The cannabis plant is utilized in a variety of ways across the globe, and more and more industries are waking up to its versatility and usefulness in all sorts of areas. One of the most prominent use cases of cannabis is the well-being and healthy lifestyle niche. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a particularly hot cannabis-derived compound that brands use in their supplements – whether in the form of essential oils, CBD tinctures, or others. It’s incredible to think about, especially when you consider that, just a couple of decades ago, cannabis and the hemp plant were outlawed for human consumption and only reserved for a small number of industrial use cases.
Although it naturally occurs in cannabis, CBD must be extracted from the plant material in order to be used in dietary supplements, oils, tinctures, and finished goods.
There are different extraction methods that can be deployed to obtain this versatile compound for usage in a myriad of products. In this article, we’ll take you through all of the CBD extraction methods, their pros and cons, as well as answer some important questions regarding cannabidiol and other cannabinoids.
Different Types of Cannabinoids
These are the various types of cannabinoids and their purported effects on the human mind and body. Not everyone is aware of the breadth of compounds contained within the cannabis plant, and even cannabis industry insiders are murky on many of the details. If you are considering opening a business selling cannabis products, being aware of these compounds is crucial for the long-term success of your company. Without this understanding, you might miss out on some potential product or market opportunities, or misalign your product portfolio with the needs of your target market.
Here are the seven cannabinoids most commonly found on the market, along with brief descriptions of their purported properties.
While most people who are familiar with “weed culture” would probably point to THC as the most popular cannabis compound, the truth is that CBD has much higher potential from a business perspective. While CBD binds with the brain’s endocannabinoid system, it does not produce any psychoactive effects. Purported effects include stress and anxiety reduction or helping with sleep.
It is important to note that more studies must be carried out to investigate the effects of CBD on our minds and bodies. Most of the evidencewith regard to the benefits of this compound is anecdotal. Nevertheless, it is legal in all 50 states, and an increasing number of people report that it has helped them in their day-to-day lives.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the major reason why people start using cannabis for recreational purposes in the first place, but also why it was criminalized at the start of the 20th century. THC is the component responsible for getting you high. It intoxicates people by binding to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the brain. It’s by far the strongest, most potent cannabinoid on this list in terms of psychoactive effects.
Cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA, is the praecursor to CBD. Most CBD extraction begins with CBDA, which is then heated to “decarboxylate” the CBDA molecule and create bioavailability. Decarboxylation removes the acid molecule from CBDA, leaving CBD to bind with our endocannabinoid receptors.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin is also considered psychoactive but at much higher doses. However, not much is known about this cannabinoid, except the fact that it supposedly reduces appetite, the exact opposite of CBD and THC.
CBN’s full name is cannabinol, and it produces a much smaller psychoactive response than THC, but can nonetheless get you intoxicated. It comes about as a result of THC being broken down by heat and oxygen over long periods of time. CBN is the reason why stoners often complain about their pot not being as strong as it used to be after it’s been left alone for a long while. It is also over-represented in “roach joints” and commonly used in sleep formulations with CBD or THC.
Much like THC, CBG binds directly to the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, but it does not cause intoxication. Very little research has been carried out on the effect of CBG, but it is worth keeping an eye on due to the similar way it interacts with our brains’ cannabinoid receptors. Hemp-extracted CBG is growing in popularity everywhere, with newly registered CBG hemp strains being released to global markets. With time, we might learn more about its potential.
CBC ranks second-highest in terms of its abundance within the plant, but as opposed to THC or most other cannabinoids, it does not bind directly to the CB1 receptor. It doesn’t cause intoxication, and, much like in the case of CBG, more research needs to be done to fully understand how it interacts with our bodies.
What is CBD Extraction?
Extracting essential oils from all sorts of plants has been a common practice around the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Regardless of the extraction method, the CBD extraction process is done with a single goal: to obtain pure CBD oil or CBD isolate.
The extraction processes of CBD, THC and other cannabinoids are largely the same. This is why the plant selection part is particularly important, as it is a way to determine which of the chemical compounds you will obtain the most of. The hemp plant is quite popular for extracting CBD because of its low THC content. However, for the highest CBD contents, it is advisable to use plants grown from specialized seeds that yield high amounts of CBD with little to no THC present.
It is also possible to extract pure CBD oil from regular cannabis plants with a high THC content, but that entails the extra step of separating the CBD from THC to ensure that no intoxicating matter is left in the final product. While it might be a good idea for business owners who want to sell both CBD and THC oils, this lengthy process might prove to be too costly in the long term for companies wishing to specialize in CBD extracts.
All in all, it is advisable to extract CBD oil from plants that already have high CBD contents and are as THC-free as possible from the get-go.
Solvent Extraction Methods
The following CBD extraction methods use a solvent, which is a substance in which other chemical compounds get dissolved in order to form a solution containing only the desired compound. It is worth keeping in mind that while we focus on the CBD extraction process in this article, the methods outlined below can be used for the extraction of THC, as well.
This type of CBD extraction method entails the use of CO2 in its pressurized form to separate CBD from the plant material. It is one of the more complicated ways of doing so, and also weighs on the costlier side, as it requires highly specialized equipment and manpower to get right. On the other hand, it is a very safe and effective solvent extraction method, considering that CO2 is a non-volatile compound, which reduces the risk of ruining your batch or the equipment. CO2 extraction is also frequently deployed outside of the cannabis industry, such as in creating decaffeinated coffee.
Using this method, CBD concentrates are extracted under very high pressure and low temperatures, making the extracted oil as pure and potent as possible. The purity of CBD oils after CO2 extraction is also ensured by the fact you won’t find a trace of the solvent in your final product, which can’t be said about some of the other methods.
When talking about CO2 extraction, one has to differentiate between subcritical, mid-critical, and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. Here is a rundown of the main features of each:
- Subcritical: with CO2 under low pressure and low temperature, this type of carbon dioxide extraction process will yield lower amounts of CBD. On the other hand, it will retain more of the other cannabinoids and terpenes, which makes it perfect for producing full-spectrum CBD oil.
- Mid-critical: falling somewhere in between the subcritical and supercritical methods, a mid-critical CO2 extraction is done at medium ranges of both temperature and pressure, and is a good way to obtain full or broad-spectrum CBD that has a higher ratio of CBD to other compounds in the final make-up.
- Supercritical: done at an extremely high temperature and pressure, this is the most popular way of extracting essential oils, as it ensures the highest purity of the final product. In such an extreme environment, the carbon dioxide is at a supercritical point, which means that it can be classified as both liquid and gas at the same time, dissolving the desirable compounds and completely filling up the container.
Much easier to learn than CO2 extraction, using ethanol to obtain CBD oil is likely the most popular way of doing so in the cannabis industry. The chemical compound, responsible for the intoxicating effects of alcohol, has been used to dissolve plant matter and obtain essential oils for millennia and has proven very effective in removing undesirable compounds from cannabis, as well.
The value of ethanol in CBD extraction lies in the fact that it dissolves fats incredibly well. Seeing as CBD (and THC, too, for that matter) is fat-soluble, ethanol and cannabis are a perfect match in the context of extraction (as opposed to consumption, which is almost always a bad idea).
Ethanol extraction is done by soaking the plant material in room temperature or cold ethanol (the colder it is, the more cannabinoids it will pull out, at the cost of other terpenes). Ethanol will slowly evaporate from the solution, leaving a crude oil of CBD and other cannabinoids. This oil can be distilled further to produce isolates, but that entails adding a few extra steps, increasing the production time and costs. This is why ethanol is great for creating full-spectrum CBD oils, as well as broad-spectrum ones, but not necessarily for making CBD isolate with 100% purity.
Vegetable Oil Extraction
Many people don’t know this, but you can actually use edible oils to extract CBD oil quite effectively, even in non-lab environments! Oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and even butter, can be used to extract cannabidiol from hemp or cannabis through heating.
All you need to do in order to extract CBD that way is to gently heat your plant material first, so that it becomes suitable for extraction. This is known as decarboxylation, and it turns compounds such as CBDA into their decarboxylated form, i.e. CBD. In order to hit the decarboxylation point, you’ll need to put the plant matter in the oven for 60 minutes at 248 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, you can soak it in one of the edible oils mentioned above, and get it heating again, this time at 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 60-120 minutes. This will result in edible oil infused with CBD, rather than an actual extract. Such end products are ideal for cooking but aren’t really useful for the mass production of dietary supplements or essential oils.
The CBD oil you end up with by using this extraction process will have a distinct cannabis flavor, which can be an unpleasant taste for some.
This method is quite similar to CO2 extraction. It yields an equally potent end product and lends itself very well to creating pure CBD extracts. While the final solutions obtained using this method aren’t necessarily CBD isolates, their purity can reach as high as 90%. As a solvent, butane is primarily used for hydrocarbon extraction, but other ones, such as hexene and propane, can be used as well.
Butane’s boiling point is very low at 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit, which is great if you want to create broad-spectrum CBD extracts, as it allows you to retain the terpenes and compounds that are sensitive to high temperatures. A common way to go about hydrocarbon extraction is using a mixture of propane and butane, as it removes the number of residual solvents in your CBD product.
This method works by releasing cold, liquid-form hydrocarbons into containers with the plant material, which then dissolves it all, resulting in an oil that contains CBD along with most other cannabinoids and terpenes. The substance can then be further refined to remove these chemicals if you wish to create a pure CBD isolate.
Non-Solvent Extraction Methods
As opposed to the extraction processes outlined above, the non-solvent CBD extraction methods aren’t chemical ways to separate cannabidiol from the plant matter. Instead, they use physical force. A debate rages on within the cannabis industry regarding the superiority of non-solvent methods over ones that utilize a solvent and vice versa. We are not going to take sides here, but if you prefer not to use any chemicals in your CBD oil extraction process, you can choose one out of the four methods below.
Mechanical Separation (AKA Ice Water Extraction Process)
The preferred method of hash makers, this method uses the brute force of ice to separate trichomes that are rich in cannabinoids from the rest of the cannabis plant. It doesn’t “extract” CBD from the plant per se, but rather breaks off the CBD-rich parts from the plant material. In order to achieve the best results with the ice water extraction process, you’ll need high-grade equipment that allows operators to control the speed at which the trichomes mentioned above are separated from the biomass.
Contrary to different methods, this one leaves the CBD-rich trichomes in solid form, requiring further processing to be turned into oil. This is why, unless you’re planning to make CBD hash or other smokable derivatives, this method is quite useless for obtaining CBD oils.
Much like the vegetable oil extraction process, the rosin-pressed way to separate potent CBD from the cannabis plant can be carried out using home equipment. All you need is regular hair straighteners!
The cannabis flower needs to first be packed into a mesh bag or a dedicated rosin screen. This reduces leftover particulates of the plant material in your final product. The packaged flower then needs to be pressed hard in between the heated rosin press (or, if you’re using home methods, a hair straightener). The oil will be squeezed out onto parchment paper you should lay out below the press in order to “catch” it as it drips out. You’ll end up with a high-quality, full-spectrum CBD rosin that can be combined with other materials or processed further to obtain CBD isolate.
Regarded by many as the most natural way to extract CBD or THC from cannabis, it’s a rather crude method, and in our opinion, doesn’t really have much potential for widespread use in the CBD industry. This method utilizes kief, which is the powder matter that can be extracted from cannabis flowers by grinding. Most metal, sturdy grinders have a “kief trap” built into them, which separates this powder from the ground flower by sifting it through a screen with tiny holes. Bear in mind that you’ll need to grind through quite a lot of cannabis flower to obtain enough kief for screen pressing.
Once you’ve got enough kief, you’ll have to use rosin screens to hand-press it together into a solid-form hash. Technically, this hash can then be processed to extract CBD oil, but you’re not going to be able to mass-produce it using this method, as it is quite time-consuming, not to mention the amounts of flower you’re going to use up. Unless you’re in the virtually non-existent business of CBD hash, you won’t find much use for it.
Much like the other mechanical methods of separating CBD from cannabis plant matter, the cold-pressed way of doing so isn’t overly complicated, to say the least. The very first step is to cool down your plant material and place it under great pressure to squeeze the full-spectrum CBD oil out of it.
We’ve got to give credit to the cold-pressed method — it is probably the best non-solvent extraction process, and contrary to the other methods mentioned above, it is actually used in the wellness industry to produce CBD topicals and tinctures. You can even build an entire marketing strategy around the fact that your products are created using nothing but cold temperatures and pressure, and are therefore as organic as they could possibly be.
Choosing Your Preferred Method
When it comes to determining which CBD extraction process is right for your company, there really aren’t too many wrong answers. We would advise against the majority of non-solvent extraction methods, as they are mainly used to produce hash, which, while it can be very potent, is more likely to generate sales with THC as its main component. A point can be made that hash can be processed to create CBD oils, tinctures, and topical creams, but that would require a lot more extra steps and yield lower-quality products. Out of all the mechanical methods, the cold-pressed or ice-water ways are perhaps best suited for CBD extraction, especially if you want to market yourself as a local business specializing in organic products with no third-party chemicals used in the production process.
For mass production of CBD products, solvent extraction processes are the best way to go. For producing pure CBD isolates with little post-processing, go with supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. As for high-quality, full-spectrum CBD oil, the ethanol extraction method will grant you the best bang for your buck, as the equipment it requires is cheaper than in the case of CO2 extraction, and you still end up with a potent product. Broad-spectrum CBD extraction would be best achieved with the hydrogen process that utilizes a mix of butane and propane.
Why is CBD So Popular?
If you haven’t lived under a rock for the past decade or so, you must have noticed an increase in the popularity of CBD products. From oils, through topical creams, all the way to energy drinks and gummy bears, they have taken the world by storm. This is especially true for the dietary supplement and well-being industries.
Although more research needs to be done to ultimately prove (or disprove) the alleged benefits of cannabidiol, people do seem to experience improvements in their well-being when using it topically or as a dietary supplement. Especially when it comes to things like relieving stress and anxiety or combatting insomnia, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence pointing toward the effectiveness of CBD. Combined with the fact that it is composed entirely of natural compounds from a plant that has been used for thousands of years and the recent trend of decriminalizing and normalizing cannabis usage, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that CBD is on the rise all over the world.
Enter the Cannabis Market in 2023 With Vantage Hemp
The CBD extraction process can be quite tricky, especially if you’re an entrepreneur who’s totally new to the cannabis industry and doesn’t have the necessary equipment at your immediate disposal. At Vantage Hemp, we specialize in extracting CBD and creating a whole range of products for businesses looking to enter this highly coveted market niche.