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The Ultimate Guide to CO2 Extraction

CBD is one of the most popular wellness products on the market today.

But before CBD can be made into the products that have become so popular, it must first be extracted from the cannabis plant.

Hands down, one of the most popular extraction methods that has quickly become an industry leader is CO2 extraction.

What exactly is CO2 extraction? What makes it one of the most preferred methods of extracting cannabidiol (and other phytocannabinoids) from the cannabis plant?

Let’s take a look.

What Is CO2 Extraction?

If you were paying attention in chemistry class, you know that CO2 stands for carbon dioxide. At the simplest level possible, CO2 extraction uses pressurized carbon dioxide to pull desired compounds (such as CBD) from cannabis.

At specific temperatures and pressure, CO2 performs as a solvent and is considered one of the safest and most effective extraction methods that exists. In fact, CO2 extraction is FDA-approved and used widely in the food, supplement and wellness industry.

Why is CO2 extraction considered one of the best extraction methods out there? These are just a few reasons.

  • CO2 is safe and natural — CO2 is a naturally occurring compound that’s everywhere around us. It’s in the air. Our bodies produce it when we breathe. It’s what makes our soda fizzy and keeps it fresh. It’s used in countless packaged food products. It’s what is used to pull caffeine out of coffee. It’s what is used to produce essential oils. CO2 is safe, natural and non-toxic.
  • CO2 is sustainable — Not only is CO2 safe and natural, but it’s also sustainable. Other solvents used for extraction (such as butane or propane) are sourced from petroleum, not CO2. Instead, CO2 is a completely natural compound that does not contribute to carbon emissions or cause unnecessary harm to the environment.
  • CO2 is clean, pure and safe — When it comes to CBD extraction, CO2 is the cleanest, purest and safest method around. The last thing you want are residual solvents that could be potentially hazardous to your health. With CO2 extraction, there’s no possibility of petroleum-based byproducts in your product. It also eliminates the danger of explosions (which are known to occur with butane or petroleum extraction).

CO2 Extraction 101

Many of us consume CBD every day and don’t think twice about how it was extracted from the hemp plant. There are three types of CO2 extraction: supercritical, mid-critical and subcritical.  Supercritical is the most commonly used.

Our process employs the use of state-of-the-art supercritical CO2 extraction of our oil, which allows us to confidently offer high-quality CBD.

What exactly is supercritical CO2 extraction?

Before we get into how supercritical CO2 extraction works, it’s important to understand what we mean by the term “supercritical.”

What Is Supercritical CO2 Extraction?

CO2 (carbon dioxide) typically acts like gas at regular temperatures and standard pressure. With very little effort, this gas can be changed to a solid. The solid form of CO2 is better known as “dry ice.” Outside of a laboratory, these are the two most common types of CO2.

There are also ways to convert the gaseous form of CO2 into a liquid state. To achieve this, state-of-the-art equipment is employed to increase pressure while keeping the temperature below -69 degrees Fahrenheit.

From this liquid state, pressure and temperature are slowly increased until this fluid state reaches a “supercritical” point. What does this mean? The CO2 now contains properties that are halfway between a liquid and a gas. Essentially, this supercritical CO2 can fill up a vessel like a gas but still sustain the concentration of a liquid.

It is this supercritical state of CO2 that is commonly used for cannabinoid extraction.  

Subcritical CO2 extraction, conversely, makes use of low temperature and low pressure. While subcritical extraction does work, it takes longer than supercritical extraction. Yields are also smaller. It is, however, less likely to damage terpenes than supercritical extraction.

Mid-critical CO2 extraction is a process that uses pressures and temperatures that are between subcritical and supercritical.

How exactly does it all work?

We’re glad you asked.

How Does Supercritical CO2 Extraction Work to Remove CBD (and other compounds) from Cannabis?

Keep in mind that supercritical CO2 extraction is performed with highly advanced, cutting-edge equipment. This is an extraction technique that requires precise knowledge and an advanced understanding of chemistry. The results from this state-of-the-art extraction technique are some of the highest quality extraction compounds you can produce.

The process of supercritical CO2 extraction employs this advanced technological equipment by beginning with a liquid CO2 storage tank. The pressure on this liquid is slowly raised with a compressor. The temperature is then increased through a heating mechanism until the liquid CO2 is in a supercritical state and ready for the next phase of the extraction process.

From here, the supercritical CO2 is passed through cannabis material held in an extractor. This is where the CO2 begins to pull out various compounds of the cannabis plant including terpenes, trichomes and/or various waxes.

Once extracted, this mixture makes its way into a collection vessel. The supercritical CO2 is subsequently moved into a condenser and turned back into a liquid. This liquid goes back to the original storage tank and the process is repeated all over again.

There you have it: an extremely simple explanation of an extremely complicated scientific process.

What about any remaining CO2 left in the extract? Here’s what’s so awesome about supercritical extraction. After the extraction process is finished, decreasing the pressure of the CO2 allows the molecules to return to a gaseous state and simply evaporate into the ether, leaving no residual matter whatsoever in the extract.

3 Reasons Supercritical CO2 Extraction Is a Cannabis Industry Leader

Supercritical CO2 extraction is a complicated process that has taken the cannabis industry by storm. Why? Because it’s unparalleled at not only isolating and removing cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, but lesser known phytocannabinoids as well. It’s also excellent for isolating, understanding and working with other cannabis compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids.

While supercritical CO2 extraction is one of the best methods for harnessing various cannabis compounds, there are other reasons that CO2 extraction is a cannabis-industry leader. The following are a few of the most significant:

1. CO2 Extraction Is Cleaner

Supercritical CO2 extraction separates cannabinoids and other compounds from cannabis plant material in a natural, clean way that you can always rely on. Looking for the cleanest CBD oil you can find? Look for oil that is extracted using supercritical CO2.

2. CO2 Extraction Does Not Use Harmful Chemicals

Generally, people use CBD to support internal wellness, not destroy it. One of the primary reasons CO2 extraction is so widely used is because it does not employ the use of harmful chemicals in the extraction process. No butane. No propane. No alcohol. Just all-natural carbon dioxide.

What this means for the consumer is not only a cleaner oil that is potentially safer to ingest, but also one with a better flavor. Without the use of chemicals during extraction, terpene profiles are better maintained. This offers a more flavorful, better tasting oil than those which are extracted with butane or propane.

3. CO2 Extraction Allows for Increased Understanding of Cannabis Compounds

One of the most exciting aspects of CO2 extraction is that it offers the ability to better understand the various compounds in the cannabis plant. We mentioned that supercritical CO2 extraction allows for the isolation of various cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds. This has made it far easier to study the benefits of each compound individually, as well as research the synergy of various compounds working together, which is something known as the entourage effect.

CO2 Extraction Isn’t Going Anywhere

To get CBD out of cannabis, it must be extracted. While there is more than one way to extract compounds like CBD out of the cannabis plant, CO2 extraction is one of the most popular in the ever-expanding cannabis industry.

This high-end, state-of-the-art extraction technique (a supercritical CO2 extraction machine can start at $40,000) is an industry leader for a reason. It is superior when it comes to extracting cannabinoids and other compounds. Clean, efficient, environmentally friendly and safe for human consumption, CO2 is already used widely in food production and has been approved by the FDA.

Why isn’t every company using CO2 extraction methods? For one, there’s the high price of equipment. For another, this expensive equipment is large and requires a lot of space. Those who make the investment, however, will find the return to be well worth the initial cost.

Why?

CO2 extraction guarantees the highest quality, cleanest extracts available on the market. CO2 extraction is one of the reasons that Joy Organics can confidently offer the safe, high-quality, consistent products we’re proud to attach to our name.

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