A cannabis concentrate made through CO2 extraction, which uses CO2 as a solvent to strip the cannabis plant of cannabinoids and terpenes into a concentrate. Learn more about CO2 oil from Leafly. CO2 extraction is by far the best method to produce full-spectrum CBD oils and leverage the entourage effect. How does it work and what are the benefits of using CO2 for extraction? Read on to find out! Insist on purity in your CBD. Learn how CO2 extraction can yield the purest CBD oil, free from harmful solvent residues.
A cannabis concentrate made through CO2 extraction, which uses CO2 as a solvent to strip the cannabis plant of cannabinoids and terpenes into a concentrate. CO2 oil can be high in THC, CBD, or another cannabinoid or specific terpene, and be of varying consistencies—the “CO2” in its name merely defines the process used to make it.
What is CO2 oil?
CO2 oil is a term used to describe any cannabis concentrate created by CO2 extraction. CO2 extraction relies on a closed-loop system and the chemical is purged from the final product.
CO2 oils can be of varying consistencies, such as shatter, crumble, honey, oil, etc. They can also be high in THC, CBD, or another cannabinoids or specific terpene.
How to use CO2 oil
CO2 oil is vaporized. It can come in vape cartridges and consumed through a vape pen, or as a concentrate, or dab, in the form of a shatter or wax. If in one of these forms, CO2 oil needs to be flash vaporized and consumed through a dab rig.
How to Extract CBD Oil from Hemp & Cannabis Using CO2 Extraction
The CBD industry has coined a reputation of the Wild West due to the lack of regulation around the labeling and manufacturing standards. Research is one of the paramount considerations one should take when looking for CBD oils.
The source of hemp is very important, but the extraction method can make or break the quality of the end product.
Fly-by-night companies cut costs by utilizing chemicals such as butane and hexane. Aside from lying to customers and destroying volatile terpenes, chemical solvent extraction may leave a toxic residue if not purged properly.
Let’s make it clear, we don’t want to ingest toxic chemicals in a product that is supposed to be healthy.
That’s why you should purchase from brands that use CO2 extraction technology. This method ensures that the end product contains more terpenes and cannabinoids because it doesn’t use additional heat or solvents.
There is a reason why CO2 extraction is becoming popular. A study by Jin et al., published in the journal Natural Product Communications, examined the effects of supercritical CO2 extraction on a type of Japanese Cypress. The researchers were able to determine the essential oil makeup of the trunks and leaves of the tree.
Let’s take a closer look at CO2 extraction and its benefits for CBD users.
What is CBD CO2 Extraction
CO2 extraction involves the use of pressurized carbon dioxide to pull as many desirable compounds from the cannabis plant as possible — including cannabinoids, terpenes, and the plant’s essential waxes. What you get is a healthy-looking, gold, and viscous extract that you can later suspend in a carrier oil or use with thinners to make it vapable.
For CO2 extraction, versatility is the name of the game. When put under a specific temperature and pressure range, it can act as a solvent, but without the dangers associated with toxic solvents like butane or hexane. In its supercritical state, CO2 yields premium-quality extracts with consistent potency levels and exceptionally high purity.
A funny thing is that CO2 extraction isn’t reserved exclusively for CBD oils. In fact, this is a standard method in the herbal and food industries. If you have decaf coffee in your kitchen, then you have a product that relies on CO2 extraction to pull caffeine from coffee beans. Also, the majority of essential oil production relies on this technology.
Forward-thinking companies realized that traditional extraction methods carried certain risks, such as flammability, solvent toxicity, and wastefulness. Before supercritical CO2 was introduced, brands had relied on solvents such as methylene chloride, trichloroethane, or ethyl acetate — all of which are far from safe.
What Does “Supercritical CO2 Extraction” Mean?
There are a few ways to make CBD oils using CO2 extraction, but supercritical CO2 extraction is widely believed to be the industry’s golden standard. This technology relies on a process known as supercritical fluid extraction. The process involves using supercritical fluids to pull one component from another. CO2 is the most commonly used ingredient in this process, although some manufacturers modify it with a co-solvent such as alcohol.
At standard pressure and temperature, CO2 acts like a gas. When it comes to supercritical CO2, it remains in the fluid state of the gas, which can only happen when the producer applies pressure and temperature that are above their critical levels.
Here’s how supercritical CO2 extraction works in a nutshell:
- The extractor uses the CO2 gas and runs it through a chamber. At this point, the temperature is kept as low as -70 degrees Fahrenheit but the pressure is being gradually increased.
- The gas turns into a fluid.
- In this state, CO2 possesses both gas and liquid properties. In other words, it fills space like a gas, while maintaining the density of a liquid.
- The supercritical CO2 passes through a chamber that is filled with the raw cannabis material.
- The fluid passes through the plant material, dissolving the trichomes’ membranes. This allows the CO2 to capture a significant amount of the active compounds.
The critical temperature of CO2 has been recorded at 89.78 degrees Fahrenheit and the pressure is 73.8 bars, which translates to 7.38 million Pascals, or 1,070 pounds per square inch. This is the data from the February 2010 edition of Chemical Engineering.
In a 2014 study published by Peach and Eastoe in the Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry, the authors described supercritical CO2 as “a solvent like no other.” The study focused on how supercritical CO2 could contribute to the development of green chemistry.
What is Subcritical CO2 Extraction?
While subcritical CO2 extraction isn’t as common as the supercritical one, it has its place in the CBD industry. The reason why only a few manufacturers use this variation is a smaller yield and time consumption.
Basically speaking, subcritical CO2 extraction is a similar process to supercritical, but it operates on lower temperatures and lower pressure.
Although it takes more time and is less efficient, it retains more cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils, reflecting the original phytochemical profile of cannabis.
Unlike subcritical CO2 extraction, the supercritical method produces a thicker oil that has a consistency similar to peanut butter. That’s because the higher temperatures and pressure can extract larger compounds, such as chlorophyll, waxes, and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. Then, the product goes through the winterization process, which removes these substances, leaving behind the filtered CBD oil.
Subcritical CO2, on the other hand, yields extracts that look and feel like molasses.
Benefits of CO2 Extraction
The major benefit of using a CO2-extracted cannabis extract is the lack of additional solvents or too high temperatures. CO2 is considered a ‘green solvent.’ The use of carbon dioxide yields cleaner and healthier products. CO2 is a natural ingredient that appears as part of the breathing process upon exhaling.
Unlike solvents such as butane, supercritical CO2 doesn’t leave behind any toxic chemical residues. It is also recyclable, which makes it cost-effective.
The benefits of CO2 extraction include:
- It is inert, non-flammable, and non-toxic.
- CO2 has moderate critical points
- The solvation potency can be fine-tuned by adjusting the compound’s density.
- It yields large quantities of pure extracts.
- CO2 enters its supercritical state in near-ambient temperatures, so it’s a perfect solvent for extracting volatile compounds.
CO2 Extraction and CBD Entourage Effect
Aside from providing a clean product, the biggest advantage of using CO2 extraction is its ability to extract larger quantities of cannabinoids and terpenes than other methods. The cannabis plant contains over 115 identified cannabinoids on top of hundreds of terpenes and flavonoids. Even though CBD and THC share many similar benefits, an increasing number of researchers now believe that the real magic happens when you can get all the naturally occurring compounds together in one product.
Although not as abundant as CBD and THC, cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN) have potential health benefits as well. For instance, CBN has a link with a significant decrease in physical discomfort levels, while CBG has neuroprotective effects.
Then there are terpenes, which also modulate the effects of cannabinoids. For example, limonene can increase the absorption of cannabinoids and enhance other terpenes, while alpha-pinene could counteract short-term memory problems associated with THC. Myrcene may reduce resistance in the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more effective passage of beneficial chemicals in the body.
The above effects are described as the entourage effect. This phenomenon refers to the synergy between all cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds; the synergistic effects amplify the benefits of the CBD extract while modulating potential side effects. While high-quality CBD isolate has its applications, full-spectrum products are potentially a better option if the user is looking to maximize the efficacy of their CBD oil.
CO2 Extraction Equipment: Why Are Some CBD Oils More Expensive Than Others?
We’re not going to deny that supercritical CO2 extraction is expensive, which carries over to the final price of CBD oils that are extracted with this method. Companies invest heavy financial resources in equipment and the team of qualified scientists who will operate the machines. Only then can we talk about high-quality products.
An average cost of a CO2 extraction machine is around $450,000 — and there are certainly more expensive units out there. Within this price range, you can buy a machine that will process up to 200 pounds of dried plant material each day. That’s why it’s possible to produce premium CBD extracts on a broad scale. The CO2 extraction system has the biggest workloads in the industry.
The features of CO2 extraction machines include:
- High capacity
- Full automation
- The ability to mix supercritical and subcritical extractions
- A built-in CO2 storage tank.
Of course, you can find some budget-friendly powerhouses — around $175,000 — but they will be able to process less material than those from the top shelf. Such models usually process up to 107 pounds of biomass each day, which is still enough to run massive operations.
Small-scale businesses that want to employ CO2 extraction in their production practices can purchase extractors for “as little as” $4,000, although they look like dollhouses compared to the large-scale machines.
Nevertheless, one shouldn’t expect CO2-extracted CBD oils to be “cheap,” as this is a wrong oxymoron.
A Final Word on CO2 Extraction
When buying full-spectrum CBD oil, it’s wise to invest more money in a high-quality product that will not only be potent but also pure and safe for consumption. Most reputable manufacturers use supercritical CO2 extraction to make CBD extracts. Pressurized carbon dioxide yields clean and healthy products due to the lack of toxic solvent residue.
Another major benefit of CO2 extraction is the ability of CO2 to pull as many desired compounds from the plant as possible. This makes CO2-extracted CBD oil a more ‘complete’ product,’ as it squeezes the most out of the original phytochemical content of cannabis. A growing number of researchers and experts recommend such products and believe they provide better and more consistent results than isolates.
While CO2 extraction makes CBD oils more expensive than other methods, keep in mind that the investment is on both sides. The manufacturer invests a lot of money in high-tech equipment and knowledgeable staff, so the price is actually the reflection of that investment. No company will be charitable enough to sell their products at a loss.
CBD Oil and the CO2 Extraction Process
When you use CBD — or really, any supplement, when you think about it — you want to know that the product you’re putting into your body is pure and healthy. What you don’t want are a bunch of residual chemicals that can be harmful to your health. And beyond that, in the case of the cannabis plant, where you’re trusting that the extraction process being used is actually getting everything out of the plant that you expect — all the cannabinoids , terpenes, flavonoids and so forth — you want to make sure that process is doing its job and delivering you the most potent product it can.
This is why, at CBDfx, we always use CO2 extraction , so that you can be sure that your hemp-derived CBD is free from all the potentially toxic solvents you’ll find in cheaper CBD brands. But just what is CO2 extraction , and how exactly does using this form of extraction ensure a purer form of CBD oil ? Let’s take a look.
Know Your Cannabis: A Quick Primer on Hemp and CBD Oil
Before we get into CBD extraction, we should begin with a little lesson on what exactly it is that we’re extracting. Every CBD product is formulated using CBD oil, whether it’s a CBD oil tincture, like our CBD + CBG Wellness Tincture , or a CBD edible, like Mixed Berry CBD Gummies . CBD oil is derived from the type of cannabis plant called hemp . Hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC. THC is the cannabinoid (more on that term in a second) that people use to get high, such as when they use the high-THC form of cannabis known as marijuana . But we’re dealing with hemp here, so no one is getting high from this oil.
Cannabinoids and CBD
Cannabis has several intriguing chemical compounds in it. The most notable of these cannabis-derived compounds are called cannabinoids . Cannabinoids are produced by the hemp plant to protect its surface from the elements and from insect predators. Cannabinoids also attract pollinators, which helps to perpetuate the species of the plant. CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the 100-plus cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Other cannabinoids include CBC , CBG , CBN, and THC.
CBD Oil: What Else Gets Extracted With CBD?
Hemp also produces terpenes , which are compounds that are largely responsible for the smell and taste of a plant. Cannabis has over 150 terpenes that we’ve identified. Like cannabinoids, terpenes are beneficial to the plant because they repel pests and attract pollinators. And like CBD and other cannabinoids, terpenes have beneficial effects on animals (including humans), who have an endocannabinoid system , a cell-signaling system that helps the various systems and organs in the body to maintain homeostasis, or balance.
Does lavender always relax you? The terpene linalool (found in lavender) likely plays a role, due to its binding with receptors to produce these effects. Have you heard of people using ginger root for discomfort? The terpene caryophyllene likely plays a vital role in this response. So, like cannabinoids, terpenes are a valuable component of hemp oil.
Cannabis also has 20 different flavonoids , which can have antioxidant and other beneficial properties. Plus, hemp can yield healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids . In all, the hemp plant yields an extremely rich combination of compounds. It’s no wonder that CBD oil has become such a popular wellness product!
CBD Extraction Methods
Just because hemp has all of these goodies tucked inside it, it doesn’t mean your oil is necessarily going to reflect that. Older extraction methods for CBD, such as steam distillation, proved to be inefficient, leaving much of the cannabinoids and other compounds behind in the hemp plant. When solvent extraction became the method of choice, this brought along new problems, as residue from the solvent used to extract the CBD oil was left behind in the oil itself. When that solvent was something like butane, that meant harmful chemicals had the potential of showing up in the oil that was passed on to consumers. What was needed was an extraction method that was clean, like steam distillation, but more efficient in extracting all of the valuable contents from the cannabis buds, leaves and stalks.
Carbon Dioxide and CBD: Using CO2 for Cannabis Oil Extraction
So, what is CO2 extraction and why is this extraction process better than others for removing CBD from the hemp plant?
Where do we even start? CO2 extraction is superior in almost every measurable way: your health as a consumer, the environment, ease of manufacturing, sustainability, and cost. Let’s take a look at how extraction of oil from the cannabis plant with CO2 works.
How Does Supercritical CBD Oil Extraction Work?
As we mentioned earlier, solvent extraction for CBD oil from the hemp plant can leave behind harmful residues. CO2 extraction is a much cleaner extraction process. CO2 (carbon dioxide) is an incredibly abundant compound. In fact, every breath you exhale is CO2, as you probably know.
By cooling CO2 to freezing temperatures and compressing the gas, it becomes what we refer to as “supercritical.” That means we’ve basically turned a gas into a cold liquid that still has some gas-like characteristics. For CO2, that’s especially interesting, because carbon dioxide doesn’t normally exist in liquid form. As we said, CO2 is incredibly abundant in its natural gas form; and it’s not that hard to make it a solid, either (solid carbon dioxide is just dry ice!). In order to make CO2 act like a liquid, though, it needs to be under tremendous amounts of pressure, while being cooled to around -57 degrees Celsius.
Once this occurs, we can make the carbon dioxide “supercritical,” which allows the expert CBDfx lab staff to adjust the CO2’s solubility and fine-tune exactly what they’re trying to extract from the plant matter.
It’s a little complicated, but the general way CO2 extraction of hemp oil works is as follows:
- Create supercritical (liquid) CO2.
- Alter pressure and temperature, depending on what’s being extracted and the goals of the extraction.
- Pass the supercritical CO2 through an extractor containing the plant matter itself.
- A solution forms as a combination of the CO2 and cannabinoids, terpenes and other plant-based compounds.
- Pass the new solution through a separator to quickly and easily remove (and recycle!) the liquid CO2.
- Leave the new wax/oil extract out to allow any remaining CO2 to naturally evaporate.
The Benefits of Supercritical CO2 Extraction for Cannabidiol
Why use CO2 extraction for CBD oil, as opposed to chemical solvents or distillation? The benefits and superiority of the CO2 extraction method are pretty clear:
- Isolation: Instead of getting a reduction from the plant that contains who knows what, CO2 extraction of cannabinoids allows for hyper-detailed targeting of exactly the compounds that the laboratory is trying to isolate. This leads to better products and more informed consumer choices.
- Health: Carbon dioxide is an abundant gas in our atmosphere, and is totally safe to be used as an extractant. Methods of oil extraction using harsh chemical solvents, like butane, can leave residual chemicals that simply do not belong in your body.
- Customisation: Thanks to the “tunable” nature of CO2 extraction, the CBDfx labs are able to obtain CBD in an array of physical forms, ranging from almost crystalline, to waxy, to oily, and everything in between.
- Taste/Aesthetics: Hemp oils that have been extracted using alcohol and/or butane can have a very noticeable “chemical” taste to them, and are usually created absent the most aromatic terpenes. CO2 extraction preserves the natural flavour and smells of the source plant and doesn’t inject nasty chemicals into the equation.
- Environment: As we mentioned, at the end of the process, the supercritical CO2 is recyclable. And even better, the residual CO2 in the CBD concentrate itself doesn’t need any fancy process to be removed — it simply evaporates on its own, exactly like a soft drink losing its carbonation after it sits out for a day!
Final Thoughts on CO2 Extraction for CBD Oil
As you’ve hopefully learned from this blog, the use of CO2 extraction to create CBD oil (or any other hemp oil, for that matter) is by far the most preferable way to create these wonderful products.
Therefore, it’s very important for you as a CBD user to be an informed consumer when it comes to the products you buy. The sad reality is that there are many companies out there trying to make a quick buck off of hastily made, shoddy oils that are rife with butane residue or ethanol. These companies would rather keep making their oils the old way, with apparently little regard for their customers’ health.
At CBDfx , it’s been our mission from day one to offer the cleanest, purest product possible to our valued customers, with the utmost transparency. We’ve carefully considered quality and sustainability at every step of the process, leading to products that:
- Are all-natural (and mostly vegan, too!)
- Are made with CBD oil derived by CO2 extraction
- Come with third-party lab reports to confirm their purity
- Originate from hemp farms that we personally select for their sustainable farming practises
Whether you use CBD once in a while or multiple times a day, it’s in your best interest to make sure that you understand what you’re putting into your body. By committing to only using CBD products that have been CO2 extracted, you’re making a choice to live a healthier life. And that’s something that fits right in with our mission here at CBDfx.
Ready to explore our pure, all-natural, CO2-extracted oils? Check out our entire CBD oil collection!