How is CBD Extracted from Hemp? Which is the best method?

+ A Special Commentary on the Best Extraction Method By Greenlife Organics

Table of Contents

Why should the type of CBD extraction methods matter to you?

Solvent extraction

Solventless CBD extraction (manual)

Dry ice CBD extraction

Olive oil extraction

Steam distillation

Supercritical CBD extraction

Subcritical CBD extraction

Components of the best CBD extraction method according to the team of experts from Greenlife Organics

The Wrap: Which is the best CBD extraction method?

CBD extract and its associated products are incredibly popular recently, and the CBD market is viewed to grow further as the years progress. 

What’s more, science has been making strides with the efficiency and yield of CBD extract. For example, a recent study in 2019 is looking into creating a standard operating protocol to optimize CBD extraction, which can be critical for medical purposes. 

So with the prospect of extraction optimization: how is CBD extracted from hemp? And among these extraction methods, which CBD extraction is the best method?

Plus, you’re in for a treat as extraction experts from Greenlife Organics let you into what makes up the best CBD extraction method.

Why should the type of CBD extraction methods matter to you?

As an end-user of CBD-infused products, it’s quite easy to dismiss the methods used to extract CBD. But, in reality, differences in the production processes affect the quality and yield  of CBD. It then translates to the end product that you, as a consumer, will experience.

As one can guess, since there are different methods or approaches to extracting CBD, there will be pros and cons in the different hemp CBD extraction processes. For example, some methods have increased yields but are less potent. On the other hand, some methods have lower yields but are incredibly pure in CBD.

Let’s check out some of the most popular types of CBD extraction methods:

Solvent extraction:

The solvent extraction method involves, as the name implies, solvents such as ethanol, isopropyl, butane, propane, or alcohol to extract CBD. 

The method is one of the oldest yet cheapest and easiest CBD extraction methods. However, the ease comes with a few caveats. The solvents used can be a likely cause that affects the quality of the final product.

The method works by dissolving the plant waxes using the solvents which strip the cannabinoids. Then the evaporation process leaves the cannabinoids in oil form.

SAFETY“There has always been extensive criticism against the traditional organic solvents for extraction due to environmental concerns and safety hazards as well as the high production.”

Additionally, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that organic solvents “can be carcinogens, reproductive hazards, and neurotoxins.”
PROS– Inexpensive

– Large volumes of CBD extract can be processed in a short time

– One of the easiest extraction methods

– The plant can be utilized for the extraction process
CONS– Solvents used are highly flammable

– Can alter a cannabinoid’s properties

– Requires additional refinement methods to craft into an actual usable product
CARBON FOOTPRINTCarbon footprints from solvent extraction methods are 10.6kgCO2eq.

Solventless CBD extraction (manual):

As the name implies, Solventless CBD extraction does not use solvents like ethanol, butane, carbon dioxide (CO2), etc. Instead, the method involves separating the trichomes from the plant by hand or machine, then applying pressure and gently heating it.

Some companies prefer this method due to the ease of production and cost-effectiveness. Likewise, solventless extraction eliminates the problems associated with solvents, potentially better for the consumer and the environment.

SAFETYRelatively safe because of the minimal to no usage of chemicals. 
PROS– The whole plant is utilized

– One of the cheapest CBD extraction methods
CONS– Has low CBD extract yield

– Has a loose control over purity level
CARBON FOOTPRINTRelatively smaller compared to solvent-based extraction methods.

Dry ice CBD extraction:

The dry ice CBD extraction method is another straightforward process to extract CBD from hemp. Using dry ice, the trichomes are frozen, allowing them to be “knocked off” after being shaken for a short period.

A benefit of this CBD extraction method is that it is simple enough to do at home. Compared to other methods that extract CBD from hemp, it does not use chemicals or expensive equipment. Simply freezing temperatures and some elbow grease can yield CBD extract.

SAFETYRelatively safe and cleaner compared to solvent-based methods due to the lack of aggressive solvents.
PROS – One of the fastest methods of extracting CBD

– Easy to perform
CONS – Scalability challenges

– The process requires fast-acting work, which can sometimes compromise quality

Olive oil extraction:

This method of extracting CBD from hemp begins by heating the plant materials for an amount of time. The materials are then combined with olive oil and heated again, which starts the cannabinoid extraction.

The olive oil doesn’t get evaporated, which will dilute the resulting extract. Likewise, olive oil is highly perishable, which can affect the shelf life of the CBD extract. These traits may be off-putting for most companies looking to profit from CBD extracts but this method is one of the oldest and loved methods among CBD enthusiasts and organic-conscious individuals.

SAFETY“The use of plant oil as an extraction solvent can be a safe alternative.”
PROS – One of the safest extraction methods

– Inexpensive

– One of the simplest methods of CBD extraction
CONS – Has a short shelf-life

– It needs a high-maintenance storage system

– Yields low CBD extract concentration

Steam distillation:

A steam distillation hemp extraction equipment uses, as the name implies, steam to separate oil from the plant materials. The resulting vapor will contain the cannabinoids, cooled and condensed, producing a mixture of CBD oil and water. The final step separates the oil and water.

The drawback of this method is that it consumes more plant material for relatively fewer CBD extracts. Also, the heat from the steam can damage the cannabinoids and other compounds if done improperly.

SAFETYRelatively safe but has the risk of altering a cannabinoid’s chemical properties if the steam gets too hot.
PROS– Few impurities

– It makes use of all plant parts but still provides quality CBD extract product at the end
CONS– Time-consuming

– Overheating might lead to reduced potency

– The exact concentration of CBD might not be easily measured
CARBON FOOTPRINTBoilers used in producing steam supply significant emissions.

CO2 extraction:

CO2 extracted CBD oil is considered the most balanced CBD extraction method by companies due to its high yields and level of safety. It has two types, supercritical and subcritical, which refers to the physical state of carbon dioxide when extracting CBD from hemp.

Carbon footprint: Although CO2 is considered a greenhouse gas, CO2, when withdrawn from the environment, used in the extraction process, and returned in the environment, doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Supercritical CBD extraction:

CO2 or carbon dioxide is typically a gas at standard temperature and pressure. But using freezing temperatures and increased pressure turns CO2 into a liquid. 

After turning CO2 into a liquid, the temperature is decreased further, and pressure increased such that it enters a “supercritical state” where CO2 adopts properties between its liquid and gaseous state. 

The supercritical state is optimal for CBD extraction as it doesn’t damage and denature the CBD.

SAFETY“The main supercritical (SC) solvent used is carbon dioxide (CO2), is an inexpensive GRAS (generally recognized as safe) solvent, with very well-known physicochemical properties, “ as per a 2017 study.
PROS– Revered for its toxin-free nature

– One of the safest methods for both the environment and consumer

– Provides more manufacturing freedom for chemical engineers
CONSCan have an unnecessarily long purification process that can damage the cannabinoid’s profile

Subcritical CBD extraction:

Compared to supercritical CBD extraction, this method involves only low temperatures and low pressure. 

While it produces a smaller yield compared to supercritical extraction, subcritical extraction will retain terpenes, essential oils, and other materials.

SAFETY“However, both subcritical and supercritical have higher equipment cost, but the overall extraction process is considered as safe and greener with the low running cost of the experiment.”
PROS– Retains and protects fragile compounds like terpenes and other precious phyto-compounds required to create a working full-spectrum type of CBD extract

– The low heat and pressure preserves the acid forms of CBD and THC (CBDA and THCA)

– Allows for more selectivity in the extraction process
CONS– Small yield

– Expensive

– Time-consuming

Components of the best CBD extraction method according to the team of experts from Greenlife Organics

It turns out, the best extraction method does not only concern “the method itself.” It’s a collective system of using the right quality raw materials, good extraction method practices, safety, PCR (phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil) feature, and more. 

Sharon Etchemendy and Dr. Phil Millman, PHARM.D, Chief Scientist at Greenlife Organics, shared an in-depth look into the qualities of an ideal CBD extraction method. 

A. Using locally-grown quality hemp

The best and most sophisticated extraction process would be useless if the raw materials used are of lousy quality. 

“Extraction will not improve the quality of inferior plants.”

Dr. Millman

“The best plants are grown organically and follow strict testing of the soil, water without the use of a pesticide,” Sharon added. 

It’s common knowledge that CBD products have COAs (Certificate of Analyses). Most of us don’t know this but raw materials used in the extraction process are also documented via COA.

“When considering the best exaction methods you start with the Certificate of Analysis (COA) from the original plant material,” said Dr. Millman, “if interested, ask the manufacturer to provide a Certificate of Analysis for the plant used in the Lot or Batch number stamped on your product. Best in class manufacturers provide 100% traceability.” 

B. The best extraction method can produce PCR (phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil)

“The best extraction process produces an oil that retains all the natural healing properties from the plant,” said Sharon.

She added, “A PCR ( phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil)  requires the plant to undergo a special extraction process that preserves  all the naturally occurring cannabinoids in the plant.”

CBD extract is categorized into three types: isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum. 

  • Isolate is CBD extract in pure form, meaning it does not contain any phyto-compounds of hemp except CBD (cannabidiol). 
  • Broad-spectrum has all the phyto-compounds of hemp (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and so on) except THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – a psychoactive compound).
  •  Full-spectrum as all the phyto-compounds of hemp, including THC. 

A 2020 preclinical study using a chronic neuropathic pain model, showed “for the first time that common, commercially available, and easily reproducible full-spectrum hemp oil induces significant anti-allodynic effects with a bell-shaped pain sensitivity effect.”

Referring to the full-spectrum type of CBD extract, Sharon pointed that “consumers will always get the greatest benefit from an oil that preserves all the naturally occurring cannabinoids in the plant, as well as all other substances, such as terpenes and flavonoids.”

C. Smart manufacturing decisions like prioritizing blossoms or flower

CBD can be extracted using the aerial parts of the hemp plant, such as flowers, leaves, stalk, and stems. However, most cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, are concentrated in the resin-coated trichomes of the hemp’s flower.

It makes sense for Greenlife Organics to prioritize flowers in extracting CBD. 

“Extract only the blossoms, not the whole plant. When you use the whole plant you must use high heat (short path) to remove the unwanted waxes, fiber and chlorophyll,” said Sharon.

D. Considering the safety of the method used and adding an extra layer of protection by adhering to manufacturing safety standards

Sharon believes that “with the exception of extraction using Butane or Propane, the industry in large produces products that are safe for human consumption.”

“At Greenlife Organics, Dr. Phill Millman, Pharm.D. formulates every product and runs our FDA registered pharmaceutical lab where every step is highly regulated and monitored by the FDA and DEA,” said Sharon. 

E. Following basic CBD extraction principles

Greenlife Organics sticks to the following essential CBD extraction practices to produce the best industry-grade CBD extract. 

  • Low heat – heat must not exceed 250 degrees F 
  • Extreme Cold – Winterization, a step in extraction must be  -80 degrees C.
  • Solvent – USP (Pharmaceutical grade), 200% proof ethanol

The Wrap: Which is the best CBD extraction method?

In a 2021 review, “Extraction of Cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L. (Hemp)—Review,” after “dissecting the processing steps and principles involved in producing cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L. (Hemp) biomass,” the authors found supercritical CO2 extraction or SC-CO2 to be superior among the extract processes they’ve analyzed. 

“The SC-CO2 seems to be superior in terms of operation economy, environmental concerns as well as large-scale purification technicalities.”

However, as much as we would like to jump on the bandwagon of saying “CO2 Extraction” is the best CBD extraction method today, one can’t honestly say “x” is the universally best CBD extraction method ever. 

For one, there is a steady influx of new CBD extraction methods introduced to us every quarter, all claiming to be the best. But who or what entity has the authority to choose? And in what criteria?

Probably the nearest thing to the truth is what type of CBD extraction method you benefit the most (as either a casual CBD consumer, an environment-conscious consumer, connoisseur, businessman, or manufacturer). Each will have varying goals and intentions. Therefore, expect different answers to the question – which is the best CBD extraction method?

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are in no way intended to treat or diagnose any physical ailment or disease.”

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