Cannabidiol (CBD) has become a trendy natural health product used to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. So, have you ever wondered what goes into creating a high-quality bottle of CBD oil? And how is CBD oil made differently from hemp oil?
Potent CBD products start with the health of the cannabis crops, the care in the harvesting and drying, extraction method, and rigorous quality control measures and testing before it gets bottled and packaged. In this article, learn how CBD oil is made, best industry practices, and what you should avoid.
What Part Of The Cannabis Plant Is CBD Oil From?
CBD is one of the many naturally occurring phytochemical compounds produced in the Cannabis sativa plant. Both marijuana strains and hemp crops contain CBD. However, you'll find most CBD oils on the market are hemp-derived due to their legal status and accessibility in the United States.
Hemp crops are bred to maintain a high CBD content with a low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content — up to 0.3%. This is because THC is an intoxicating compound, and it's still federally restricted in the US and throughout many parts of the world.
Cannabinoids are concentrated in trichomes, which are the source of the plant's resin. Under a microscope, you can spot these clear, almost crystal, hair-like growths on the buds, leaves, and branches of the cannabis plant. These trichomes contain the good stuff — the beneficial terpenes that give the plant its characteristic aroma and flavor and hundreds of different cannabinoids. The level and ratios of these compounds will depend on the plant's genetics and the growing conditions.
How Is CBD Oil Made From Hemp?
In a nutshell, CBD oil is made by harvesting mature flowering hemp crops, chock-full of resin-rich in cannabinoids and terpenes and separating the large organic plant-matter from its essential phytochemical compounds.
There are a few different methods used to isolate the resin from the large organic plant material.
Cooking Oil And Heat
Making a CBD extract can be as simple as taking olive oil, coconut oil, or butter and cooking the buds, stems, and leaves of a hemp plant over low to medium heat.
Alternatively, you can bake the raw green material to decarboxylate (heat-activate) some of the cannabinoids transforming CBDa, THCa, and CBGa into CBD, THC, and CBG, so that it's much more bioavailable in our system before infusing it with oil.
Cannabinoids and terpenes are fat-soluble, so they bind readily to the oil, and you're able to filter out the plant material, leaving behind many of the beneficial compounds from hemp. This method is the oldest way to create a cannabis extract. However, it's not the best commercial production method as it's nearly impossible to get consistent extractions.
- Natural, whole hemp CBD oil with very minimal processing
- You can do this at home
- Inconsistent batches
- Difficult to do on a large scale production
Butane Hash Oil (BHO) Extraction
Butane is a hydrocarbon, odorless, easily liquified gas. It's most commonly used in lighter fluids, heating fuel, and aerosols.
Reputable CBD oil manufacturing companies that choose to use butane as their solvent will be using instrument-grade butane for its purity and low boiling point — not the stuff you find in your lighter fluid. Butane extraction is a popular extraction method amongst cannabis hobbyists. This is the extraction method you may be thinking of that results in burnt-down garages and labs.
While modern lab-controlled BHO extraction methods are much safer today, reducing possibilities of flammable gas leaks with commercial-grade extraction machines and strict government legislation, in 2014 alone, there was a reported 32 BHO explosions in Colorado . Without closed-loop extraction machines, the extremely volatile gas is prone to leak into the environment. Even a small spark can lead to a terribly deadly explosion. Now, back to the lab.
Butane extraction requires post-processing to remove any remaining solvents from the concentrate. This is done in a vacuum oven designed to remove unwanted substances from products by creating a low atmospheric pressure in the oven, allowing chemicals to boil off at lower temperatures without degrading any of the beneficial terpenes or the cannabinoids in the extract.
- It's inexpensive
- It a fast extraction method
- Bad-post processing can leave butane residue in the final product
- Butane is dangerous to work with
- There are many regulations required to work with butane
- Removes a lot of the beneficial plant waxes, terpenes, and minor cannabinoids
Ethanol is a simple alcohol made from plant fermentation. Like butane, it's also colorless and flammable but has a distinct odor.
Its chemical composition, specifically the hydroxyl group (OH) and its ethyl group (C2H5), ethanol is considered a polar solvent . Ethanol can dissolve both polar molecules like water and fat-soluble molecules, such as most cannabinoids found in hemp, including CBD, THC, and CBG.
Ethanol extraction is generally considered a safe practice according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and it's a common solvent used in cosmetics, food flavorings, and medical preparation. Ethanol extraction involves soaking raw hemp crops in ethanol to pull and separate the resin-rich trichomes from the organic plant matter. The specific compounds extracted will depend on the temperature of the ethanol and the raw material's condition.
Once the large plant molecules are removed, you have a product that has a consistency that's similar to runny, waxy peanut butter rich in terpenes, fatty acids, and cannabinoids. This is then is filtered, typically via vacuum distillation, to remove the alcohol and smaller unwanted plant molecules, leaving behind the concentrated resin.
- It's more energy-efficient
- Maintains a lot of the natural beneficial compounds in the plant
- It's a generally safe extraction method
- There aren't any cons to the consumer
- It's a time-consuming extraction process
- Requires more steps for a pure hemp extract (without chlorophyll)
Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction
The supercritical CO2 method has become the gold standard for a safe and clean hemp extraction that's also much better for the environment and for the people working with it as it's non-toxic.
CO2 is a naturally occurring gas — it's what we exhale when we breathe, the by-product of cellular respiration. If this gas escapes into the atmosphere during the extraction process, it won't harm the environment as it's recycled by the plant-life in our ecosystem.
The term "supercritical" means the substance has properties between a gas and a liquid. CO2 is a gas that reaches this supercritical state at 1071 PSI and 87.98°F (31.1°C) . This extraction method requires expensive, highly-specialized equipment and a registered facility (state-dependant).
The harvested and dried hemp material goes into these supercritical CO2 machines. The highly pressurized CO2 behaves as a non-volatile solvent to "wash" the plant material, separating the resin-rich trichomes into a thick, viscous, waxy oil. You can get a lot more precise about what compounds you wish to keep in the extracted oil by changing the temperature and pressure settings.
The CO2 extraction method also produces more flavorful and potent whole hemp extracts as it preserves more of the natural compounds found in the hemp plant. At this point, manufacturers may also cold-treat or vacuum distill this product for a more refined CBD extract that's free from chlorophyll, plant waxes, and esters.
- A completely solvent-free final product
- Rich in phytonutrients and has a natural flavor profile
- Non-toxic material, making it safe to work with
- There are no cons to the consumer
- It can be a costly upfront investment for the manufacturer
- It takes longer to extract oil as opposed to solvent methods
How Is Hemp Extract Made Without THC?
All the methods listed above described how a full spectrum extract is made. These extracts are rich in various cannabinoids and terpenes that can lend a unique set of health benefits and increase the effectiveness of CBD. However, not all cannabinoids are desirable or legal in parts of the world.
Of course, we're talking about cannabis' notorious, psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. While most CBD oils on the market are made from hemp crops with a low THC content, which won't produce any intoxicating effects, some people may have a sensitivity to the compound and wish to avoid it altogether. In these cases, CBD oil without THC may be your only option to reap the benefits of CBD oil.
There are two types of CBD oil extracts that contain zero traces of THC.
CBD isolate is pure CBD. It undergoes further processing to strip away all other cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients, leaving behind up to 99.9% pure CBD crystals.
There isn't a universal method for creating a CBD isolate. The first step to making an isolate is to remove the large organic plant matter from the resin using any of the commercial methods we've listed above. The two most popular methods involve ethanol extraction and CO2. Now that you're left with a very crude whole hemp cbd oil extract, it undergoes a process called "winterization." This process filters out any additional lipids, chlorophyll, and waxes from the extract.
Next comes the CBD isolation via distillation, which is essentially a fancy process of selectively heating and cooling substances to remove impurities. Distillation starts by heating a liquid to its unique boiling point to target a compound and transform it into a vapor state. This vapor is then passed through into a separate container, cooled, and condsenses, forming a distillate.
Some manufacturers will run another solvent process after the distillation to get a purity of 99.9% isolate. This result is a fine white crystal CBD powder containing the absence of THC, other cannabinoids, or terpenes.
2. Broad Spectrum Extract
If you still want the benefits of the entourage effect — the effect of terpenes and cannabinoids compounding their benefits to strengthen the effects of CBD — but don't want any THC in the mix, broad spectrum CBD extracts are the next best option to full spectrum extracts.
Again, there aren't any formal processes across the industry on how broad spectrum extracts are made. The point of broad spectrum CBD oil is to contain a range of cannabinoids and terpenes to aid the overall effect of CBD, minus the THC. One method to get this extract is to take your full spectrum extracts and selectively distill them to remove THC. This will yield a broad spectrum product with a more natural phytochemical profile.
The other way to do this is by combining a set of isolated compounds — minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids — with CBD isolate to get a proprietary blend of phytochemicals.
What's The Difference Between Hemp Oil and CBD Oil?
Hemp oil that you find in the cooking oil section at your local grocery store is also referred to as "hemp seed oil." Making hemp seed oil is significantly different from creating CBD oil, and its uses are also distinctive.
Hemp oil or hemp seed oil comes from the seeds of hemp crops. Since there aren't any cannabinoids in the seeds themselves, it's free from CBD, THC, and any other terpenes you're getting in a CBD oil product.
The hemp seeds are then cold-pressed, which means to extract the natural oils from the seeds without any heat or chemicals. It's a purely mechanical process that involves a high amount of pressure to extract the oil and maintain its integrity and quality.
Hemp seed oil is rich in omega 6-fatty acids, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It's considered both cooking oil and a health supplement. However, it does not interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as there are no cannabinoids in hemp seed oil.
What Are The Ingredients In CBD Oil?
When you're shopping for a bottle of CBD oil, you'll encounter the amount of CBD contained in the product, typically in mg or sometimes a percentage. So, what's in the rest of the bottle?
To make CBD oil more user-friendly and palatable, it's combined with a CBD carrier oil. The most popular carrier oils for CBD oils are MCT coconut oil, hemp seed oil, olive oil, or vegetable glycerin. Many brands opt for simple, classic formulas of a CBD extract (full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate) combined with a carrier oil.
To increase the palatability of these oils, you can find flavored CBD options.
CBD oil is reported to have many benefits to our overall health thanks to its interaction with the ECS, which plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body by regulating other vital systems. For more specialized use of CBD oils, you can find ingredients to target its effects, such as melatonin for sleep support or mixed with other hyperconcentrated cannabinoids like CBG to benefit focus.
When shopping for CBD oils, make sure all the ingredients listed on the packing or product description make sense for the situation you plan to use it for.
The Importance Of Third-Party Lab Testing
As you can now understand, a lot goes into manufacturing CBD oils, which is why it's important to reference a brand's lab testing to ensure their CBD oil is made safe before buying.
While it's not mandatory in the industry, reputable brands send samples of their products to independent labs for a non-biased report of what's in their CBD extract. These reports will include information about the cannabinoid and terpene profile with their respective concentrations. This will be your best indicator of what type of extract the company uses, as there's a general lack of regulation for product labeling.
We've come across bottles that claim to be full spectrum CBD, but have nothing but CBD in the extract. Full spectrum oils tend to cost more, so this was likely a marketing ploy to deceive unsuspecting customers.
The Takeaway: How Do You Make CBD Oil?
CBD oil comes from the resinous trichomes of the bud, stems, and leaves of hemp crops.
It's then dried and extracted using either supercritical CO2, ethanol, butane, or various other methods to remove the large plant material from the cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, waxes, and other beneficial nutrients found in the resin.
The extracts may then undergo further processing, depending on the desired contents of cannabinoids wanted for the extracts. There isn't one way to create a CBD oil, so we've just outlined the most common CBD extraction methods for making full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate extracts.
The first pass in this extraction method is always a full spectrum CBD, but it may go through more processing to isolate certain cannabinoids. These extracts are then combined with a carrier oil for a better user experience and to increase palatability. Depending on the formula, CBD oils can come in different strengths (how much CBD is contained), flavors, and additional ingredients to target its benefits.
Before purchasing any CBD oil product, always reference the independent lab tests that should be accessible on the brand's website. This is the only way to verify what's in the bottle — extract type and strength.