CBD Extraction is the process of isolating and extracting Cannabidiol from the base marijuana plant material, using some form of solvent, such as hydrocarbon or ethanol– these solvents attach to the desired compound, allowing the unnecessary plant material to be washed away.
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is increasingly accessible to all Americans. It’s in teas. It’s in tinctures. It’s in chocolates, beauty products, balms… luxury products galore. These refined treats are the result of a refined CBD extraction process.
You might have quite a few friends already singing the praises of CBD for pain relief, sleep aid, or mood enhancement. And in the growing number of US states with marijuana access, CBD is a trendy component for edibles, tinctures, topical balms, vapor oils, and a host of other THC-oriented products.
As the cannabis industry booms and non-smoking cannabis products grow in popularity, so does CBD extraction technology. And the craft of cannabis extraction is hardly new.
What Is CBD (Cannabidiol)?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 chemical compounds that exist naturally in cannabis plants.
Is it psychoactive? No. It doesn’t induce the euphoria, memory loss, or other goofy effects that people often associate with marijuana high. For that, you’d need THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is psychoactive. Neurologically speaking, CBD and THC activate cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system that trigger relaxation and comfort. In turn, these receptors create endocannabinoids, which regulate appetite, sleep, mood, memory, among others.
According to the World Health Organization, CBD is neither addictive nor toxic in high dosage.
And CBD is known to temper the adverse effects of THC while supporting the more beneficial effects.
New technology for an age-old tradition
We live in an age of cutting-edge extracts, but people all over the world have been extracting CBD for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. Historians have traced cannabis extraction to ancient China, India, medieval Egypt, and Victorian England. In a modern laboratory setting, CBD was first isolated and extracted in 1940 and synthesized in 1963. Industrially, ethanol was long the standard method of CBD extraction and remains a popular method today. However, technology has opened up more possibilities for extraction. In this blog, we’ll review contemporary extraction methods. We’ll do that with a mind toward safety, yield, and preserving the most healthful and delicious elements of the source: plants.
Is CBD the cure-all wonder drug?
People use CBD to treat insomnia, anxiety, musculoskeletal pain, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn disease, among many other ailments. It has been documented as limiting the uptake of anandamide, a pain regulator, resulting in decreased pain.
CBD is known for antipsychotic effects, though trials on psychiatric issues are ongoing.
The same can be said of scientific conclusions about CBD in general.
What Does Science Say About CBD?
How effective is CBD? Researchers are still figuring that out. The FDA recently approved the first-ever CBD drug, this one to treat epilepsy. In the meantime, much of the documented CBD benefits are anecdotal. People with Arthritis are a good example. CBD is commonly used for arthritis pain management, and clinical studies have found this to be an effective treatment among animals. However, we’re waiting on human trials.
Similarly, CBD may reduce spasticity in patients who are suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. And while we wait for more definitive scientific analysis, people who suffer chronic pain are happy to give CBD a try because the side effects are generally very mild.
The Increase in Popularity of CBD Extracts
Feel like you’re starting to notice CBD in more and more retail spots? You’re not mistaken. Consumer interest has been growing for years. In April 2019 alone, online search engines saw 6.4 million searches for CBD. The 2018 Farm Bill has loosened government regulations on hemp cultivation. In turn, the FDA’s growing interest in CBD and cannabis has encouraged significant market valuation – the CBD industry is projected to keep booming, with projections as high as $20 billion annually by 2024. Getting from the farm to consumer products requires CBD extraction.
CBD Extraction: From Plant To Product
Extraction, at the most basic level, employs liquids – or solvents – to isolate the desired chemical compounds in a plant, remove them, and consolidate them for new use. Different extraction methods use different solvents, which require specific processes, temperatures, and pressures.
Some solvent processes require more care than others. Higher temperature treatments run the risk of destroying delicate cannabis terpenes. Lower temperature methods are easier to keep safe but generally have a higher cost of operation and upfront equipment costs.
Budget, scale, safety, and end product… all of these factors vary by CBD extraction method. But some principles hold true across the industry: safety, consistency, and quality are always essential, no matter what method you choose.
CBD Extraction Methods: Pros + Cons
Here is a run-down of the most popular extraction methods.
Ethanol is maybe the oldest industrial method. The plant is washed with ethanol at a low temperature with low pressure.
- Pros: Safe method. Relatively inexpensive. Efficient yield.
- Cons: Hard to adjust – or ‘tune’ – for sensitive compounds. Plus, the ethanol attaches to water-soluble molecules that are less desirable for an extract – specifically chlorophyll, which has a bitter taste and is undesirable. Subsequent processing can remove chlorophyll but often lowers the CBD volume as well.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction
The food industry has used this method for years – for example, it removes caffeine from coffee beans. CO2 is applied in high pressure at low temperature, which renders the gas to a “supercritical” liquid that extracts CBD.
- Pros: No flammability risk. Adaptable, adjustable, easily tuned.
- Cons: Higher equipment costs (around $100,000). Slow extraction (8-10 hours). The complicated extraction process requires extensive training and is difficult to automate.
Another process familiar to the food industry, hydrocarbons include any organic compounds containing only hydrogen and carbon,. Most commonly, it’s propane or butane washing over the plant at low temperature at low pressure.
- Pros: Consistent, high yield. Fast extraction. High potency. Full-spectrum results. No chlorophyll. Low cost equipment ($35,000).
- Cons: Currently, limited options for large scale automated manufacturing. But more and more industry leaders are embracing hydrocarbon methods.
Why Hydrocarbon Extraction Is Leading the Industry
What sets hydrocarbon extraction apart is simple: a fast, efficient process with dynamic results. Unlike ethanol, hydrocarbons do not extract water-soluble molecules. Meaning: no bitter, grassy chlorophyll in the final product. At a low temperature, hydrocarbon extracts more cannabinoids and terpenes and preserves their complex aromas and flavonoids. It maintains the ‘full-spectrum’ oil – keeping the vitamins, nutrients, and fatty acids known to be beneficial in many plants. And it preserves these delicate structures because no extreme purification follow-up is required.
Hydrocarbon method requires more attention to safety and process than some cruder methods, mainly since the solvents are flammable. But butane and propane are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration. And, ideally, any extraction lab will prioritize safety precautions no matter what method they employ.
The extracts that come from the hydrocarbon process are exceptionally versatile, leading to a reputation as the ‘fresh-squeezed juice’ of the extract world. They’re used to create a wide array of delicious, complex, and safe oils, shatters, waxes, glass, and more.
The Hydrocarbon Extraction Process
It all begins with the plant, the same way that a high-quality juice starts out with excellent fruit. If you start with a higher cannabinoid plant, you’ll result in a higher-cannabinoid product. Maintaining the quality of that plant from the time it is picked to the time it’s processed means storing it in a controlled environment – taking care to avoid sunlight, oxygen, and heat.
Cold solvent, usually liquid butane, washes over the plant. In doing so, the compounds dissolve – or in other words, transfers – cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant to the liquid. The solution is then separated from the plant.
Waxes and lipids are separated from the solution. Ethanol extraction requires up to a day-long winterization process, where the solution is heated and frozen to crystalize lingering lipids. Separating wax in the hydrocarbon method is much simpler since the extraction method includes fewer lipids and waxes, to begin with. Most closed-loop hydrocarbon systems have an in-line dewaxing column, which removes impurities by passing the extract through a series of filters.
The solution is separated into a new container where the solvent is passively burned off. This separated butane returns to the original tank, where it will be used in subsequent extraction processes – this is the ‘closed loop’.
The final purification steps vary depending on the type of product desired. This might include a centrifugal approach, a vacuum purge, or a co-solvent separation, among others. And your fresh, pure extract is complete. Total extraction time: about one hour.
CBD Extraction, with Precision
We’ve seen CBD extraction go from obscure chemical compound to health-and-wellness phenomenon in a matter of a few years. The legal status nationwide becomes more welcoming, and the benefits are better understood with every passing day.
People are eager for increasingly refined CBD products, and our technology can deliver it. With better extracts, your options for product design grow too. With more efficient production, your business becomes more and more dynamic.