CO2 Extraction for CBD: What Is It And How Does It Work?

CBD can have many benefits, such as improved mood and sleep, pain relief, and reduced stress. But have you ever wondered how CBD is extracted from plants and used to make the CBD oil and edible products you know and love? Turns out, it's more important than you might think.

Although the CBD industry is becoming increasingly regulated, it's still possible for dishonest manufacturers to cut corners in their extraction processes. The safest and most effective CBD extraction process is CO2 extraction; therefore, it's important to understand and know what to look for when it comes to a CBD company's CO2 extraction process. Read on to learn all about CO2 extraction and how it can yield safe and high-quality CBD oils.

What Is Extraction?

Let's start with the basics. CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is one of the main components of both marijuana and hemp. Although CBD is present in these plants (and in higher quantities in hemp), these plants also contain hundreds of other components. Therefore, anyone who wants to enjoy a CBD gummy, or any other product made with CBD oil, must find a way to extract the CBD oil from the plant and ensure that it is free of many of its other components (specifically THC, which gives marijuana its psychoactive properties). One of the processes used to extract CBD is known as carbon dioxide, or CO2, extraction.

What is CO2 Extraction?

The goal of extraction is to remove unwanted components and distill hemp's valuable CBD in the form of an easy-to-use oil. However, different techniques vary in terms of the solvents they use to accomplish this extraction. Prior to using CO2, many manufacturers used liquid solvents that could affect the quality of the product (by damaging or removing additional components of the hemp) or harm the consumer (by leaving behind a residue that could be toxic).

In contrast, during the hemp CO2 extraction process, extraction is accomplished by using carbon dioxide, which acts as a solvent that's easy to control, harmless, and doesn't leave behind toxic residue. CO2 CBD extraction is an efficient way to extract CBD from hemp without sacrificing the consumer's safety or the quality of the product. And in case you're still concerned about it, consider that this technique is far from new — scientists have been using CO2 extraction to decaffeinate coffee and tea and extract hops to make beer for years.

Although there are a few different types of CO2 extraction, including supercritical and subcritical CO2 extraction, supercritical CO2 extraction is far more common, efficient, and practical than subcritical CO2 extraction. Therefore, we'll focus on supercritical CO2 extraction below.

Hand holding a bottle of CBD oil and a dropper with the plant in the background

What is Supercritical CO2 Extraction?

Supercritical CO2 extraction relies on the fact that carbon dioxide can become supercritical, meaning that it can exist in a state of matter between a gas and a liquid. Scientists have long known that CO2 exists as a gas at certain temperatures and pressures and a liquid at others, but they've also observed that at very high temperatures and pressures, it can exhibit the properties of both a gas and a liquid. Therefore, you can essentially use supercritical liquid CO2 extraction to obtain CBD oil in a safe and reliable manner.

In supercritical CO2 extraction, CBD oil is produced using the following process. First, manufacturers will prepare a machine called an extractor, which contains a chamber filled with liquid CO2. They will then run the liquid CO2 through a cold exchanger, which will chill the liquid so it remains in its liquid form once it is brought to high pressures. Then, the pressure is increased as the liquid remains cold; shortly thereafter, the temperature is increased, producing supercritical CO2.

Once the CO2 is supercritical, it is used as a solvent to extract the components of interest from the plant (in this case, CBD). The key to the success of this extraction is the special properties of the supercritical CO2, which acts as both a gas (i.e. it fills the entire space and can pass through tiny, hard-to-reach areas in the plant) and a liquid (i.e., it is dense and can adequately dissolve certain parts of the plant). Then, the extract undergoes two separations (one by gravity and one by centrifugal force) in order to separate the extract from the CO2 used to obtain it.

Why Is CO2 Extraction So Popular?

As the CBD industry has continued to grow exponentially, consumers have begun to demand safe, high-quality CBD products. Supercritical CO2 extraction has enjoyed a reputation as being a safe, clean method of obtaining CBD oil. But why? Some benefits of CO2 extraction include the following:

  • Carbon dioxide is non-toxic and safe. Although it is separated out from the final product at the end of the extraction process, if a few extra molecules of CO2 are included in a vial of CBD oil, there will be no adverse effects on the consumer's health.
  • Carbon dioxide can be easily 'tuned', meaning that the parameters of the gas and the extraction process can be altered or customized to extract exactly what you want from your hemp.
  • The supercritical CO2 yields a 'liquid' with a density that can be fine-tuned, thus allowing you to control how much material you are extracting from the plant.
  • The CO2 used in this process can be recycled, making CO2 extraction far more environmentally friendly than other solvent-based CBD extraction processes. 

Although CO2 extraction equipment is expensive, most manufacturers use it to process safe, high-quality CBD oil that can be enjoyed on its own or used to make edibles, topicals, or more.

Final Thoughts

CO2 extraction, which is often performed as supercritical CO2 extraction, is by far the safest way to produce high-quality CBD. Because it doesn't rely on the use of toxic liquid solvents, its products don't include solvent residue, and the CO2 used to extract CBD can be recycled, making CO2 extraction an environmentally friendly process. Although CO2 extraction can result in more expensive products, they're also safer and higher-quality than less expensive CBD oils that may have been extracted using toxic solvents.

At Evn, we're happy to be as transparent as possible about our manufacturing process. If you're interested in enjoying some of our CBD oils, gummies, or more made on our premium-grade CO2 equipment, don't hesitate to buy a CBD product today to give it a shot. And if you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

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