by Jada Lynton
In recent years, cannabidiol (CBD) has grown in popularity for its vast array of potential wellness benefits. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD is used to make many consumer goods, from skincare to edible capsules to beverages. Bath bombs. Infused toothpaste. It seems nothing is off-limits. But how is CBD made in the first place?
As the demand for CBD grows, more and more innovations are emerging that are transforming this process. While CBD has become a sought-after extract amongst wellness enthusiasts, its ability to support our well-being hinges on the extraction and manufacturing stages.
In This Article
- CO2 Extraction
- Alcohol Extraction
First, it helps to know what CBD is; a non-psychoactive compound derived from hemp. Much of the doubt about CBD stems from confusion about its relation to the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Unlike THC, a separate compound in the hemp plant, CBD is non-psychoactive and doesn’t cause any intoxicating effects. Because hemp plants contain low THC levels at 0.3% or less, which is the legal threshold for cultivating hemp in the United States, they are the primary source for creating CBD extracts.
During the extraction process, THC is isolated but leaves behind other compounds such as CBD, CBG, CBN, terpenes, flavonoids and plant waxes. While some THC may be left behind as well, levels have to remain below that 0.3%. In some cases, producers prefer eliminating the concern and opt for zero-THC formulas that go through a more extensive extraction process. You may see these products labeled as broad-spectrum and pure isolate CBD.
In a nutshell, CBD isn’t made, but rather it occurs naturally, and it’s extracted to use within the formulas in products we purchase. The question is, how? Extraction requires separating molecules from the plant. Two of the most common methods are alcohol extraction (which uses alcohol as a solvent) and supercritical CO2 extraction (which uses pure carbon dioxide as a solvent).
During CO2 extraction, supercritical carbon dioxide is used as a solvent to remove CBD from the hemp plant. It all goes down in a high-pressure chamber where supercritical carbon dioxide liquid separates the compound lipids and plant waxes from the rest of the natural plant material. Temperature and pressure are used to convert the liquid back to gas, which then evaporates and leaves the extracted CBD material behind. This method is one of the safest and cleanest methods but is also one of the most expensive because of the need for special equipment. It’s arguably worth it since this method produces a clean, solvent-free extract.
Solvents such as ethanol, butane or isopropyl alcohol are commonly used in alcohol extraction. The alcohol wash soaks the raw hemp to remove all the compounds from the plant fibers, separating terpenes, pigments and lipids. Gentle heat is applied to evaporate the solvents that leave behind CBD extract. This method is also common, and it’s cost-effective. However, if not carried out safely, it can leave behind solvent residues.
No matter the extraction method, the CBD extract is mixed with other food-safe carrier ingredients to create finished products. These ingredients can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and based on the type of products (for example, capsules versus oil tinctures) that are the end goal.
Popular CBD tinctures, capsules and other products are commonly oily formulas. However, recent research suggests that up to 95% of the oily CBD isn't absorbed. Instead, there’s a growing body of research around the effectiveness of water-soluble formulas that increase the bioavailability of CBD (how quickly and much of it can reach your bloodstream). The research is influencing how some brands formulate CBD products to improve absorption. To get the most from your CBD, formula makes all the difference.
JADA LYNTON IS A CBD CONTENT WRITER FROM THE UK, WITH A PASSION FOR PLANT-DERIVED WELLNESS, SHE SPECIALIZES IN WRITING CBD CONTENT TO HELP SPREAD AWARENESS ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF CBD, THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM AND PLANT SCIENCE.
SourcesFDA - FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)
International Journal of Molecular Sciences - Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System
The Journal of Supercritical Fluids - Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction of cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L.
Pharmaceuticals - Evaluation of pharmacokinetics and acute anti‐inflammatory potential of two oral cannabidiol preparations in healthy adults