CBD oil is produced using several techniques including:
- Ethanol extraction
- CO2 extraction
With CBD becoming the latest and greatest supplement (for good reason!), many consumers are beginning to wonder where their CBD is coming from. Since CBD oil is one of the most common forms of ingesting CBD, the next question becomes: how is CBD oil produced? What is the difference between how CBD is produced and extracted? With so many questions whirling around, we’re making it simple.
How CBD Oil is Produced: Step by Step
Growing High-Quality, Organic Hemp
First and foremost, in order to have a super solid CBD oil product, you will need to grow some high quality, organic hemp. This means that only natural processes are used, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used in the growing process. When organic practices are used, you can feel confident that you are getting the best quality hemp, without contaminants like synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or heavy metals.
Preparing the Flower
In order to prepare hemp flower for extraction, it must be cured and dried. Once it is cured and dried, the buds will contain a compound called CBDA, the precursor to CBD. When hemp flower is heated by the process called decarboxylation, it can officially be converted from CBDA to CBD. More on that later.
The extraction phase of turning hemp into the pure CBD oil we all know and love is a tedious and important piece of the production process. There are several different ways to extract CBD from the hemp plant, some being better than others. And while these ways differ from one another, the main idea is that the desired compounds are taken from the hemp plant and turned into a substance suitable for consumption. We will dive deeper into these various extraction methods in the next section.
Distillation is simply the process of purifying a liquid by a process of heating and cooling. In the case of CBD, after oil is extracted from the hemp plant, the CBD oil is heated until the CBD begins to evaporate. This evaporated CBD rises to the top, and from there, is collected to form the distillate. The process of distillation allows for the CBD oil to get to its purest form where only certain cannabinoids and the highest concentration of CBD is present.
Carrier Oils and Flavors
After CBD is extracted and distilled, it is in its purest form. This is the time when the pure CBD is combined with other ingredients, carrier oils, and flavors. Oftentimes, a carrier oil like hemp seed oil, MCT oil, or grapeseed oil is added to “carry” the CBD.
This is common practice because using a carrier oil improves the bioavailability of the CBD, which is just a fancy way of saying these added oils help your body absorb the oil. Because CBD is fat-soluble, it dissolves into oil rather than water, so these fat molecules in carrier oils can be easily absorbed into the body, helping you feel the effects of CBD as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Testing is arguably one of the most important steps of CBD oil production. After everything is finished, samples of each batch of CBD are sent to labs to be tested for purity and potency. Third-party testing is the main differentiator between high quality and low quality CBD as it guarantees proper growing, extraction, and ingredients are used. Always opt for products with extensive third party testing results readily available.
The Hemp Growing Process
The hemp growing process is pretty standard for the growing of any plant, although there are certainly do’s and don’ts for when and how to grow hemp to yield the best results. Organic hemp grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are commonly regarded as the safest growing method.
How CBD Oil is Produced: Extraction Processes
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
The most common method of extraction of CBD is CO2 extraction using supercritical carbon dioxide. Now you may be wondering what in the world supercritical CO2 is. Basically, it is the liquid state of CO2. This method of extraction uses a closed-loop extractor, the same system used to extract essential oils, to extract CBD from hemp using extremely low temperatures.
The hemp is placed into the chamber and filled with carbon dioxide. The chamber is then pressurized, turning the carbon dioxide to liquid, which then absorbs the CBD from the hemp. Finally, the pressure is released, allowing the liquid to return to a gas, and leaving behind the extracted material from the hemp.
Another extraction method includes using liquid solvents, like ethanol for extracting CBD. Commonly, these solvents are ethanol, butane, or isopropyl alcohol—although ethanol is widely recognized as the safest option because it is a plant-based solvent, normally made from corn.
Ethanol extraction specially involves soaking the hemp plant in ethanol. By slowly heating the hemp and ethanol, the liquid begins to evaporate the ethanol and leave behind the cannabinoids extracted from the hemp. Because ethanol is a plant-based solvent, many people believe that this method of extraction can help maintain hemp’s natural properties throughout the extraction process.
Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that consist of both carbon and hydrogen—simple enough. Hydrocarbon extraction usually involves butane or propane as the primary solvent, although a blend of several hydrocarbons can be used. Similar to ethanol extraction, these materials act as solvents, which when combined with hemp, strip desired compounds (like cannabinoids) out of the plant using specific temperatures.
While hydrocarbon extraction has been used frequently for food extraction, like production of flavors and colorings, it has become a popular option for CBD extraction, mostly because butane has a low boiling point, which allows the preservation of temperature-sensitive terpenes.
Oil Infusion Extraction
Want to know if you can make CBD oil at home? The answer is yes! And for those who are privy to making CBD oil at home, oil infusion extraction is probably their preferred method of extraction, because it does not require special equipment and only a few simple ingredients.
A common way to perform oil infusion extraction is with olive oil. First, ensure your raw hemp material is decarboxylated. In other words, make sure you have heated the plant to the correct temperature for the correct amount of time to activate the plant’s chemicals for extraction.
Once the step is complete, add hemp material to the olive oil and heat again. This process of heating and reheating will result in the extraction of the cannabinoids. However, it is important to note that because olive cannot evaporate out of the CBD oil, a lot more oil must be used compared to other methods of extractions.
Winterization is the next step of removing undesirable compounds from hemp – things like fats, waxes, and lipids – to leave only clean CBD oil. The winterization process begins after the CBD oil has been extracted and is in the form of crude oil. CBD crude oil contains everything that is in the hemp plant, minus the actual plant material itself. So everything from CBD, minor cannabinoids, terpenes, fats, waxes, and lipids are all present in this liquid.
To get rid of these parts of the liquid that we don't want, alcohol is mixed in. This alcohol will allow the undesirable aspects of the liquid to coagulate while the CBD will thin out. The coagulated parts will then be frozen and filtered out – hence the name winterization – leaving only CBD.
Short Path Distillation
For further CBD oil refinement, short path distillation separates compounds in the plant based on their unique properties – most commonly melting point and boiling point. Because compound’s molecules are heat-sensitive, it is common to use short-path distillation to separate them from one another to get only the desired compounds. Similar to how winterization takes out all the gnarly stuff through freezing, short path distillation further purifies and isolates certain cannabinoids to get only the purest CBD oil with heat.
Short-path distillation is the process of slowly heating the CBD oil until unnecessary substances are boiled off. The vaporized compounds rise up and are chilled back to liquid. When done properly, this results in highly concentrated and purified CBD distillates.
As noted before, testing of CBD by third-party labs is extremely important. Because the hemp plant undergoes so much processing and distillation to get you the purest CBD oil you can get your hands on, it is important that you are able to see the exact results of these processes through lab testing.
What is Decarboxylation?
As mentioned with oil infusion extraction, decarboxylation is simply the process of making sure the hemp plant has been heated to the core temperature for the correct amount of time in order to make certain the plant’s chemicals and cannabinoids are activated and able to be extracted. Decarboxylation is essential to extract the highest quality and concentration of CBD from the plant.
Types of CBD Products
CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD oil. It is extracted only from hemp flower, with no leaves or other parts of the plant used. While some people opt for CBD isolate for its purity, others believe that you need other cannabinoids present in CBD oil in order to experience effects. See: entourage effect.
Broad-spectrum CBD has a rich cannabinoid profile, meaning there is more than just CBD in the product. However, broad-spectrum CBD products do not contain any THC. For some people, this is a better option as there is no risk of having psychoactive effects of THC in your CBD oil.
Full-spectrum CBD contains more than just CBD. It has many other cannabinoids as well, including THC, terpenes, and flavonoids. With full-spectrum products, both the leaves and flowers are used in the extraction process to ensure the presence of every compound.
The Entourage Effect: What Is It?
The Entourage effect is a buzz word in the CBD world. It is simply the idea that CBD works better in combination with other cannabinoids and terpenes found naturally in the hemp plant versus when it is completely isolated. This idea stems from the understanding that compounds found in the hemp plant act synergistically and can give you the best results when taken together, which is why many companies believe in keeping several cannabinoids in CBD oil versus only isolating CBD.
Tinctures are a great way to get all of the effects of CBD because it is pure CBD oil with only an additional carrier oil to help your body absorb the CBD. Sometimes flavor or essential oils are infused for taste, but CBD tinctures are arguably the purest CBD product you can find. Just put a dropper full of oil under the tongue and feel the effects within just 15-30 minutes.
CBD edibles are made by baking CBD oil into various foods. After the CBD is extracted from the hemp plant and turned into its purest form, it can be baked or cooked into gummies, chocolates, candies or treats for a tasty way to experience CBD. This method of ingestion requires digestion so it will take a bit longer to feel the effects.
Topicals are simply balms, creams, salves, or lotions infused with CBD. Topicals are meant to be put directly onto the skin (instead of eaten or ingested) and are for those with muscle or joint pain. Because CBD can be absorbed into the skin, it gives consumers localized pain relief wherever it is rubbed onto the body.
Are CBD Products Legal?
The Farm Bill, passed in the 2018, legalized on the federal level, the regulated production of hemp, or any part of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration below 0.3%. However, regardless of the federal legalization, each individual state has the final say in whether or not cannabis-derived products are legal within their state lines. As of now, possession of CBD is legal in all 50 states except Nebraska and Idaho. However, we always recommend checking with state and federal regulations as laws are constantly changing.
Production of CBD is no joke. With several extraction methods, winterization, distillation, and of course growing high quality and organic hemp, making sure you are getting the best CBD on the market can be quite the feat. Whether growing at home or buying from a trusted brand, making sure you are getting the correct kind of CBD for your needs is essential. Overall, make sure to factor in production of your CBD next time you buy a tincture, gummy, or topical, as production methods are a critical distinction of getting the high quality CBD.