Cannabidiol, more commonly referred to as CBD, is one of the compounds found in the cannabis plant. There are over 100 compounds, known as cannabinoids, that can be isolated from this plant, with the more common ones including CBD, THC, and CBN. Although there is little known about many of these compounds, CBD has a growing body of research surrounding it, and there are already many uses for this substance.
CBD oils are growing in popularity around the world, as they can be used as a food supplement to promote a healthy lifestyle and all-around wellbeing. But how is CBD oil actually made?
If you know anything about CBD oils already, you know that they are only legal if produced from industrial hemp – a form of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.03% THC. Full-spectrum oils extract the cannabinoids all together, but some companies also sell CBD isolates containing no THC at all. You would be forgiven if, upon trying CBD oil, you were kept awake at night wondering how on earth they separate the CBD from the rest of the plant.
Well, wonder no more! In this article, we will look at how CBD is extracted from the hemp plant.
First, Let’s Examine What CBD Actually Is.
Although THC is probably the most well-known ingredient in cannabis – this is the compound that gets marijuana smokers ‘high’ – it is not the only compound that can be found in the plant. CBD is one of THC’s cousins, but it has no intoxicating properties and does not have psychoactive effects.
CBD behaves similarly to endocannabinoids that can be found in our own body. These work within the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to maintain homeostasis; in other words, they keep our bodies in balance.
People use CBD oil because it is a way of providing the ECS with a little extra boost sometimes, promoting overall wellbeing by stimulating the ECS and making sure the body does its proper job.
There are other ways of ingesting CBD, but oils are the most popular because they are very simple to use. So, how do manufacturers extract CBD from the hemp plant in order to produce these products?
The Different Type of CBD extraction methods
Although there are multiple different ways to extract CBD, the purpose is always the same: To remove the cannabinoid in a concentrated form to make it suitable for human consumption.
For CBD products for sale in the UK, this process must always be done on industrial hemp plants to ensure that the resulting product abides by the laws for maximum THC content.
There are four very common ways to extract CBD:
1. Olive oil extraction
Olive oil extraction is a common process when people want to try extracting CBD at home. When performing this method, the raw plant material must first be decarboxylated, meaning that it must be heated at a certain temperature for a specific timespan in order to activate all the plant’s chemicals.
Generally, in the case of hemp, the optimum temperature is 120ºC for 60 minutes or 140ºC for 30 minutes. This will fully activate compounds such as CBD. Then, the plant material is added to olive oil and heated to 100ºC for between 1-2 hours. This allows the cannabinoids to be extracted from the plant material into the oil, leaving a resulting, ready-made CBD oil.
Pros of the olive oil method:
- Very safe – it can even be performed at home.
- Cheap – a lack of equipment makes this a very inexpensive procedure.
- The resulting oil can be used for cooking with CBD.
Cons of the olive oil method:
- The resulting oil is perishable, meaning it must be stored in a dark, cool place as soon as possible.
- Sadly, it only produces low yields, so it would not be cost-effective for companies to use it as it is quite labour intensive.
2. Dry ice extraction
This method is another one that could be performed at home. However, it takes a bit more time and effort, and is slightly more complex.
First of all, if you’re going to try this method, you need thick, heat-resistant gloves and eye goggles. Make sure you stay safe throughout the procedure.
The first step in this method is to cut up the hemp into small pieces and place it in a large bucket. Then, the plant is covered with around 3 pounds of dry ice and left for 3 minutes; this part of the process freezes the plant resins. Next, the bucket is covered by a mesh bag so that the ice and plant mixture can be shaken around in order to knock the frozen trichomes and resin off the rest of the plant.
Finally, the bucket is turned upside down onto a piece of Plexiglass or mirror, and the frozen resin falls through the mesh. Usually, mesh bags with different microns will be used in order to strain smaller bits and bigger bits of resin out of the mixture.
Pros of the dry ice method:
- This is a pretty simple method, meaning anybody can do it.
- Very little mess is created.
- There is a high yield compared with olive oil extraction.
Cons of the dry ice method:
- The quality of the product can be reduced by shaking it for too long.
- Dry ice can be quite expensive and hard to come by.
3. Solvent extraction
Solvents such as ethanol, low-grade alcohol and butane can all be used in this method. While ethanol extracts all the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant, producing a high-quality product, it also extracts chlorophyll, which can have unwanted side effects. Chlorophyll can be filtered out, but this reduces the oil’s potency.
Butane, on the other hand, creates a stronger oil, but it is also likely to contain solvents which are harmful for your health.
No matter the solvent used, the process is the same. The solvent is added to the plant material, where it strips away the cannabinoids and terpenes (as well as some of the chlorophyll). After, the liquid is heated to evaporate the solvent so that only the CBD base oil is left.
Pros of the solvent method:
- High quality oil can be produced if you know what you are doing.
- The process is very straightforward and simple.
Cons of the solvent method:
- Solvents such as these are extremely flammable, which makes the process pretty dangerous.
- The resulting oil can contain chlorophyll or even remainders of the solvent, which makes the product potentially harmful for your health.
4. CO2 extraction
This is by far the most popular commercial method of CBD extraction, because not only is it safe, but it also produces a very high-quality end product. There are actually different types of CO2 extraction, including subcritical and supercritical, which we will discuss a little below.
Basically, CO2 extraction involves using pressurised carbon dioxide to pull compounds out of the plant. At certain temperatures and pressures, CO2 behaved quite like a solvent that allows compounds like CBD to be extracted from the plant, with the difference being that CO2 is a lot safer.
Specialised equipment is necessary for this technique, which makes it very expensive. Using this equipment, the CO2 is turned into a liquid by dropping the temperature below -56ºC and increasing the pressure to over 75 pounds per square inch (psi).
When the CO2 has been liquified, the temperature and pressure is increased to the point where the liquid becomes supercritical, meaning that it has some properties of a liquid and some properties of a gas. This means it can fill a container (like gas) while maintaining density (like a liquid). The reason this is done is because it won’t denature or damage the product during chemical extraction.
The supercritical carbon dioxide is passed through high-quality industrial hemp in an extractor, where it pulls out the cannabinoids. The solution is then passed through a separator and broken down into different parts; the supercritical CO2 is condensed back into a liquid to be used again.
In terms of subcritical CO2 extraction, a low temperature and low pressure is used. This is less likely to damage terpenes and therefore retains flavour better, but it takes longer than its supercritical counterpart and it produces a smaller yield. There is also the possibility of mid-critical CO2 extraction, which refers to a happy medium between the two.
Pros of CO2 extraction:
- CO2 is safe for consumption, meaning the resulting products are not contaminated.
- The method is very effective and has a high yield.
- This technique allows for creation of a pure, high-quality product without risk of contaminants such as chlorophyll.
Cons of CO2 extraction:
- This method is expensive due to all the specialised equipment that is needed.
- It also requires some technical ability and should not be carried out by amateurs.
CO2 extraction machinery
In order to complete the extraction process, a closed-loop extraction system is required. This ensures that the CO2 never comes into contact with external elements, ensuring that the system is safe.
Of course, the fact that this machinery is so high-tech means that the process can’t be undertaken by just anyone. In fact, some estimates state that a CO2 extraction kit costs around £30,000. The expensive equipment and the labour costs for a specialised team drives up the price of oils produced through this method.
However, the price is certainly worth it. You are paying for a high-quality oil that, above all, is safe to consume. Remember that some other techniques can actually damage the active compounds in hemp. It also makes much more sense for manufacturers to use this technique as it produces higher yields, allowing them to produce CBD oils on a larger scale.
Final thoughts on the Technology Used Today
If you are desperate to try your hand at CBD extraction at home (which we don’t advise, as it’s just generally better to buy from a safe, reputable source), there are some very easy techniques available to you. Dry ice and olive oil extraction, for example, are two very simple possibilities for drawing the CBD out of hemp.
However, CO2 extraction is the most common method. This is because it is a safe, effective method that produces the best CBD oils around. Although it is an expensive and specialised technique, it certainly seems to be unparalleled when it comes to producing state-of-the-art CBD.
If you want to get your hands on the best CBD oil, make sure the seller has used CO2 extraction in the manufacturing process.