The best CBD oil of course starts with using the highest quality plants, but when it comes to turning the raw material into the finished product, the method used can be just as important. If you plan to use CBD on a regular basis, it can be worth knowing about how the oil is extracted. The different methods use all have their pros and cons, and can produce different end products that may have varying effects on your system.
CBD already exists naturally in the hemp plant, so it needs to be extracted in order to create the product we know as CBD oil. There are a number of different methods that can be used, and each manufacturer of CBD products will have their preference, but these are the three main methods in use.
One popular method of extraction is the use of solvents, which is cheap and relatively efficient. This involves the use of one of a number of solvents, which can be chemical or natural – these include ethanol, butane, propane, isopropyl, or even alcohol. Ethanol is actually created naturally by plants, so many people believe this method of extraction is best for maintaining the chemical balance of the plant matter.
The first step in the process is to take the flowers and trimmings of the plant and heat them up. This starts a process known as decarboxylation – the removal of the carbon atom from the carbon chain – which is necessary to activate the cannabinoids in the hemp. When smoking marijuana, this process happens naturally as the plant burns.
Once this is done, the next step is the actual extraction, which involves soaking the plant matter in the solvent, or dripping the solvent slowly through the flowers and trimmings. As the name suggests, the solvent “dissolves” both water and oil-soluble compounds in the plant and they are released into the solvent. The hemp is then filtered out, leaving a liquid mixture that contains both the cannabinoid oil and the original solvent. The mixture is left out in the open so that the solvent evaporates and the cannabinoid oil is left behind.
Despite its popularity, there are a few downsides to the solvent method of extraction. The first is that if the solvent is not completely removed from the mixture, the residue that remains can be toxic. The second is that the solvent extracts some compounds from the plant that aren’t necessarily desirable for the finished product. One of these is chlorophyll, which can not only leave an unpleasant aftertaste, but can sometimes produce undesirable side effects.
Oil extraction is somewhat similar to the process of solvent extraction, but is a much older and gentler method. It’s praised as being the most natural, safest and easiest method, and is often use by people wishing to make their own CBD oil at home. This method has been used to extract oil from cannabis plants for centuries, with archaeologists finding evidence of use as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Olive oil is the most commonly used oil for the process as it masks any unpleasant taste, but palm oil and coconut oil are also used.
As with solvent extraction, the oil extraction method starts with the decarboxylation process – heating the plant matter to activate the cannabinoids. Alternatively, some users skip this step and instead grind the plant matter very finely. The next step is to heat the plant material further in oil. As the hemp is heated, the cannabinoid compounds are released and are mixed with the oil.
While this method is safe and simple enough for home use, there are some drawbacks, particularly for mass production. As the oil cannot be evaporated from the mixture in the way that a solvent can, the CBD oil has a much lower potency. Olive oil is also not particularly stable and the oil must be kept in a cool, dark place to ensure it doesn’t go off.
Extraction with CO2 or other gases is a much more modern method of extraction, and one that is generally only used by large scale producers. It is the most expensive and complex of all the methods of extraction and there is a great deal of investment needed to get the equipment required, as well as qualified personal to oversee the extraction. The extraction works because the gas that is used – usually CO2 – can exist in a state that can have the properties of both a liquid and a gas simultaneously. It has the density of a fluid, but can also expand to fill a given container the way that a gas does.
The process involves a piece of equipment known as a closed loop extractor, which is a machine with three chambers. The first chamber contains the CO2 under pressure and the second chamber contains the dried hemp. The CO2 is then released and pumped though the second chamber, extracting the cannabinoids before being pumped into the final chamber. This is known as the separator, where the CO2 rises to the top, leaving behind the CBD extract. The CO2 can then be used again.
The downsides to this method mainly lie in the cost and complexities of setting up the extractor. In terms of the final product, this is considered the purest method of extraction. There is no toxic residue left behind as with the solvent method and the yield is much higher than with oil extraction.
Once the raw CBD has been extracted from the plant matter, it is often put through one or two extra processes to remove impurities or to help concentrate the solution. Some impurities such as waxes, lipids or other fats can cause an unpleasant aftertaste that’s
Winterization is a purification process that is used to remove any impurities and any substances that are not CBD. This process is only used for the production of CBD isolate, as the production of full-spectrum CBD oil deliberately leaves in other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
The process involves mixing the extract well with 200-proof ethanol and then freezing it overnight, hence the name winterization. As the mixture freezes, the impurities separate from the CBD extract and can be filtered out. Any remaining ethanol is then removed by gently warming the extract.
After winterization has been performed, the extract can be refined further through a method known as short path distillation. This is a very simple process that only requires warming the extract to particular temperatures.
Each substance within the extract has its own boiling point – the point at which it will turn to gas and evaporate. As each substance evaporates it is channelled off using a distilling tube, where it is then cooled and returns to its liquid or solid form. In this way all of the substances in the compound can be separated.
You might have wondered how the different percentages listed on different CBD oils are calculated and how they are achieved. The oil that produced by the extraction process will contain a certain percentage of CBD. This oil is then mixed with a carrier oil in different amounts – for example a 5% CBD product has more carrier oil than a 10% CBD product.