CBD Extraction 101: Popular Methods Explained

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This article originally appeared on Real Tested CBD. To view the original article, click here.

Not all CBD is created equal. The quality of a CBD product starts at the seed, moves on to how a hemp plant is grown, and ends with the extraction method. Finding a high quality CBD product that you can rely on will leave you with a few things to consider, one of them being the extraction method used for your CBD product.

The growing popularity of CBD continues to increase as its potential benefits become more and more common. CBD is produced and made into a variety of products like edibles, topicals, and oils, each offering a different form of potential relief.

Knowing where your product came from and how it was made will give you a better idea of ​​which CBD products will actually work for you. Quality, purity and potency may depend on the extraction method. So let’s break down what you should be looking for:

What is CBD extract?

First, let’s define what a CBD extract actually is. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of the many natural compounds found in hemp and cannabis sativa plants. CBD extract refers to the process and form that results from extracting the desired cannabinoids from the plant. Taking into account the extraction process, we also have to consider the different spectra of CBD that can result: broad spectrum, full spectrum and isolate. A CBD extract, in layman’s terms, is what is extracted from hemp and cannabis sativa plants, and then made into consumable or applicable products.

Why do we have to extract?

Extraction is necessary to make usable CBD products. When CBD is extracted from hemp and cannabis plants, it comes in the form of an effective concentration for human use. This concentrated extract is only useful because of the decarboxylate process (application of heat). When ingesting cannabinoids through a capsule, edible or oily, decarboxylation is necessary for our body to absorb the active ingredients. On the other hand, dried cannabis and hemp can partially decarboxylate, and if smoked (i.e. heated), cannabinoids are completely decarboxylated.

Three common methods of extraction

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) Extraction – Today, CO2 extraction has become the most popular, efficient, and reliable extraction method for CBD companies. CO2 extraction uses supercritical CO2 to separate CBD from plant material. Supercritical CO2 refers to carbon dioxide that falls between a gaseous state and a liquid state. This extraction method involves multiple pressure chambers that channel and pump the CO2, exposing it to very high pressure and low temperatures, resulting in an extracted oil rich in CBD. During this process, CO2 is pumped from the first chamber to the second, which contains the hemp plant which is then exposed to supercritical CO2. This exposure breaks down the hemp plant material, causing the oil to separate. From there, the CO2 and the oil are conveyed together in a third chamber. The gaseous form then evaporates, leaving behind a pure CBD oil extract that can be made into a variety of products. This extraction method can consistently produce high-concentration CBD without leaving toxic residues.
  1. Steam distillation – Steam distillation is a proven method of extracting CBD. This method involves a “plant material” distillation tank with one inlet and one outlet. The still tank is connected to a separate tank containing water through the inlet, which is located below the still tank. The outlet of the still tank connects to a condensate tube which settles into a collecting flask. For this process, the water is heated to a boil in the first tank. The vapor then rises to the plant material reservoir, separating the CBD-containing oil vapors. These vapors are captured in the condensation tube which transforms them into oil and water. These liquids are then collected to be distilled, separating the CBD oil from the water. Steam distillation is reliable, but can be less efficient at extracting specific concentrations of CBD and requires the use of more plant material per extraction.
  1. Solvent extraction – With solvent extraction, the methodology is similar to that of steam distillation, but instead a solvent is used rather than water. Solvent extraction can be more efficient than steam distillation, but comes with certain risks. Solvent extraction involves using butane, alcohol, propane, or a more natural compound like olive oil or ethanol to extract CBD. Plant materials are combined or soaked in a solvent, removing cannabinoids. Then comes the process of evaporation, where the solvent used evaporates and leaves behind a concentration of cannabinoids in the form of oil. Besides the use of potentially dangerous and flammable solvents during the process affecting its popularity, solvent residues may not be completely evaporated in the final step, leaving potential toxins in your CBD.

Which extraction method is the best?

While each extraction method has its advantages and disadvantages, the one with the least disadvantages is the CO2 extraction method. While it can be more expensive for CBD companies, it creates the most reliable and concentrated form of CBD. In the absence of toxic residues, high concentrations and the overall safety of the extraction method, CO2 extraction is the preferred method.

Recently, companies like Tribe CBD have even turned to a more natural extraction method, via lipid extraction. This method uses a natural oil, like MCT oil, and a highly pressurized environment to extract CBD from plant material. For more information on Tribe’s unique methods, click here.


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