How CBD Extraction Works

August 27, 2022

In this article we’ll take a more comprehensive look at how CBD oil is extracted and produced. It’s our hope that this “micro” guide complements what there is to glean from our CBD Quality Profile. After all, extraction methods are one of the biggest driving factors behind any given CBD oil’s cleanliness and purity.


It’s not just about the purity of your CBD product, though — we believe it’s equally important for CBD companies themselves to be honest and transparent. So in this article, we’re going to get into the details..even if they’re nitty, gritty, or downright depressing. What follows are the CBD industry’s most popular extraction methods, listed by the solvents they use:


1. Non-Polar Gas Extraction

Of the non-polar gases, which includes helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, methane and others, butane is the hemp industry’s most popular. Extractions involve running pressurized butane through a column full of plant material; a solution of liquid butane and hemp extract then collects and gathers in its container.


Image courtesy of Extraction Magazine


The chemical nature of these gaseous solvents means that they’re very good at pulling cannabinoids and other active ingredients out of hemp. The problem, though, is that they’re not very good at doing so cleanly.


In other words, let’s say a pound of hemp flower contains 50,000 milligrams of ‘raw’ CBD. Butane will pull ~90% of it out, yielding about 40,000 milligrams of CBDa. That’s enough to make hundreds of bottles of CBD oil — not bad! But with this yield comes residual butane, which has to be removed by a vacuum pump. And even then a small amount of butane stays trapped in the solution.


The efficiency of butane extractions makes their downsides easy to overlook. Butane is popular in the industrial hemp world, and it also has a long history in the underground cannabis markets of years past. Unfortunately, this history is marked by low-quality extracts, butane poisoning, and even lab explosions. We’d encourage anyone in the CBD industry to find a better solution!


2. CO2 Extraction

CO2 extractions have gotten more advanced over the last several years. They’ve become a sort of gold standard for hemp extraction techniques, too, if only for marketing reasons.


Compared to butane, CO2 gets close to achieving the best of both worlds. It pulls most of the cannabinoids out of hemp yet leaves no solvent behind.


Image courtesy of Canna-Pet


The downside? Extracts made with CO2 sometimes have skewed nutrient profiles. In other words, CO2 isn’t quite strong enough to get every fat-soluble compound out of hemp; it fully takes out some, partially takes out others, and leaves still others out entirely. Most often it’s the terpene content of the final product that suffers most. Considering that terpenes (you can think of them as scent molecules) greatly contribute to the entourage effect of Full Spectrum CBD oil, that’s not ideal.


3. Ethanol Extraction

Sitting somewhere between butane (too strong) and too weak CO2 (too weak) comes our personal first choice: ethanol. Ethanol is a naturally produced alcohol, albeit a very strong one. It’s widely used in laboratories and pharmaceutical production; it’s also regarded as a universal solvent.


And that means ethanol does an excellent job getting both the water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds out of hemp. In other words, ethanol makes it easy to produce truly full spectrum CBD oil; it stays more consistent with nature’s design than virtually anything else.


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4. Distillation

Popular among small-scale operations and cannabis connoisseurs, hemp distillation is another method growing in popularity. Technically, distillation is not an extraction method, but it does accomplish the same end goal as the techniques listed above.


In distillation, a solution is heated until inactive ingredients evaporate. Since hemp’s different ingredients have different chemical properties, hemp distillation is usually fractional in nature — that is, cannabinoids are collected into their own ‘fraction’, terpenes collected into their own ’fraction’, etc.


Image courtesy of


One cool advantage of this method? It allows even small amounts of a particular hemp compound to be isolated and collected. With fractional distillation, one can single out THC and remove this single cannabinoid from a hemp distillate, while leaving everything else mostly untouched. Alternatively, terpenes can be fractionated into hemp-derived essential oils.


Overall, distillation is one of the most promising CBD-production methods. It’s gentle, adaptable, and can be solvent free. But distillation also requires some expertise, both in designing the distillery itself and in skillfully operating it. As the hemp industry continues to mature, look for more CBD distillates and their custom, fractionated blends in the future!

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