Alcohol Extracted CBD Oil

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Ethanol extraction is the preferred method of many cannabis extractors, but it still has its drawbacks… There are a lot of things that can go wrong when extracting CBD from cannabis with alcohol. Learn how to safely extract CBD with alcohol. Ethanol alcohol can be used to make cannabis tinctures and other concentrates such as Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO). Learn more about alcohol extraction from Leafly.

The Pros and Cons of Cannabis Ethanol Extraction

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 With the popularity of cannabis extracts burgeoning, there remains a huge market for products produced using solvents to extract desirable compounds from raw cannabis plants. While hydrocarbons and CO2 are preferred solvents for many producers, ethanol remains a solid option for small-scale and high-throughput producers alike.

Ethanol extraction has benefits and drawbacks over other types of extraction methods. But some of its pitfalls can be overcome by tweaking the type of ethanol extraction method used. For example, using cold ethanol will limit the levels of undesirable compounds that end up in solution. Opting for a warm ethanol process can provide a fuller plant profile, which may be considered beneficial for some products.

Ethanol extraction – why extractors choose it

One of the main reasons ethanol extraction is favored by many producers is the low cost of this method. As Rubin Torf, co-founder of Scientia Labs, explained to Analytical Cannabis:

“Ethanol/alcohol extraction is best for high throughput because it generally has the lowest electrical costs per pound, and almost always a lower labor cost per pound of biomass processed. It is likely the cheapest equipment to scale, especially when safety concerns are taken into consideration.”

Ethanol extraction can help an extractor pull a broader range of compounds from the plant than when using other solvents. Although, this is sometimes considered a drawback.

As such, cost and extract profile are some of the major factors to bear in mind when considering different types of ethanol extraction.

Note that other alcohols may be used in cannabis extraction as an alternative to ethanol. For example, isopropanol is particularly popular among producers.

Types of ethanol extraction used in cannabis applications

Choosing to use ethanol in your extraction is just one step in the decision-making process. You also need to select an ethanol extraction method that works for you. There are several options available, mainly differing with respect to the temperature of the ethanol. Here’s a rundown of those types, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Cold ethanol extraction

These two types of extraction follow the same basic steps. But, because of the difference in the temperature of the ethanol, they will yield different results. Both can be carried out using a relatively simple setup without requiring specialized equipment. Here are the main steps involved:

  1. The raw cannabis plant material is placed in a suitable vessel. It might be left loose or placed inside a bag (think of a very large teabag). The plant matter is completely covered with ethanol and left to soak. Soaking time will depend on the ethanol temperature and the desired profile of the product.
  2. During soaking, the ethanol will solubilize the cannabinoids (including THC and CBD) and possibly other compounds present in the plant, such as terpenes, pigments, and plant lipids. The specific compounds and their quantities will depend on the temperature of the ethanol, as well as various aspects of the plant matter, including strain, plant part, and condition of the raw material.
  3. After soaking, the plant material is separated from the ethanol solution. If a bag is used, this step might be as simple as removing the bag from the vessel. If loose plant matter is used, some type of filtration will be applied.
  4. The next stages will depend on a few factors including the temperature of the ethanol the desired final product. For example, a winterization step is often included to remove undesirable plant lipids from the extract. For some extracts, in particular those using cold ethanol, the solution will be acceptable as is.
  5. Now it’s time to remove the ethanol from the extract. This is often carried out using vacuum distillation in a rotary evaporator, but other methods include a falling film evaporator (often used in larger-scale production).
  6. Although most of the ethanol may be removed using those methods, there will usually still be an unacceptable level of ethanol in the extract. A vacuum oven is often used to purge the remaining alcohol, but a hotplate stirrer is another option.
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By extracting at room temperature, an extractor can achieve a robust plant profile without the need for heating or cooling equipment. When Analytical Cannabis asked about the benefits of room temperature extraction, Torf revealed that lower equipment costs and a fuller product profile were major factors. He also explained:

“Most importantly, perhaps, is the overall extraction of CBD happens faster and more thoroughly at higher temperatures. We were achieving 90 percent plus CBD extraction from a range of biomass inputs.”

“I haven’t seen cold ethanol achieve these kinds of results from cold extraction, and it would seem to go counter to transport phenomena physics if cold extraction worked faster,” he added. “If we didn’t extract all CBD in the biomass, we would be leaving money on the table, so to speak.”

That said, an extractor will likely end up with some plant lipids in the room temperature extract, which, if undesirable, will need to be removed by a winterization step. This involves washing the extract with cold ethanol, allowing plant fats and waxes to precipitate out of the solution, and then filtering to remove them. Multiple winterization steps may be required to reach the desired final product.

When you opt for cold extraction, you have the task of keeping the mixture cold (usually below -30°C) for a long period of time while the plant soaks in the alcohol. This can be difficult if you want to work with larger quantities but are limited in terms of equipment. That said, one of the benefits is that cold ethanol won’t pull out plant lipids and pigments. This means you can avoid having to deal with a winterization step and may achieve a more optimal flavor profile.

Warm ethanol extraction

Warm or hot ethanol extraction typically requires special equipment. One popular method is the Soxhlet technique. The raw plant material is placed in a special piece of equipment called a Soxhlet extractor. Warm ethanol is passed over the material multiple times, and the solvent is recycled. Once the extraction is complete, additional steps such as winterization are carried out as needed and the ethanol is removed, usually via a rotary evaporator.

Soxhlet extraction.

With warm ethanol extraction, an extractor can solubilize a border range of compounds from the plant matter. This means it can be a good choice if you want a full-spectrum extract. However, with high temperatures, you’ll solubilize pigments such as chlorophyll, which tends to have a bitter taste. You may also cause damage to sensitive compounds such as terpenes, further impacting the flavor of the extract. Removal of undesirable compounds is possible but can require multiple steps and a lengthy overall process.

Freelance Science Writer

Aimee is a freelance science writer with over a decade of experience as a development chemist. She has written for Analytical Cannabis since 2020.

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How Is Alcohol Extracted From CBD?

This article is sponsored by Colorado Extraction Systems, a Colorado-based company with decades of expertise and knowledge in extraction, distillation, and evaporation equipment manufacturing.

Cannabis has been used by humans for thousands of years. Especially for medical purposes. It
was generally used to cure different illnesses and pains, primarily those of the muscle and bone
variety.

Today, CBD extraction is proving useful in various applications far wider than the original ones
where it sprung. However, unlike THC in marijuana plants, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause the “high” associated with marijuana.

The big picture is finding a reliable extraction method; it is crucial in producing a high-
quality and safe product without contaminants. Given that cannabis oil is a highly concentrated substance that contains more than just Cannabidiol (CBD), it only makes sense that the extraction process involves more than just one substance.

For example, when extracting essential oils from plants like lavender or peppermint, ethanol is
almost always used along with another substance like olive oil or coconut oil.

In essence, extracting CBD from cannabis is easy, if you know how to do it. Unfortunately,
there are a lot of things that can go wrong when extracting CBD from cannabis with alcohol.
That is why we created this article. It addresses CBD extraction with the aid of alcohol as the
main solvent. Let’s dive in.

Photo Courtesy: Colorado Extraction Systems

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Alcohol extraction from CBD

Alcohol extraction is very common in making cannabis extracts. The process is fast and
relatively simple. You can make a CBD/Cannabis extract with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), but
the most common and safest solvents to use are ethanol or grain alcohol.

Alcohol is a polar solvent, meaning it will dissolve polar molecules—such as chlorophyll, the
a green pigment found in plants. To be more precise, it will dissolve them into the water portion of the solution. This is why you have to separate the two phases when making an alcohol extraction.

The more polar the solvent is, the more likely it will be able to remove chlorophyll from the plant
material and result in a cleaner extract.

Alcohol extraction is usually recommended for people who want a quick and easy way to make
a CBD tincture at home.

Alcohol extraction can be done with high potency cannabis flower or trim, kief or hash. You can
also use low-quality cannabis material to make your own low-potency edibles or topicals.

Ethanol extraction is preferred over other solvents due to its safety, cost-effectiveness and
versatility. The process of ethanol extraction involves soaking the plant material in ethanol (which acts as a solvent) to extract cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, THC and others.

The soluble components are then separated from the plant material using a filtration process.
The components are then evaporated off using low heat to arrive at a concentrated extract.
The extracts obtained through ethanol extraction are amber in color and have a thick
consistency.

Ethanol extraction can be carried out at room temperature or by heating the solution to enhance
cannabinoid extraction rates.

However, one of the major drawbacks of this method is that it also extracts chlorophyll from the
plant matter which leads to bitter-tasting extracts. Thus, a post-extraction winterization step is necessary to remove chlorophyll and any other lipids or waxes present in raw oil.

In addition, extracts obtained through ethanol extraction tend to be less pure than those
obtained through supercritical CO2 extraction or butane extraction.

Why is alcohol ideal for CBD extraction?

One of the most important things to consider when buying your CBD oil extract or CBD crystals
is the solvent used in its extraction process. The solvent that is used to make your product has a
direct impact on the quality of the end product you’re going to receive.

While there are several different types of solvents that can be used, one of the most popular
and effective solvents for extracting CBD is ethanol. Ethanol is a clear liquid and works well in
extracting cannabinoids from plant material.

Here are some more detailed facts about why ethanol is such an optimal choice for creating
CBD oil:

Ethanol extraction is a simple process

If you’re looking for an efficient, uncomplicated method for CBD extraction, ethanol extraction is
for you. With this process, you can easily remove unwanted plant material from your extract.
This allows you to create a purer end product, which makes it easier to do whatever it is you’d
like to do with it, be it vaping it or using it topically.

Ethanol extraction doesn’t damage terpenes

Many other methods of extraction can damage beneficial terpenes found in cannabis, but with
ethanol extraction, this isn’t a problem. As long as your ethanol comes from food-grade sources.

Alcohol is cheap and available

First of all, alcohol is inexpensive, whereas other solvents such as butane are not. This is
because alcohol can be easily made at home with a still. On the other hand, butane must be
purchased from a chemical supply company.

Furthermore, the initial cost of purchasing a butane extractor can cost up to ten times more than
an alcohol extractor. Alcohol is also less expensive due to the fact that it does not require
purchases of new equipment.

Alcohol is safer

Moreover, alcohol is safer than other solvents since it evaporates at room temperature, making
it much less likely to cause an explosion during extraction.

Other solvents such as propane and butane require heaters which are more likely to cause an
explosion due to a higher chance of malfunctioning when used for long periods of time. In addition, there have been many cases where people have caused fires when attempting to
make extracts with butane inside their homes; therefore we do not recommend using this
method in order to extract your cannabis oil.

Lastly, it is an all-natural product that is widely available in varying strengths, which makes it a
great choice for this process. It also has been used for years as a solvent for various products
and ingredients, making it a natural fit for this application.

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Butane vs. Ethanol

Why then would anyone want to use butane instead of alcohol?

The main reason is that butane extracts more CBD. In fact, it extracts much more than just CBD – butane will pull out everything except the water and a little bit of chlorophyll. And that’s important because there are many other cannabinoids besides CBD – THC, CBG and so forth.

But there are also many other chemicals besides cannabinoids – terpenes, plant waxes and so
forth. And those other chemicals will go into the butane extract too.

So when you make an extract with butane you get a kind of sludge that contains all kinds of stuff
you don’t want: waxes and chlorophyll and whatever else was in the plant. And some of those things may be dangerous or unpleasant – for example, when marijuana with a high THC content is made into an edible oil for eating on food.

Bottom line

Alcohol is the most preferred solvent for CBD extraction. It has a low boiling point, which means
that it evaporates fast. Since alcohol is flammable and hazardous, all the other solvents that have higher boiling points are not preferred. Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol are used to extract CBD.

The only difference between them is that ethanol is derived from plants whereas Isopropyl is
made from petroleum. Alcohol extraction is also known as the ethanol method because ethanol
creates a mixture of both water and alcohol in the ratio of 70% alcohol and 30% water.

When it comes to purifying ethanol, you need to remove the water content from it by using
different distillation techniques like molecular distillation, short path distillation, and wiped film
distillation.

Alcohol extraction

Ethanol alcohol can be used to make cannabis tinctures and other concentrates such as Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO). Isopropyl alcohol can be used to make hash, but many are shy away from it because of concerns of its toxicity. Denatured alcohol is toxic and should not be drunk or used to make cannabis concentrates at all.

“When a product was made with alcohol extraction, it’s a good idea to ask what type of alcohol was used.”

What is alcohol extraction?

Ethanol alcohol can be used to make cannabis concentrates. It’s important to note there are different types of alcohol, all with their own uses:

  • Ethanol, also called drinking alcohol because it’s the only alcohol that’s safe to drink, is the active agent in alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine, and spirits. It is safe to use for making cannabis concentrates.
  • Isopropyl alcohol has been used by some hashmakers but it can be toxic at certain levels, and many in the cannabis community shy away from it.
  • Denatured alcohol is poisonous if consumed and should only be used for cleaning tools or surfaces. It should not be used for making cannabis concentrates.

How to make an alcohol extraction

When using ethanol alcohol to make extracts, many extractors use something close to 100% pure ethanol. Most spirits, such as rum, vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, etc., have around 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), or are about 80 proof. If making a cannabis extract, 190 proof or stronger (95-100% ethanol) is ideal.

There are various ways alcohol can be used to extract cannabinoids, and the simplest method is to make an alcohol-based tincture, where cannabis is soaked in alcohol at room temperature for weeks. Alcohol tinctures are common in herbalism with non-cannabis herbs and usually have around 40% ABV. Since only a few drops are consumed at a time, it is not enough for one to feel drunk.

Alcohol is considered a polar solvent, which makes it wonderful for extracting cannabinoids, alkaloids, and other chemicals from cannabis and other herbs, although it also extracts chlorophyll, usually giving alcohol extracts a deep green color. Alcohol tinctures are usually consumed under the tongue but can also be added to drinks or food and consumed like an edible, or even rubbed into the skin like a topical.

Ethanol, and all other types of alcohol, are highly flammable as liquids and vapors, so alcohol extraction should be done in a well-ventilated area.

An alcohol extraction can also be heated or left out to let the alcohol evaporate. The result will be a dark, tar-like substance rich in cannabinoids with no residual alcohol—this is often called Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO).

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