Testing CBD

There are several methods to extract cannabinoids from industrial hemp plants. 

The main methods of extracting CBD and other cannabinoids from industrial hemp plants are Co2 (Sub Critical and Super Critical Co2), Ethanol (or alcohol), hydrocarbons such as hexane and butane, and HPLC. There are quite a few differences between these different methods of extraction.

Regardless of what solvent is used, there is no such thing as perfection. Each has its pluses and minuses that need to be taken into consideration.

Perhaps the most touted is the Co2 method.  One reason for its firm hold on the market is its reported safety. Hydrocarbons have been known to cause explosions and is quickly falling out of favor with manufacturers. The choice for most processors is then between Ethanol, Co2 and HPLC.

While Co2 is considered one of the safest ways to distill hemp, it takes an extremely long time to do it. The process is extremely long because it takes a while to remove impurities with this method. There are other chemicals in the hemp plant that must be discarded. Hemp also contains plant-based fats and wax. The purification process removes these components to make cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids the only chemicals present. However, because of the long processing time, less of the desired compounds are left in the final product. This makes it the much less potent option.

Ethanol may take over. Extracting CBD oil with ethanol is more efficient as it takes much less time to process. While Co2 was used over butane for its safety, ethanol has been getting an extremely good rating for safety too.

Some companies still prefer to use Co2 as it is easier to get select compounds to remove from the hemp. Different compounds can be selected by adjusting the heat of the Co2. Tampering with the pressure also aids in the separation of unwanted compounds. Ethanol is not as easy to control. While Co2 may be less efficient at extracting CBD, the purity level is higher. More of what is in the hemp plant will be left when ethanol is used.

The ethanol method for extracting CBD oil is a solvent based technique, and it’s one of the simplest methods that exists. With this method, ethanol is added to plant trimmings and mixing them until the ethanol dissolves the plant extracts. This allows all of the cannabinoids in the plant to be extracted, and may give the liquid a green color. The mixture is then strained and heated in a container until the ethanol is gone, leaving only the extracts.

There are some drawbacks associated with using ethanol to extract CBD oil. It is flammable so care must be exercised when working around heat. During the extraction process, chlorophyll is extracted from the plants. This can cause side effects, which is why it is strained out, but straining can reduce the potency of the CBD oil.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography, otherwise known as HPLC, is another method of CBD extraction that is a bit more involved than other methods. Analytical HPLC and Preparative HPLC can be used. Here, Analytical HPLC examines for specific compounds, while Preparative HPLC does the actual extraction.

One of the greatest advantages of extracting CBD oil using HPLC is that the oil is highly pure. When compared to some other oil extracting methods, the unnecessary particles are filtered out more efficiently.

While the HPLC method for extracting CBD oil looks attractive, there are some drawbacks that can’t be overlooked. Price is a notable one.  The equipment is expensive. Solvents are needed in large quantities to collect the purified parts, which adds to the overall cost.

There’s also the problem of time, as the time needed to move the mixture through the system creates a longer extraction process than other methods. This additional time is good for producing a pure yield, but it does cut down on the efficiency of the process.

When it comes to extracting CBD oil using the ethanol and HPLC methods, you have to look at what both can offer. Both ethanol and HPLC are good for producing CBD oil, but the HPLC method produces a better quality oil and larger amounts of it. It’s also a safer method, as no flammable components are used. On the other hand, it takes a longer time to extract the CBD oil, and a more expensive equipment and solvents are needed to get the oil, making ethanol a less complicated and more cost effective extraction process than HPLC.

There is no “best” method to extract cannabinoids from the hemp plant.  Each processor can use the best method that meets their requirements.  The processor’s choice should not affect the quality of the CBD in the products they produce.