75 PSI.

Once at the specific pressure and temperature, CO2 enters a state where it’s neither a gas nor a liquid — it’s both.

In other words, the supercritical CO2 can fill a container without losing density, which makes it ideal for chemical extraction; it provides a clean product without denaturing or damaging the active compounds.

Now, the supercritical CO2 has to pass through some high-quality, CBD rich marijuana or hemp in an extractor. The carbon dioxide will draw the cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils out of the plant material.

Basically, any of the fat-soluble compounds will follow the CO2, leaving insoluble compounds behind.

Finally, the whole solution gets verified by a separator and split into its requisite components.

CBD is sent along with other valuable phytochemicals to the collection container.

Meanwhile, the supercritical CO2 passes via the condenser and gets transformed into its liquid form again.

You can keep the liquid in a special storage tank and use it to repeat the process.

Subcritical CO2 Extraction

Contrary to its supercritical counterpart, the subcritical CO2 extraction method involves operating at lower temperatures and lower pressure. It’s more time consuming and produces a smaller yield, but on the other hand, subcritical extraction is more likely to save those terpenes that generally evaporate when treated with higher heat.

It works through a similar method as cold water or dry ice extraction (more on those below).

Combining these two methods allows companies to create full-spectrum CO2 cannabis extract that benefits the entourage effect.

Pros & Cons of CO2 Cannabis Extraction

Let’s summarize the above section with a neat table of all the ups and downs of extracting CBD with CO2.

Pros of CO2 Cannabis ExtractionCons of CO2 Cannabis Extraction
It’s the safest form of extractionIt’s very expensive
It’s a well-used technology in other industries as well — such as caffeine extractionIt comes with a big learning curve
Produces high-purity cannabis extractionsIt’s easy to do incorrectly, wasting much of your product

Is CO2 Cannabis Extraction the Final Stage?

At this point, you might be wondering what happens after the CO2 cannabis extraction.

It all boils down to whether you want to achieve a broad-spectrum extract or CBD isolate.

Measuring the Product with Advanced Chromatography
*Chromatography: – a process in which a chemical mixture carried by a liquid or gas is separated into components as a result of differential distribution of the solutes as they flow around or over a stationary liquid or solid phase (by Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Once extracted, CBD has to undergo an additional step known as chromatography. This mechanism is used to get rid of unwanted phytochemicals along with the plant matter from the extracted oil.

Cannabinoids like CBD travel slower than most of the unwanted plant material — like chlorophyll because it interacts with chromatography media better than unwanted plant material like chlorophyll.

Once separated, cannabidiol along with other cannabinoids and terpenes can be isolated from the sourcing plant and the latter can be disposed of.

Chromatography produces broad-spectrum CBD extracts.

The Winterization Process

Winterization is used every time a company wants to create CBD isolate.

This process removes undesirable compounds that were extracted from the plant, including waxes and lipids.

Once extracted, the CBD is mixed with 200-proof alcohol (ethanol) and stirred intensely until thoroughly mixed.

Then, the extract is placed in a deep freezer overnight. The day after freezing, the mixture should look a bit cloudy because it still needs filtration.

People commonly use a filter paper and an extraction jar to perform the filtration. You can even find a dedicated piece of equipment called Buchner Funnel.

Once the extract is filtered to the desired consistency, it’s time to evaporate the alcohol.

This can be done by heating the extract slowly. The alcohol will evaporate over time since its boiling point is lower than the oil.

The last milestone on our road to creating CBD isolate is the short path distillation.

Short Path Distillation

To make pure CBD isolate, the oil has to pass through the short path distillation system. This is pretty much the same as winterization, save for the fact that the extract is kept in a special tube.

After being heated and heated, the extracted compounds get into a condenser where the fractions take separate paths.

The short path distillation process is what isolates cannabidiol from other active chemicals. The final product has a crystal-like consistency and can be crumbled or ground into fine powder.

 

 

2. Vegetable Oil Extraction

Vegetable or cooking oil extraction can easily be done at home.

It follows the same principles as any other form of extraction but uses simple vegetable oils as the solvent.

Virtually any oil can be used to do this type of extraction. The most common examples include:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter/Ghee
  • MCT oil
  • Hemp-seed oil
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Argan oil
  • Sunflower oil

The choice of oil depends on availability, and what you plan on using the final product for.

For example, if you’re using it to bake into edible, a saturated fat like butter or coconut oil are best. If using it in salves or creams, argan oil or sweet almond oil are a stronger option. If simply taking the CBD in drop form, any of the above oils will work, but cheaper oils like olive oil is a good option.

The Extraction Process

  1. Decarboxylate the CBD-rich raw plant material. Heating your cannabis at 248 F for 30-60 minutes in the oven should do the trick.
  2. Add the decarbed weed to the olive oil in a saucepan and heat the mixture to 212 F.
  3. Maintain the temperature and keep the dish over low heat for up to 2 hours.

This process will extract the cannabinoids and infuse your olive oil with their therapeutic properties.

Pros of the Olive Oil Extraction MethodCons of the Olive Oil Extraction Method
It’s safe and easyHas a shorter shelf-life
It’s inexpensiveLow-efficiency extraction

3. Organic Solvent Extraction

Using organic solvents such as butane, ethanol, and alcohol (methanol or ethanol) is one of the most popular ways to extract CBD from the hemp plant.

Some popular choices of organic solvents for CBD extraction include:

  • Butane
  • Hexane
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
  • Ether

The safety of using these solvents can vary a lot. Some are safe for consumption in their raw form (ethanol), while most are toxic and will need to be removed after the extraction process before the product is considered safe to consume.

To run the solvent-based extraction, you have to soak the plant material in the solvent. The liquid will draw the cannabinoids and terpenes from the flower along with chlorophyll. Once you observe that the solvent has taken enough cannabinoids, heat the liquid in a special dish to evaporate it down to the carrier oil.

Caution: Many of these solvents are highly flammable. During the evaporation process, if proper techniques to remove evaporated (and highly explosive) vapors aren’t removed, serious injury or property damage may result.

We recommend using alcohol extraction if doing this at home and avoiding the evaporation process at the end. This is the easiest and simplest way to do a solvent extraction at home. What you’re essentially making is a tincture of cannabis. This will extract all cannabinoids in your cannabis sample, so it’s crucial that you use a strain high in CBD to achieve this. If THC is present, you’ll end up with THC in your final process.

The Alcohol Extraction Process

  1. Decarboxylate your cannabis flowers.
  2. Mix them in a jar with high-proof alcohol.
  3. Close the jar tightly and let it sit for a few weeks, shaking once a day.*
  4. Strain your extract through a coffee filter to and bottle it up.

* There are a few other ‘interpretations’ of this step, both of which aim at obtaining the tincture faster than the above method. The first variation involves simmering the jar in a water bath for around 20 minutes at 170 F; the second one calls for shaking the jar continuously for 3 minutes after mixing cannabis with alcohol. Once done, the tincture is ready to be strained and stored.

Pros of the Solvent Extraction MethodCons of the Solvent Extraction Method
Produces a high-quality extract without the need for expensive machineryCan be a very dangerous method of extraction if done incorrectly
The highly efficient method of extractionOften contains unwanted plant matter in the final extraction
Has higher bioavailability than other extraction forms

4. The Dry Ice Extraction Method

The dry ice extraction is another way to extract CBD at home. However, it takes more time and effort than the olive oil extraction method.

As the name may lead you to expect, this technique uses dry ice to extract CBD from the plant matter. It’s an inexpensive and safe method of making some high-quality CBD hash without using hazardous solvents.

Solventless extracts are always considered “purer” products than their solvent-based counterparts. Besides, making CBD extracts with dry ice is fun and simple — that’s how you combine business with pleasure.

The Extraction Process

When approaching the dry ice extraction, make sure you have the following equipment (and, of course, some CBD-rich cannabis):

  • 3 pounds of dry ice (more or less)
  • A large mirror or a decent piece of Plexiglas
  • A putty knife
  • Thick, heat-resistant gloves
  • Eye gloves
  • A clean 5-gallon bucket (a plastic one)
  • 3 bags of bubble hash mesh in the following sizes: 73, 160, and 220 microns
  • 3 large jars with tight lids

The Process:

  1. Put on the goggles and gloves.
  2. Grind up or break apart your cannabis buds into smaller pieces, placing it in the bucket.
  3. Now, cover the buds with dry ice and leave it there for 3 minutes, keeping in mind to fill the bucket halfway. This process will freeze the trichome resins so they can be transferred to the hash mesh bags.
  4. Fit each bag over the bucket with your ice-cold mixture and shake it several times to knock the frozen trichomes off.
  5. Turn the bucket upside down on the mirror and shake as much resin through the hash bag as you can. After scrapping the hash of the mirror, you can place it into one of the jars.
  6. Repeat the entire process with the remaining bags and enjoy your freshly collected trichome extracts.

What’s the Role of Decarboxylation in Cannabis Extraction?

The vast majority of CBD oil products undergo a process called decarboxylation.

If you’ve ever made cannabis-infused edibles, then you know the process from roots to branches.

Decarboxylation involves heating the cannabinoids so that an extra chemical link is broken and compounds like THC and CBD are activated.

This allows the cannabinoids to immediately affect the endocannabinoid system, increasing their bioavailability.

Without decarboxylation, CBD remains in its acidic and inactive form CBDA.

Summarizing CBD Extraction Techniques

Whether you want to learn the differences between low and high-quality CBD oil, or you’re just up for some homemade CBD production, knowing the science behind cannabis extraction is a must.

People have been using different cannabis extracts for centuries to benefit from the high concentration of therapeutic cannabinoids and terpenes. Without the extraction process, we would be left with nothing but dried flowers to consume.

Currently, people extract their cannabinoids with CO2, alcohol-based solvents, olive oil, or even dry ice. The best part about cannabis extraction is that the majority of these methods can be performed at home. The CO2 extraction remains an exception because it requires some serious financial contribution to gather the equipment, let alone the entire know-how.

Have you ever tried to extract CBD at home?

Do you pay attention to how your CBD oil is extracted?

Let us know in the comments!

Zoey Tran

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About James Reed

James Reed is the founder and editor-in-chief at iSum. He’s a big advocate of marijuana and spent most of his time writing about these topics, sharing what he learned over the years.

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