CBD Oil Extraction Technique – Ethanol vs. Supercritical CO2
There are multiple ways to extract CBD oil from the cannabis plant, each with their own pros and cons.
Written by Cathy Rozyczko
Edited by Jason Brett on
September 27, 2021
There are several techniques available for extracting CBD oil from the cannabis plant. The two most common are ethanol extraction and supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction.
In CBD oil circles, both methods have their advocates and detractors.
When buying natural extracts like CBD oil, it’s important to understand what you’re buying. To this end, we’ve compiled all of the available information on these CBD oil extraction techniques, so you can figure out which option is best for you and your needs.
What Is Ethanol Extraction?
There are a few different ways to extract CBD oil using ethanol extraction but the typical process involves heating the cannabis plant material to achieve decarboxylation (or the removal of carbon atoms from a carbon chain) and then soaking that plant material in ethanol for a period of time.
After time has elapsed, the solution is filtered to separate the liquid from the plant matter. This liquid is then left in an open dish to allow the ethanol to evaporate.
Because ethanol is a solvent created by plants, many proponents of the ethanol extraction method believe it’s the best way to maintain the chemical ratios that naturally exist in cannabis. Ethanol extracts both water and oil-soluble compounds, which can be seen as both good and bad.
One of the compounds ethanol efficiently extracts is chlorophyll; while chlorophyll closely resembles hemoglobin and has many health benefits, it can be bitter and grassy tasting. It’s important to note that this extra filtration of the chlorophyll can reduce the potency of the CBD oil.
It’s worth noting that it can be next to impossible to remove all the ethanol from the finished CBD oil without using an additional filter, further reducing the purity and potency of the final CBD oil product.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using ethanol extraction for CBD oil is the formation of esters. Esters are water-soluble, meaning they’re highly bioavailable—in other words, they’re easily absorbed by our bodies. So, by mixing the CBDa or THCa that occurs in raw cannabis with ethanol, you will end up with CBD or THC that is easily absorbed by the body.
Bioavailability is massively important when it comes to CBD oil. Oil-soluble compounds are difficult to digest and must be broken down by our body’s acids and enzymes, reducing their potency and purity in the process.
Finally, for the purists out there, CBD oil extracted with ethanol can be certified organic!
What Is Supercritical CO2 Extraction?
Supercritical CO2 is another popular way to extract CBD oil from the cannabis plant.
“Supercritical” refers to the point at which CO2 has the properties of both a gas and a liquid.
Utilizing specialized equipment, the CO2 is cooled to below -69°F and put under 75psi of pressure, creating a supercritical state.
At this point, a chamber containing the cannabis plant material is filled with this CO2 where trichomes and terpenes dissolve into the carbon dioxide. The CO2 then passes through a separator, and CBD oil is left behind.
One of the primary advantages of supercritical CO2 extraction is that it can be fine-tuned to extract specific compounds by adjusting the heat and pressure. This allows for more control over the purity of cannabinoids and flavor compounds present in the CBD oil extracted using this method.
There are a few caveats to supercritical CO2 extraction as well. Problems like carcinogen and rancid fat formation can arise if the cannabis plant isn’t properly dried beforehand. Also, this method can require relatively high amounts of energy, especially compared to ethanol extraction.
While supercritical CO2 extraction does not extract chlorophyll as ethanol does, it still extracts contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals. As a general rule, it’s always best to check a vendor’s certificates of analysis before purchasing any CBD oil to verify it’s void of contaminants.
Which CBD Oil Extraction Method is Better? Ethanol or CO2?
One particular extraction method isn’t necessarily better than the other; each has its advantages and disadvantages. The answer will ultimately depend on the quantity and quality of CBD oil you’re looking to extract, if you’re extracting.
If you’re just shopping around for CBD oil products, consider testing brands that use ethanol extraction and supercritical CO2 extraction to determine which method produces the best product for your needs. If it’s important for you to have certified organic CBD oil, then ethanol-extracted CBD oil is likely the option for you. If you’re looking for a specific flavor or compound profile in your CBD products, supercritical CO2-extracted CBD oil might be the way to go.
The final decision is up to you!
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