Learn about the two methods for large-scale CBD extraction and how they affect the final product. British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals recently received FDA approval of their oral solution Epidolex for treating seizures associated with
How is CBD extracted from cannabis?
All the cannabidiol (CBD) you find in your favorite gummies, drinks, and oils has to go through an extraction process first. CBD, for those who don’t know, is a cannabinoid found in cannabis. Extracting CBD involves isolating the chemical compound from the surrounding plant material and distilling it in high concentrations. Research has shown that cannabinoids may have beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and extraction makes it possible to consume more of those cannabinoids with less effort.
All the cannabidiol (CBD) you find in your favorite gummies, drinks, and oils has to go through an extraction process first. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
In this article, you’ll learn about how CBD is extracted from hemp and cannabis, as well as which extraction process yields the best results.
How to extract CBD from cannabis
Extracting cannabinoids from cannabis or hemp can be as simple as making cannabutter at home. But for large-scale manufacturing purposes and more potent results, there are two primary methods for efficient CBD extraction. Each method presents distinct benefits in creating a high-quality, highly-potent CBD product.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction method: Carbon dioxide is a versatile gas with a variety of commercial uses, including extracting compounds from plant matter. The CO2 method uses the gas in its normal state as well as in supercritical liquid form. Through the use of a pressurized chamber, called a closed-loop extractor, CO2 gas is compressed until it becomes a liquid. The liquid is forced over the cannabis material where it strips away cannabinoids like CBD. The entire solution is brought back to temperatures and pressures at which the CO2 reverts to gas and evaporates, leaving behind the CBD extracted out of the cannabis plant material.
Andrew Leising, VP of Strategic Sourcing for Balanced Health Botanicals, elaborated on the process: “CO2 is a scalable and highly versatile form of extraction. There are CO2 extraction units built to process anywhere from 1 to 1,200 pounds of biomass in a single run. With CO2 extraction, you can not only extract cannabinoids on a large scale efficiently, you can extract specific compounds like terpenes.”
Terpenes are the naturally-occurring compounds that infuse cannabis with its signature aromas and flavors as well as potential therapeutic benefits. Full-spectrum CBD products rely on extraction methods that can keep these compounds intact.
Solvent extraction method: The solvent extraction process is similar to using CO2, but it’s notably cheaper and faster. Butane has long been used in cannabis extraction but ethanol and propane are also popular. This method also uses a closed-loop system wherein the liquid butane, propane, or ethanol washes over the cannabis, releasing the CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes. The solvent then has to be carefully heated or cooled to separate the solvent from the extracted compounds without damaging them. The main drawback of solvent extraction is that some solvents may extract impurities from the cannabis plant material, which could give the end-product an unpleasant taste.
Both of these extraction methods use highly combustible chemicals and can be dangerous. Only trained professionals in properly equipped labs should attempt any kind of chemical extraction.
How long does CBD extraction take?
The process of CBD extraction is fairly expedient and can take place in a single afternoon. According to Leising, it takes about three to four hours to process up to 1,200 pounds of cannabis.
What happens after CBD oil extraction?
After CBD oil is extracted from hemp or cannabis, the process of winterization begins. This process removes the impurities and unwanted elements that made it through the extraction process, such as fats, lipids, and waxes. In essence, winterization transforms crude oil into purified oil. The process gets its name from a step which involves mixing the extracted oil with ethanol and freezing the solution. The impurities and undesirable compounds solidify and fall out of the solution, which is then passed through a filter, separating wax, lipids, and fats from the oil. The final step involves removing the ethanol from the solution.
CBD may go through further refinement after winterization to create the purest possible CBD product. The additional refinement phase is known as short-path distillation. The process is similar to winterization, but it involves using reduced pressure to allow lower-than-normal boiling temperatures. The solution is heated just enough for the impurities to boil off and travel a short path out of the system, leaving pure CBD oil to distill into the collection chamber.
Which CBD extraction method is best?
Many cannabis experts agree that the CO2 method is best for producing premium oil that stays potent longer because the hemp or cannabis compounds remain stable during this type of extraction. Full-spectrum CBD oil, prized for its potency and purity, is made via CO2 extraction. Other methods may destabilize the compounds, potentially creating lower-quality CBD oil with a shorter shelf life.
Leising agrees that the CO2 method is superior. As he shared, “CO2 is generally preferred for the extraction of cannabinoids that are meant for ingestion or further refinement. Due to the nature of the extraction process, you can be assured that your extracted oil will be free of any residual solvents, microbes, and fungi.”
The same is not true for the solvent method, which often fails to eliminate such impurities.
Can I extract CBD oil at home?
It depends on what extraction method you’re considering. Let’s say you have a thriving indoor cannabis garden and want to consume the cannabis you’ve harvested without having to smoke it all. You can safely make CBD oil at home via a simple infusion and consume a high concentration of cannabinoids without risking life or limb.
You can safely make CBD oil at home via a simple infusion and consume a high concentration of cannabinoids without risking life or limb. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
What you don’t want to do is attempt to make a CBD extract using inedible solvents or CO2. Leising explained, “You cannot perform CO2 extractions at home. The equipment is cost prohibitive, and if you don’t know how to operate the equipment, it could be extremely dangerous. The equipment runs at extremely high pressures between 2500-4000 PSI and could be very dangerous if the operator is not properly trained.”
Bottom line: don’t risk your life for CBD oil. Visit a reputable dispensary and shop for high-quality, lab-tested products instead.
CBD Oil: A How-To Guide for At-Home Extractions
British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals recently received FDA approval of their oral solution Epidolex for treating seizures associated with Tuberous Sclerosis, adding another condition to the list of health issues that their CBD oil solution can successfully and safely treat. Individual users, however, claim that cannabis oil helps reduce pain and anxiety, as well as other issues that still await clinical confirmation.
Apart from its medicinal use, CBD oil can also be used to cook various dishes, sauces, dressings, and gummies. The wave of legalization that has swept North America recently also allowed entrepreneurs to start-up businesses and sell oil and other products made via CBD extraction to a wide array of consumers, not only those with medicinal needs.
If you’re looking for a way to make your own oil, however, this article is here to show you how to extract CBD from a cannabis plant at home.
Distinct types of CBD oil
Depending on the strain you use and the preparation method, there are three different types of CBD oil:
- Full Spectrum
- Broad Spectrum
- CBD Isolate
Each of these three types of products provides a separate set of compounds and effects. It’s very important to know what you’re introducing into your system, especially when it comes to potentially psychoactive substances.
Full Spectrum CBD oil contains more than just CBD; there’s a wide array of other cannabinoids, including THC, terpenes, and essential oils. This type of CBD oil allows the use of both leaves and flowers to assure the presence of every compound; however, leaves hold a high concentration of chlorophyll, which gives the oil a dark color and a somewhat bad taste.
Broad Spectrum CBD oil gives you the full set of substances, as well, however, there is no THC, which means you won’t get high or show positive on a drug test if you consume the oil on a regular basis.
CBD Isolate is the purest form of CBD oil extracted from nothing but the plant flower. If you’re opting for this type of oil, you should use hemp flower for this purpose. Hemp has been legal in the U.S. since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Since the extraction of Full Spectrum CBD oil is the way to obtain the most of the plant’s benefits to our wellbeing, we’ll go through to examine this method, not only because buying complex equipment for marijuana processing might get you in trouble, but also because it’s the simplest process and easy to implement at home. For those of you who would like to know other methods of marijuana oil extraction, we’ll also mention some alternatives at the end.
Extracting CBD oil from a flower
Before you start the process, it’s of paramount importance to know that Ethanol or Ethyl Alcohol is a highly flammable substance so make sure you take every precaution to keep yourself and your environment safe from fire hazard. That being said, let’s get on with the preparation process.
What do you need?
Cannabis flowers – make sure you trim down every leaf and leave nothing but the flower for the extraction process. Break larger buds into smaller pieces to make it easier for processing or even better, grind the flower so that the herb could absorb the alcohol better.
Ethanol – Best use 95% Food-Grade Ethyl alcohol.
Filtering equipment – Best use paper filters or fold gauze into several layers.
Fireproof bowl – the size of the bowl depends on how much material you have prepared.
Large glass jar – This is where you’ll mix alcohol and weed.
To activate cannabinoids, we must place the ground herb into an oven for about 45 minutes. Spread marijuana over a casserole dish or something similar and keep the oven heated at around 110 degrees Celsius. Depending on the granulation, it could take less than 45 minutes for the decarboxylation process, so pay attention not to burn your weed in the oven.
Mixing and filtering
Place your weed into the jar and pour alcohol over it until it covers the weed completely. Stir the mixture every 5 minutes several times and let the mix sit for an hour or two. You can’t let it sit for too long, so don’t worry if you leave it sitting longer than this.
Place the layered gauze or paper filter over the fireproof bowl and start pouring the solution. It’s not a bad idea to repeat the filtering process several times until you’re satisfied with the achieved purity of the filtered solution.
Removing the alcohol
Ethyl alcohol boils at 78 degrees Celsius which is the temperature you should set on your heating surface and slowly mix the solution within the fireproof bowl. Keep the bowl over the heat source until no alcohol vapor or bubbles is appearing on the surface of the heated liquid.
More oil extraction methods
There are numerous ways to extract oil, some even answer the question of how to extract THC from your product. As these require a bit more experience, we’ll only go through some of the most popular methods.
This is one of the newest ways to produce CBD oil and it offers the purest oil extract, called CBD Isolate, free of any additional compounds. It requires a CO2 machine because it relies on carbon dioxide as a solvent. The herb is being placed into a Co2 machine and kept under pressure. This process also includes the Winterization and Decarboxylation process. The first is used to separate CBD from wax and lipids that might be left, while Decarboxylation activates the CBD.
Similar to Ethanol extraction, the oil method requires the use of olive or coconut oil as a solvent. One major difference is that the herb is being mixed with water and dehydrated before it’s mixed with the oil and heated. This method is most commonly used by people who need to create CBD tinctures or topicals that can be applied directly to the affected area and deal with muscle pain.
We hope this article has helped you capture the basics of CBD oil extraction. We tried to cover the extraction process as comprehensively as possible so you wouldn’t have any setbacks while trying to make your extract at home. Also, we avoided the use of specialized chemistry equipment because, let’s face it, not too many people have a lab set up in the house. Enjoy your new knowledge and have fun making your CBD oil.
Tia is an editor and contributor for AskGrowers. She is passionate about traveling, yoga, and horse-riding, and at some point wants to see every corner of the Earth. She’s been working in the cannabis field for some time and is excited to continue and discover even more about this industry.