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CBD Extraction

How your CBD is extracted is critical

In the journey of any CBD product, from seed-to-shelf, the most critical part of the process is its extraction phase. Moving CBD from its starting point inside the plant into a concentrated form is a highly technical process.

There are many ways this can be done, and various methods have their pros and cons. It is important to know the difference because they ultimately play a pivotal role in the safety, quality, and effectiveness of the final product. 

Below we break down the various ways in which CBD can be extracted.

Supercritical CO2 extraction

Supercritical CO2 is currently the most widely adopted form of extracting CBD in the industry. Because Carbon Dioxide is a gas at atmospheric temperature, it must undergo a “supercritical” phase. This simply means that it is compressed and heated (using highly specialised and technical equipment) until it becomes a liquid. This liquid is passed over the raw hemp matter under specific conditions to draw out the CBD, and other essential compounds, without damaging them.

• Produces very efficient yields, meaning that you get the most out of the plant.
• The “Gold-Standard” – because it consistently offers safe concentrates and doesn’t require any additional chemicals or ingredients to achieve this.

• Requires highly technical equipment which is costly.
• Needs to be done by expert scientists who understand chemistry.

Solvent (or Alcohol) Extraction

From purely a chemical standpoint, solvent extractions are the most desirable. There are also several solvent options to choose from, including ethanol, butane and hexane.

In reality, however, solvent extraction is not straightforward and can present significant risks. In this method, the liquid solvent is passed over decarboxylated hemp to draw out the cannabinoids. The trouble is that these solvents also often bind to undesirable components in the plant, which can result in an end-product full of harmful contaminants. That is why anyone carrying out solvent extractions must safely evaporate any residual solvent matter, post-extraction, to ensure a safe, usable CBD extract. The problem is that, due to a lack of industry regulation, sometimes all these steps are not followed – to the detriment of the consumer.

• A cheaper alternative to Supercritical CO2 as it doesn’t require specific equipment.
• Solvents are easy to obtain and therefore easy to scale for commercial production.

• Solvents are highly flammable, so they are more dangerous to work with.
• The end-product can remain contaminated with undesirable plant matter and unsafe to consume.

Other extraction methods

Olive Oil extraction – This is where you combine decarboxylated raw plant matter with olive oil and heat it on a stove for several hours. The CBD, along with the other compounds will bind to the fats in the oil, creating a Whole Plant extract end-product.

Ice Water extraction – In this method, finely-chopped plant trimmings are mixed with ice to help pull out the cannabinoids and other compounds.
Water is then added to the ice and plant trimmings before the entire mixture is strained through a mesh bag. Once this is done, the extract settles at the bottom of the strained mixture, the excess water is drained and the extract is left to dry.

So which extraction method is the best?

When it comes to CBD, the Supercritical CO2 extraction is the most popular choice for a reason. Firstly, this technology is familiar. CO2 extraction is used to produce carbonated soft drinks for example, so it’s a proven and safe method of extraction. On the subject of safety, since it uses CO2, the end CBD oil product is always free from chemicals and other contaminants.

However we are only at the beginning of this journey when it comes to developing sophisticated extraction methods for CBD, and more widely for cannabis-derived products. Whilst CO2 extraction is great for oils, is not necessarily the best for other concentrates. In many North-American markets for example, where Live-resin, Wax, Shatter and Hash are legal, other extraction options can be more desirable. The most important thing is that you know how your CBD product is extracted so that you can feel confident in its efficacy and safe in consuming it.