How Is CBD Extracted From The Hemp Plant?

The CBD Manufacturing Process Explained

The CBD Manufacturing Process Explained

Ever wondered why CBD manufacturers prefer hemp plants ahead of ‘classic’ marijuana varieties?

Legalities aside, it all comes down to the fact that while hemp still contains a little psychoactive THC (the component that gets you high) it’s much easier to remove when present in lesser amounts.

While it’s possible to create CBD extracts using marijuana plants, they are almost always well over the legal maximum amount of THC (unless used in legal areas or as part of a medically approved and licensed program).

Hemp is used for a huge variety of purposes – and has been for many hundreds of years. But it must be processed in order to extract the CBD (and other cannabinoids) for use in the supplements which we are increasingly familiar with today.

So what are the methods used to perform this crucial task? As we shall see, there are a few options – and it’s important to know how your chosen extract was produced, as it often is a key indicator of quality and effectiveness.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction

Supercritical CO2 Extraction Method

Broadly speaking, the majority of ‘premium’ CBD products that deserve such a label will exclusively use CO2 extraction methods.

The science is pretty straightforward and involves combining high pressure at low temperatures to produce a very concentrated extract containing all molecular features of the plant.

This can then be filtered to remove any unwanted components (such as THC). This is the exact same extraction method used for decaffeinating coffee beans.

How many times this process is performed depends on the manufacturer. Some prefer to repeat this process – just to ensure that the resulting product is within legal thresholds and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and minerals are retained. Others do their best to entirely eliminate those as well to try and produce a CBD isolate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this is regarded as the most environmentally sound way to produce very high-grade extracts.

The downside is that it’s comparatively time-consuming and expensive – with those costs accounting for the high prices that such products can usually command.

Ethanol-Based Extraction

CBD Ethanol Extraction Process

Not long ago ethanol extraction was frowned upon but methods have improved considerably in more recent years.

This form of extraction involves using an alcohol solvent (ethanol) which absorbs the desired cannabinoids out of the hemp plant. Once completed this is then filtered – and here’s where the difference matters…

Some manufacturers will take great care to remove the overwhelming majority of the ethanol resulting in a good CBD extract. Others – usually those looking to produce in bulk for cheap retail prices – will take far less care with the result being a heavily diluted and low-efficiency extract.

However, don’t completely rule out ethanol produced extracts because some manufacturers have been able to use cold filtration methods to produce as near a perfect quality as those used in CO2 production.

Just perform your homework first, and bear in mind that each batch may vary in quality.

Reputable companies will provide and often even publish batch testing results to prove the quality of their extraction methods.

Hydrocarbon Extraction (Now Rarely Used)

Hydrocarbon extraction techniques were among the earliest used, primarily when trying to produce marijuana oils for recreational use.

It shouldn’t require much explaining that this is hardly ideal for manufacturing CBD isolates!

It was still used until a decade or so ago – usually by combining propane/butane/pentane to extract a low quality and often contaminated extract.

Needless to say, the use of these chemicals was dangerous for both the manufacturer and potentially even the end user.

It’s very rare to find any CBD products produced this way anymore (thankfully).

Lipid-Based Extraction

Lipid Extraction Method For CBD

There’s been a recent growth in the use of lipid extraction in legal US states, but it’s not something you’ll frequently find in the UK.

Very occasionally you may find a product that claims to use lipids to extract the desired cannabinoids.

These lipids (fats) are usually coconut or hemp oils. While they require no chemicals at all, measuring the levels of cannabinoids – especially THC – is difficult so you can never be sure what you are getting.

What Then Happens To Your Extract?

OK, so we have an extract – now what?

Some companies, especially those who appreciate the entourage effect such as Love CBD (combined additional cannabinoids = better product) will simply finish here and bend these oils into their products.

Yet there are additional processing methods which can be used to produce isolates. These are often marketed as containing ‘zero’ THC – with the downside being that the vast majority of those other terpenes and cannabinoids apart from CBD are usually also lost.

There’s a large market for isolates not only because they contain the lowest possible amount of THC, but also because some people believe (rightly or wrongly) that core parts of the chemical breakdown of the hemp plant are particularly useful.


Some companies decarboxylate their oils, whilst others do not.

Decarboxylation looks to remove psychoactive THC but retaining THCa (non-psychoactive) while helping to convert CBDA to CBD. Some people prefer it, others find it to be over-processed and contrary to the theory of the ‘entourage effect’.

Winterisation is another process worth being aware of. This involves freezing and keeping the oil for a period of time while the residual waxes, solvents, and lipids separate.

Once this is complete it’s possible to remove them so you have an extract that’s nothing but highly concentrated pure cannabinoids.

The removal of terpenes – often believed to be key to the efficacy of CBD – is the problem, but again some people prefer it.

Final Thoughts

It’s always a good idea to understand how your product was manufactured.

While most manufacturers will use good quality industrial hemp as their raw product, what happens afterwards can wildly vary in terms of quality.

The chances are that you’ll have seen ‘total’ CBD isolates on the market which is literally single molecule oil. These are entirely flavourless and retain no aspect of the organic plant at all (usually produced using a chromatography technique).

At the end of the day, if that’s what you want then, by all means, go ahead. But be aware that there’s a growing body of research – and masses of anecdotal evidence – that suggests effective CBD products tend to use a broader spectrum of the plant.