If you have an interest in CBD but you aren’t sure how exactly it is produced, you’re probably not alone. Most people’s understanding of CBD oil is that it is an extract derived from the hemp or Cannabis plant. This is a good starting point, but it can be beneficial to learn more about the production process in order to differentiate CBD from THC and also recognise what to look for when buying CBD products.
How to Extract CBD From Hemp
CBD is just one of the components found in hemp and Cannabis- there are over 100 different chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are also present in the plant. In order to take hemp and create CBD oil, we have three options of final product; an isolate, broad spectrum or full spectrum CBD tincture. An isolate is a pure CBD extract, whereas broad spectrum contains a variable mix of other cannabinoids as well. The third option (although not currently legal in the UK) is full spectrum, which is simply broad spectrum with THC included as well; the chemical associated with Cannabis's "high" sensation. Some products in the UK may advertise as full spectrum if they have trace amounts of THC within legal limits, but this tends to be more of a marketing move than a true full spectrum product.
There are supposed arguments for broad spectrum; however, a CBD isolate is often preferred as it leads to a cleaner, better tasting product. Many of the additional cannabinoids that are left in broad spectrum products have had very little research surrounding them, and the extent to which they are beneficial or potentially harmful is not yet known. The main justification you may see for broad spectrum is something called the “Entourage Effect”. This is a theory that the additional cannabinoids work together to somehow increase or balance the effects of the product, which is strongly pushed by some CBD brands. Unfortunately, this theory just doesn’t have sufficient evidence to support it yet.
CBD Extraction Process
There are several processes that are required to go from plant to extract, and this approach can vary from lab to lab; we are going to run through how you might go about creating a CBD isolate extract.
The two main extraction methods are as follows- ethanol extraction, which uses ethanol as a solvent to strip cannabinoids from the plant material- and CO2 extraction, using pressurised CO2 to pull CBD and other chemicals from the plant. Ethanol extraction is generally the much cheaper option, and it is often favoured for this reason, but CO2 extraction is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly, cleaner, and safer, whilst still leading to a high quality CBD extract. This process is fairly complicated and multi-tiered, but if you are interested in reading further then there are plenty of resources online that take a deep dive into the specifics.
After this stage, we have extracted chemical components from the plant material but we still need to draw out the CBD from THC and other cannabinoids. This requires a further process called winterisation; an oil refinement technique which chills and separates chemicals based on their varying melting points, solubility, and volatility. Once completed, we are left with a very clean and pure CBD isolate in the form of a solid white powder, and from here we can make our oil tincture.
Creating the Tincture
For this final stage we need a carrier oil - an oil to dilute the extract and make a great tasting product. There are several options for this, such as coconut oil, MCT oil (most commonly extracted from coconut oil), palm oil, hemp seed oil; most fatty oils can be used, although MCT oil is often popular due to it having little to no taste or smell and several potential health benefits.
Curating the final flavour is a step often rushed (and sometimes completely overlooked) by some CBD manufacturers, but is an important step for higher-end products. Any oil-soluble natural terpenes, flavourings, or oils can be added to influence the flavour, but we would recommend trying to find 100% natural flavourings and avoiding added sugar or artificial sweeteners. For example, Unique CBD products use 100% natural peppermint oil for a gentle and pleasant taste.
The final essential step for any CBD product should be lab testing for safety and purity. This is great for both ensuring that you have the correct, advertised level of CBD present in the product, as well as confirming that there are no high levels of THC or other unwanted chemicals. Always make sure that this is done by a third-party lab with publicly available results for your peace of mind.
What is the Difference Between Hemp Oil and CBD Oil?
This one has been covered before in a previous post, but it is very important to make the distinction between the two so you are clear on what exactly is in your product.
Whereas CBD oil requires the extensive process we’ve already covered in this post, hemp seed oil (often just referred to as hemp oil) is an extract from pressed hemp seeds which contains little to no CBD. So, although both CBD oil and hemp oil are derived from the same plant, they are entirely different by-products. Despite this, hemp oil is often sold and/ or branded very similarly to CBD, as a deceptive marketing move from short-term brands looking to capitalise on the ongoing growth of the UK CBD market.