Common Cannabinoid Extraction Methods in the Hemp Industry

cannabinoid extraction methods

Cannabinoid Extraction Methods – Cannabinoids are the core of all our hemp-based items. Notably, CBD, CBG, CBN and other hemp-sourced cannabinoids are leading ingredients in our extensive white- and private-label product line, and we use many different extraction types to create them. Our clients can choose from full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, isolate, or nano CBD additives to create unique, brand-focused hemp cannabinoid products.

Of course, before we can infuse cannabinoids into anything, we must extract them first. To do so, we employ many cannabinoid extraction methods while maintaining all Good Manufacturing Practices along the way.

Today, we’d like to outline some of the most common cannabinoid extraction methods and discuss some pros and cons of each, but first, let’s distinguish the difference between concentrates and extractions.

Concentrates Versus Extractions

Concentrates are cannabinoid products created by mechanical means.  Extracts, on the other hand, are products made with solvents. Essentially, processors use solvents to extract cannabinoids, terpenes, and other valuable plant compounds, or else they use machinery to concentrate those compounds into more dense products. They may further refine the substance to create waxes, oils, and powders, or infuse them into hemp products as-is.

Common Cannabinoid Extraction Methods

Most hemp processors use solvent-based extraction methods because they are efficient, consistent, and safe when performed under the proper conditions. This initial hemp processing method occurs after farmers harvest and cure hemp and before infusing cannabinoids into unique hemp products. Notably, many manufacturers further refine cannabinoid extractions before product infusion for more advanced custom options, as well.

The following are some of the most common solvent-based cannabinoid extraction methods in the CBD supply chain process.  

Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is one of the most common solvent-based extraction methods. Importantly, ethanol is the intoxicating substance in liquor, wine, and beer and is capable of dissolving both polar and non-polar substances. In other words, ethanol can absorb both fat-soluble and water-soluble substances.

This is important because cannabinoids and terpenes are fat-loving while chlorophyll, plant sugars, and phospholipids are water-loving. As such, ethanol can extract all of these elements, making it ideal for full- and broad-spectrum products. At VCM, we use ethanol extraction to isolate large quantities of individual compounds in bulk.

Interestingly, the colder the product, the fewer water-based compounds will absorb into the alcohol. As such, we also chill the ethanol before extraction to create a purer product. Terpenes and cannabinoids will absorb, but not much else.

To extract cannabinoids with ethanol extraction, we chill the ethanol to -40°C then soak the hemp biomass to extract the desired compounds. Next, we remove the particulate and then evaporate the solvent. We also often decarboxylate the product at this point and then distil the oil to separate individual compounds to infuse into unique hemp products.  

CO2 Extraction

CO2 (carbon dioxide) extraction is another common cannabinoid extraction method thanks to its effectiveness, its ability to protect volatile compounds, and its environmental friendliness. Basically, CO2 extraction involves heating and pressurizing CO2 to take both liquid and gas form, then passing plant matter through the solution to remove target compounds (in this case, cannabinoids and terpenes). Interestingly, processors also use CO2 to remove caffeine from coffee beans.

CO2 extraction is a great cannabinoid extraction method for those wanting to produce isolated cannabinoids and full-spectrum, chlorophyll-free solutions, but the process is more dangerous and the set-up more expensive than ethanol extraction. It also requires more extensive safety protocol, which can be challenging for extractors that need to train new staff frequently.

Hydrocarbon Extraction

Hydrocarbon extraction uses chemicals like butane, propane or hexane to remove cannabinoids and terpenes from plant matter. The process is exceptionally quick and thorough but can be dangerous if performed improperly. Notably, VCM used hexane because it produces non-toxic fumes and evaporates very quickly leaving minimal residuals behind.

Basically, processors create hydrocarbon extractions by soaking plant matter (including trim) in the liquid substance, filtering out the particulate, and then heating and pressuring the hydrocarbon to speed the evaporation process. The resulting oil then undergoes different refining processes like de-waxing, centrifugation, and winterization to remove unwanted material like lipids and plant waxes and may be whipped or dried to produce “dabbable” cannabinoid extracts. From there, some processors will infuse the product into edibles, topicals, vapeables, tinctures, capsules, and more.

Using These Cannabinoid Extraction Methods to Produce Unique CBD Products

These cannabinoid extraction methods represent a single link in a long CBD supply chain process. Once processors remove cannabinoids, terpenes, and other desirable plant compounds from hemp, they will either refine them to create things like cannabinoid isolates, distillates, and nano CBD products, or infuse them into hemp products for retail sale.

Importantly, extracting cannabinoids at scale is both timely and costly, and often requires extensive training to do so safely. Fortunately, small business owners can outsource cannabinoid extraction to established businesses like VCM. Doing so can save business owners substantial time, money, and resources while scaling and expanding product lines.

Contact us to learn more about these cannabinoid extraction methods. We’d also love to discuss ways we can help your CBD business grow. You can also join our mailing list or follow us on social media.

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