How is CBD Extracted From Cannabis Plants?

3 min read
Cannabis flower

Dry herb may be the original method of consuming marijuana, but cannabis extracts and concentrates are becoming increasingly popular. Step into any dispensary today and you’ll notice an entire section dedicated to CBD oil and other concentrates. It’s obvious how cannabis flower gets to the shelves, but how do you get CBD from plants? We’re going to break down the process.

The chemical compound cannabidiol (CBD) is naturally produced by the cannabis plant in low concentrations. In order to create higher potency products that produce a therapeutic effect, CBD must be separated and removed from the plant material. CBD oil, CBD isolate, and any other type of CBD product have gone through an extraction process of some kind.

How is CBD extracted from cannabis plants?

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, it is legal to grow hemp and produce products from the plant such as CBD oil as long as it tests at 0.3% THC or lower. While it is possible to extract CBD from marijuana plants as well, the legalization of hemp has made it easier from a legal standpoint to create CBD extracts from hemp. Today, nearly all the CBD products you encounter have been extracted from legal hemp. There are two main ways that CBD is extracted from cannabis plants at the commercial level, either with CO2 or by using a solvent. Both of these methods produce very high quality and potent CBD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction

To understand the CO2 extraction method, you’ll need to know a little bit about chemistry. Carbon dioxide can be used to extract any kind of chemical compound from plant matter. This CBD extraction method uses a closed loop extractor, which has a pressurized chamber that compresses the gas until it becomes a liquid. Liquid CO2 passes through the plant material and strips it of all cannabinoids (naturally occurring chemical compounds) including THC, CBD, and terpenes. When the CBD extraction machine brings the liquid CO2 back to its gas form, the gas evaporates and only the cannabinoids and terpenes are left.

CO2 extraction pros

  • Extraction can be done on a very large scale.
  • Very little waste (85%-95% of cannabinoids extracted).
  • Leftover plant material can be used for other things.
  • CO2 is an inert gas with no fire risk.
  • Terpenes are retained during processing.

CO2 extraction cons

  • Requires a closed loop extractor system.
  • Can’t be done at home.
  • Can be costly.
  • Slower extraction process.

Solvent extraction

A variety of solvents can be used for this method, though butane, ethanol, oil, and propane are most commonly used. If extracting CBD at home, most DIYers choose to use 95% food-grade ethanol, since it’s cheap and easy to come by. The plant material is broken up and washed in a solvent, which helps release the cannabinoids from the flowers, leaves, and stems. The washing can be done in a closed loop extractor or at home in a bucket or large heat-safe bowl. In order to remove the solvent from the extract, the mixture will need to be slowly heated or cooled depending on the solvent used. This is the most dangerous step since all of these solvents are highly flammable.

Solvent extraction pros

  • Cost effective.
  • Extraction can be done at home.
  • Ideal for small-scale operations or personal use.
  • Fast extraction process.

Solvent extraction cons

  • Most solvents are extremely flammable.
  • Terpenes lost during processing.
  • Less cannabinoids retained compared to the CO2 method.
  • Used plant material can’t be reused unless solvent is removed.

What is the best extraction method for cannabis?

Cannabis connoisseurs agree that the newer CO2 extraction method is key in producing the highest quality CBD. The gas extracts the most cannabinoids from the plant, while keeping the terpenes intact for the entourage effect. It is also more potent and much more pure than solvent based extraction, plus it has a longer shelf life than the solvent method. Especially if you will be taking CBD orally, you will want CO2 extracted CBD that has absolutely no residual chemicals, solvents, or taste.

Not ready to do an at home CBD solvent extraction just yet? Visit our online CBD store for broad spectrum and full spectrum CBD oil, tinctures, creams, body butter, roll-ons, capsules, CBD gummies, pre-rolls, and more. 

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