As CBD and hemp oil-based products become more and more well-known people start to wonder just how they are made. Not only is this an interesting question, but also the actual extraction process can affect the overall potency, appearance, and chemical profile of the oil-based product.
That’s right, you could take two of the very same strains and run they through different extraction processes and each end result would yield a difference appearance, chemical profile, and potency. So, which extraction method is superior?
An Overview Of Solvent Extraction
Cannabis is just like any other plant out there given the fact that it produces what is known as an essential oil. The only problem with this is that this oil cannot simply be melted off in a tea or washed away. This is because oil and water simply do not mix.
This is where a solvent comes in handy. A solvent can separate the oil from the plant matter. When the solvent is applied to the plant it creates what is known as a concentrate and this concentrate can then be infused into other goods, like foods and topical products.
When it comes to the solvent extraction there can be any number of solvents that are used to extract the oil. However, the most common solvents chosen by manufacturers in the hemp industry are ethanol, butane, and propane.
That being said it should also be noted that each different solvent could yield overall different results as well even when you are extracting from the very two same strains. Ethanol and CO2 are probably the safer solvents for both the consumer and extractor.
A Look At Extraction With Ethanol
When it comes right down to it ethanol is nothing more than alcohol and is considered safer. It is considered safer because this is a much less risk of toxicity. It is true that there are solventless extraction methods out there, but ethanol is still considered one of the safest solvents to use in consumer goods.
Plus, all commercial extractions are legally required to undergo lab testing before they are put on the market. This lab testing will determine if the product contains unsafe levels of residual solvent. Since ethanol evaporates quickly it poses little threat to humans unless it is physically consumed.
Ethanol is considered a highly efficient substance due to the fact that it is polar by nature. Simply, all this means is that it can form bonds with both water-soluble and fat-soluble plant compounds. It is true that ethanol is both safe and efficient, but it does come with one major downside.
And, that downside is that it really isn’t picky about what it pulls away from the plant material. Unfortunately, this gives the end product a darker green color and a much bitter taste.
Another neat thing about ethanol is that is can be mixed with other solvents, which will allow the extract to yield specific properties. For instance, ethanol is frequently used at the end of a BHO or CO2 cycle, which will winterize the product.
Basically, using the ethanol in this manner will pull out any unwanted waxes from the product. Using ethanol in this manner will also produce a more translucent end result, which will give the liquid a lighter amber coloration.
How Is The Ethanol Extraction Performed?
Some people that do extraction at home will simply use a high-proof alcohol to extract the oil. However, commercial extractors using more advanced methods, which will purify the oil. The professional extractors will use methods that allow them to pass the ethanol through the plant material and recollect the ethanol at the end of the process.
Also, be recirculating the ethanol throughout the plant material several times it allows them to extract a more optimal yield.
This is why professional extractors that use this method will often times have an end result that looks syrupy with a darker amber coloration. Of course, this process takes extra machinery and know-how.
A Look At CO2 Extraction
If you can remember back to high school chemistry, you probably already know that CO2 is nothing more than carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide can also be used to extract oil for the hemp plant. However, CO2 can only be used as an appropriate extraction method under certain temperatures and pressures.
This is why this extraction method is mostly performed in a controlled environment. Just like the ethanol extraction method the CO2 is considered extremely safe and produces safe results for the consumer.
Besides that fact, C02 and ethanol extraction could not be different. CO2 extraction usually yields an end result that is dark amber in color with a honey-like consistency. Another major difference is that CO2 is extremely picky in what it takes away from the plant material. This means that the CO2 method fails to pull out many of the phytochemicals that are present in hemp or cannabis resin. However, when combined with ethanol CO2 can capture these lost phytochemicals.
A recent study showed that extracting with CO2 complete changed the chemical composition of a cannabis or hemp strain. The study also showed that the CO2 method destroyed many of the subtle flavor and aroma molecules.
These are the molecules that make each different strain stand out apart from the others. However, when it comes to purity there is nothing that can match the CO2 extraction method. The CO2 extraction produces an end product that is just a few steps down from an isolate.
How Is Oil Extracted With CO2?
It really takes expertise and know-how to extract high-quality oil from a hemp or cannabis plant and this is why many CO2 extractors are supercritical about the methods that they use. Since CO2 is present in the gas form it has to be cooled and pressurized so that it can reach a state that is somewhere between a gas and a liquid.
When CO2 reaches this state it is referred to as a supercritical state. As this supercritical state, the gas/liquid can then be passed through the plant material. Since the substance is present in both a gas and liquid form it gives the substance the ability to extract more of the compounds and chemicals that will give the end product a higher potency.
The CO2 extraction usually requires specialized equipment that consists of three different chambers. One chamber will pressurize and chill the CO2. Another chamber will be for the plant material and the final chamber will be where the extractors create a closed-loop system. This system allows the CO2 to be recaptured at the end of the process.
Which Extraction Method Is Superior: Ethanol Or CO2?
You can ask any extractor and they are going to tell you the same thing. There is no extraction method that is perfect, but as far as economic drain and safety go it is ethanol that takes the flag. And, this is because CO2 is combustible, which makes it somewhat more dangerous for the professional extractor. Ethanol also has the ability to draw out the subtle flavors, aromas, and synergistic compounds that separate each different strain.
These different compounds and properties really can amplify the benefits that the user will receive when they are partaking in the oil. So, if you are taking hemp oil for health and wellness purposes, you want to look for a manufacturer that uses the ethanol extraction method.
However, ethanol is not without its downfalls. There are some that believe that its biggest benefit is also its biggest downfall. Earlier you learned that ethanol was polar, which means that it isn’t picky about what it pulls away from the plant material.
This also means that it is pulling out nutrient-based properties as well. This means that ethanol-based extractions are going to have a greater overall nutrient density when compared to other extraction methods.
One interesting thing that should also be noted about ethanol is that it is a solvent that is made due to plant fermentation. This basically makes ethanol a solvent made by the plants that can be used for the plants.
This pretty much means that ethanol is the only solvent out there that can maintain its original chemical ratios when it is being passed through the plant material. This gives the substance the ability to extract both water-soluble components and oil-soluble components from the plant material. This isn’t the case with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is only able to distract oil-soluble components.
This is not to say that CO2 extraction is completely useless and doesn’t come with its own list of benefits because it does. Carbon dioxide is an excellent way to extract nutrients from a cannabis or hemp plant.
While ethanol might be more efficient, it is the CO2 method that produces a higher potency. CO2 extraction tends to not pull out the aroma and flavor molecules from the plant material, but many manufacturers are finding ways to combat this. Some will add ethanol to the process while some will start out with high-quality hemp right from the beginning.