In this chapter, learn which cannabis and hemp extraction method is ideal for the cannabinoid derivative end-product you’re wishing to produce. There are important differences between the vast array of extracts: CBD isolate, broad spectrum, and full-spectrum product formulations. We discuss.
Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods
In this chapter of The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Extraction, we’ll explore the major methods of cannabinoid extraction. You’ll find the most common cannabis and hemp extraction methods, as well as the end-products each method is most suited to produce.
Some of the following extraction methods are relatively new, only innovated in the last few decades. Other methods are thousands of years old and have changed very little over the millennia.
Why so many different methods of extraction?
The cannabis plant is incredibly complex and produces almost +120 different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. You can target each of those compounds with different extraction methods. Your method may vary based on your desired derivative, the scale you’re working at, and the quality of your end-product.
For example, if you’re a large MSO (multi-state operator) you should consider solvent-based extraction methods that favor large-scale extraction. The most common solvents used are ethanol, CO2, or hydrocarbons. Smaller “mom and pop” brands who want to make high-quality live resin in small connoisseur batches, on the other hand, could be better off considering a professional rosin press set up.
- Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction
- CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction
- Hydrocarbons (Butane, Propane, Hexene, etc.)
- Vegetable Oils: Coconut, Olive Oil, etc.
- Ice Water Extraction (Mechanical Separation)
- Cold Pressed
- Rosin Pressed
- Screened and/or Hand Pressed
How to Choose your Extraction and Refinement Method
So which is the best extraction method for your hemp or cannabis extraction business? Well, it depends.
In the cannabinoid manufacturing industry, we can never say one solvent or extraction method is better than any other because it all depends on what you’re trying to make—your intended end-product.
So, a much better question to ask is: What are you trying to produce?
Are you intending to produce CBD isolate at scale? Or full-spectrum, strain-specific vape oil? Or solvent-less water hash?
Choosing an extraction method can feel overwhelming. Especially considering the cost of extraction equipment. So, you can start by doing your market research to find out which products are in demand and/or will soon be in demand. Once you know which end-products you want to make first, your decision will become much simpler. Different methods excel at different end-products. Starting at the end and working your way backwards ensures you’ll be able to produce exactly what you intended to.
And then there’s the market. What happens when the market shifts and your desired end-product changes? Therein lies the real dilemma. Consumer demand, and therefore your desired end-product, will definitely shift over time. If you consider how the market might move before investing in equipment, you’ll save money when it does. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s worth it to pay for resources that can help predict where the market might move. Even if it’s just your crystal ball.
(If you’re interested in current cannabis and hemp industry market trends and opportunities you may also want to read our Cannabis Extraction Industry Overview: Mid-2020 Report.)
To help you decide which extraction and refinement method will help you produce your desired end-product, let’s explore the most commonly used solvent-based and non-solvent cannabinoid extraction methods.
Solvent-Based Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods
The widespread use of solvents to extract cannabinoid derivatives has been popular for many years in the contemporary cannabis and hemp industry. They’re popular for a good reason: they’re easy to scale, efficient at producing the desired end-product, and relatively safe as long as you’re in compliance with local, state, and federal laws and guidelines.
The following extraction methods represent the primary or first stage of all cannabis and hemp processing (following the primary steps of growing, harvesting, drying, curing etc.). After this first stage, most derivatives (e.g. crude oil) will go on to further stages of refinement. Others will end up as consumer-end products ready for the shelf (such as full-spectrum and live resin extracts).
Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction
Ethanol is a colorless, volatile, and flammable liquid. It’s the intoxicating agent in all liquor, beer, and wine, and is also used to dilute motor fuel. Ethanol has been used for botanical extraction for thousands of years, and there’s no reason to stop now and that’s one of the reasons why ethanol is still one of the most popular solvents for use in extracting precious cannabinoids such as CBD and THC from cannabis and hemp today. And not only is ethanol fairly easy and safe to use, but it also has a relatively quick learning curve, even for rookie extractors.
The biggest benefit of ethanol is that it’s incredibly versatile in what it can deliver. It’s great at extracting an enormous diversity of desired cannabis and hemp end-products. And, properly handled, it doesn’t leave any residual solvent in the final end-product, which is why it’s considered a ‘clean’ solvent.
Ethanol’s ability to produce a wide variety of cannabinoid derivatives makes it an ideal solvent for both small-scale cannabis ‘connoisseur’ processors (who may be targeting a wide array of full-spectrum cannabinoids and terpenes), and also for larger processors seeking to isolate specific cannabinoids at scale.
When directly compared to the other two most popular solvents used to extract cannabis—CO2 and hydrocarbons—the ethanol extraction process is generally safer and easier:
- Ethanol is less explosive and toxic, and therefore largely considered safer to operate than hydrocarbon extraction systems.
- Ethanol has a much lower risk of exploding than CO2 extraction systems, which must operate under high pressure.
- Ethanol extraction equipment is much cheaper than CO2 extraction equipment.
- Ethanol extraction allows for a much higher throughput (how much biomass, or plant material, it can extract in a given period of time or batch) than it’s slower CO2 .
- Ethanol is one of the easiest forms of cannabis extraction to learn, which makes it easier and faster to train operators. This simplicity is primarily because an ethanol extraction process does not require the solvent to change phases, which is the case in CO2 and hydrocarbon methods. Phase changes involve the manipulation of pressure in sealed systems and requires more in-depth training to ensure a successful result.
To understand why ethanol is such a versatile solvent, we’ll need to put on our chemist’s cap and take a look at how it extracts cannabis and hemp compounds on a molecular level.
Ethanol’s solubility or its “Like Dissolves Like” quality makes it highly efficient.
Understanding solubility (the ability of a particular substance to dissolve in another substance) and the mechanisms that underlie it, is perhaps the most crucial piece of information that defines the action of extracting cannabinoids with ethanol.
At a molecular level, there are generally two different categories of molecules, polar and nonpolar:
- Polar compounds will mix, or dissolve, with other polar compounds
- Nonpolar compounds will mix, or dissolve, with other nonpolar compounds
This is what we mean when we say “Like dissolves like”.
The most common nonpolar molecules we encounter are lipids and fats, like cooking and motor oils. The most common polar molecule we encounter is water.
Ethanol can be both polar and nonpolar. This makes it incredibly versatile, and therefore ideal for extracting a wide variety of cannabinoids and other compounds, like aromatic terpenes, from cannabis and hemp. Ethanol’s ability to extract a wide variety of compounds is great for “full-spectrum” derivatives.
Ethanol is in a uniquely good position to dissolve most slightly nonpolar and slightly polar molecules, which turns out to be a lot of different molecules in cannabis and hemp!
How does Ethanol Extraction work?
The target compounds (the molecules we are attempting to extract and separate from the rest) typically include cannabinoids like THC and CBD as well as terpenes. All of these compounds are fat-soluble. Which is ideal because ethanol dissolves fats quite well. So if you’re intending to make ingestible, full-spectrum, cannabinoid derivative end-products, ethanol’s ability to extract these compounds can be an advantage.
The polarity of ethanol can be slightly modulated/adjusted simply by changing its temperature. This makes it a very flexible extraction tool.
The colder the ethanol, the higher its affinity for fat-soluble compounds, and therefore the more efficient its extraction of cannabinoids and terpenes. And if extraction is performed with warm or room temperature ethanol, it will not only “pull” the cannabinoids, but also a wider spectrum of terpenes as well as other water-soluble compounds.
As flexible as it is, ethanol does have its limitations. If your goal is to isolate certain cannabinoids exclusively—to make either THC or CBD isolate for example—ethanol may not be your ideal solvent because it doesn’t target individual compounds very well. Make sure to know what you want your end-product to be before deciding if ethanol is right for you.
As flexible as it is, ethanol does have its limitations. If your goal is to produce connoisseur level “live” products – that emphasize the terpene content of the original plant – ethanol may not be your ideal solvent because it does not separate from terpenes allowing for their extraction very well. Make sure to know what you want your end-product to be before deciding if ethanol is right for you.
The Ethanol Extraction Process
The ethanol extraction process begins by soaking your biomass in chilled or room temperature ethanol to draw out the terpenes and/or cannabinoids. The resulting solution is then evaporated to remove any residual solvent using heat and vacuum, resulting in a crude extract. The crude concentrate may then be further distilled and refined to create a purified CBD, THC, or CBG distillate, in preparation to be isolated from the other cannabinoids by means of affinity chromatography.
The ethanol extraction process typically flows something like the following (for our purposes here, a Cold Temperature Ethanol Extraction process flow):
- Chilling: Pre-chill ethanol solvent using the DC-40 Direct Chiller to as low as -40℃ to reduce the need for post-extraction steps.
- Extraction: Soak and agitate the biomass in chilled ethanol solvent to extract cannabinoid compounds via CUP Series closed-loop mechanical centrifugation.
- Particulate Filtration: Remove suspended particulates and adsorbents
- Solvent Evaporation: Remove ethanol from crude oil using the Falling Film Evaporator (FFE).
- Decarboxylation: Heat raw ‘acidic’ versions of the cannabinoid molecules (like THCA, CBDA, and CBGA) to release the carboxyl molecule group as CO2 and convert them to their more easily consumed versions (like THC, CBD, and CBG).
- Separate (Distillate) out the purified THC, CBD, CBG, or other desirable molecules from the crude oil utilizing Rolled Film Distillation (RFD).
- Chromatography can be used for either spectral analysis or separating the distillate into isolated compounds.
The Benefits of Ethanol Extraction
Ethanol is a great choice for high volume output, which makes it an appealing option if you’re manufacturing cannabinoids at scale in a large commercial operation. It’s considered (by most) to be the safest and most effective solvent for cannabis and hemp extraction. Due to ethanol’s versatility and ease of use, it’s in a uniquely favorable position for almost any type of botanical extraction. This is especially true for cannabis and hemp extraction because it:
- Dissolves most non-polar and polar compounds.
- Has an affinity for cannabinoids when extracted with at cold temperatures.
- Is a non-viscous liquid at atmospheric pressure, meaning it extracts quickly.
- Boils at relatively low temperatures which allows for the efficient recapture of the ethanol and the subsequent separation of the extracted compounds.
- Is relatively safe, easy to operate with, and is easily produced.
- Stores easily: depending on your AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) storage limits for ethanol are typically more lenient, allowing your lab to keep more solvent in storage and extract larger volumes of cannabis and hemp at once.
- Eliminates the need for a dewaxing or winterization if performed under cold conditions correctly.
- Great for creating full spectrum hemp extracts and tinctures.
Which products is ethanol extraction ideal for producing?
Ethanol extraction is ideal for producing almost any cannabinoid derivative. The first output of the initial stage of ethanol extraction is crude oil AKA “crude”—the major building block of nearly all cannabis and hemp derivatives. Nearly all other end-products start off as crude before being further refined and purified.
Ultimately, crude oil is transformed into vape cartridge oil, gel caps, edibles, tinctures, sublingual drops, and topicals..
Ethanol is also an ideal solvent for producing isolates at scale. Once the crude oil has been distilled to further refine its potency we may isolate the compounds (like CBD or THC for example) to a very high level of purity (98%+) through methods such as column or flash chromatography.
A versatile solvent indeed!
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction
What is CO2 extraction?
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction uses pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) to pull CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp. CO2 acts like a solvent at certain temperatures and pressures. It’s used to extract concentrates under high pressure and extremely low temperatures to isolate, preserve, and maintain the purity of the extracted oil. CO2 extraction requires sophisticated equipment and significantly more training than ethanol extraction, but when executed correctly the end-product is very pure, potent, and free of chlorophyll.
Is CO2 extraction safe?
CO2 is considered to be a safe method of extraction because the solvent is non-volatile. It is used for botanical extraction in other industries for purposes such as decaffeination of coffee and the production of essential oils from a myriad of plants. The resulting derivative extract is pure because no trace of the solvent is left behind. CO2 also protects fragile cannabis and hemp terpenes, by allowing cold separation. It’s very adjustable—the operator can select custom pressures and temperatures to achieve desired results. Best of all, CO2 is environmentally friendly.
What is Supercritical, Subcritical, and Mid-Critical CO2 extraction?
When discussing CO2 extraction you’ll often hear the terms supercritical, mid-critical, and subcritical used. However, supercritical is by far the most commonly used CO2 method to extract cannabinoid derivatives because it is safe and provides a pure end-product.
Supercritical extraction utilizes liquid CO2 and increases the temperature and pressure to the point where the CO2 reaches its Supercritical point and has both the properties of gas and liquid simultaneously. This state is ideal for cannabinoid extraction because it will dissolve the THC and CBD like a liquid, but is easily manipulated and completely fills the vessel similar to a gas.
Subcritical extraction means that the CO2 is utilized at low temperatures and low pressure. While subcritical extraction takes more time and produces less yield than supercritical extraction it retains the delicate terpenes and other desirable compounds. This makes subcritical extraction ideal for producing end-products that retain the “full-spectrum” of beneficial cannabis and/or hemp compounds. Conversely, if you were seeking to produce an isolate such as CBD, CBG, or THC isolate you should not choose subcritical extraction because it requires many additional steps to isolate your desired molecules.
Mid-critical is a general range of temperature and pressure that is situated in between subcritical and supercritical. Not used as often as supercritical, you can use it to combine supercritical and subcritical methods to produce full-spectrum CO2 cannabis extracts.
How does the CO2 extraction process work?
The CO2 extraction process begins by turning CO2 gas into a liquid. This is achieved by dropping the temperature below -69°F (-56.11°C) while simultaneously increasing pressure to over 75 pounds psi.
The next step involves raising the temperature using a heater and pressure past the point where the liquid becomes ‘supercritical’ so that the CO2 now has properties of a gas and liquid simultaneously. At this point it is ready to be introduced to cannabis or hemp plant material for extraction purposes.
The CO2 passes through the plant material dissolving the membranes of the trichomes and extracting terpenes and cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
After extraction, the resulting solution is passed through a separator and the desired compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.) are separated out and collected.
The CO2 is then condensed and turned back into a liquid ready to be used again and again.
What equipment is needed for CO2 Extraction?
CO2 extraction is performed by a “closed-loop extractor.” Essentially, all CO2 extraction equipment has three chambers:
- The first chamber contains pressurized, liquid CO2 ;
- The second chamber contains hemp or cannabis biomass;
- The third chamber separates out the resulting extracted product.
Chilled CO2 is pumped from the first chamber into the second chamber. The second chamber is where the supercritical transformation occurs. The supercritical CO2 then passes through hemp or cannabis biomass to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes. The resulting solution is then pumped into the third chamber where the CO2 changes phase back to a gas, leaving the precious cannabinoid extract at the bottom and the CO2 ready for reuse.
The Benefits of CO2 Extraction
CO2 extraction has many benefits that appeal to both consumers and extractors. One of the biggest is that it’s an environmentally friendly—or ‘green’— solvent. It leaves no nasty chemical residuals thereby creating a purer and healthier end product.
- Safe: CO2 is food-safe (used in soft drinks), non-flammable, inert, and non-toxic.
- Effective: You can fine-tune its strength by adjusting the liquid’s density.
- Almost zero post-extraction residue compared to other solvents, resulting in a purer end-product.
- The critical temperature of CO2 is close to room temperature which means it is an ideal solvent for temperature-sensitive materials.
Which products is CO2 extraction ideal for producing?
Due to its ability to extract “full spectrum” cannabinoid derivatives, CO2 is ideal for producing full-spectrum cannabis distillates and their accompanying delicate terpenes which give each cannabis and hemp strain its unique flavor and scent profiles. CO2 is valued for its ability to preserve the unique but fragile terpenes that are so highly valued by cannabis connoisseurs.
By tweaking the ratios of pressure, temperature, and solvent, various cannabinoid derivatives can be extracted by trained extractors. As a result CO2-based products have become the go-to in the cannabis and hemp market for everything from edibles to isolates. CO2 is incredibly customizable and adaptable to the changing needs of the marketplace and ideal for both small startups and large MSOs.
Hydrocarbon Extraction (Butane, Hexene, etc.)
One major benefit for start-up extractors is that hydrocarbon extraction equipment is usually less expensive to purchase than CO2 and ethanol equipment. Hydrocarbon extraction can deliver a potent end-product suitable for dabbing, but it may not be the best method for producing other cannabinoid derivatives such as CBD and THC isolates.
Hydrocarbons like propane and butane have been used for food extraction for over fifty years. In the right hands their ability to extract derivatives from cannabis and hemp to a high degree of purity is exceptional; up to 90% concentration of plant cannabinoids.
How does hydrocarbon extraction work?
Hydrocarbon extraction typically uses butane as the primary solvent, although other hydrocarbons such as propane and hexane may sometimes be used depending on the desired end-product.
Butane has a low boiling point of 30.2°F (-1°C) and is used as a liquified gas during extraction. This low temperature retains the integrity of temperature-sensitive terpenes and other delicate derivatives.
Propane is also used commonly for cannabinoid extraction. Its boiling point is even lower than butane at -43.6°F (-42°C). Often a blend of both hydrocarbons are used, because propane is adept at extracting additional compounds from the plant such as delicate terpenes and is less likely to leave residual hydrocarbons in the resulting solution.
The hydrocarbon extraction process
The hydrocarbon extraction process typically starts out with the release of cold liquid butane from the solvent tank into a column containing the hemp or cannabis biomass. This action dissolves the terpenes and cannabinoids (THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids) along with plant waxes and lipids.
The cannabinoid concentrate is then ready for further refining (depending on your desired end-product):
- Dewaxing may be performed via an in-line dewaxing component which is typically included in most closed-loop hydrocarbon extraction equipment
- Centrifugation can separate out delicate plant terpenes if so desired
- Winterization using chilled ethanol separates out the lipids and waxes from the cannabinoid solution. While it is a more thorough process than in-line dewaxing, may degrade terpenes, so use with caution!
The concentrated cannabinoid solution then ends up in a collection vessel where the butane (or other hydrocarbon solvent) should be gassed off using heat and vacuum. Depending on the desired product, these final steps may include whipping and/or drying in a vacuum oven. The separated butane solvent is then collected to reuse in the next batch.
The Benefits of Hydrocarbon Extraction
The use of hydrocarbons for cannabinoid extraction is becoming increasingly popular. Not just due to the more affordable cost of hydrocarbon extraction equipment, but also for several other reasons:
- Strain Purity and Authenticity: If your end-product is a high-end connoisseur dabbable, using hydrocarbons helps maintain the strain’s authentic flavor profile. These types of extracts used to be considered high-end and “niche” but are becoming increasingly popular with consumers of THC and CBD alike.
- Time and Throughput: For most end-products, hydrocarbons cycle time is an hour or so. This is much faster than supercritical CO₂, which can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours.
- Use Trim: Hydrocarbons enable cannabinoid extraction from the less desirable parts of the cannabis and hemp plant. The leftover trim—the small leaves trimmed away from the bud after harvest—are an economical way to extract cannabinoid-rich, high quality resins.
- Versatility to Produce Wide Range of End-Products: Depending on the strain of the plant material and production method, a skilled extractor can tweak butane and propane levels to produce a wide variety of end-products.
- Greater Yield: Hydrocarbon extraction can output a yield between 14% to 30% by weight, resulting in a greater utilization of plant material.
Which products is hydrocarbon extraction ideal for producing?
Hydrocarbon is ideal for producing dabbable cannabinoid derivatives such as budder, butane hash oil (BHO), crumble, honeycomb, shatter, resin, and wax. But hydrocarbon derivatives are not just limited to just dabbables they may also be used in topicals, edibles, vape cartridges, tinctures, capsules, and much more.
Vegetable Oils: Coconut, Olive Oil, and Other Edible Oils
Edible Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and other edible oils can be used to extract fat-soluble cannabinoids by gently heating decarboxylated cannabis flower directly in the edible oil. While this extraction method is popular with small-scale home extractors, the resulting oil has a much lower potency and a lower shelf-life than other extraction methods, so it is not recommended for large scale commercial extraction of cannabinoids. However, it is seen by some as a more natural alternative to chemical-based extraction methods.
Note, cannabis-infused vegetable oils are highly perishable and should therefore be consumed quickly or be stored in a cool, temperature-controlled, dark place. You may also use inert nitrogen to “back fill” the storage container to increase shelf life. This is a common process is often used in the wine industry to reduce wine oxidization.
The vegetable oil extraction process
Suitable for home extractors of CBD and THC, vegetable oil extraction begins with heating the raw plant material so that the cannabinoids are transformed into their more bioavailable versions, for example CBDA into CBD, and THCA into THC. This process is known as decarboxylation, or decarbing.
Typically the temperature recommended for decarboxylation is approximately 284°F/140°C for 30 minutes or 248°F/120°C for 60 minutes. However, this is a rough guide only because it will depend on your plant material and strain, as well as the quality of your oven.
Once this step is completed, plant material is added to the vegetable oil (coconut oil and olive oil are popular) and heated to 212°F/100°C for 1-2 hours. This allows the fat-loving decarboxylated cannabinoids to bind to the fatty molecules in the oil, resulting in cannabinoid extraction. The plant material is then filtered out, leaving the infused edible oil behind. The resulting solution is a mix of the vegetable oil, terpenes, waxes, and cannabinoids, etc. Unlike other forms of solvent-based extraction, the cannabinoids solution is not separated out from the solvent. Edible-oil infusions are a distinctly “unrefined” oil and suitable for those who don’t mind their CBD or THC oil tasting like cannabis.
This form of extraction is ideal for absolute beginners and home extractors who enjoy safely making their own cannabinoid derivative extracts without spending too much money on equipment. However, the end-product is not as potent as those derived from the more industrial extraction methods such as CO2, ethanol, or hydrocarbons.
Extraction Explained: Debunking Myths & Clarifying Terminology
The extracts and concentrates industry is constantly evolving and developing new processes and products to satisfy every type of cannabis and hemp consumer. Along with it, new terminology has emerged to capture the differences in the various complex extraction processes. Terms such as CBD isolate, broad spectrum, and full spectrum have all made their way into the vernacular of the extraction industry, and are often times used incorrectly or interchangeably.
Understanding the foundations of these terms is important for differentiating the advantages and disadvantages of the various extraction methods and product types. There are important differences between the vast array of extracts: CBD isolate, broad spectrum, and full-spectrum product formulations, and using the correct verbiage is vital for producers and consumers alike.
Hemp Oil vs. Hemp Seed Oil vs. CBD Oil: The Where and How of Hemp Extraction
Hemp extraction is the most popular form of CBD extraction for a variety of reasons; it has rich CBD content, low THC levels, and the added benefit of coming from a less-aggressively regulated source. Every strain of cannabis and hemp has its own unique chemical profile, meaning that each product will contain different amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes that were purposely bred by cannabis farmers.
Three of the more commonly confused and conflated terms in hemp extraction are hemp seed oil, hemp oil, and CBD oil. Let’s explore the key differences:
Where Does Hemp Seed Oil Come From?
Hemp seed oil is oil extracted from the hemp seed specifically, which contains no CBD. While it may have some health benefits, including diet and skin care, any benefit derived from CBD will not be present in hemp seed oil. You may find that extractors cut their extract with this oil to help dilute the extract, it will give the tincture a more earthy flavor but as stated does not add any additional CBD to the mixture.
Where Does Hemp Oil Come From?
Hemp oil is extracted from almost every part of the hemp plant other than the seed, including the flowers, stems, and leaves. All of these parts of the plant contain CBD, so any hemp oil containing CBD can also be called CBD oil. Hemp oil extracted from hemp flowers contain the highest level of cannabinoids and terpenes, which are concentrated on resinous trichome glands on hemp flowers.
Where Does CBD Oil Come From?
Hemp oil, or CBD oil extracted from hemp plants, is different than cannabis extract, but both can be called CBD oil. The main difference is that while CBD can be extracted from cannabis plants, it can also extract trace THC along with it. Typically, any residual THC in CBD oil is intentional, as cannabis consumers demand more CBD presence in their extracts.
How Are Hemp Oil and CBD Oil Extracted?
Just as important as where the oil is extracted is how it is extracted, and there are multiple ways to target chemical compounds found in cannabis. Hemp producers employ a variety of extraction methods, including alcohol, supercritical CO2, and butane extraction to remove the therapeutic compounds found in hemp plants. Each method caters to a varying yield, quality, and purity of hemp-derived CBD.
While each of these extraction methods have their place, BHO extraction is one of the most widely used methods with cannabis and is now moving to dominate the hemp market with ts ability to extract the full representation of the plant in concentrated form. This is called full-spectrum extraction.
To learn more about BHO extraction methods, check out our post on BHO extraction here.
Extraction Outcomes: CBD Isolate, Broad Spectrum, and Full Spectrum
Extraction methods matter because different extraction methods will reap different outcomes in terms of retaining the hemp plant’s original compounds. For example, if the goal is to retain valuable terpenes and a full complement of cannabinoids through the extraction process, butane extraction is the best option because CO2 can lose terpenes and cannabinoids at the beginning of the extraction process, while ethanol can lose terpenes at the end. Super chilled Butane or Propane extraction won’t lose those valuable and pertinent hemp compounds.
These extraction outcomes also come with their own set of terminology: isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum extracts.
What Is CBD Isolate?
One extraction method is to remove every compound except for CBD, thereby producing an isolate product that often resembles a white powdery substance. CBD isolate, also known as pure CBD, is an odorless and tasteless crystal or powder that contains 99+ percent CBD.
How Is CBD Isolate Made?
CBD isolate is accomplished using chromatography. This process takes out all of the terpenes, which are responsible for scent, flavor, and other differentiators. Additionally, chromatography separates out the unwanted cannabinoids, such as the most commonly known psychoactive one — THC. Last, but not least, this process removes all plant matter.
Why CBD Isolate?
Many people prefer CBD isolate due to its neutral flavor and taste, which makes it easy to add to food, drinks, and topicals. Extraction methods remove every other compound including THC. Individuals who don’t want to risk consuming THC or failing a drug test will often look for CBD isolates.
Can CBD Isolate Be Full Spectrum?
Even if terpenes are re-introduced into a CBD isolate, that doesn’t make it a full- or broad-spectrum product. Some studies have shown that CBD isolates aren’t as effective in higher doses as full-spectrum products that contain the original array of compounds. Researchers believe the additional terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids amplify the positive effects of CBD and mitigate any side effects. This is what is referred to as the entourage effect.
What Is Broad Spectrum?
Broad-spectrum CBD products fall somewhere between CBD isolates and full-spectrum extracts. Essentially, broad-spectrum contains much of the hemp’s cannabinoids and terpenes, minus the THC.
State-of-the-art chromatography processes remove all of the THC from a full-spectrum extract. This method of extraction keeps the hemp strain’s intended compounds. Adding cannabinoids and terpenes back into a CBD isolate would not be considered broad or full-spectrum.
What Is Full Spectrum?
Full-spectrum extraction preserves CBD from hemp, along with other common cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. Full-spectrum products contain almost all of the naturally occurring compounds found in hemp. Full-spectrum CBD features all of the hemp’s chemical compounds, including other cannabinoids such as cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromevarinic acid (CBVA), cannabicyclol (CBL), and THC (among others). Full-spectrum products contain only a trace amount of THC — typically less than 3 percent concentration.
Full-spectrum oil retains its complementary and medically applicable compounds. Researchers have found that the cannabis plant’s minor cannabinoids have therapeutic value, and that terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids support the entire endocannabinoid system.
One study published by the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research compared the effects of a CBD isolate and full-spectrum extract. It found that CBD isolate had a bell-shaped response curve where it peaked at a medium dose and tapered off at higher and lower doses. Responsiveness to the full-spectrum solution, however, “continued to increase as higher doses were administered.” While CBD was effective at reducing inflammation and pain at a certain dose, the entire palette of cannabinoids is needed to provide increasingly higher dosages. This is a great explanation of the “entourage effect.”
The synergistic, entourage effect of full-spectrum extracts is what makes it the most popular type in the cannabis and hemp field. Unfortunately, this can also lead to false claims made by producers that their product is “full spectrum” when, in fact, it is not. This is particularly prevalent in the CBD hemp oil industry, where various methods are used which do not in reality yield the full-spectrum results they claim.
Despite the ongoing claims made by CO2 and other extract processors, BHO and light hydrocarbon extraction is the only method for obtaining true full-spectrum outcomes.
There is a lack of clarity surrounding the most prevalent terminology in cannabis extraction. As light hydrocarbon (BHO) extractors, we believe in the importance of understanding what types of extracts are best for a given purpose, and hope this article has served as a helpful guide in building that understanding.