CO2 Extraction: What Is It and Is It Safe?

At this point, most Americans are either using or have at least heard of CBD, so now the curiosity behind how it’s made is at an all-time high. If you haven’t heard, CBD can be made from CO2 extraction or it can be extracted by solvents like butane or ethanol.In this post we’ll go over how CBD is made with each of these and talk about CO2 vs ethanol and CO2 vs butane. Being educated on CBD and how it’s made will allow you to buy the best possible product at the best possible price!


We’re assuming you know what CBD is, but if you still need some of the basics, you can check out our blog here

The CO2 extraction process on an infographic

How to extract CBD with CO2



CO2 Extraction

CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is naturally all around us. It’s a non-toxic gas that is a byproduct of nature. In fact, you’re exhaling CO2 right now. 


CO2 has been used to extract everything from essential oils to caffeine from coffee grounds. It’s so efficient at cleanly removing compounds fro


m plants and food-grade materials that you can “tune” it to remove specific molecules from a plant (like CBD and THC, for example). This is why CO2 is used to decaffeinate coffee (who would do such a thing?)


Here’s how it works: CO2 at room temperature is a colorless, odorless gas. When we want to use it for extracting CBD out of the hemp plant, we have to pressurize it and cool it to sub-freezing temperatures. In this pressurized, very cold state, CO2 takes on properties of both a liquid and a gas. This is called the “supercritical” state. 


Inside the pressurized container, the hemp flowers are surrounded by this kind-of liquid, kind-of gas CO2 and the thick CBD-rich liquid is left behind, known as the “extract”. Chunks of the hemp flower can still be left behind in the liquid and you’ll find them in your CBD oil (it’s normal). 


The CO2 then completely leaves the CBD extract is then allowed to return to its normal temperature and pressure. The extract you’re left with is a pure, clean and chemical-free product that you can then place in a carrier oil like organic cold pressed hemp seed oil or coconut oil.


Ethanol Extraction and/or Butane Extraction

These extraction processes are known as solvent extractions where CO2 extraction is known as solvent-less extraction. 


Solvent extraction infographic

How to make CBD with ethanol

A solvent by definition is a liquid that dissolves an object. Solvent extraction of CBD means that the hemp flower is soaked in ethanol until the flower is completely dissolved. Again, you’re left with an extract. This time, the extract contains a high amount of the solvent used to dissolve the hemp flower. 

The solvent has to then be purged from the extract by heating the solvent so that the ethanol or butane can evaporate. After the solvent is “cooked” off, then you’re left with an extract that can be put into a carrier oil. 


CO2 Extraction vs Solvent Extraction

You can see that the solvents require more processing than CO2 and another important point to mention about solvent extraction is that it can leave behind solvents in your CBD oil. The amounts left behind are supposed to be considered trace amounts at levels that are “Generally Regarded As Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA. So, it’s important to check a lab test to verify that you’re not ingesting unsafe levels of these solvents.


The debate on CO2 extraction vs ethanol extraction will continue, however. Solvent extraction is reported to remove more terpenes and cannabinoids than CO2 extraction. CO2 can be “tuned” to remove whatever compounds you want. And This is why CO2 extraction of full spectrum CBD is more expensive. Because, you have to tune the CO2 for several cannabinoids instead of just CBD by itself.


For an explanation on full spectrum vs isolate and compounds like cannabinoids see our blog here.


So, if you’re buying full spectrum CBD you can also check the lab tests to ensure you’re getting all the cannabinoids and terpenes as well, without the residual solvents being left behind in your oil.


Extraction FAQs

[sc_fs_multi_faq headline-0=”h2″ question-0=”Is CO2 Extraction Safe?” answer-0=”Absolutely, there is no chemical residue left behind with CO2 extraction. CO2 leaves the extract immediately at the end of the extraction process. ” image-0=”” headline-1=”h2″ question-1=”Does CO2 Extraction Remove Terpenes?” answer-1=”CO2 can be tuned to specifically allow terpenes into the finished extract. Check your lab tests to verify you’re getting the ingredients you want ” image-1=”” headline-2=”h2″ question-2=”What Is CO2 Extraction. How Does It Work?” answer-2=”CO2 is pressurized and cooled to where it acts as both a liquid and a gas. This state is called “supercritical” it then removes all of the compounds (like CBD) from the hemp flower and is returned to a normal temperature and completely leaves the finished product. CO2 is then recycled for another use. ” image-2=”” headline-3=”h2″ question-3=”Why Is CO2 Extraction Better?” answer-3=”CO2 doesn’t leave behind any residual chemicals like solvents do and CO2 is more environmentally friendly. CO2 extraction is more expensive, however. ” image-3=”” count=”4″ html=”true” css_class=””]



The Bottom Line on CO2 Extraction


CO2 Extraction is a clean, efficient and environmentally friendly way to extract CBD. It doesn’t leave behind any kind of chemical residue and you can look at lab tests to verify that you’re getting a potent as well as a clean CBD product. If a brand advertises that they’re using CO2 extraction vs ethanol or butane extraction, you can verify this by checking a lab test. You shouldn’t see any residual solvents in a finished product that has used CO2 to extract  their CBD.


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