As of 2020, about one-third of adults in America have used or are currently using at least one product with cannabidiol (CBD) in it. The positive effects are undeniable. They range widely, from pain relief to skincare and everything in between. But do you know where the ingredients in your CBD products come from? How is CBD extracted and singled out from the over 100 other cannabinoids found in a marijuana or hemp plant? The process of CBD extraction is fascinating.

CBD is one of many cannabinoids that can be extracted from either cannabis or hemp plants. However, the hemp plant is preferred. That is because of hemp’s naturally high CBD levels and the lower risk of having traces of THC (the chemical causing the “high” people experience) extracted with it. There are three main steps to achieve a pure CBD oil: Extraction, Winterization, and Short-Path Distillation.

Step 1: CBD Extraction

The first step in CBD extraction is to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis or hemp plant to turn them into usable forms. There are three good ways to do this: Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction, Solvent Based Extraction, and Steam Distillation. Each of these extraction methods has its pros and cons.

CO2 Extraction

This technique has been around for quite a while. It is used to make things you are likely already familiar with, such as vanilla, decaf coffee, and dry cleaning your nicer clothes. CO2 extraction is the most widely used method. This process has its drawbacks. This form of extraction can be costly. It also takes a lot of time to properly dissolve compounds from the cannabis or hemp plants. Despite all of this, CO2 CBD extraction is the most widely used.

In this process for CBD extraction, in particular, a machine called a closed-loop extractor is used. CO2 is a gas in its natural state. However, CO2 gets put into the closed-loop extractor as a liquid. The liquid CO2 gets pushed into a second chamber with either cannabis or hemp. That CO2 liquid is washed over the cannabis or hemp plant repeatedly to absorb the CBD, cannabinoids, terpenes, etc. from the plant. That creates what is called a CO2-cannabinoid mixture. The mixture is then pushed into another chamber and brought back to a temperature where the CO2 evaporates back into a gas, leaving the cannabinoids and terpenes behind to be harvested in their own collection chamber.

Solvent Based Extractions

Solvents are defined as anything that can dissolve other substances. Three of the most popular solvents used in the cannabis industry for CBD solvent-based extraction are Butane, Propane, and Ethanol. The extraction process works almost exactly like the CO2 extraction process. However, some of these solvents absorb more impurities from cannabis or hemp plants. That makes steps two and three even more important. Solvent based extraction has some disadvantages. The likelihood of unwanted components such as fats, lipids, and waxes from the cannabis or hemp plant goes up when solvents are used.

It should be noted that it is possible to extract using natural solvents, like olive oil or coconut oil. However, this method results in the end product not being as concentrated as it is with CO2 extraction. More importantly, it is not as pure. The end product is also often bitter and spicy, leading to a consumer experience similar to swallowing chewing tobacco. Nobody likes an unpleasant burning sensation in the mouth and throat. Because of this, the end product oil is largely unusable from a consumer and packaged goods standpoint.

Steam Distillation

Steam distillation is an older method that has been used to make alcohol and essential oils. With regards to its application for extracting CBD, water is boiled, and the steam is passed through the cannabis or hemp plant. The steam extracts and absorbs the oils and other compounds from the plant. The steam is then condensed and reduced back to water and the desired oil. Once the water is separated out, the oil is left to move onto the next step. This process has been deemed largely inefficient. That is because it takes a large amount of plant matter to get only a small amount of oil.

Step 2: Winterization

Whether it’s by CO2, solvent-based, or oil extraction, there are always some unwanted parts of the cannabis or hemp plant that are extracted with the desired CBD or cannabinoids. To isolate the CBD and get rid of the unwanted parts, a purification process called Winterization takes place.

Winterization involves stirring the harvested cannabinoids and terpenes into 200-proof alcohol. This new mixture is then put in a deep freezer, usually overnight. Once the mixture is frozen solid, it is ready to be filtered. The unwanted impurities such as fats, lipids, or waxes separate from the CBD oil during filtration, usually using a Buchner Funnel. Lastly, the remaining filtered liquid is heated until all the alcohol evaporates, leaving the purified CBD oil.

Step 3: Short Path Distillation

The purified CBD oil we get after the Winterization process can be refined even more by using Short-Path Distillation. CBD oil contains different CBD compounds that each have its own boiling point. As the CBD oil is slowly heated, each compound evaporates separately and takes a “short path” out of the oil through a coil or tube. It then condenses and is collected in its designated collection chamber as a liquid. This process continues until only the purest form of CBD oil is left.


Understanding how CBD extraction works and how CBD oil is purified may help you choose which of our products is best for you! Contact a CannGoods team member with any questions or for help finding a product that suits your needs.