If you are a hemp company that is looking to get into the CBD oil business or upgrade your current systems to handle a larger scale operation, you may be having a difficult time figuring out exactly which type of CBD oil extraction is right for your business.
Alternatively, if you are a consumer looking to get into CBD oil, you may have a few questions about how it is made, and what exactly is in the products you’re consuming.
We created this guide to help people on both sides of the fence to understand the different ways to extract CBD oil.
For business owners, you will come away from this guide with a better understanding of how to approach your CBD extraction systems at scale.
For consumers, you will learn how CBD oil is made, and what quality standards manufacturers are upholding.
In this guide, we cover:
This guide approaches things in a bit of a technical way for those looking to learn more about starting your own CBD extraction process, but it also breaks it down into layman’s terms for people looking to get more information about how CBD oil is made, and what is in the products they are consuming.
Understanding the Different Types of CBD Oil: How it Affects the Extraction Process
Before we get into the extraction process, it is important to understand that there are a few common types of CBD, each derived from a different part of the hemp or cannabis plant.
Depending on the type of CBD oil and where it comes from, the extraction process may be a bit different, as are the ingredients, and effects it will have on users.
Hemp Seed Oil Extracted from Hemp Seeds
This is the initial form of CBD oil, derived strictly from the seeds of the hemp plant. Initially, this was the only type of CBD oil that was legal in the United States for some time, and only permitted for certain industrial and medical uses.
Hemp seed oil is extracted by pressing the seeds, which gives off a dark green liquid that can later be processed more in order to isolate the CBD and give it a more pure color and makeup.
CBD oil extracted from hemp seeds has no THC content, as THC only develops in hemp plants once they are past the seed stage. As you can imagine, there are also far fewer things to filter out, since the hemp seeds are mainly made of fiber, oils, and fatty acids.
CBD Oil Extracted from Hemp Plants
This is probably the most common type of CBD oil on the market. It is a bit less viscous than CBD oil, as it contains a lot more oil and less fatty acids.
Overall, CBD oil extracted from hemp plants needs to be refined a lot more than hemp seed oil, because there are a lot more components to a hemp plant that need to be filtered out, such as stems, leaves, etc…
This type of CBD oil also has little to no THC content, needing to remain under the 0.3% limit to remain federally legal to buy and sell in the United States.
CBD Oil Extracted from Cannabis Plants
This is by far the most complex and difficult to obtain CBD oil, as marijuana plants tend to have tons of other cannabinoids and chemical compounds in them that affect users.
On top of that, the THC content found in most marijuana plants makes this type of CBD oil illegal in most states except to people with certain qualifying medical conditions.
This type of CBD oil is usually known as Full Spectrum CBD Oil because it contains the entire spectrum of cannabinoids in it, which are believed to work together in order to strengthen effects and provide better results to users.
The CBD Extraction Process: Step by Step
Now that you have an understanding of the different types of CBD oil, let’s jump into the extraction process to see how CBD oil is really made!
1. Collection & Milling: Getting the Hemp Ready for Extraction
When most CBD extraction facilities receive their hemp, it is in a mass of stems, leaves, and buds. Essentially, it is in a large container, arranged in a jumbled up mess. They try to target low moisture hemp that has been dried in order to keep probability of mold and bacteria development down.
In order to get the hemp ready for CBD extraction, they need to first get it into what they call a homogenized mixture – meaning all of these different pieces are broken down into similar sized pieces to make extraction easier and more uniform.
This is done through a process called milling, which breaks the hemp down much like a grinder would break down the buds of a cannabis plant.
Before ever milling, most CBD extractors will also test the hemp product in order to make sure that it passes the Farm Bill and is okay to be used for extraction. If it fails these tests, it won’t be used and will be sent back to the farmers.
2. Extraction: Removing the CBD from the Hemp
After milling, the hemp is ready to be processed in order to extract the CBD from the plant. This can be done in a few different ways:
- Supercritical CO2 Extraction
- Ethanol Extraction
- Hydrocarbon Extraction
- Lipid Extraction
We will go into each of these more in-depth in the next section in order to give you an idea of the differences between each process, why each one is important, the pros and cons of each, and which one produces the purest product.
For the most part, supercritical CO2 extraction is the most common means of extraction because it provides the most consistent results, as well as the cleanest product.
Basically, the way extraction works is that different levels of pressure and temperature are used in order to pull CBD out of the hemp mixture. This produces what is called “crude oil”, which must then be filtered down into CBD oil that can pass the Farm Bill and be ready for consumer use.
3. Activation & Decarboxylization: Making the CBD Effective
This is actually a lot less technical and confusing than it sounds. Basically, in order to be activated in our body, CBDA – the original compound found in hemp – needs to be activated to turn into CBD, and have effects in our body.
In order to activate the CBD compound, it needs to go through a process called decarboxylation. It sounds confusing, but all it really means is that the CBD oil extract is heated and submitted to changing pressures in order to be activated.
Depending on the type of extraction method used, this can happen during the extraction process, or may need to be done after extraction.
4. Winterization: Removing Undesirable Elements
After extraction, there is winterization. This process is designed to remove any undesired chemical compounds from the crude oil made during the extraction process. These unwanted compounds include:
- Fatty Acids
- Heavy Metals
- Unwanted Cannabinoids (for isolates)
Depending on the process of extraction used, the winterization process will be a bit different. The main thing to keep in mind though is that this is basically what gets you from “crude oil” to CBD oil, something you can actually feel safe and confident putting in your body.
Because CBD is in the midst of a breakthrough in scientific discovery, and the FDA and government agencies are working hard to ensure consumer safety and regulation of the industry, there is actually a very large incentive for companies to keep their CBD oils and isolates as pure as possible.
5. Third-Party Testing: Making Sure the CBD Oil is Safe
The last, and perhaps most important part in the CBD extraction process is the testing. Throughout the entire process, there are always tests being done to make sure certain temperatures, pressures, and levels of CBD are being maintained.
On top of that, the initial and final product are tested in order to make sure that the CBD and THC levels are within legal limits, and that the number of particulates and other harmful chemicals is near zero, or within safe limits.
The best CBD oil brands take the testing process a step further, by hiring third-party companies to test their products in order to make sure they are up to standards, and to get a more accurate idea of what is in their CBD oil.
Not all companies do this, but we try to work with only the best CBD brands that take their testing and labeling very seriously in order to make sure that their users get the best results and remain safe.
Think of it like this: If you take a look at your own work, it can be hard to find mistakes. You may look over things too quickly, or you may have a bias that your work is flawless because it’s yours. Just like with work, having an extra set of eyes to look over your work makes sure you catch mistakes and keep quality high. The same thing is true of CBD extracts.
4 Different Ways to Extract CBD Oil
Now that you have an understanding of the CBD extraction process, let’s take a deeper look at the different ways to extract CBD oil. This will help you get a better idea for how your CBD oil is made, what processes companies are using, their quality control standards, and potentially how you can go about making your own CBD oils!
Keep in mind that these extraction methods all constitute as the second step in the extraction process listed above.
1. Supercritical CO2 Extraction
Supercritical CO2 extraction involves taking the milled hemp plants and putting them in a machine that uses supercritical CO2 to extract the CBD oil.
Basically, these machines take CO2, and pressurize it while heating it, to get it to a supercritical state, which simply means it is acting as a liquid and a gas at the same time.
This liquid-gas CO2 is then passed through the hemp product in order to extract the CBD oil. This method of extraction has up to a 90% extraction efficiency when optimized, meaning that it can extract up to 90% of the CBD oil from a hemp mixture.
CO2 extraction equipment is probably the most expensive because it tends to run around 1500psi, which requires a massive amount of materials, infrastructure, and highly customized machines for your solution. It also takes a lot of energy to run, and can be fairly dangerous due to the high-pressure environment it runs in.
This video can help you understand a bit more about how the process works inside of a typical CO2 extraction system:
Pros & Cons of CO2 CBD Extraction
Higher potency oil Most expensive method of extraction
|Quality product||Requires intricate knowledge and skills|
|Good efficiency||Can be dangerous because of high pressure|
|Easy to purify the product||Extremely costly at large scale|
Overall, CO2 CBD oil extraction is one of the more common ways to make CBD oil because it is effective and efficient, allowing you to get the highest yields of CBD oil out of a batch of hemp, while also keeping additional chemicals to a minimum, as most of the CO2 stays within the machine, and is filtered out of the oil.
Over time though, it has been discovered that more effective methods of extraction exist. Ethanol is widely considered to be more effective in terms of yield and the cost of extraction. It costs less and produces a more potent and safer product than CO2 extraction.
2. Ethanol Extraction
Ethanol extraction uses the same principles as CO2 extraction, it just uses ethanol as the solution instead. The machines are a bit different, usually smaller and less complex. They also tend to require a bit more skill and knowledge to operate.
However, ethanol CBD extraction can still yield extremely high-quality CBD oils if you know what you are doing.
There are a few advantages to using ethanol, mainly being that it is less expensive, and requires smaller machines. It can also be used in lower temperature and lower pressure environments, which reduce a lot of the room for error, and also for costly accidents to occur from small mistakes. If done right, you can even get a higher extraction efficiency than with CO2, because the ethanol binds to the terpenes you want to extract.
Sadly though, ethanol does not leave behind fatty acids and lipids – making for dirtier, less effective yields that require additional extraction to get more potency.
Another main advantage is that ethanol is extremely safe in terms of human consumption since it is derived from corn. As a result, the FDA has deemed it the safest method of extraction for food and edible products. This gives producers using ethanol an advantage in terms of having to worry about less harmful chemicals in their finished product.
Lastly, ethanol is easy to extract from the crude oil mixture, and can continually be re-used for more extractions in the future, saving money on additional solution.
However, there are some concerns about the flammability of ethanol, which can be a problem if not careful. But, because most ethanol machines are not run using high temperatures or pressures, the likelihood of these accidents is reduced.
This video can help you learn a bit more about the ethanol extraction process:
Pros & Cons of Ethanol CBD Extraction
|Considered safe by the FDA||Is highly flammable|
|Less dangerous conditions||Does not separate out all particulate|
|Higher efficiency than CO2|
|Easy to extract|
Overall, ethanol CBD extraction is probably the most efficient and safest ways to extract CBD oil. While it may take a bit longer, and not be the best fit for massive industrial applications, overall, it is far more effective and safe than CO2.
Implementing these type of extraction systems can work at scale as long as you build your system with scaling in mind, and attack some of the main problems like how to cool ethanol effectively at scale.
3. Hydrocarbon Extraction
Hydrocarbon CBD extraction refers to the use of common gases like propane and butane. Other common gases used in this extraction process include pentane, hexane, isopropyl alcohol or acetone. These methods of extraction can be highly effective if done right, and are somewhat of a middle point between ethanol extraction and CO2.
Both require a high amount of pressure to properly extract CBD oil, with an average of around 150-200psi, which is still significantly less than CO2 systems that can require upwards of 1,000-5,000psi to operate.
Because hydrocarbons are highly dangerous for human consumption, and due to the way they bind with a lot of the fatty acids, lipids, and other chemical compounds in CBD oil, this extraction method does require a bit more heavy lifting and planning on the decarboxylation side of things in order to make sure your product is pure and safe.
However, methods for decarboxylation of butane and propane are pretty standard, and can be efficient at scale as long as you plan your systems out properly. The main concern when it comes to scaling these systems is that they require a lot of gas and pressure in order to work properly, so it can take some serious planning to make it all work – but that is not to say it is impossible.
The benefits of hydrocarbon extraction are that it can be easily integrated into a variety of systems and can be adjusted subtly to change the overall makeup of CBD oils, and can even be fitted to completely different products like shatter and other dabbing extracts.
There are some concerns about the levels of hydrocarbons that stick around in CBD oil after extraction, but as long as your system is set up properly, you can easily get hydrocarbon levels down to zero parts per million in the decarb process.
Pros & Cons of Hydrocarbon CBD Extraction
|Versatile for different products||Get a bad image from consumers|
|Can be efficient at scale||Can take longer to deploy and operate|
|Fairly cost-effective||The process takes a bit longer|
|High potency and quality yields|
Overall, hydrocarbon CBD extraction is not nearly as bad as the reputation it gets. You can easily maintain quality yields, while maintaining cost-efficiency at scale if you design your systems right.
On top of that, you can get even more potent yields than with ethanol, while preserving more of the terpenes and extracting more of the unwanted lipids and fatty acids that ethanol notoriously binds to – making them hard to remove.
4. Lipid Extraction
Lipid extraction of CBD oil is by far the least common method, and that is because it is almost entirely unreliable and unrealistic at scale.
This method of extraction is probably best for businesses just getting into the CBD extraction process, that have very little starting capital, and who want to experiment in the industry.
Lipid extraction uses fatty acids, usually vegetable oil or coconut oil in order to extract CBD from the hemp plants.
With this method, heat and pressure is still needed in order to remove the CBD oil from the plant and transfer it into the oily agent you are using.
This is a safe way for people with small operations to get a foot in the door when it comes to making CBD extracts without spending a massive amount of capital upfront. The problem is, controlling yields can be hard, as can filtering out particulate. On top of that, using this method at scale is nearly impossible due to the inconsistencies and lack of overall scientific process.
To learn more about lipid extraction to make CBD oil at home, check out this helpful video:
Pros & Cons of Lipid CBD Extraction
|Easy to set up||Not effective at scale|
|Very cheap||Hard to control the quality|
|Not dangerous||Hard to get high potency|
Overall, lipid extraction for CBD is more of a DIY method that consumers or small businesses can use to make their own CBD oils and products, but it is not viable at scale.
What is the Best Way to Extract CBD Oil?
It really all depends on what scale the operation you are working on is. If you have a large facility, you may want to focus on a system that is safe, efficient, and cost-effective.
It Depends on a Few Key Factors:
Ultimately, the best method of CBD oil extraction for your business really depends on a few major factors:
- Product Selection
- Level of Quality
Depending on how large your operation is, a custom solution using a certain method of extraction may be far more cost-intensive and far less efficient. Alternatively, if you make a wide variety of products, you may need to take a hit on the cost efficiency of your system in order to maintain the variety of products you offer.
Figuring Out Which Extraction Method is Best:
Overall, there are a few main extraction methods that stick out above the rest if these are your goals:
The beauty of choosing butane or propane is that they apply to a wide variety of CBD oils and products, including wax, and other dabbing extracts as well as CBD oil. This makes them a very good solution for companies that are trying to find a solution that allows them to maintain a wide variety of products while still being cost-effective and safe.
However, the problem with hydrocarbon systems is that they can be very hard to scale, because extraction takes a long time and requires a lot of space and equipment in order to get a high efficiency. This really starts to take place around the 1,000 pound per day level. After this point, costs begin to compound, and hydrocarbon systems become less efficient than other methods of extraction.
For a complete comparison of all these CBD extraction methods, this is one of the best resources on the web:
What is the Safest Way to Extract CBD Oil?
At the end of the day, extraction is as safe as you choose to make it. In terms of overall potency and particulate left over in the final product, hydrocarbon and ethanol extraction solutions are probably your best bet. But, overall, the three main extraction systems listed in this guide can be efficient, safe, and effective.
CO2 is quickly becoming an antiquated technology as methods of purifying the crude oil from hydrocarbon extraction continue to become more efficient. Ethanol is a great system if you plan it out properly and understand the extraction process well.
What Are the Best CBD Oil Extraction Systems?
Looking for an extraction system company you can trust for reliable machines, parts, and customer service? We did the grunt work for you by analyzing hundreds of brands that help companies just like yours build CBD extraction systems. Here are our top 4:
1. Precision Extraction Solutions
These guys take their job very seriously. Not only do they offer solutions for all three of the main extraction methods, but they actually work side by side with clients to help you figure out the exact solution for your needs – looking into the future to address potential scaling problems and make sure your systems are designed with growth in mind.
Their #1 concern is providing you with a system that is cost-effective and produces the best products for your growing customer base.
Precision Extract Solutions has excellent customer support, a strong management team, and a very long term vision in this industry to be one of the best extraction companies on the market. To learn more about their solutions and speak with a representative, click the button below.
2. Apeks Supercritical
Apex Supercritical focuses solely on CO2 based extraction systems that range from very small kits for companies just getting started making CBD oil, all the way up to massive, custom integrations for companies that are looking to produce at scale.
They have years of experience, and have been some of the leading pioneers in the industry since 2001.
Needless to say, Apeks is the #1 expert when it comes to creating custom CO2 extraction solutions for businesses of all sizes. To speak with a representative or learn more about how Apeks can help your business, click the button below.
3. Eden Labs
Eden Labs specializes in CO2 extraction and cold ethanol extraction solutions. They take a lot of pride in making sure that their clients choose the right solution for their scale.
They offer broad solutions from small to large scale, and also help businesses to customize their implementations from the very beginning, offering key insight throughout the entire process.
To get in contact with a professional from Eden Labs, and learn more about the best solutions for your business, click the button below.
4. Automated Extractions
Automated Extractions has complete solutions for CBD extractions, from hydrocarbon, ethanol, and CO2. They offer equipment at very reasonable prices and work with business owners to build extremely effective extraction systems.
These guys handle everything from winterization, automation, distillation, decarboxylation, storage, and more. To speak with a systems specialist from Automated Extractions, click the button below.
Still Not Sure Which Way to Go? Visit Our Blog for More Resources
This is a massive decision for your company, so don’t be down on yourself if you are a bit shy to make a final decision. The best thing you can do is talk to a representative from one of these trusted companies who can help assess your company’s needs and come up with a custom solution that best fits your scale, budget, intake, and overall output.
If you still have more questions before taking the next steps, feel free to visit our blog, which can give you some key insights into what consumers in the CBD world are interested in the growing consumer interest for CBD products may be the final push you need to get into the world of CBD oils and products!
At HelpingPot, we are working hard to become one of the best resources in the industry for consumers and brands alike. To learn more about how to take your CBD extraction dreams from ideas to reality, visit our blog for more helpful insights into the latest developments in the industry.