Hemp Extraction Methods
You’ve probably already heard of the different types of hemp extracts available. And if you haven’t, click here! While you may have familiarized yourself with CBD isolate, full spectrum extracts, and even nanoemulsions, have you ever thought about what goes into making these different types of extracts? In this article, we’ll take a look behind the scenes and into the processes that transform the hemp plant, into hemp oil.
Though hemp extraction techniques can differ greatly from one to the next, they all share the same starting point: the hemp harvest.
Every fall - or every growing cycle, if grown indoors - mature flowers are cut from the female hemp plant. These flowers are usually placed in a temperature and humidity controlled environment to fully dry. At this point, they’ll be about 10-20% CBDa by dry weight, which means it’s time for extraction!
It’s important to note that the goal of any hemp extraction is to potentiate the healing compounds already found in hemp. Just as taking aspirin is better than chewing on the tree bark it came from, it’s more effective and much more pleasant to take 1 mL of hemp oil than it is to eat several grams of raw hemp.
In the case of hemp, the goal of extraction is to pull - or extract - active ingredients like cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. out of the plant’s biomass and into a more concentrated form. The ideal extraction would achieve this without skewing the ratio of one active ingredient to the next. For example, if a pound of hemp flower contains 10% CBD and .5% total terpene content, then its finished extract should still contain 20 times more CBD Than terpenes.
In theory, this may all sound pretty simple, but the complex chemical makeup of hemp makes its extractions more nuanced in practice. There are four major types of hemp extractions, explained in more detail below.
Butane extractions have a long and troubled history within the world of cannabis. Many manufacturers use butane because of its high yields, as it’s able to ‘pull’ over 90% of the cannabinoids out of hemp, but that’s about the extent of its strengths. While butane is indeed a very strong solvent, it favors some terpenes to the detriment of others, leading to unnatural terpene profiles.
Butane is also explosive, which means butane extractions require the use of pressurized equipment - and extreme caution. Even if an extraction is done safely, the concentrate it produces must be placed in a vacuum oven to ensure that trace amounts of butane are completely filtered out. This ‘vac-ing’ process causes more terpene evaporation, and is easy to leave unfinished.
The end product of butane extraction is often called full spectrum, but is usually at least a little incomplete. All in all, we at Legends see plenty of reasons to avoid butane extraction altogether.
Super Critical C02
CO2 extractions are probably the most popular type of extraction used by hemp processors today. In this kind of extraction, CO2 is blasted at high pressure through a column of plant material. This process is safer and often faster than butane extraction, and doesn’t usually leave any chemical residue behind.
Many companies claim a full spectrum extract while using CO2, but sadly, this is impossible from a physics standpoint. CO2’s chemical makeup means that it’s only a conditional solvent, unable to extract the full range of compounds found in hemp.
CO2 extractions are also unpredictable, making quality control and lab testing an issue. An extraction might concentrate one terpene up to 20-30 times higher than what the plant itself contained, while leaving another terpene out entirely. While C02 is safe, it doesn’t give reliable, consistent results.
Ethanol (Specifically Cold Ethanol, Sub 20 Degrees)
Ethanol extractions have risen in popularity recently, for good reason. If food grade, 99.9% pure ethanol is used, this extraction method is entirely free of harmful residual solvents. Extractions themselves are safe, and less technical than what either butane or CO2 entail.
Ethanol is also a very reliable solvent. It produces the most “honest” full spectrum extract of any solvent on the market today, preserving terpenes, flavonoids, and other important trace biomolecules.
Pharmacist Ethan Carruthers prefers ethanol extractions for this very reason. So do we! With ethanol, one can get the best of both worlds: a solvent-free end-product and maximum terpene yields, true to the hemp plant’s original form.
Freeon 134 A
Freeon Extraction is a newer method that promises accurate yields and a solvent-free extract. Unfortunately, in the United States, both Freeon and its specialized extraction machines are difficult to obtain. In the future, Freeon looks promising, and may well become the extraction of choice in the next 5-10 years. Manufacturers that currently use it at production volumes are right on the cutting edge - and hard to find.
At Legends Health, we acknowledge the valuable role that different extraction methods fill, so long as they are safe and solvent free.
Legends Isolate uses supercritical CO2 extraction to produce its blend of potent, pure CBD, while Legends Full Spectrum utilizes food grade ethanol extraction to harness the full goodness of hemp. Our Full Spectrum oil uses a closed loop process to preserve terpenes where they should be, and all other trace cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are also preserved.
Our products are Halal, Kosher, organically grown, and extensively lab tested, providing everyone the freedom to enjoy them and reap CBD’s health benefits. They contain:
- No external additives
- No THC
- No solvents
- No heavy metals
- No pesticides