Cannabis Oil Extraction: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Methods for extracting CBD-rich oil from the cannabis plant can vary by product. To ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck, it’s important to know which methods work best for CBD. In this article, we explain which extractions work great, which ones are just ok, and which ones are just plain ugly…
The leading method of safe extraction today is with the supercritical CO2 method.
Supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) is a fluid state of carbon dioxide where it is held at or above its critical temperature and critical pressure.
As a solvent used in the chemical extraction process, Supercritical CO2 has become important for commercial and industrial uses due to its low toxicity and environmental impact, and for its high efficiencies. Low temperatures during extraction and the stability of CO2 allows most compounds to be extracted with little damage or denaturing which is essential for preserving the essence of plant materials in oil extracts and herbal distillates.
Another great feature of this method is its versatility. You see, the solubility of many extracted compounds in CO2 varies with pressure, which allows for selective extractions. CO2 is known as a “tunable solvent”. This means that by controlling temperature and pressure, you can make selective extractions by dropping out different molecular weight compounds in the plant material – making it extremely versatile for creating a multitude of end products.
For high quality CBD, the supercritical system utilizes cold carbon liquefied gas to extract all of the essential trichome, terpene oils and waxes out of the cannabis. Because CO2 is non-toxic and because there are no flammable, petroleum-based solvents involved, this results in a safe, pure, unaltered, consistent extraction with a clean taste. For the best in quality and cleanest product, look for CBD that was extracted using the supercritical CO2 method.
Ethanol is another solvent that is used by producers for manufacturing high-quality CBD extracts.
According to the FDA, ethanol is “Generally Regarded as Safe,” or GRAS, meaning that it is safe for human consumption. Ethanol is also miscible with water which makes it a good general purpose solvent. It is commonly found in paints, tinctures, markers, and personal care products such as mouthwashes, perfumes and deodorants and is also a common food preservative and additive as well.
For CBD, ethanol can be used for extracting the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant. However, even organic, pharmaceutical-grade ethanol has its drawbacks.
For one, ethanol extraction can reduce the oil’s potency due to the destruction of the plant’s waxes.
Also, ethanol is a polar solvent which means it will readily mix with water and dissolve water soluble molecules. This is one of the greatest challenges in the extraction process because chlorophyll is one of the compounds that will easily co-extract when using ethanol as a solvent.
Chlorophyll in the concentrate will result in an unwanted dark green coloration and an unpleasant bitter, grassy flavor. That’s a world of difference when compared with the clean, pure CBD oil produced from supercritical CO2. Even though chlorophyll can be removed by filtering the extract, this additional step also removes a significant proportion of the cannabinoids, therefore leading to less potent oil.
Extra virgin olive oil can also be used to extract CBD oil, but again it has its drawbacks. Although very simple (it only requires you to heat up the oil to 200°F and then filtering the extract), the extract can’t be concentrated – leaving a less potent product when compared with the other methods of extraction.
Butane can also be used as a solvent to extract CBD oil from cannabis. It has a low boiling point which makes it easy to purge from the concentrate at the end of the extraction process. The result is a pure byproduct of CBD oil.
Unfortunately, butane is flammable, explosive and can potentially contain poisonous and harmful chemicals. According to news reports, dangerous butane extraction operations are on the rise and have caused a number of explosions and serious injuries in recent years.
With much better extraction methods available, companies that utilize cheap methods that involve toxic solvents like pentane, propane, hexane, butane, acetone or other hydrocarbons should be avoided altogether.
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