CBD 101: Extraction Methods

Categories:CBD
Chief Smoke 'n Brew

To create CBD oils, gummies, salves, and most other products you’ll find on our shelves (outside of pure hemp flower, of course), cannabidiol must be extracted from hemp plants. There are a handful of common extraction methods, each with its own upsides and disadvantages. Most products don’t explicitly mention their extraction method on product labeling, though there are some words to look out for that will help you figure out which method they use. Understanding extraction methods and the type of product they create is essential in knowing which CBD brand is right for you.


In this post, we’ll cover the two most common extraction methods used by large-scale CBD companies: ethanol and CO2 extraction.

Ethanol Extraction

We trust most Smoke N Brew customers are familiar with ethanol, at least those who visit our beer aisles.


Ethanol is a natural substance made by fermenting sugar with yeast and is the basis for all alcoholic drinks. It is a versatile chemical compound that is also used as a medical antiseptic, fuel, and—most importantly for this article—a chemical solvent.


To extract CBD from hemp, plants and pure ethanol are combined in a large vat. The mixture is shaken around, then the liquid drained. The liquid is then slowly cooked at a low temperature until all of the alcohol has dissolved. This leaves you with a relatively small amount of pure CBD extract that is then combined with oil or blended into a cream.


To get an idea of the basic principles governing alcohol extraction, you can watch the video below. While industrial extraction methods are far more sophisticated than the quick method shown here, they often operate on the same principles of agitating, heating, and slowly dissolving the ethanol solution.

CO2 Extraction

CO2 is another familiar compound for those of you who were paying attention in bio class. Carbon dioxide is a natural, colorless, odorless gas. It is a byproduct of the human respiratory system: we breathe in oxygen and exhale CO2, which is then used by plants in the process of photosynthesis. It’s also created by burning carbon and organic material, making it the leading greenhouse gas.


CO2 extraction uses supercritical CO2 (SCCO2), which is carbon dioxide in a state where the liquid and gas states of the compound have the same density. This allows CO2 to travel into the plant matter like a gas, and pull soluble compounds like CBD out of hemp, like a liquid. This process also allows manufacturers to pick and choose the compounds they want to extract from the plant with a simple change in pressure or heat.

CBD Isolate

Once a hemp extract is created, there are further processes that can isolate pure CBD, removing all of the terpenes and other cannabinoids. Isolate is ideal for customers who want a THC-free product (remember that hemp has 0.3% THC by dry weight, so some of that ends up in a hemp extract). Because it’s THC-free, isolate is used to create more potent CBD products. THC and CBD content are linked in full-spectrum products, so most top out around 600mg CBD per ounce in order to stay under the 0.3% legal limit on THC content. Isolates can get well over 1000mg per ounce.

Pros and Cons

Ethanol is an effective, natural way to extract vital phytonutrients from hemp plants. It creates a full-spectrum oil with all of the terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids, and other nutrients present. Ethanol is safe for consumption, so the risk of harmful contaminants from the extraction process is usually low. The one common complaint is with ethanol extraction is that the method pulls chlorophyll from the plant, giving the resulting liquid a green hue and grassy taste. While some enjoy the pure plant taste, it isn’t for everyone.

CO2 extraction is a much faster process. Where large-scale ethanol extraction can take up to a month, CO2 extraction on the same scale takes a fraction of the time. This helps increase a manufacturers output. However, some of the terpenes present in hemp plants are destroyed, weakened, or left out of the final extract solution. Some say this makes the final product weaker, citing the entourage effect.

Choosing the Right Product

When choosing a CBD product, you should consider which factors matter to you. We suggest you look into each extraction method further, as well as doing further digging into the entourage effect and isolates. A better understanding of how hemp extraction works lets you make a more informed decision as a customer.

Smoke N Brew stocks oils, creams, vapes, gummies, and more crafted using all of the above methods. Once you know which kind of hemp extract you’re looking for, come visit us.


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