How is CBD Oil Made?

By Melena Gurganus
Kym Mackinnon, Unsplash

With the recent buzz surrounding hemp oil, many people are flocking to these products as a wellness supplement for a wide range of potential benefits. But when it comes to purchasing the best quality CBD oils, how they are made plays a large role in the overall effectiveness of the product.

In an ever-changing industry, there’s also a lot of confusing information for consumers about the different kinds of hemp oils and the processes through which they are created. To better understand each and help you make the right decision for you, we outlined the differences that separate CBD hemp oil from hemp seed oil, and how each of these products are made.

The Extraction Process

There are various ways that hemp oil can be made, including different processes for hemp seed oil vs CBD oil. For starters, hemp seed oil is made by cold pressing hemp seeds together to create a nutrient-rich liquid that offers many of the same wellness benefits associated with hemp seeds, like support for the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response. This is essentially the end of the road for hemp seed oil production, but CBD hemp oil can have multiple extraction processes and manufacturing procedures that it goes through before reaching consumers.

After gauging the opinions of many industry leaders and hemp experts, we’ve noticed that there’s been much debate about which process is best for creating the highest quality CBD oil, but the truth is that each extraction method has its own list of pros and cons.

CO2 Extraction Courtesy of Endoca

CBD Oil Extraction Methods

CO2 Extraction

For this method, CBD can be obtained in one of two ways—either subcritical or supercritical CO2 extraction. In supercritical extractions, high pressure and temperatures are used to keep CO2 in a state between liquid and gas, which produces a greater yield of CBD and takes less time than the subcritical method. However, the temperatures used in the supercritical process can also destroy many additionally beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. In subcritical extraction, lower temperatures are used while applying the same pressure, which keeps more fragile plant parts intact.

Editor’s Note: This technique seems to be the most common among CBD brands due to its cost effectiveness and quick results, and the ability to create high-quality CBD isolate. The one note: We hear it’s hard to do well. Just because someone has access to the expensive machinery doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making the best product.

Ethanol Extraction

Another extraction option includes the use of ethanol, or grain alcohol, to strip cannabinoids and other elements from the hemp plant. Ethanol is a good solvent for effectively extracting terpenes and cannabinoids, which is ideal when creating full spectrum CBD oils. However, it is quite difficult to create isolate products from CBD obtained through ethanol extraction, and the overall manufacturing process can be more time consuming than CO2 methods.

Editor’s Note: While ethanol extraction can be performed at high temperatures, it’s most often used at room temperature or under cooled conditions to allow for the maximum retention of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Lipid Infusion

As the most gentle extraction method, lipid infusion typically uses coconut oil or MCT oil to absorb the plant compounds in the fats (a.k.a. lipids) of these oils. This extraction process eliminates the need for harsh solvents but it also may mean less precise formulation than other methods. With lipid infusion, the CBD oil extract is at the mercy of the plant itself and contains many more plant-based flavors and colors. This extraction technique is best suited for full- and broad-spectrum CBD oils due to its ability to retain many beneficial hemp extracts.

Editor’s Note: While this extraction method has its advantages, there may be some inconsistencies across different product batches caused by the variations between plants used for each oil extraction. On the other hand, when you talk to true hemp believers, they love how this gentle extraction process maintains the essence of the crop, even if some variations arise.

Distillation and Purification

After the extraction process, there’s often the need for additional purification steps for both CO2 and ethanol processes.

CBD oil obtained from supercritical CO2 goes through another procedure known as winterization, where plant waxes and other undesirable compounds are removed from the solution using a high-proof alcohol. The alcohol and hemp extract are mixed together and frozen overnight, and later filtered to remove the unwanted elements. Once this has been completed, heat is used to warm the alcohol until it evaporates from the oil.

For the post-production of ethanol extraction, it’s typically a much more labor intensive purification process that involves several different methods of refinement and filtration to ensure that the ethanol is completely removed from the final product.

Lab Testing

Once the CBD oil has been properly extracted and purified, submitting the product for lab testing is the final step. Some CBD companies perform in-house testing, but we always look for independent, third-party labs test results to provide an unbiased analysis. These accredited labs test for cannabinoid content as well as the presence of any harmful chemicals, pesticides, or solvents.

When looking for brands with the most robust testing operations, check to see if their hemp oils have specific batch numbers. This is a sign that the company has a quality management system in place that allows for traceability of their oils.

If you’re ever unsure about a brand, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask about their extraction and manufacturing processes to learn more about how their hemp oil is made. In this market, sourcing is paramount when it comes to the quality and efficacy of a CBD oil, and we want to help you ensure that you’re getting a product that works.

Which CBD Extraction Method is the Safest and Most Effective?

There is no single “best method” for extracting CBD oil. Hydrocarbon solvents pose greater health risks due to the possibility of residual contaminants, but they are very efficient. While CO2 extraction does not use solvents, it is one of the more expensive extraction methods. Ethanol is efficient and inexpensive, but the flavor profiles are not always pleasing.

According to Hazekamp Herbal Consulting, the global nature of CBD production, where raw materials are “cultivated in one country, while extraction takes place in another, lab testing in a third, and sales take place in yet another country,” reinforces the need for “thorough analytical testing of final products by certified third-party labs.”

The safest and most effective extraction method is the one that is completed by a reputable chemist in an accredited laboratory that follows criteria set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025. CBD products should also include the measurement of potency and the levels of contaminants at a 95 percent confidence level.

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