To understand the difference between the highest-quality CBD products and the rest, it is important to explore the entire life cycle of the cannabinoid extract, from initial seeding to cultivation, to extracting to final manufacture.
As with any novel food product, knowing as much as you can about the product and the process used to create it will help you make the best decision and get the oil, cream or gummy that is right for you.
Naturally, regardless of the product, it all begins with hemp.
Choosing The Right Hemp
The first step is the biggest one for manufacturers which is choosing the right hemp with the lowest amount of THC possible.
Hemp, as distinct from other types of cannabis, is specifically grown to have as little THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) as possible, instead being high in CBD, as well as terpenes and other minor cannabinoids to take advantage of the entourage effect.
As there are so many different trace compounds outside of CBD itself, choosing the right hemp plant is about finding the right combination of all of these different compounds to produce a synergistic effect, one that is focused upon once the CBD is extracted.
Once a manufacturer has found the right candidate that has grown to the point of developing flowing tops, it is time to begin the process of harvesting and extraction.
The Extraction Process
There are several approaches to CBD extraction, but the ultimate end is to take the plant’s most valuable compounds and convert them into a dark oil known as a crude extract.
There is a wide range of processes that have been used, depending on the type of CBD that is desired and whether the environmental conditions surrounding the extraction facility suit one type of extraction over another.
Here are some of the main methods to produce CBD crude extract:
- Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction – This process works by creating a low-temperature, high-pressure carbon dioxide liquid, that is passed through the plant material, resulting in a highly concentrated, pure extract without the need for much post-processing.
- Ethanol Extraction – a lower-cost method, an alcohol solvent is mixed with water and the plant, dissolving the water-soluble molecules and creating a dark, bitter, grassy oil that can still be high quality when in the hands of a skilled extractor.
- Hydrocarbon Extraction – Using a light hydrocarbon solvent such as acetone or isopropyl alcohol, this system is an easy method to extract CBD, at the cost of quality, with a lower concentration of CBD and a higher concentration of THC, as well as unsafe residue.
- Lipid Extraction – A rarely used method that uses fats such as coconut oil to absorb and capture the CBD compounds. Whilst it tends to not be used at scale, some boutique companies use it to avoid using solvents or carbon dioxide.
Once a manufacturer extracts the raw CBD mix from the plant, the next step is a process called decarboxylation, which is where a heat source is applied to the extract, producing the active compound and removing the acid molecule.
This converts cannabidiol acid (CBDA) into CBD and whilst it can be done before or after it is extracted,
Once a manufacturer has an activated crude extract, there are some additional steps that they often (but do not always) take to produce a clearer product, although others will sell an extract that is darker and closer to treacle in texture.
Winterisation is the process of purifying an extract by mixing it in alcohol and freezing it overnight. Once completed, this mixture can be funnelled through a paper filter, resulting in a product rich in cannabinoids and terpenes but free of chlorophyll and other plant materials that are less desired.
Creating CBD Isolate
If a manufacturer aims to create a full-spectrum extract, they can skip straight to the manufacturing stage. However, most manufacturers will isolate the CBD compound further, or use enhanced processes to create THC-free CBD oil.
If the aim is just to remove THC, then chromatography can remove only the THC from an extract, which works by pushing the extract through a medium that the THC and only the THC binds to, leaving the rest untouched, creating a broad spectrum CBD product.
CBD isolate is a crystallised white powder with every other part of the hemp removed, and due to its versatility has become highly desired.
The main way to create CBD isolate is to use a distillation process that captures the individual compounds of an extract and keep only the CBD extract.
After this, the CBD is ready for manufacturing into all kinds of products, from gummies to creams to food capsules.