CBD Distillation is the process of distilling CBD oil to produce a highly potent CBD distillate. Distillation is an important step in producing medicinal hemp products such as CBD oil tinctures, CBD oil capsules and other CBD products.

What is CBD Oil?

CBD oil is, in its simplest terms, oil that is extracted from the cannabis plant. Cannabis is also commonly called hemp. Hemp is a versatile plant that is related to the marijuana plant but is different in several important ways. CBD oil is most specifically termed “cannabidiol,” which is one of 85 cannabinoids identified in the cannabis plant.

CBD oil only contains tiny amounts of THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana. This lack of THC means that CBD oil is non-psychotropic and non-psychoactive. So, to answer an often-wondered question: no, CBD will not make you feel “high.” CBD oil allows the user to dose cannabidiol and other cannabinoids, amino acids and terpenes that are found in medical marijuana — without the high associated with marijuana. CBD’s general effects are currently the subject of excitement and scrutiny in the scientific and medical worlds, as research on cannabidiol continues to evolve.

How is CBD Extracted From Cannabis?

Efficiently extracting CBD oil from cannabis or hemp requires the use of specialized techniques to ensure that the cannabinoids are not damaged by heat or solvents. To really understand the newest techniques of CBD extraction, it’s important to get a good background on the older approaches to extract just about every other type of essential oil as well. If you are buying CBD oil, it’s important to know which CBD oil extraction process is used to make your oil, and ensure that it’s the highest quality possible.

What Is Steam Distillation?

Steam distillation is a technique that has been used for centuries to extract essential oil from plant material. It’s a very simple concept that uses heat in the form of steam to break the essential oil free from the plant material. Industrial steam distillation setups can be large and very mechanical, but simple distillation setups can resemble a simple chemistry glassware set.

Basically, a container with water is put on a burner. It will have an outlet that feeds into a plant material flask. The plant material flask will have an inlet and an outlet. As the steam rises from the container through the plant material, essential oil vapors are released. These essential oil vapors are collected in a condenser tube that condenses the vapors into a hydrosol. This hydrosol is a mixture of water and essential oil. Further work is done to separate the oil from the hydrosol.

The biggest advantage of steam distillation is that it’s simple and just about anyone can do it. All they need is a simple chemical glassware set. The process is fairly straightforward and with a little practice, anyone with access to sufficient plant material can make their own CBD oil. Unfortunately, there are downsides and this can make it cost prohibitive.

Steam Distillation has two very important downsides:

  • It’s notoriously inefficient. Important oils are left behind in the extraction process. Steam distillation only collects a portion of the essential oils. This means that you need a lot more plant material to get the same amount of oil.
  • The steam heat is known to kill or damage some essential oils. This can affect the chemical and physical properties of the cannabinoids.

What is Solvent Extraction?

Solvent extraction is a step above steam distillation both in efficiency and complexity. Instead of using steam to extract the essential oils from the plant material, solvents are used. The solvents react with the plant material causing the essential oils to be removed from the plants and mix with the solvent.

Alcohol has been traditionally used to extract essential oils from plant materials. One example is Vanilla extract. Vanilla beans are put in an alcohol mixture and allowed to extract over a period of several months. The result is a vanilla extract that can be made into a vanilla oil by evaporating the alcohol.

Unfortunately, alcohol can be expensive as a solvent and often times other solvents are used that are either cheaper or more effective at separating essential oils from the plant material. These solvents may or may not be safe for human consumption and could be dangerous to consume. This is why there are food grade essential oils and essential oils that are not designed to be consumed internally.

It’s important to make sure that you know the process used when buying an essential oil, including CBD oil. The quality of the final product is directly related to the quality of the plant material and the quality of the extraction process.

Nevertheless, solvent extraction is a popular way to extraction many heat-sensitive oils that would be damaged by the excessive heat of steam distillation. The use of the right mix of solvents and mechanical processes can lead to higher quality essential oils and more efficient use of plant material.

What Is CO2 Extraction?

CO2 extraction also known as (Supercritical Fluid Extraction) is the leading extraction process for essential oils and has been researched extensively in universities using Lavender and other essential oil crops. Think of this as your complete guide to CO2 CBD oil extraction.

CO2 is a gas that we all know. Remember The Police’s 1980’s hit, “Every Breath You Take?” Well, every breath you exhale has CO2. That’s carbon dioxide and is a natural byproduct of your use of oxygen. Plants convert CO2 to oxygen through their process of photosynthesis. It’s about as natural as you can get.

CO2 has been shown to be a very effective solvent for removing essential oils from plant material when under high pressure and utilizing a very little amount of heat. It works in a similar way to solvent process, but it’s a much better process since it is more effective than alcohol as a solvent and is completely safe for human consumption. It’s a gas we breathe in and out.

The CO2 extraction process starts with pure carbon dioxide being injected into a container with the plant material. As the pressure rises, the carbon dioxide turns into a nearly liquid phase. This is called supercritical CO2. Some heat is added at this point to help the liquefied carbon dioxide release the essential oils and aromatics from the plant material. As it is extracted, the vapors and aromatics are carried away to a separator phase. The separator separates the aromatics from the carbon dioxide solvent mixture. This essential oil is pure and is very high quality.

There aren’t any real drawbacks to CO2 extraction. It is a mechanical procedure and requires specialized equipment, but the CO2 is safe and the derived oil is food grade. Because the CO2 is very effective at removing aromatics and oils from the plant material, there is much less waste. Less energy is required to extract the oils which helps lower the cost. All of this clearly makes it a much more environmentally friendly way to extract CBD oil. If you care about the environment and what you put in your body, the CO2 extraction process is the only one you should be looking at.

CBD Distillation Equipment

CBD Distillation equipment is generally a type of thin film distillation apparatus.

Thin film distillation uses a very high surface area (by using a thin film of CBD oil), a high vacuum, and low temperatures to distil CBD from hemp oil extracts.

This type of equipment requires very high quality glassware (or stainless steel), excellent seals, vacuum pumps and an experienced qualified operator with a good understanding of cannabis oil chemistry.

There are several different categories of thin film distillation equipment with varying degrees of complexity. The more sophisticated systems allow higher vacuums, lower temperatures, better separation of CBD from other compounds or higher throughput, but also cost more and require more skilled operation and maintenance than simpler systems.

Types of CBD Distillation equipment

These three systems are very similar in concept. Falling film distillation is the basic version. Wiped film adds a wiper to increase surface area. Short path distillation improves performance by minimising the distance the CBD vapor travels before evaporation.

Uses of CBD Distillation Equipment

While Falling film Wiped film and short path distillation have similar mechanisms and uses, they each have benefits that make them more widely used for specific applications.

Falling film CBD distillation allows high throughput but has lower separation ability. This makes it suitable for initial screening of volatile components, such as removal of ethanol or other solvents after extraction, or removal of terpenes.

Wiped film CBD distillation is better at separating compounds, so is more often used to distil CBD to increase potency (from approximately 50% in CBD oil to 70% to 90% in CBD Distillate).

Short path CBD distillation allows more precise separation of different compounds, making it suitable to concentrate specific cannabionids such as CBD or even removing THC. Note multiple passes may be required to get complete removal.

THC Removal using distillation

Distillation is theoretically capable of removing THC from CBD oil, but the similar boiling points of THC and CBD make this process inefficient and expensive. Most commercial THC removal from CBD oil utilises chromatography to produce a THC free CBD distillate.

CBD Distillate Characteristics

CBD Distillate is generally 80-90% or more CBD content and appears as a golden amber, highly viscous liquid. It crystallises readily, so normally appears as a white waxy or crystalline solid at room temperature.

Good quality CBD distillate should have a distinctive but subtle floral aroma that is highly reminiscent of the hemp flower used for CBD oil extraction.

THC Content of CBD Distillate

When buying CBD Distillate be sure to identify the THC content in the product will enable you to legally buy, ship and utilised the product. Most CBD Distillate has very high CBD levels, but also modest THC levels.

To qualify as farm bill compliant hemp, CBD distillate should meet 0.3% total THC levels.

Because extraction and distillation of CBD oil concentrates all cannabinoids, CBD oil often contains significant amounts of THC – often well over the legal limit.

For example a good quality 10% CBD hemp flower which contains 0.3% THC will typically produce a CBD oil with 50%+ CBD and 1.5%+ THC. Distillation of this oil will produce a CBD Distillate of >80% CBD and >2% THC.

Note this can be problematic when marketing, distributing and shipping this product, so CBD distillate is often diluted with ethanol, MCT or glycerol to keep the total THC under 0.3% and ensure compliance with federal and other relevant regulatory limits.

Because of the challenges meeting this there is growing demand for THC free and farm bill compliant CBD Distillate.

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