When you purchase CBD oil or a full-spectrum hemp extract at the store, you might not be thinking about the impressive amount of work and technology that often goes into producing these extracts. Granted, not all extracts are high-powered technological marvels – people have been making hemp extracts for centuries, if not millennia – but some of them certainly are.
Different techniques produce different quality hemp extracts. The solvents that are used during the extraction can make or break the deal for some customers, not to mention the improper use of dangerous solvents can lead to dangerous byproducts in the final product. You want to make sure that you’re getting your hemp extracts from a reliable source.
However, the only way you’ll be able to know for sure if you’re getting your goods from a reliable source is if you know the difference between the actual extraction processes. This article is going to outline the different hemp extraction procedures that are used in the industry today.
Once you’re done the article you’ll know everything that there is to know about extracting hemp. You’ll also be able to discern a company that doesn’t cut corners from one that does, which means you’ll be able to make better decisions when buying cannabis extracts and products.
The Importance of Proper Hemp Extraction Techniques
You might be wondering why it’s so important to use a proper hemp extraction technique, or why some companies invest such massive sums of money on the equipment to do certain procedures.
The quality of your product is largely the result of the quality of your extraction technique. Other factors also play in, of course. The quality of the hemp itself is just as important. However, extraction techniques determine whether or not you’ll actually be able to draw out a significant amount of the active ingredients.
Shoddy extraction techniques won’t pull out nearly as many cannabinoids and terpenes. Not only that, they might cause a risk of leaving behind toxic byproducts. Butane extractions, for example, can be hazardous if they’re not done properly.
So not only is it important to have a sound, solid hemp extraction technique but it’s important that you understand exactly how to perform it properly. Otherwise, you risk contaminating, or at least failing to get all of the value from, your hemp.
Hemp Extraction & Legality
Another reason that extraction techniques are important is because of the potential for legal problems.
Most hemp extracts are made because manufacturers are interested in providing customers with CBD. CBD is one of the many cannabinoids that can be found in hemp. CBD is legal in the United States and in many other countries, but other cannabinoids such as THC often remain illegal.
This means that it’s in the best interest of both manufacturers and consumers to ensure that proper extraction procedures are followed. Most countries have different laws regarding the use of CBD and the use of THC, and hemp extracts containing even trace amounts of THC may be illegal.
Some countries, such as Sweden, forbid the use of hemp extracts that contain any THC at all. Considering it’s nearly impossible to make a full-plant hemp extract without gathering at least a little bit of THC, this puts a lot of pressure on manufacturers.
Different Types of Hemp Oil Extraction Methods
There are a few different types of hemp extract that are commonly used nowadays. The extract will determine the quality, taste, potency, and even the smell of the end product. We’ll provide you with a bit of information about each different type of extraction so that you know what you can expect.
Solvent extractions have been popular for thousands of years. The most commonly-used solvent for extracting plant compounds is alcohol. People have been using alcohol as a solvent for plant extractions for thousands of years.
Alcohol’s not the only solvent that you can use for hemp extracts, though. Hydrocarbons, like butane and propane, can both be used to extract the important compounds from hemp.
Regardless of what solvent is being used, the general process involves washing the plant trimmings with the solvent. This results in a mixture filled with phytochemicals like cannabinoids and terpenes.
Next, the solvent needs to be evaporated (unless you’re using alcohol, which can be consumed by humans without much problem. An alcohol-based hemp extract is called a tincture).
Some extractions call for the product to be winterized. This involves dissolving the extract in ethanol and then placing this mixture into a freezer. The cold temperature in the freezer causes the different compounds to separate in accordance with their melting and precipitation points so that certain compounds can be isolated and removed.
In terms of hemp extracts, winterizing is generally done to remove excess fats and waxes from the product.
Hydrocarbon (Propane/Butane) Extractions
Butane and propane extractions are usually done with cold solvent material. It’s released from its tank and washed over the plant material where it dissolves the phytochemicals. After washing, the solution can be gathered right away.
Hydrocarbon extractions don’t usually need to be winterized since they’re already performed at a low temperature. As such, they don’t result in the extraction of many fats or waxes. On top of that, most professional or industrial-grade butane/hydrocarbon extraction units come pre-built with a mechanism that removes excess wax.
Once your solution is collected then the remaining solvent can be evaporated by increasing the heat. Once most of the stuff has been removed, the residual solvent will be purged by a specific method depending on what sort of product the manufacturer intends to make.
Benefits of Hydrocarbon Extractions
- These extracts are significantly cheaper
- The whole process is relatively quick and efficient
- You don’t need much special equipment
- It can be done at home quite easily
- Solvents, especially hydrocarbons, are fantastic at preserving the flavor and smell of cannabis
Drawbacks/Risks of Hydrocarbon Extractions
- Since hydrocarbons are highly flammable it can be dangerous to work with them
- You must be extremely cautious and meticulous when removing the excess solvent so there’s none left in the end product
- Some solvents, such as alcohol, might lead to the extraction of unwanted plant compounds
Oil extracts aren’t generally performed on an industrial scale. Many of the products that you see advertised as CBD oil simply had the cannabinoid added to it after it was extracted through another process. Even full-spectrum hemp extracts are often made by infusing oil with pre-extracted cannabinoids and terpenes.
That said, oil extracts are a great thing to do at home with relatively small amounts of hemp or cannabis. Oil extracts can be used to draw out the active ingredients from as little as a gram of cannabis or as much as a few ounces (or, really, as much as you want, depending on how much oil you’re willing to buy.
All you need to do is grind up and decarboxylate your hemp and then cover it in oil. Olive oil works well for this purpose, as does coconut oil. Heating up the oil and hemp together will cause the cannabinoids and terpenes to extract into the oil.
Since the oil isn’t going to evaporate like the solvents discussed in the previous extraction technique, you won’t have as potent of a product. However, oil is very versatile and can be used as an ingredient in numerous things. Topical hemp products, such as skin lotions and balms, as well as food products, can all be made with oil extracts. You can even rub the oil directly on your skin and take advantage of hemp’s powerful antioxidant, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Pros of Oil Extracts:
- Oil extracts are simple and easy to do at home
- Oil extracts are relatively cheap if you’re only working with small amounts
- There’s no risk of residual dangerous solvents
- You can do a lot of different things with hemp oil extracts
Cons of Oil Extracts:
- Oil extracts are highly perishable and have to be used within a few months
- If you make it too strong you might not find the taste palatable
- Making an oil extract is less precise and can be difficult to dose properly
- You’ll probably need to consume more than you would of a butane extract
Steam distillation is generally used for extracting essential oils, but it can also be used to extract volatile organic compounds from hemp. Steam distillation is a pretty effective way to draw cannabinoids out from the plant matter.
First, water is heated up. The vapor catches the cannabinoids and terpenes as it evaporates. The vapor is then collected and cooled, which condenses it and allows the cannabinoids to be separated.
Pros of Steam Distillation:
- Very cheap
- Simple to perform
- Doesn’t involve any solvents
- Not very efficient, requiring larger amounts of hemp for lower yields
- Not consistent in regards to the cannabinoids produced
- High temperatures may damage cannabinoids
CO2 extractions are by far the most popular and sought-after for CBD consumers and manufacturers alike. This method of CBD extraction from hemp involves the use of negative pressure to draw cannabinoids out from the hemp.
CO2 extractions are complex and advanced, requiring more equipment than any of the other methods. The equipment allows the carbon dioxide to decrease in temperature until it reaches a supercritical point during which it is suspended halfway between a liquid and a gas at the same time. It remains expansive and gaseous, yet remains concentrated like a liquid.
Once it reaches this state it’s pumped into another chamber alongside the hemp. The CO2 is pushed through the plant matter which draws out the oils and active ingredients which both pass through to the last chamber where the extract can be collected.
- Very precise and highly efficient
- Free from solvents
- Environmentally friendly, using minimal energy and plant matter
- Requires expensive equipment
- Must be done after proper training
- Quite complicated and can’t be done at home
Final Thoughts on Hemp Oil Extraction Methods
The CBD extraction methods used by hemp oil manufacturers make a huge difference in the quality of the end product. Simpler extraction methods, such as basic oil extractions, can be done at home in small batches but larger commercial extractions should be done using more efficient techniques such as CO2 extraction.
Now that you know about the different methods of extracting hemp oil, you can be more prepared when making your next purchase. Or, if you’re thinking about making your own hemp oil, now you know where to start.