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Most regular users of cannabidiol (CBD) know some of the basic background facts about the cannabinoid, such as some of its effects and the different methods of ingestion. Of course these are important things to know if you are thinking about or are currently on a CBD regimen, but more information at your disposal is always better. The ways in which CBD is actually extracted from cannabis and hemp plants is also important information to understand because it can affect everything from the potency of the CBD oil you are using to how much of other cannabinoids, such as THC, may be in your oil. This short article will discuss what extraction is, why it is done, and the various methods of extraction.

What Is Extraction and Why Is it Done?

Extraction is simply the method whereby CBD is removed from cannabis or hemp without other cannabinoids, such as THC. CBD can be extracted from hemp, which usually contains very little THC, or from marijuana that has different levels of THC (IntelliCBD 2019). Generally speaking, CBD is extracted from plants with at least an 18% CBD volume and a maximum 5% THC volume, although there is no strict rule regarding those numbers (Marijuana Break Staff 2018). Now that extraction has been defined, it is important to consider why it is done.

The primary purpose of extraction is to capture CBD in a highly concentrated form that people can consume (Marijuana Break Staff 2018). Since the nature of CBD consumption is so different than that of THC, this is extremely important. THC can be consumed simply by smoking a marijuana plant, but in order to get the maximum medicinal effects of CBD it must be isolated from THC and other cannabinoids. It is true that by smoking marijuana one will also ingest some beneficial CBDs, but many people either don’t want to feel the effects of the THC or can’t due to work or other obligations, which is why it is important to extract only CBD from marijuana plants. Now that the what and the why concerning CBD extraction has been answered, we will examine some of the most common ways it is extracted.

Supercritical Extraction

The newest and most efficient way to extract CBD from hemp or marijuana is known as “supercritical extraction.” Like many new technologies and discoveries, supercritical extraction was first utilized for reasons other than what it is used for now, at least as it pertains to the medical cannabis industry. Supercritical extraction first gained widespread use in the petroleum industry in the 1970s (Sapkale et. al. 2010, 731) and after it was successfully used in that industry for a number of years, enterprising engineers began thinking of new ways they could use the process, which is how it made its way into the CBD industry.

Essentially, the process involves separating the extractant, in this case CBD, from the matrix, which would be the hemp or marijuana, to get the intended result (Sapkale et. al. 2010, 731). This is achieved through a fairly complex process whereby CO2 is applied to the matrix under high pressure while maintaining a very low temperature, with the gas passing through the plant in a liquid form, resulting in a 90% extraction efficiency (IntelliCBD 2019). The supercritical extraction process has many benefits that consumers like, such as the product having very few solvent residues and whatever CO2 is left is environmentally benign (Sapkale et. al. 739-41). The primary drawbacks to this method involve the knowledge and equipment needed. The equipment can be very expensive and much of it cannot be found in regular department stores and if one has the equipment it takes considerable background knowledge to operate the equipment effectively and safely. In other words, if you are sitting on a large amount of hemp or marijuana plants and are thinking of extracting CBD oils from the plants yourself, you may want to consider another method.

Closely related to supercritical extraction are subcritical and midcritical extraction. These two methods involve the same basic process as supercritical extraction, but with some minor differences. The subcritical extraction method takes place under lower pressure, which means that larger molecules such as chlorophyll are not extracted from the final CBD product, which many consumers may not like, but the process is less likely to damage beneficial terpenes (Marijuana Break Staff 2018). Midcritical extraction, as the name denotes, is a process that uses temperatures and pressures between the other two critical extraction methods. The midcritical extraction method usually creates a less pure form of CBD oil and is often used to create full-spectrum oils (Marijuana Break Staff 2018).

Ethanol Extraction

One of the easiest ways to extract CBD from hemp or marijuana is by using ethanol. It also does not take much equipment other than the ingredients, but the downside is that it that because ethanol mixes with water, it will dissolve water soluble molecules, giving it a dark look and a bitter taste. CBD oils extracted from cannabis are generally considered to be lower in quality (IntelliCBD 2019).

Hydrocarbon Extraction

The hydrocarbon extraction method has gained popularity in recent years as a similar process has been used to produce a concentrated form of THC known as “dabs” or “wax.” Like ethanol extraction, the hydrocarbon method is fairly straightforward. A hydrocarbon – such as butane, pentane, propane, hexane, isopropyl alcohol, or acetone – is used as a solvent to extract the CBD from the plant. It is an easy and cheap method of extraction that anyone can do, but it produces a CBD oil with less beneficial terpenes and more THC. The process can also be dangerous as it involves flammable materials and the final product often contains some of the solvent (IntelliCBD 2019).

Lipid Extraction

The lipid extraction method may be familiar to many who cook their own edible THC products. The process simply involves cooking the ground up cannabis with a plant based oil, such as coconut, olive, or vegetable oil, to “capture” the CBD oils. The plant oil is usually heated in a pan at around 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour and then the plant material is added and cooked at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit for another two hours. The method is easy and cheap but time consuming. The final product is also very perishable so it must be used within a relatively short period of time (Marijuana Break Staff 2018).

Dry Ice

The final CBD extraction method to be considered here is dry ice. The basic concept is similar to CO2 extraction, in that low instead of high temperatures are used to extract the CBD oils, but the process is quite different. The cannabis is placed in a bucket and covered with dry ice. It is then strained for the trichomes, which are frozen. Dry ice extraction is fairly easy to learn, cheap, and the final product can be stored for quite a long time in a freezer, but the quality is considerably lower than the other methods (Marijuana Break Staff 2018).


Most CBD consumers know about the plethora of health benefits that can be derived from its use, but at the same time few know about the science of how CBD oils are made. The strength, spectrum, and even price of the CBD oils you take for your health are directly related to how they are extracted from hemp and marijuana plants. As a consumer, the more you know about the extraction methods will help you make more informed purchasing choices and the knowledge of these methods may guide you if you are considering making your own CBD oils.


IntelliCBD. 2019. “Extraction Methods: How are CBD Oils and CBD Isolate Made?” IntelliCBD. Accessed January 12, 2019. extracted/.

Marijuana Break Staff. 2018. “The Complete Guide to CBD Extractions (CO2 Cannabis Extraction, Olive Oil, and Solvents): the 101 Guide.” Last modified September 7, 2018. Accessed January 15, 2019.

Sapkale, G. N., S. M. Ptil, U. S. Surwase, and P. K. Bhatbhage. 2010. “Supercritical Fluid Extraction.” International Journal of Chemical Studies 8: 729-743. Accessed January 17, 2019.

**All Doer CBD products contain CBD extracted using the Supercritical Co2 Method.**

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CBD Co2 Ethanol Extraction Hydrocarbon Lipid Supercritical

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