CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of over a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It provides great benefits, but the way it is extracted may impact its quality.
CBD has taken the world by storm over the past few years. Research has expanded so we have a better understanding of the health benefits of using it and more people are using it than ever before. The market has exploded, which gives CBD users a lot of different options when it comes to what brands and products they choose to use.
Most people are concerned about the dose, whether it is full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate, the different flavors, and a few other things. However, there is something else crucial to consider when it comes to choosing the best CBD oil for your needs.
Where Exactly Does CBD Come From?
To understand the importance of how CBD is extracted, we’re first going to explore where it comes from. Cannabis, typically referred to as marijuana, is a term used to talk about the plants that have higher concentrations of THC. Hemp plants come from the same genus but they’re not the same in their cultivation or chemical makeup. They contain lower concentrations of THC. In order to be classified as hemp, the plants must have less than 0.3% THC by volume in dry weight.
Hemp plants have a lot to offer and can be used to make paper, textiles, biodiesel, rope, and more. Hemp is also used as a vegan protein source. The absence of THC is what makes these plants and products legal in the United States, ever since the passing of the Farm Bill in 2018. Another thing about hemp plants is that they are naturally high in CBD. Ever since CBD truly hit the market, industrial hemp has been bred specifically for its CBD. Some companies have even engineered proprietary strains of hemp for their CBD products.
How Is CBD Extracted?
There are roughly 150 different known cannabinoids present in the cannabis and hemp plants, though some experts say that number could be as high as 400. In order to separate those cannabinoids from the plant material, it must be extracted. There are four different methods for extracting CBD, which we’ll describe below.
The Rick Simpson Method
Rick Simpson invented this method. It is one of the oldest methods of CBD extraction and it is also the cheapest possible way to get the CBD out of the plant material. This extraction method requires the use of a hydrocarbon like butane, propane, or acetone. Hemp plants are submerged in one of those substances and left to steep.
As the plants steep in the harsh chemicals, the cannabinoids are stripped out, then left behind in a liquid form. Once the cannabinoids are completely extracted into whatever solvent was used, the resulting solution is boiled. Hydrocarbons have a lower boiling point than CBD and other cannabinoids, so the solvent can evaporate and leave behind just the cannabinoids.
This is far from the best method. In our opinion, it might be the absolute worst. Using harsh chemicals like this destroys certain compounds in the plant. Even worse, hydrocarbons are flammable, which makes this method dangerous. For most people, the one thing that makes CBD such a good option for helping them feel better and restore balance in their body is that it is a natural product. Butane, acetone, propane, and other hydrocarbons are extremely harsh chemicals that you aren’t going to want to consume.
There’s a high potential for contaminants to be left behind in the cannabinoids after they’ve been extracted. With the potential to destroy plant waxes and other important compounds along with the high risk of contamination, this isn’t a favorable method at all.
Carrier Oil Extraction
Carrier oil extraction is much gentler than the Rick Simpson method. In order to extract CBD this way, plant material is decarboxylated first. The decarboxylation process involves heating the plant to a high temperature to cook it, which is what activates the cannabinoids. Then, the decarboxylated plant material is submerged in a carrier oil.
Common carrier oils include coconut oil, hemp seed oil, and more. The most commonly used carrier oil is olive oil. Once submerged, the plant material is slowly and gently heated for a period of several hours, allowing the cannabinoids to steep into the carrier oil. There are a few benefits of doing it this way, but it still isn’t perfect. This is very affordable for companies that produce CBD and it also carries absolutely no risk of contamination. Nothing unnatural and no harsh chemicals ever come in contact with the CBD that will go into the final product.
Drawbacks to this method still exist, though. Even though the CBD itself won’t be contaminated, the final product that gets delivered to the consumer has to contain preservatives and other additives because CBD oil that is extracted this way is highly perishable. This method also doesn’t create very potent products because the yield is low in general, and there is no way to concentrate it because the CBD and other cannabinoids can’t be separated from the carrier oil.
Alcohol extraction became popular because it is generally better than the previous two methods, even though this is still a type of solvent extraction. In this method, ethyl alcohol or ethanol is used. Ethanol is a better option than any of the hydrocarbons because it is completely safe for consumption and doesn’t destroy any of the compounds in the plant. This is also better than a carrier oil extraction because it can be concentrated.
In order to get the CBD out of the plant material, first it is decarboxylated. From there, the process can take two different paths. One way that CBD can be extracted with ethanol is through steeping, similar to the other two types of solvent extraction. The plant matter is submerged in the ethanol until all of the cannabinoids have been pulled into it, and then the ethanol can be boiled away. This is the more difficult way to use ethanol, though. It has a high boiling point and doesn’t destroy the waxes found in cannabis or hemp, which means that it is much more difficult to purify.
More often, the decarboxylated plant material is packed into a container, and ethanol is dripped through it into a reservoir. This way, the ethanol pulls all of the cannabinoids, plant waxes, terpenes, and more with it as it runs over the plants.
This is a much safer method than the Rick Simpson method and can provide a better product than you could get using carrier oil extraction. With that said, it does pull a lot of chlorophyll and wax out of the plants; wax has to be mixed with a solvent because of its texture and chlorophyll has a very pungent taste. Neither of those elements really belong in a good CBD product, but this is still a pretty good way to extract.
This is the most popular method of extracting CBD and other cannabinoids these days. Over the past year or two, it has quickly become the industry standard thanks to its purity, gentleness, and efficiency. One of the reasons this is more preferable as a method is that CO2 can be reused multiple times, which drastically lowers costs for CBD companies.
Special equipment is used to cool down carbon dioxide and pressurize it so that it transforms from a gas to a liquid. The resulting liquid is then heated so it can be used as a solvent for cannabinoid extraction. Hemp plants are pressed into a container and the liquid CO2 is passed through to pull out all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds. The resulting solution can also be further separated, which means that this method can be used to make CBD isolate or full-spectrum CBD oil.
After all of the cannabinoids have been stripped out of the plant material, the remaining liquid is separated so the CO2 is no longer present. Extracting CBD this way is extremely gentle because none of the chemical compounds in the hemp are destroyed. It also completely eliminates the risk for contaminants and residues and creates an exceptionally pure product.
What Extraction Method Provides the Best Product?
CO2 Extraction is the best method for extracting CBD. It provides the purest possible product and completely eliminates any chances of harmful residues or contaminants in the final product. Because the CO2 can be reused, it also promises to be a cost-efficient extraction method, which could lead to better value for customers.