Although cannabis has been valued for its therapeutic and medicinal value for thousands of years, the legally recognized commercial cannabis industry is relatively new. And now, with increasing legislation around cannabis legalization and regulation being passed in the past few decades, the industry continues to open up—both for hemp-based cannabis products and for medicinal- and recreational-marijuana products.
The issue of legality is an important one: the plant’s status has a direct impact on the amount of institutional research that can be conducted around its uses. And as cannabis-based products continue to enter the market at an exponential rate, it has become more and more important to develop standardized ways to identify, isolate and allocate for use the various compounds found in the plant. Further, it is critical—both for regulatory purposes and to ensure product quality for purchasers—that a dependable, easily replicable method for extracting the plant’s essential, commercially viable components, exists.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of cannabis’s popular compounds and, unlike the better-known compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a key ingredient in marijuana, it is notable for its lack of mood-altering properties. This makes it an easy fit for entrepreneurial companies looking to harness its helpful powers, which are many: it is very effective for managing inflammation and pain, it can be used as a nutritional supplement and it has even been shown to contain some anti-tumor properties among other impressive benefits.
The many proven and countless prospective benefits of CBD can only be discovered by experimenting and researching with pure CBD. Whether you are interested in the research possibilities of CBD, or are thinking about buying CBD isolate for your own usage, in this post we will provide you with a general overview into the process of making pure CBD.
It starts with a seed
The process of making pure CBD starts with a fully grown cannabis plant. Cannabis cultivators selectively breed plants with high concentrations of CBD so that they have a good foundation from which to extract the compound.
Most of the time, pure CBD is extracted from hemp, which is a variety of cannabis sativa. It is similar to the plant that most consumers associate with marijuana, although the two differ in several important chemical and physical ways—notably, in their concentrations of mood-altering THC. However, it is not absolutely necessary to extract CBD from hemp: cannabis buds that are high in both CBD and THC can be used to extract pure CBD, so it is possible to derive the substance from either strain of cannabis plant.
Isolating CBD from cannabis
Once the CBD-rich cannabis plant is harvested and dried out, the CBD can be extracted and isolated through two steps. First, the oils are extracted from the hemp plant. Then, the CBD itself is isolated from every other compound found in the plant’s oil.
Step 1: Oil extraction
This step is most commonly and efficiently achieved by using a solvent to extract the oils from the hemp plant (some other, less-popular techniques include using a heated press or even ice water).
A solvent is a solution used to absorb a desired compound, molecule, etc. In this case, the solvent is any solution that can absorb the hemp oil, and the hemp oil itself is referred to as the solute because it is what is being absorbed.
CO2 is one of the most commonly used solvents in the extraction process. The plant material is ground up and placed in a container where CO2 can be run through it. We will cover the scientific pieces of this process further in a coming article, but for the purposes of general education, just know that the first step is to extract the oils from the cannabis plant.
Once the CO2 is pumped through the plant material, what remains is a combination of the plant’s oil and the solvent. The next step is to purge the CO2 out of this solution so that only the pure cannabis oil is left behind. This oil is rich with all of the cannabinoids and other plant materials that are naturally found in the plant’s oil.
The next step is to isolate the CBD from all the other compounds found in the oil, so that what is left is just crystalline CBD.
Step 2: CBD isolation
The most common method for isolating the CBD cannabinoids from pure CBD oil is through a filtration process. What is left after this often-proprietary process (which many companies guard fiercely and which we will cover in a more specific way in a future article) is crystalline, pure CBD.
Chromatography is a popular industrial method of filtration that is used in isolating pure CBD from other cannabinoids in the cannabis oil. Chromatography involves using a purification material, in this case silica, to filter the THC and CBD cannabinoids into a solution by applying pressure.
As the cannabinoids travel through the silica, the smaller CBD molecules move to the bottom more quickly than the bigger, THC ones. Once the two elements separate, it becomes possible to remove the CBD solution from the other materials that are being isolated. This is almost the end of the process—at this stage, the next and final step in the process is to heat the CBD solution in order to evaporate its liquid, “carrier” portion. Once the solution itself evaporates through this application of heat, what remains is the pure, crystalline CBD.
CBD is a valuable substance in both the medical and cosmetic markets and its properties are becoming more and more accepted into mainstream usage. Therefore, the necessity for reputable companies to be able not only to extract high-quality pure CBD, but also to document and replicate its processes, has never been more clear.
For further, more-detailed information about this process, including why it is necessary for companies, legislators and consumers alike, as well as a short guide to identifying reputable products, please ask us in the comments. And for general information, or to learn more about the other ways in which you can extract pure CBD oil and isolate the pure CBD from that oil, check out some other resources online.