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How Is CBD Extracted? What Are the Different Extraction Methods?


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CBD has quickly become the most talked about area of the burgeoning health and wellness industry. To put this into context, 8 million Brits bought CBD products throughout 2020 and the market size is expected to exceed £1 billion by 2025. Despite the fact that many have been restricted from purchasing CBD in the past, availability is now higher than ever as users can buy CBD online with ease, from companies such as Cannacares.

While the prominence of the CBD industry has come to fore and interest is gathering pace, it is still a product that is not fully understood by many. This article will delve into the various extraction methods used to extract CBD from the cannabis plant.

With the increase interest has come improved innovation within the industry and not just in relation to extraction methods, but also in the variety of products on offer. While the vast majority were left with CBD oil or no CBD, the landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years. Now, consumers are faced with a plethora of delivery methods, including CBD patches, CBD vape oils and CBD drinks.

This article will aim to investigate how CBD is extracted in the first place in order to make such an array of products. Firstly, however, let us quickly cover exactly what CBD is.

What is CBD?

The number of different cannabinoids within the cannabis plant exceeds 100. They each have a truly overwhelming array of defining characteristics that we still know very little about. The two that we know the most about are undoubtedly cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Firstly, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound. This means that it does not have an impact on the user’s brain function and will not make you high. THC on the other hand is psychoactive and this is where many become confused.

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There are three main types of CBD that best sum up how different products are made.

  • Full Spectrum CBD – Full spectrum CBD is the only type of CBD that contains THC. That said, it only contains trace elements which are not substantial enough to intoxicate the user or get them high. The legal limit of THC in a CBD product varies by country, but in the UK this figure currently stands at 0.2%. Full spectrum CBD also contains a vast range of other flavonoids, terpenes and cannabinoids.
  • Broad Spectrum CBD – Broad spectrum CBD also contains the same, wide ranging array of flavonoids, terpenes and cannabinoids as full spectrum, but is absent of THC.
  • CBD Isolate – CBD isolate is self-explanatory. This is the purest form of CBD, completely isolated from any other flavonoid, terpenes or cannabinoid.

Now that we have clarified exactly what CBD is, we must now delve into the various extraction methods used that make these products possible.

Roger Adams, an American chemist, was the first person to successfully extract CBD from cannabis in 1940 – over 80 years ago. It is inevitable that things have progressed significantly since then, but some extraction methods used during this time are still popular today.

We will focus on the three most commonly used CBD extraction methods: Olive oil extraction, solvent extraction and supercritical CO2 extraction.

Olive Oil CBD Extraction

Olive oil extraction is likely the oldest type of extraction method when it comes to CBD.

Cannabis plant material is decarboxylated, meaning acidic cannabinoids are activated by heat. This can even be done at home, by putting the plant material in the oven. Once this process in complete, the plant matter is mixed with olive oil and heated for a sustained period of a several hours. This allows CBD, terpenes and other cannabinoids to bind to the fat in the oil. Once complete, the mixture is then cooled and filtered to remove any remaining plant material.

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Olive oil CBD extraction is by far the most simplistic of all existing extraction methods and is also a reasonably safe process to conduct. Furthermore, it also provides more purity than many solventless extraction methods.

On the other hand, the level of control over the final product is reduced in comparison to alternative methods. The oil produced can also have weak CBD levels and provide wildly varying quality. Olive oil is no longer favoured as a method of extraction by mass manufacturers as a result – it is far more commonly used as a DIY method to try at home.

Solvent CBD Extraction

Solvent extraction was the next natural step forward after olive oil extraction had run its course. While solvent extraction is a fairly cheap option, there are a number of risks associated with its use.

Solvent extraction is achieved by running a liquid solvent, such as ethanol, butane or hexane through decarboxylated cannabis in order to remove unwanted terpenes and cannabinoids. The use of such solvents means that it is absolutely essential to effectively evaporate any leftovers as they can be harmful to the user when ingested.

While solvent extraction is a fairly cheap method of extraction that is easily scalable and provides a relatively pure end product, it certainly does have its drawbacks. To begin with, it can be an extremely dangerous process, particularly for those are less experienced.  This is because solvents such as butane and ethanol are highly flammable. Finally, the high temperatures required can destroy useful terpenes and cannabinoids that provide vital health benefits.

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Supercritical CO2 CBD Extraction

Supercritical CO2 CBD extraction is now seen as the gold standard of extraction methods. It is certainly a far reach from olive oil extraction!

This is achieved by using CO2 in gas, as well as supercritical liquid form. The CO2 is compressed into a liquid through the use of a pressurised chamber, known as a closed-loop extractor.

This supercritical liquid is then run through the raw plant material, which strips away all of the cannabinoids, including CBD. The entire solution is then returned to a state in which the CO2 returns to its natural gas form and evaporates, leaving extracted CBD behind.

While CO2 extraction is a highly complex and costly process that requires a certain degree of expertise, there are a number of reasons why it sets the standard in relation to CBD extraction.

It is undoubtedly the cleanest method of extraction and provides the highest quality end product as a result. While initial set up costs are notably high, it is by far and away the most efficient extraction method, providing a higher yield than any alternative. Last but not least, it is also a sustainable and environmentally friendly extraction method.

Conclusion

Hopefully after reading this article, you have a clearer understanding of the variety of extraction methods that are used in the CBD industry.

While each of the above methods can produce a high-quality end product, there is no doubt that from a commercial and consistency standpoint, supercritical CO2 extraction stands head and shoulders above the alternatives.

Should you wish to understand which extraction method was used in your CBD product, you simply have to request a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from your retailer or manufacturer. This should have been produced by an independent, third party lab and will outline the manufacturing processes as well as the ingredients of the final product.


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