A man and a woman stand in a field of hemp and look at the quality of the oil in a glass beaker

CBD Extractions: Which Type is Best?

The rise in CBD’s popularity is not going away anytime soon. And even though most consumers have heard about CBD and may have even tried a few products, many might not understand the intricate process that goes into the making of them. In fact, the type of extraction method can play a huge role in how a product tastes, what its potency is, and its overall quality in general. Moreover, consumers should know the difference between the different extraction methods so that they can choose the best quality products from the most reputable brands. 

What are Some Commonly Asked Questions About CBD?

A woman wearing a yellow shirt takes a dropper of CBD out from the bottle.

Before learning about different extraction methods, it helps to understand CBD in general. Knowing the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about CBD can help guide you in the right direction to finding top-notch products. 

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main compounds in the cannabis plant. Both the hemp and marijuana plants are varieties of the cannabis plant, and along with CBD, there are over 100 other compounds that exist in them. 

Is CBD Legal?

Per the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-based CBD products are legal throughout the United States, providing they contain 0.3% or less THC. Each state, however, has its own laws regarding medicinal and recreational marijuana. In looking for hemp-based CBD products, you should read any third-party lab reports that brands post on their websites to confirm that their products are compliant with federal law. 

What Types of Products Can CBD Be Made Into?

Because CBD is very versatile, it can be turned into a host of helpful products. For example, one of the most common products out there is CBD oil. But CBD can also be used to make topical creams, gummies, salves, capsules, and even CBD dog treats

What’s the Best Way to Find a Top-Quality CBD Product?

High-quality CBD products are not that hard to find if you know what you’re looking for. Some things you should take into consideration when looking for a respected brand that sells top-notch, clean, potent products are: 

  • Where the brand sources its hemp from
  • If the brand uses an independent third-party to test its products for potency and purity
  • Does that brand make all third-party lab reports available to customers via its website
  • The type of extraction process the brand uses to obtain its extracts
  • Does the brand post verified customer reviews on its website 
  • Is the brand’s customer service department knowledgeable and helpful

What are Some Common Extraction Methods?

A close-up of a bottle of CBD and its dropper in front of a hemp plant

In order for CBD products to be made, the CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids must be carefully extracted and preserved from the cannabis plant. When a CBD product has been made through decarboxylation, this simply means that the buds of the plant have been heated to turn the acidic precursor of the cannabinoid into an active version of it. For example, the acidic form of CBD is CBDA. When CBDA is heated/decarboxylated, it then transforms into CBD. By making the acid form active, it can then best interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Therefore, when crafting high-quality CBD products, it’s  imperative that the purity and quality of the extracts are maintained. There are quite a few ways of extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, and some are better than others. 

Solvent Extraction

Solvent extraction is done by using good grade ethanol or hydrocarbons like butane or propane. As one of these is washed over cannabis plant trimmings, it draws out all of the plant’s compounds. When hydrocarbon extraction is used, the mixture then contains cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients. The parts that are extracted are then further refined until most or all of the solvent is removed. Then, a final purge is performed to make sure that any remaining solvent is taken out. What results is a concentration of CBD oil. In ethanol extraction, the liquid that’s obtained is distilled to separate cannabis oil from the ethanol to further isolate the compounds. 

Solvent extraction is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t require any expensive or special equipment. Moreover, solvents are great at binding to and pulling out cannabis compounds. Hydrocarbons are best known for keeping the cannabis plant’s flavor and aroma intact. A drawback to this method is that it’s highly flammable and can be dangerous if it’s not done under the right conditions. Furthermore, if the method isn’t followed meticulously, then there’s a chance that residual solvent will be left in the final product. Solvents like ethanol can also extract unwanted chlorophyll, which will give the final product a bitter taste. 

Steam Distillation

This method is one of the more popular ones. In steam distillation, steam is used to remove cannabinoids from the raw plant material. What results is a vapor that is packed with the cannabinoids, phytonutrients, and terpenes from the cannabis plant. Once the liquid is cooled, it’s then condensed, and the water and oil are separated from each other. 

Steam distillation is also inexpensive, easy to perform, and does not require solvents. Some drawbacks are that it’s fairly inefficient and you would need more plant material to obtain less oil. Also, the concentrations of CBD are inconsistent and this method can potentially damage the delicate chemical properties of some of the more heat sensitive cannabinoids and compounds. 

CO2 Extraction

This is the industry preferred method of obtaining cannabis extracts. In the CO2 extraction process, carbon dioxide is used to remove cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids from the cannabis plant. This method is as fascinating as it is scientifically advanced. In the CO2 extraction method, three chambers are used. In chamber one, CO2 gas is converted into a liquid by increasing the pressure and decreasing temperature. In the next phase, both the temperature and the pressure are carefully and slowly raised until the liquid carbon dioxide achieves a supercritical point. 

During the supercritical point, the carbon dioxide is in limbo between being a liquid and a gas, even though its concentration is more akin to a liquid. Once this state is reached, the carbon dioxide is transferred into the second chamber that holds cannabis plant parts. As the CO2 passes through the cannabis, an oil rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients is pulled from the plant. As the oil and the carbon dioxide travel to the third chamber, they both separate and any leftover CO2 evaporates leaving a pure and potent CBD oil extract behind. This method is the industry preferred way of obtaining extracts because it’s precise, free of solvents, safe, and environmentally friendly. One major drawback to this method, however, is the fact that this highly sophisticated process requires advanced and expensive equipment

Natural Solvent Method

There are some cannabis aficionados who prefer to extract their own CBD at home. In this case, they’re most likely using natural solvents like olive oil to obtain their extracts. While extracting your own CBD is not preferred, it still can be done. In the natural solvent method, raw cannabis is heated, or decarboxylated, to a specified temperature and then combined with a natural solvent like olive oil before it’s heated again to draw out cannabinoids. Because the olive oil doesn’t evaporate, the end result will be extracts that aren’t as concentrated. Therefore, this process will yield you a type of CBD-infused oil instead of an extract that is highly concentrated. 

The good thing about this method is that it’s easy and inexpensive. It can be performed from the comfort of your home without concerns about safety, expensive equipment, or harmful solvents. Some drawbacks, however, are that the final product will not be shelf-stable and will also have a fairly unpleasant taste. Also, because this method is not as concise as the ones profiled above, you’re more likely to come out with a less concentrated final product that will be more of an oil infused with CBD. Because of this, you’ll most likely have to take a bigger dose. 

Extraction Methods: Putting it All Together

An array of CBD products on a white shelf

In thinking about CBD products, it’s best to research how a brand obtains its extracts. So, when you’re buying a CBD product, it’s best to go with ones that are carefully crafted, sourced from high-quality hemp, are minimally processed, and are made with top-quality ingredients. Reading independent third-party lab reports is an excellent way to know exactly what you’ll potentially be putting into your body. These detailed reports will give you a full profile of the product by telling you the cannabinoid content, if there are any unwanted solvents, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or other chemicals in it, and so much more. It’s important to fully understand the many extraction methods because they greatly impact the overall quality of the products you buy. To date, CO2 extraction is the industry preferred way of obtaining extracts because it’s safe, efficient, and yields high-quality, high potency end products. If you’re looking for top-quality CBD products, then you should seek out trusted and respected brands, like FAB CBD, that use the supercritical CO2 method. The products that these brands produce are clean, potent, and effective.