It is always important to do thorough research before beginning to use any medication or supplement. When starting a new prescription medication, your doctor or pharmacist has already (theoretically) done the research for you. The medication will be sourced from a reputable vendor that has undergone stringent testing at a federal level, to ensure that the medicine is safe for consumption, contains the right amount for your body, and is free from harmful contaminants.
Because our government still does not want to investigate the benefits of medicinal cannabis and cannabis products, we can't rely on the FDA or other agencies to vet our supplements for us, and instead must understand for ourselves where they are coming from, how they are produced, and what (if any), the risks associated with taking them might be.
For the most part, we can safely say that cannabis or hemp extracts do not carry any real health risks in and of themselves. However, it is still important to know where your product is coming from. If it has been produced irresponsibly, possibly using dangerous chemicals, then obviously that is something you would want to avoid.
In this article, we will examine the various methods used to extract canabidiol (CBD) from cannabis and hemp. Extraction methods vary greatly, and while each method certainly works (otherwise it wouldn't be used at all), there are some that are better at achieving a clean, pure, and safe product. For our purposes, we will focus on three popular methods: Oil Extraction, Extraction using liquid solvents, and Co2 extraction. We will examine each method in depth, and then try to determine which is best for the health-conscious user. Remember, the reason we started looking into CBD oil as an alternative medicine in the first place was to better our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. With that in mind, let's look at the three most common methods of extraction.
Method One: Olive Oil Extraction
Extracting CBD with olive oil is a very ancient practice. Infused oils are common in cooking and include garlic, rosemary and basil-infused olive oils. But few people realize that olive oil was used to extract CBD (and THC) in ancient times. In fact, the process likely dates back at least to biblical times.
In order to extract the CBD, raw plant material (cannabis if you're looking to include THC, hemp if you are not) must be decarboxylated. This involves heating the material to specific high temperatures for an exact time, which releases the compounds in the plant. Then, the plant material is added to high-quality olive oil. The olive oil is then heated (again, the right temperature and length of time are important), allowing the plant's compounds to infuse into the oil.
The obvious benefit of this process is that it is relatively easy, and can be done (carefully) at home by pretty much anyone. There are no dangerous chemicals to work with and it doesn't require any fancy, high-tech equipment to produce your oil. However, because it is an imprecise method, specific qualities of the product (CBD / TCH percentage, etc.) are impossible to determine without lab testing. This, and the fact that olive oil itself is perishable (no one would want to put rancid olive oil under their tongue), make it impractical for commercial production on any scale. For a novice herbalist or home CBD enthusiast, however, it is probably the most viable method of of CBD extraction.
Method Two: Solvent Extraction
CBD extraction with liquid solvents is probably the most common method used my commercial CBD vendors right now. It is relatively cheap and fast, and produces high-potency CBD oil. The method is similar to the oil extraction method. First, raw plant material is placed into a container, and then a liquid solvent is washed over the material. The solvent strips compounds and flavors from the plant material. Later, the solvent is evaporated away, leaving behind a CBD concentrate oil.
The important word here is “solvent”. The most common chemical solvents used in this extraction method are butane, hexane, isoprophyl alcohol, and ethanol. You many recognize these as things you REALY don't want to be ingesting on a regular based. Again, the whole reason we got into this stuff in the first place was to improve our health, right? So there's an obvious downside to solvent extraction. Of course, if the process is done correctly and thoroughly, these chemicals should be evaporated entirely and nor remain in the finished produce. But that's a pretty big “should”.
Method Three: Extraction With Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
For commercial production of CBD isolate, CO2 extraction is probably the best available method. CO2 is a safe compound and is easily removed from the finished product.
The way this method actually works is pretty technical, so I'll do my best to explain it in layman's terms for the purpose of this article. Essentially, the method involves adjusting the pressure and temperature of the CO2 to change its state of matter from gas to “liquid” (actually, it is a semi-gaseous state known as “super-critical”). Once the change occurs, the super-critical CO2 is introduced to a chamber containing cannabis or hemp raw material, allowing it to strip the material of its compounds. Different compounds are extracted at different pressures and temperatures, so adjusting the ratio can result in CBD extraction or THC extraction. This ability to totally isolate compounds is a major benefit to the CO2 process.
Once the correct compound has been extracted, the pressure is lowered and the super-critical CO2 converts back to its gaseous state, leaving behind a highly pure, concentrated product.
Obviously, the main benefit to this process is the absence of harmful chemicals like butane, hexane, isoprophyl or ethanol. Also, the final product has a long shelf-life.
There are, of course, other methods of extraction, but these three are the most common used today, and you're not too likely to come across other methods. Hopefully this information is helpful, and allows you to make an educated choice when it comes to finding the product that best suits your needs.