CBD, or cannabidiol, is the active ingredient in CBD oil. As the name suggests, it’s derived from cannabis—or more specifically, industrial hemp, which is low in THC and high in CBD.
The issue is that CBD is a chemical. To make CBD oil, you have to strip away everything you don’t need from the hemp. This means the fibre, plant cells and other unnecessary chemicals. Even in the oils where these things are left in (full-spectrum CBD oils), you still need to process the hemp until you’re mostly left with just the CBD.
But how is that done? And does the process damage the natural, delicate chemical compounds in hemp?
First things first, it would be fantastic if you could extract or distil CBD for yourself. You could ensure that the product is high quality and that you have a large supply of it. You could sell it on, too, if you were interested. However, there are a couple of reasons why you actually can’t extract CBD for yourself:
So given that it isn’t a simple process, what does CBD extraction involve? Let’s find out.
CO2 extraction uses highly pressurised carbon dioxide to strip the desired chemicals and compounds from a substance, e.g. a plant. When cooled to certain temperatures, CO2 acts as a solvent. This means that it can either dissolve, or dissolve into, something else, and create a solution.
CO2 extraction is used in the industrial production of carbonated soft drinks, decaffeinated coffee and more. Perhaps more relevant is the fact that it’s also used to isolate the compounds that make essential oils. If it’s acceptable for people who like essential oils—who are sticklers for the quality or purity of their product—then it’s acceptable for CBD oil, too.
Alcohol is another solvent that can be used to isolate CBD. But unlike alcohol and other solvents, CO2 doesn’t leave behind any dangerous chemicals or residues when it acts as one. This means it’s the safest and cleanest method of extraction that’s currently available. That’s why almost every company that produces high-quality CBD oil uses CO2 extraction.
There are two different kinds of CO2 extraction. The first is supercritical, and the second is subcritical extraction. You can also have mid-critical, which is in between. The usual method is supercritical, which refers to high pressure and high temperature. This method is quicker, although because it uses high temperatures, there is the worry that it may damage terpenes and other heat-sensitive chemicals in CBD oil.
Subcritical extraction uses a low temperature and low pressure to access and release CBD, and other compounds and molecules in hemp. This results in a full spectrum oil that contains everything you need for a full CBD supplement.
CO2 extraction is a complicated industrial process. It requires big and very expensive machinery, that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. This isn’t something you can do at home (unless you have a tonne of money lying around).
The equipment itself is big. It usually consists of a large pressure tank with a display dial on the outside. A typical pressure tank can safely achieve pressures of 5000psi, which is an awful lot. This is the pressure that’s needed for the CO2 to act as a solvent and penetrate and dissolve into the hemp so as to extract the CBD inside.
The tank may be attached to a rolling platform so that it can be moved easily, as it’s very heavy. The smallest can handle about 20lbs of hemp at any one time. The biggest equipment consists of several tanks on the same platform and can process 3000lbs of hemp at once.
The process of using alcohol is quite similar. It requires several tanks, including one that’s like a still used in alcohol production. Most reputable companies use CO2 extraction equipment instead.
The average time the process takes is around five hours. Depending on whether the tank is full or not, it can take four or six hours, but five is average.
Even if you’re processing more hemp in one go, it still takes roughly the same time. That’s because the bigger the tank, the more CO2 can be used. Businesses will therefore run one batch per day through each tank. If they want to expand, they can have several tanks or even an industrial-size tank that can fill most of a warehouse, like the ones made by Eden Labs. The bigger the tank, the more hemp can be processed, and the more CBD oil produced.
As of yet, the cleanest method available is CO2 extraction. That’s because it acts as a solvent, but isn’t toxic like others are. When we talk about alcohol acting as a solvent, to be clear, we mean exceptionally strong alcohol, ethanol—not like beer. It’s easy to understand how something so strong can be so damaging.
That being said, there may be some damage done during CO2 extraction. Most producers use supercritical extraction, which uses high temperatures and pressures. High temperature can break chemicals down, which may happen to an extent during CO2 extraction. Subcritical extraction occurs at low temperatures, but takes longer—so while it is the very best known method, it’s not in use by most companies.
So, now you know how CBD oil is made, think you’d like to try some? Then head to the Hempura online store, and see what we have to offer!