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CBD Extraction Methods Explained: Ethanol & CO2 Extraction

  • 4 min read

woman in lab putting cbd oil in test tube

Before you can extract CBD, you need to begin with a CBD-rich plant source. To ensure the highest quality of CBD is being used in Zebra CBD products, multiple quality assurance tests are conducted from planting the seed to bottling the end product.

How Is CBD Extracted?

Similar to the way essential oils are extracted, CBD is removed from the aerial parts (flowers) of the cannabis plant. The resulting CBD oil can be used in various products such as tinctures (oils), topicalschewable tablets, edibles and more.

Ethanol is used in a variety of food-grade products, including nutritional extracts, beer, wine and even whipping cream.

There are many steps involved in extracting CBD from the organically grown, high-CBD content plant material in all our Zebra CBD products. Although there are numerous CBD extraction methods such as olive oil extraction, steam distillation, and hydrocarbon extraction, we use two of the top extraction methods: ethanol extraction and supercritical COextraction. Both methods are safe and commonly used in the food industry as well as for extracting CBD.

Super Cold Ethanol Extraction Method

The crops used to make our CBD Hemp Oils are grown on two family-run Colorado hemp farms. Both farms utilize organic processes to grow premium hemp for both the full spectrum extract and the distillate extract. Each farm cultivates premium hemp with high levels of CBD and very low levels of THC. Both farms carefully source seeds that are expected to produce plants with less than 0.3% THC; CBD products made from plants with more than this amount are currently not legal in most states.

To ensure THC is always under the 0.3% level, the crop is quality-tested multiple times throughout its lifespan up until harvest. THC levels are tested again in the final product before it gets into our customers’ hands.

Ethanol extraction is our choice for our CBD oils and gummies. The process produces an appealing-looking, great-tasting oil for connoisseurs who appreciate the natural taste of CBD oil.

The CBD extraction process requires soaking the plant material with ethanol, filtering to remove solid material, and separating the CBD extract from the ethanol using a super cold environment in critical parts of the process. Chlorophyll, the compound that gives all plants — including cannabis — their green color, is also removed through both the ethanol and supercritical CO2 extraction processes to improve the taste. 

Ethanol is used in a variety of food-grade products, including nutritional extracts, beer, wine and even whipping cream.

In the final step of the extraction, nearly all of the ethanol is removed. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recognizes ethanol to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) to consume.

Ethanol is used in a variety of food-grade products, including nutritional extracts, beer, wine and even whipping cream.

With efficient ethanol recovery systems, ethanol from extraction systems can be cleaned, cleared and reused, leaving a smaller environmental footprint. Ethanol is derived from plant material and is considered a renewable resource.

The extraction process minimizes fats, lipids and waxes while keeping in all the beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. Ethanol extraction can be used to create a variety of products, including isolated or full-spectrum CBD oil, depending on the intended use.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction Method

This clean, safe, environmentally friendly method has been around for decades, and is used to extract CBD from hemp grown on our source farms in Oregon, Kentucky and Colorado. Carbon dioxide is a nontoxic and nonflammable gas that has no impact on human health at normal concentrations. In addition to cannabis products, supercritical CO2 extraction is used to extract hops to make beer.

Pressurized carbon dioxide is used to extract the desired phytochemicals from the plant. The term “supercritical” signifies that when solvents are exposed to extreme pressures and temperatures, they fluctuate between intermediate states of solid, liquid and gas.

CO2 extraction separates out individual compounds in the cannabis plant during the extraction process, eliminating the need for additional purification. Both ethanol and supercritical CO2 separate cannabis oil into its individual components and make it possible to extract more of a specific cannabinoid. So, for example, you could extract 70 percent cannabigerol (CBG), with the remaining mixture containing other cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.

What Happens After CBD Extraction?

Once the pure CBD is isolated and extracted from the hemp plant, it is mixed with a carrier like coconut oil, making CBD oil. As mentioned earlier, various types of CBD oils are made from the CBD extract, depending on their intended use.

Full-spectrum CBD contains all of the cannabinoids (THC, CBD, et al.) and other natural compounds in cannabis, terpene being one of them. All of these components work together to give an “entourage effect” that maximizes the medicinal benefits of CBD.

Broad-spectrum CBD is further refined in the CBD extraction process to remove all THC. Broad-spectrum contains 80% to 90% CBD, no THC and a reduced level of other cannabinoids.

CBD isolate is a THC-free alternative made by isolating CBD and then refining it into a single compound, which results in a nearly pure CBD dose. CBD isolates are mostly found in a tasteless crystalline form.

As the CBD oil market continues to expand, we expect new and improved methods of extraction will emerge, and we are committed to continually improving the purity of our premium Zebra CBD products.