CBD Extraction: Everything You Need To Know

Hemp products are everywhere. CBD legalization in 2018 has sent the industry into hyperdrive with extracts showing up in oils, edibles, muscle rubs, face creams, transdermal patches. It sounds like magic, but it’s a safe manufacturing process that removes the potent plant compounds and infuses them into an organic oil for quick and easy use. 

What is CBD extraction?

CBD is one of 545 compounds in the hemp plant. You can smoke the flowers to take advantage of the undisturbed blend of terpenes, flavonoids, minerals, and fatty acids. However, many consumers prefer hemp extracts. These involve drying and using one of the methods below to separate the naturally occurring plant chemicals from the flowers, leaves, stems, and stalk. 

There are several CBD oil extraction methods. The hemp industry is following processing techniques used for other products for decades and even longer. For example, many beauty items are botanical extracts, and so are essential oils. 

C02 Extraction Method

The hemp industry sees C02 CBD extraction as the gold standard. The solventless removal uses carbon dioxide to safely extract the compounds and protect as many phytochemicals as possible during the process. There are three types of C02 CBD extraction. 


A supercritical state is when the chemical is a gas and a liquid at the same time. Processors achieve this state with low temperatures and high pressure. The gas can penetrate organic matter, and the liquid portion allows it to remove the plant’s chemicals. It reaches supercritical at 1071 psi and 31.1 degrees Celsius. 


Subcritical is similar to supercritical but uses less pressure and lower temperatures. These reductions increase the processing time. But the advantage is the process does a better job of protecting the terpenes and other compounds that can get destroyed at the higher temperature and pressure. Subcritical methods produce a thicker, almost molasses-like consistency. 


As you may have guessed, mid-critical CO2 extraction is the sweet spot between supercritical and subcritical removal. It preserves more of the compounds than supercritical and doesn’t take as long as subcritical processing. 

CO2 is the ideal option. The lack of volatile chemicals makes the manufacturing process safer for technicians and the product safer for consumers. But it is the most expensive and requires a full, advanced lab.

It’s best used for larger manufacturers with large batches to process. CO2 extraction also produces a lower product yield than other methods. It’s also slower, averaging four to six hours to process 20lbs of plant material. 

Manufacturers use a closed-loop system that allows them to reuse the CO2. These differences reduce the impact on the environment. 

Alcohol CBD Removal

The solvent CBD extraction process uses ethanol, butane, or other low-grade alcohols to remove the plant chemicals. While this isn’t as expensive as CO2, the safety for this method depends on the solvent.  The preferred is ethanol, a highly purified alcohol. When completed properly, the technique is considered safe, affordable, and effective. It also produces a higher yield than any other method. 

However, it can leave more chlorophyll in the mix, producing a low-quality CBD oil with a strong plant taste. There is a way to fix this, but it requires a refining process, which can further reduce the final product’s additional compounds. Some brands make adjustments by adding a blend of phytochemicals, such as unique terpene profiles, back into the final product. 

This step improves the quality but also increases the manufacturing costs. Besides, many consumers consider these extra steps damaging to the organic nature of the hemp extracts. 

Ethanol doesn’t have the safe manufacturing levels you can find with other processes. If it’s not done correctly, it can be hazardous and even deadly. Another downside to solvent-based extraction is that it destroys the other phytochemicals, such as the terpenes, flavonoids, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

Unlike C02, which is considered a solventless process, ethanol, and other solvents will leave behind trace residue. Experts report that up .5% is safe for consumption, but there aren’t many studies to confirm. 

Carrier Oil Method 

The carrier oil is an excellent option for people with small-scale CBD businesses or personal use. It’s a highly safe process that’s effective, but it can take several hours to a few weeks to make a single batch depending on the used recipe. Using a carrier oil is the least expensive method and easy to do with a few tools. 

You can use any oil, but the most common are olive, hempseed, and coconut oil. The first step here is to decarboxylate the hemp by heating it at a low temperature for a few hours. This “activates” the CBD or changes it from CBDa to CBD. Following the decarboxylation, the process varies with the method you choose. 

Although the method is low cost and simple to complete, it won’t produce a high yield, and the potency won’t be as good as alcohol or C02 extraction. An advantage of using the carrier method for a DIY option is to make your CBD products. For example, blend any ingredients you want, such as essential oils and other natural additives, to create new, exotic beauty creams for personal use. 

Dry Ice CBD Extraction

Similar to the carrier oil method, dry ice is another option for low-scale manufacturing and home use. It does take more care and costs more than a simple oil extraction. Dry Ice removal is just as simple, if not a bit colder than the carrier oil option. 

It uses several dry ice pounds and plenty of safety equipment for handling the components, such as goggles, thick, heat-resistant gloves, and a water-resistant apron. Another con of this method is the quality.

Not only does it produce a lower yield than any other way, but unless you’ve completed the process several times, it’s easy to make a mistake, overshake, and reduce the quality significantly. 

Which is the Best Method for Consumption?

All the methods above have advantages and disadvantages. The two most common are CO2 and ethanol. Using a carrier oil is a There are a few things to consider when choosing. 

As a consumer, the method can increase the price or decrease safety and quality. Another consideration is how you are consuming the CBD. Vape products shouldn’t use alcohol because you’re heating the oil. For vaping, stick to products that use a CO2, carrier oil, or dry ice technique. 

Most brands use a safe and reliable CBD extraction method. But it’s not universal. Remember, there are no universal regulations or government oversight. Always review new companies for its cannabinoid removal process, the manufacturing location, and what type of oil they use. Also, check the certificate of analysis for residual solvents.