Hemp Science

How It Works: CBD Extraction via Supercritical CO2

How do we get CBD from hemp?

The raw materials and chemical precursors which comprise many pharmaceutical drugs originally come from plants.  Once they are extracted, chemists develop processes that transform these plant-derived substrates into biologically active drugs, fine-tuned for a specific purpose.  It can be difficult or impossible to ensure that a drug will have only one effect on the body however, and that fact is what makes many health-conscious individuals look outside of the traditional pharmaceutical industry for remedies that are more natural.  

Enter cannabis; it is the true “traditional” medicine, as it was used for thousands of years before the word pharmacy was even invented. Nonetheless, even some cannabis-based medicines, like CBD oil or CBD-infused edibles, still must undergo an extraction process to be fully absorbed by the body.

There are several different methods of extraction including butane and ethanol based processes, but the best method, by every metric except for cost, is the use of pressurized carbon dioxide.

What is supercritical CO2 extraction?

Carbon dioxide extraction of essential compounds and oils is a very flexible process that involves the use of expensive equipment to extract individual specific compounds from raw plant material with negligible amounts of solvent leftover. First, plant material is compressed and frozen, and then pressurized liquid CO2 is forced through the plant mixture.  The variability of CO2 temperature and pressure is what makes this method so much more effective than other forms of extraction, because only a subtle change in temperature or pressure results in a drastic change in density.

Every cannabinoid in cannabis has therapeutic value, including and especially CBD and THC.  However, THC produces the high synonymous with marijuana, and therefore a strong stigma taints the medical value of cannabis.  For this reason, many companies have begun to produce THC-free CBD oil that is rich in CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes without a single molecule of THC present in the final product.  This not only makes it fully legal in all 50 states, but it also removes any possibility of psychoactivity (the feeling of being high) and both permits and establishes extremely high standards for the quality of any cannabis-based extract, free of contaminants, toxins, or any other foreign substance that detracts from the potency of your medicine.