How Does Supercritical CO2 Extraction Work

How Does Supercritical CO2 Extraction Work?

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CO2 extraction and why it matters

The CBD industry is booming like never before, as is the cannabis industry as a whole. Unfortunately, just like in the Wild West, there are plenty of prospectors doing plenty of speculation — and there's not much by way of regulation or testing to keep people honest. 

There are plenty of legitimate, reputable brands and manufacturers in the CBD space. But there are also plenty of folks just looking to make a quick buck or capitalize on the boom. Instead of meticulously producing high-quality CBD products, they operate as cheaply as possible and fudge the details where they can get away with it. 

One sign that you're dealing with a quality CBD manufacturer is supercritical CO2 extraction. This process for extracting cannabinoids is the cleanest and most desirable, but what exactly is it? We explain how supercritical CO2 extraction works below. 

The Basics: CO2 Extraction Explained

CO2  extraction is not a new process, nor is it exclusive to CBD extraction. The CO2 extraction process is used widely in the food and herbal supplement industries. CO2 extraction is one of the methods used to decaffeinate coffee, for example. It's also used in the production of essential oils. 

CO2 extraction uses CO2 as a solvent to extract the desired cannabinoids from hemp plants. When heated and pressurized properly, CO2 takes on solvent properties usually only found in more aggressive compounds, but without the potentially toxic byproducts that solvents like ethyl acetate can leave behind. 

By applying pressurized CO2 to the hemp plant, manufacturers can extract the cannabinoids, terpenes, and waxes they want. The primary end product is CBD oil, the key component in many of our product offerings. 


The Next Level: Supercritical CO2 Extraction Explained

Supercritical CO2 extraction takes things to the next level. This complex process is generally considered to be the best method of extracting CBD. Cheaper, less effective methods exist, but if you're looking for premium CBD products, you want products produced using supercritical CO2 extraction methods. 

We're about to get into the science, so strap on your safety goggles. CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a gas at room temperature. Get it cold enough or turn up the pressure enough, and it turns to liquid. But get the right mix of temperature and pressure, and it goes supercritical, entering a unique phase that's somewhere between gas and liquid, or somewhat a mix of both.

Most supercritical extraction uses CO2 (thus, supercritical CO2 extraction) because of the advantages of CO2, which we describe in the next section. 

Steps in the Process

The process of supercritical CO2 extraction is complex,  but the basic steps can be summed up this way: 

  • Gaseous CO2 is placed in a chamber in the extractor, where temperature drops well below zero and pressure increase enough to turn the CO2 to liquid. 
  • The pressurized liquid Co2 is reheated and pressurized even further, producing supercritical CO2  — the unique state described above. 
  • Supercritical CO2 has a liquid density but the ability to fill space in the same way that a gas does. 
  • The supercritical CO2 is then pushed into another part of the extractor where the hemp is. 
  • The supercritical CO2 acts as a solvent, dissolving some of the membranes in the hemp material, releasing many of the active compounds that manufacturers are seeking to obtain. 

At the end of the extraction process, manufacturers have a thick substance full of all sorts of great stuff, including CBD oil, healthy fats (omega 3 and omega 6), and plant waxes. This product can be further refined down to pure CBD oil, which is then used in a wide range of products, from tinctures to creams to aerosols. 

Advantages of Supercritical Extraction

There are many advantages to using a supercritical extraction process. Chemical Engineering Online lists several of these advantages:

  • Supercritical CO2 is nonflammable. Man other solvents are. 
  • Supercritical CO2 is also inert and nontoxic, unlike some alternatives. 
  • CO2 is abundant and the costs of turning it supercritical are fairly low. 
  • As a solvent, its strength can be fine-tuned depending on the density used. 
  • Supercritical CO2 is not overly hot or cold but close to room temperature, making it an ideal choice for temperature-sensitive extractions. 
  • It leaves behind very little residue, and what little remains is inert. 

Supercritical Extraction for Full-Spectrum Benefits

While CBD and THC are the two "big name" cannabinoids, they are far from the only tow. Marijuana has more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, and hemp plants have a great many as well. Cheaper, more destructive production methods may well produce an end product that contains CBD, but many of the lesser-known compounds are lost. 

The same goes for the many terpenes and flavonoids found in hemp. Many of these may have positive effects or may enhance the effects of CBD. 

Supercritical CO2 extraction is the best way to extract cannabinoids from hemp because it preserves the other compounds beyond CBD, allowing for the production of true full-spectrum products. 

All These Benefits Have Costs

Note that all the benefits and advantages of supercritical CO2 extraction we've described above don't necessarily come cheap. The equipment required to extract from hemp in this method is costly, and manufacturers must hire competent personnel who understand the science behind this extraction method. 

The point? Cheap, discount store CBD products are cheap for a reason. Generally, they're cheap because they were produced using cheap manufacturing methods. Be wary of any CBD product — even ones that claim to use supercritical CO2 extraction — that is markedly cheaper than what premium, trusted brands are selling. 

Will you pay more for CBD products made using supercritical CO2 extraction? Yes. But we believe that's money well spent

About Vitality CBD™

Vitality CBD exists to provide a healthy and natural alternative to the pharmaceutical industry. We embrace charity, sustainability, quality, trustworthiness, and domestic sourcing as our core operational values. All our CBD products are grown, harvested, extracted, and bottled all in American owned and operated facilities. Vitality CBD products are certified Non-GMO, Organic, Vegan, and Gluten-Free. Take 20% off your first online order with code FT20 today!

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