Ethanol Extraction and Supercritical CO2: CBD Fact Sheet #1

Everything happens so fast these days, and it can be a challenge to stay hip with the latest terminology and technology.

We will break down the differences between the two most commonly used CBD extraction methods (ethanol vs. CO2) to help clear the air.

Extraction methods are various processes used to procure and concentrate the medicinal compounds found naturally in hemp.

There is no absolute ‘best method’ when it comes to CBD extraction methods, and it truly depends on what you’re trying to create. In a nutshell, supercritical CO2 has little use other than for producing highly-refined CBD isolates.

In contrast, ethanol is the go-to when opting for a full-spectrum CBD oil with a wide range of beneficial phytonutrients.

Supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction has exploded in popularity and is arguably the most common choice amongst CBD companies. The question remains, though, as to whether or not that’s a good thing. Let’s explore this topic further.

Full spectrum vs CBD isolate

 

Supercritical Carbon-Dioxide (CO2) CBD Extraction


Supercritical CO2 extraction requires the use of costly and technologically advanced equipment, and also a well-trained technician to operate the machine.

This particular technology has applications in many areas other than hemp, such as:

 

  • Sterilizing tissues and organs for transplants
  • Extracting fat from snack foods
  • Removing caffeine from coffee to make decaf
  • Extracting flavor oils from hops

 

This process involves starting with gaseous CO2 and transforming it into a liquid by cooling it to under -69°F (-56°C) and applying 75 pounds of pressure per square inch.

At this point, the CO2 is now liquid, so the technician gradually increases the temperature and pressure until the fluid reaches a ‘supercritical’ state, meaning that it possesses both the properties of a gas and a liquid.

This dynamic allows for the supercritical CO2 to fill up a chamber like a gas, but soak the extraction material (hemp) like a liquid.

After the CO2 passes over the hemp, it goes through a separation chamber, where changes in temperature and pressure allow the CO2 to evaporate and leave behind cannabinoids, terpenes, and wax. The CO2 vapor then passes through a condenser to be returned to its liquid state and saved for future use.

CO2 extraction is often marketed as ‘solvent-free,’ suggesting it is a cleaner alternative to other extraction methods. However, this is usually not the case.

The resulting extract, while full of cannabinoids and terpenes, requires winterization due to the high content of wax and lipids. The most commonly used solvents for this purpose are ethanol (ironic), isopropanol (petroleum-based), or methanol (toxic wood-alcohol). Distillation is then required for removal of the solvents from the hemp extract.

Advocates of CO2 extraction tout the non-polar nature of carbon-dioxide, meaning that it doesn’t pull out any of the water-soluble components in hemp.

However, this is only a benefit if your end goal is to make CBD isolate, as most experts agree that the full range of compounds found in hemp provides a unique therapeutic synergy known as the ‘entourage effect.’

What’s more is that while supercritical CO2 has a high affinity for cannabinoids and terpenes, the exact temperature and amount of pressure in the extractor will alter which cannabinoids/terpenes it absorbs. The result in the extract is a chemical profile that is dramatically different from that found in the source material.

One sure benefit of this method is that CO2 effectively eliminates any unwanted microbes, assuring that the end product is free from mold and mildew.

While it is a fairly rare occurrence, there are unfortunate deaths related to CO2 extraction from time to time, as a leak of carbon dioxide can go undetected due to the lack of smell or visible fumes - which can ultimately lead to a deadly build-up of CO2 in the environment, causing asphyxiation. 

 

Supercritical CO2 CBD hemp extract

 

Alcohol (Ethanol) CBD Extraction

Cannabis is a fascinating plant that can produce more than 500 compounds that represent almost every biogenetic class. As such, we choose to utilize ethanol extraction to create the most full-spectrum CBD product possible.

Ethanol is a polar solvent, allowing it to extract both water and fat-soluble plant compounds, such as: 

 

  • Cannabinoids (CBD, THC, CBC, CBG, CBDV)
  • Terpenes (myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool, b-caryophyllene, terpinene, eucalyptol)
  • Polyphenols
  • Lignans
  • Chlorophyll
  • Flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol, quercetin, and cannflavin A and B)
  • Amino acids (all eight essentials)
  • Alkamides (immune-promoting compounds)


In our ethanol extraction, food-grade ethanol is passed through the hemp flowers and brought to a very low boil. During this simmer, we gently cradle the flowers as they mix with the ethanol and create natural friction, producing a vapor that is full of beneficial compounds. We then recirculate the ethanol through the plant matter multiple times, allowing for maximum extraction.

Our sophisticated ethanol extraction process effectively removes undesirable plant waxes and chlorophyll without the high-heat exposure used in other extraction methods.

While our distillation process to evaporate the ethanol is very gentle, there is some unavoidable loss of terpene content during this step. To compensate, we supplement Ananda Hemp with a botanical terpene blend with proven therapeutic benefits.

Ethanol vs supercritical CO2 extraction

 

Now that we’ve talked in-depth about the two primary extraction techniques, let's discuss the bottom line on choosing which extraction method you should look for in your CBD products.

Choose Ethanol Extracted Full Spectrum CBD Oil for Best Results

We passionately believe the 500+ phytonutrients extracted from hemp via ethanol extraction offer a far superior user experience to the isolated CBD that results from CO2 technology.

However, some people may prefer to use CBD isolate, due to the perceived 'purity' or 'simplicity' it offers. While we at Ananda Hemp certainly advocate for the use of full spectrum, ethanol extracted CBD, there is nothing wrong with using CO2 extracted isolate if that is what you prefer. 

As always, do your research and make sure to read CoA’s thoroughly. Here’s to you and your health!

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