CBD Extraction: Overview of CO2, Ethanol & Hydrocarbon Hemp Extraction Methods

CBD Extraction: An Overview of CO2 Ethanol and Hydrocarbon Hemp Extraction Methods

You may already know that the humble hemp plant is a treasure trove of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and polyphenols. You might even be aware that within its fibers, it holds promises of healing relief, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

But did you know that the secret to unlocking these gifts lies in the extraction process? Come along as we demystify the science and shine a light on the intricacies that play a part in the quality and effectiveness of the CBD products you know and love.

Table of Contents

    Navigating the world of CBD extraction can be complex, but we’re here to help. Each extraction method is a suite of techniques honed over years of trial and error, with its own pros and cons.

    Let’s start with the basics as we explore the ins-and-outs of CBD extraction.

    What is CBD?

    Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a primary cannabinoid among the many compounds found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its psychoactive cousin, THC, CBD doesn’t cause a high. It is instead praised for its therapeutic benefits such as relief from pain and anxiety – and so many more.

    How is CBD extracted from the hemp plant?

    Hemp extraction relies on scientific principles to segregate the desired cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant, to ensure that the end product retains its efficacy. The process, equipment, and nuances used in the extraction can have a significant impact on the quality and safety of the final product.

    Now, let’s take a look at the science behind some of the common hemp extraction methods.

    Ethanol extraction

    Some producers have transitioned to modern methods, but some still swear by the tried-and-true approach of alcohol. Extraction using ethanol, a polar solvent, involves taking advantage of the fact that it can bond with both water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds. This characteristic allows a broad spectrum of compounds including cannabinoids and terpenes to be extracted.

    Ethanol extraction, especially when derived from sugarcane, is renowned for its ability to preserve the phytochemical fingerprint of the raw cannabis plant. Not only does it champion organic and sustainable farming practices, but it delivers a full spectrum extract, encapsulating CBD, terpenes, and all of the other beneficial components.

    Things to consider about ethanol extraction

    While ethanol extraction is efficient, temperature fluctuations are its Achilles’ heel as they can lead to the loss of valuable compounds. As a consumer, all you really need to worry about is purchasing from reputable brands that adhere to best practices, to ensure you receive the full range of benefits.

    CO2 extraction

    CO2 extraction is a modern method used to draw out beneficial compounds, like CBD, from hemp plants. As carbon dioxide leaves no harmful pollutants behind, this method is quite eco-friendly. In addition, although it takes a little longer than other extraction methods, more CBD can be yielded from the plant.

    There are two different phases in which C02 can be used in CBD extraction methods:

    ● Supercritical CO2 extraction is when C02 is in a state with both liquid and gas properties, offering a highly efficient extraction of compounds like CBD
    ● Subcritical CO2 extraction is less common when it comes to CBD production, but it can be helpful in specific instances where producers aim to preserve more delicate terpenes and other volatile compounds that may degrade at higher temperatures
    Things to consider about C02 extraction

    On the other side of the coin, we need to discuss the drawbacks. Looking beyond the fact that CO2-extracted CBD products may be more expensive than other offerings, many of them include powdered hemp. This can degrade the phytochemical profile of the product, which affects the balance of beneficial compounds.

    Additionally, these products are often marketed as the “clean” option, free from solvents – although that claim can be deceiving. CO2-extracted products must undergo a winterization process using solvents such as alcohol to achieve clarity and purity.

    Hydrocarbon extraction

    This process relies on solvents dissolving the compounds within the hemp plant, resulting in an extract that can be further refined. Although it boasts a swift and efficient extraction time, that’s about where the positives end. The hydrocarbon extraction method employs a number of questionable tactics.

    Things to consider about hydrocarbon extraction

    Added to the volatile nature of hydrocarbons, the use of solvents such as butane or propane can not only pose a threat of explosion but there’s a constant looming threat of chemical residues in the final product. Even trace amounts of these solvents, if not correctly purged, can be harmful to consumers – so it hardly seems worth the risk.

    These potential hazards as well as the negative environmental impact render this method far less appealing, particularly when compared to organic methods such as sugarcane ethanol extraction.

    Oil extraction: A homegrown alternative

    While the techniques we’ve covered so far are commercial in nature, there is a more grassroots method employed by DIY enthusiasts. Oil extraction primarily caters to those crafting homemade products with CBD flower.

    Simplicity is the name of the game here – there’s no rigorous lab testing, no fancy equipment, and certainly no commercial chemicals. The CBD flower is usually combined with a base of olive oil or hemp seed oil and is left to infuse for 30-45 days. The resulting product is a low-potency concoction, infused with CBD and other beneficial compounds.

    It’s ideal for those seeking a more personal, hands-on experience with their CBD products, and seeing as it avoids the use of any industrial chemicals or solvents, it’s a win – however, keep in mind that it is lower in potency than it’s commercially-extracted counterparts.

    The best CBD extraction method

    The ongoing debate about the best CBD extraction method sees many rooting for ethanol, and we are inclined to agree.

    The sugarcane ethanol method is able to preserve the plant’s natural properties and offer a full spectrum of compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes. When placed side by side with C02 extraction, ethanol extraction’s advantages in terms of safety, quality, and effectiveness become crystal clear.

    Having recognized the unparalleled advantages of sugarcane ethanol extraction, some manufacturers are leading the way and establishing themselves as champions for industry best practices.

    For instance, in Colorado, where there are minimal agricultural concerns in terms of contamination, these manufacturers are committed to organic farming, favoring manual weed control over harmful chemicals. Additionally, rigorous initial testing in hemp material is a testament to the dedication to consumer health – and at the end of the day, nothing could be as important as that.

    As a result, organic-certified CBD products from such dedicated processes are the epitome of quality, which maximizes the therapeutic potential for consumers everywhere.

    Raw extracts and their uses

    Distillate and isolate concentrates form the foundation of a wide range of products, from oils and topicals to gummies and vapes. It’s important to understand that the extraction method targets not only the CBD but each of the compounds residing in hemp. This contributes to the holistic entourage effect that many users seek.

    CBD and hemp oil differences

    CBD oil, hemp oil, and hemp seed oil differ in both composition and application. To gain a full understanding of their nuances, our expanded article offers in-depth insights.

    Further refinement techniques

    Following the point of primary CBD extraction, the work is far from over. There are a number of other vital processes that manufacturers rely on to ensure the end product is of the highest quality. These include:

    • Winterization achieves a cleaner, more concentrated product by freezing the extract and then filtering it in order to remove undesirable lipids
    • Chromatography is an intricate technique used to separate individual compounds within the extract to ensure that any unwanted or harmful elements are isolated and removed
    • Filtering is an additional safeguard that guarantees the removal of any unwanted particles that may have escaped the primary extraction process
    • Distillation occurs once the extract has been cleaned and refined, and its role is to utilize controlled heating to separate individual components such as cannabinoids and terpenes based on their unique boiling points

    The final say on hemp extraction methods

    Each extraction method brings a unique set of pros and cons to the table, and as we’ve demonstrated, understanding their nuances is important. While the other methods have their place, the sugarcane ethanol extraction method stands a little taller than the rest. Underscoring the importance of making safety and quality a priority, it also guarantees sustainable produce that is a true reflection of the hemp plant’s potential. We hope that you enjoy exploring the wonderful world of full spectrum CBD and broad spectrum CBD products.

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