CBD Extraction 101: Popular Methods Explained

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CBD is not the same as CBD. The quality of a CBD product starts with the seed, continues with the cultivation of a hemp plant and ends with the extraction method. When you find a high quality CBD product that you can rely on, there are a few things to consider, including the extraction method for your CBD product.

The growing popularity of CBD continues to grow as its potential benefits become more mainstream. CBD is made and made into a variety of products including 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 can all depend on the extraction method. So let’s break down what to look for:

What is CBD Extract?

First, let’s define what a CBD extract actually is. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of many natural compounds found in hemp and cannabis sativa plants. CBD extract refers to the process and shape created in extracting the coveted cannabinoids from the plant. With regard to the extraction process, we also need to consider the different CBD spectra that can result: broad spectrum, full spectrum and isolate. Put simply, a CBD extract is that which is extracted from hemp and cannabis sativa plants in order to be processed into consumable or applicable products.

Why do we need to extract?

Extraction is necessary to make usable CBD products. When CBD is extracted from hemp and cannabis plants, it is in the form of a concentration that is effective for human consumption. This concentrated extract is only useful because of the decarboxylate process (application of heat). When cannabinoids are ingested through a capsule, food, or oil, decarboxylation is necessary so that our body can absorb the active ingredients. Dried cannabis and hemp, on the other hand, can partially decarboxylate, and when smoked (aka heated) the cannabinoids become fully decarboxylated.

Three common extraction methods

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction – Today, CO2 extraction is the most popular, efficient, and reliable extraction method for CBD companies. In CO2 extraction, supercritical CO2 is used to separate the CBD from the plant materials. Supercritical CO2 refers to carbon dioxide that is between a gaseous and a liquid state. This extraction method involves multiple pressurized chambers that funnel and pump the CO2, exposing it to very high pressures and low temperatures, resulting in an extracted oil that is high in CBD. In doing so, CO2 is pumped from the first chamber into the second, which contains the hemp plant, which is then exposed to the supercritical CO2. This exposure degrades the hemp plant material, causing the oil to separate. From there, CO2 and oil are fed together into a third chamber. The gas form then evaporates, leaving behind an extract of pure CBD oil that can be made into a wide variety of products. This extraction method can consistently produce highly concentrated CBD with no toxic residue.
  1. Steam distillation – Steam distillation is a proven method of CBD extraction. This method uses a “plant material” distillation tank with an inlet and an outlet. The distillation tank is connected to a separate tank containing water through the inlet located below the distillation tank. The outlet of the distillation vessel is connected to a condensation pipe, which is deposited in a collecting flask. For this process, water is heated to the boil in the first tank. The steam then flows up to the plant material tank and separates the oil vapors that contain CBD. These vapors are captured in the condensation tube, which turns 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 it can be less effective at extracting certain concentrations of CBD and requires the use of more plant material per extraction.
  1. Solvent extraction – In the case of solvent extraction, the methodology is similar to steam distillation, but a solvent is used instead of water. Solvent extraction can be more efficient than steam distillation, but it has some risks. Solvent extraction involves using butane, alcohol, propane, or more natural compounds like olive oil or ethanol to extract the CBD. Plant materials are combined with a solvent or soaked, which removes the cannabinoids. Next up is the vaporization process, in which the solvent used evaporates, leaving a concentration of cannabinoids in oil form. Aside from the use of potentially dangerous and flammable solvents during the process, which affects its popularity, the final step may not completely evaporate the solvent residues, leaving potential toxins in your CBD.

Which extraction method is the best?

While each extraction method has its advantages and disadvantages, the CO2 extraction method is the one that has mostly fewer disadvantages. While it can be more costly for CBD companies, it produces the most reliable and concentrated form of CBD. With no toxic residues, high concentrations and the general 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, lipid extraction. This method uses a natural oil like MCT oil and a high pressure environment to extract CBD from plant matter. More information on Tribe’s unique methods can be found here.