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CO2 Cannabis Extraction – How Does It Work?

January 3, 2020

No matter how willing you are to venture into uncharted waters of marijuana, CBD products, and other closely-related subjects, you should always consider one crucial thing – what method of extraction did the company use? Since cannabis extracts are yet to be approved by the FDA, the whole market resembles the good old days of Wild West when very few things were regulated, and many people consequently fell victim to scams and suboptimal deals.

If you’re looking to avoid the aforementioned scenario, we strongly recommend you to do a bit of research before pulling the trigger, or better yet, read our articles on this and similar subjects. 

With that being said, let’s dive into the nuances of cannabis extraction methods, and try to see what constitutes a well-made cannabis product.

What is CO2 Cannabis Extraction?

CO2 extraction method utilizes pressurized carbon dioxide in order to extract as many cannabinoids from a marijuana plant as possible. While there are many gases that can be used during this process, carbon dioxide is the most common one, since it’s as powerful as any other hydrocarbon once it reaches its supercritical state. 

During this particular process, the essential waxes, terpenes, and cannabinoids are taken out of the plant, resulting in clean, healthy-looking oil, which can then be used as a tincture or vaporized. Some companies also use co-solvents when using supercritical fluids, such as ethanol or methanol. 

What is CO2 Cannabis Extraction

How Does CO2 Extraction Work? 

While terms like “supercritical” can sound pretty complex and hard to grasp, the CO2 extraction is actually a pretty simple and straightforward process. However, it requires special equipment as well as special training, especially when it comes to large-scale production. 

The first step involves taking CO2 in its natural state (gaseous) and exposing it to extremely low temperatures at very high pressure. This particular process liquidates carbon dioxide, which is one step closer to its supercritical state. Note that gaseous CO2 cannot achieve a supercritical state, which is why it’s important to change its state from gaseous to liquid. 

Once this process is over, the fluid is exposed to even higher pressure and heated to an appropriate temperature. This is the step where CO2 goes supercritical. It is then subsequently pushed through a chamber that contains raw cannabis, where thanks to its properties, CO2 acts as a solvent and dissolves the oils while capturing the essential active compounds at the same time. At Peak City CBD, we are very interested in the other cannabinoids and terpenes that come out of the extraction process. These are all part of the Entourage Effect and you can read about it more in our other blogs

From there, the supercritical fluid is moved into a “separation vessel,” where it becomes an immiscible fluid thanks to temperature and pressure gradients. The final step includes the extraction of CO2 by letting it stabilize back to its gaseous state. 

Bear in mind; this is a rather oversimplified version of the extraction process as there are many more nuances involved, and most companies use closed-loop extractions in order to re-use the CO2 rather than using a new batch each time. 

Why Opt for CO2 Extraction? 

There are quite a few reasons why you should always look for cannabis products that were extracted via CO2 extraction, but we’ll focus on the most notable ones. 

  • It’s Safe to Use 

Before CO2 extraction became a norm, many companies used alternative methods of extraction with butane and hexane. In fact, some companies of questionable reputation do it even today. The problem with those methods is that they leave traces of potentially harmful residue, and on top of that, the process of using chemical solvents is much more dangerous than CO2 extraction. Therefore, aside from the underlining safety issues, the potency and purity of the product are underwhelming at the very least. 

  • It Reaches Supercritical State Easily

Even though pushing elements to their supercritical state sounds complicated to achieve, CO2 is one of those compounds that reaches its supercritical state under pressure at relatively low temperatures (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit). This means it’s much easier to equip an extraction lab with the necessary equipment, and on top of that, it’s much cheaper in the long run. 

  • Widely Available 

As you may know, CO2 naturally exists in the atmosphere and is, therefore, quite easy to obtain. It’s one of the essential parts of almost every organism on the planet. Furthermore, the solubility of CO2 changes with pressure, which allows the engineers to essentially isolate various molecules, depending on the desired outcome. So, it’s clean, easy to work with, and abundant in nature.

Since the marijuana plant has more than 100 different cannabinoids, one of the greatest benefits of CO2 extraction is its capacity to extract dozens of important cannabinoids in a clean and safe way. The only downside to this particular method is the slightly bigger price of the finished product in comparison to products extracted via alternative methods. However, it’s not really a downside per se, since cheap options are not something you should be striving for in the first place. 

Industrial Scale vs. Home Growers 

If you’re looking to buy CBD oil or other similar products, you not only need to know what CO2 hemp extract is, but you also ought to pay attention to which extraction method did the company use for their products. More often than not, small companies will gladly cut corners in order to maximize profit, and that consequently leads to them utilizing sub-optimal methods of extraction like the ones that utilize butane or hexane, both of which tend to leave potentially harmful chemical residues, and yield products of subpar potency and purity.

A similar rule applies to home growers who tend to use dubious techniques of extraction. Since the necessary equipment for proper CO2 extraction costs well over a half a million dollars (and that’s just the equipment with no staff included), it’s safe to assume that no home grower has the necessary equipment for genuine CO2 extraction, let alone expertise. Therefore, if you’re looking for quality, purity, and potency, be sure to conduct some research and find a company that uses CO2 extraction techniques rather than questionable alternatives. 

Industrial Scale vs. Home Growers 

Should You Go For CO2 Extracts Exclusively?

The short answer is – yes, you should. Now, while CO2 extracts are more expensive than the alternatives, many people either don’t have the money or simply aren’t keen on paying more for the seemingly same products. However, it’s a much better idea to hold on and save your money until you have enough in lieu of impulsively buying the first thing you stumble upon. As we’ve mentioned, the alternatives are vastly inferior and much more contaminated with potentially dangerous chemical residue, to a point where it’s simply not worth buying them. 

If you would like to know more about CBD, THC, marijuana, and other closely related subjects, don’t hesitate to contact us! We try to bring these subjects closer to our reader so that you know what to expect and what to look for as far as quality and potency go.

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