How CBD Is Made
CBD has gained a lot of press recently, thanks to its purported medicinal properties.
Users and researchers claim that the compound may be able to treat a variety of ailments, including pain and anxiety, without over-the-counter medication.
But how exactly is it made? When you buy CBD oil, where has it come from? In this article, we’re going to take a look at the process of how CBD products are made, from how growers breed cannabis plants to how manufacturers extract the CBD.
Growing CBD-Rich Hemp
While CBD comes from the cannabis plant, it is entirely different from the marijuana that people smoke for the “high.”
You can split cannabis into two broad subspecies; hemp and “marijuana.” Hemp is a variety of cannabis plant that is high in CBD and low in compounds that lead to the sensation of a high.
Marijuana, on the other hand, contains CBD but also comes packaged up with THC, the compound researchers believe responsible for the psychotropic effects of the drug.
CBD oil manufacturers, therefore, use hemp to make their products. Hemp is high in CBD – a compound that they do want – and low in THC, a chemical that they don’t. A cannabis plant is classed as being “hemp” if it contains less than 0.3 per cent THC. Any more than 0.3 per cent, and it’s “marijuana.”
As you might expect, commercial cannabis growers want to get the THC content of their plants down as low as possible. For a long time, they’ve been engaged in a selective breeding campaign to reduce THC content of hemp while boosting CBD yields. Modern breeds tend to produce minimal THC, reducing the need for further processing once the plant is harvested.
So what does the growing and processing process actually look like?
Step 1 – Cloning
The first step is to “clone” an existing cannabis plant by taking a cutting from a greenhouse. A cannabis grower will choose a plant with high CBD and low THC and then “clone” it to create an entire crop of identical plants.
It’s important to note that growers do not immediately plant the hemp. Instead, they wait around a week for the seeds to adjust to the local weather.
Step 2 – Planting And Nurturing
Hemp producers plant the clones by hand during the sowing season which runs from late Spring until early Autumn. Planting by hand is necessary because there are not yet machines that can plant cuttings mechanically. Creating a CBD hemp crop is a labour-intensive process.
Throughout the growing season, growers keep an eye on the soil pH and water levels in the soil. They also use a variety of methods, including sheet plastic, to keep weeds away from the crop.
Step 3 – Harvest
The next step is to harvest the crop. After growers satisfy all of the regulations, they’re free to take the hemp out of the ground and send it for testing for THC content.
Step 4 – Cure The Plants
“Curing” hemp, in this case, means leaving it to air dry. Growers usually store their cannabis plants in a silo until all moisture has had an opportunity to evaporate.
The purpose of drying is to prevent the buildup of mould and mildew during transport and manufacturing. The more moisture that growers can evacuate from the cannabis products, the better.
During the month-long drying process, hemp growers usually hang the hemp up on curtain-like racks. The racks provide space for the air to get to the hemp, helping to carry off moisture particles into the atmosphere.
The drying process does not desiccate the hemp entirely, but it does remove enough water from it to extend its shelf life substantially.
Step 5 – Send To A Manufacturer
While some growers are also processors, the growing process usually ends by taking the dried plants down from their drying racks and shipping them off to the manufacturer – the next step.
Step 6 – Remove Cannabis From The Drying Racks And Strip The Flower
Many manufacturers use the flower of the hemp plant to make CBD products. Growers, therefore, take the cannabis off the drying racks, remove the flowers and then either destroy the rest of the plant or sell it on. They then send the flower to a processing facility.
Processing Hemp Into CBD Products
Before you can make CBD into medicinal products, you first need to process it to the desired shape and size.
Step 7 – Grind Down And Extract Terpenes
Processors can’t do a lot with the entire flower of the hemp plant itself, so they put the dry plant matter into a big grinding machine. The grinding machine breaks down the flowers a bit like a coffee grinder into particles of about the same size and consistency of instant coffee.
Grinding increases the surface area of the plant matter, making it more amenable to treatment.
The next step in the process is to extract the terpenes. Terpenes are chemicals in the hemp plant that give it its flavour and aroma. There are hundreds of different terpenes scattered across the plant kingdom, including cannabis, but they themselves do not contain any active ingredients.
Manufacturers, therefore, prefer to remove them so that they can isolate the CBD and sell that separately.
Some users also find that terpenes convent an unpleasant flavour or smell which can make CBD products less attractive. Terpenes are not necessary for the therapeutic effects of cannabidiol, and so they can be safely removed.
Step 8 – The Winterisation Process
Once the terpenes are removed from the hemp plant, the next step is to get at the oil. The problem with hemp is that it contains a lot of non-CBD oils, fats and lipids that could contaminate the final product.
The winterisation process lowers the temperature of oils in the plant, helping to separate them into their constituent parts. The process works like the refining process for crude oil – the heaviest oils sink to the bottom and the lightest rise to the top.
Whether the winterisation process is necessary or not depends on how the processor extracts the oils. If the processor uses a high heat and pressure extraction process, then winterisation is needed.
High heat and pressure extraction pulls all of the oil from the plant, not just the CBD-containing component that manufacturers want. Winterisation helps to purify the CBD by separating it from the other oil components in the plant.
Step 9 – Mix With Alcohol And Filter
Once the oil is removed from the plant, it is then mixed with alcohol to make a suspension. A machine combines the oil with the alcohol until it forms a suspension. The suspension is then put in a freezer and becomes a cloudy-coloured solution that is ideal for filtration.
After a few hours, the processor passes the mixture through a variety of filters, removing all of the undesirable elements, while keeping the CBD oil intact.
Step 10 – Remove The Alcohol
By this stage, the mixture should be just CBD oil and alcohol with very few additional contaminants. CBD, however, cannot be used in products until the processors remove all of the alcohol.
Removing alcohol is easy. Alcohol has a lower evaporation and boiling point than CBD oil, so the processor gently heats the mixture until the alcohol evaporates off into the atmosphere.
Step 11 – Distill The Oil Further
The winterisation process is effective at removing the vast majority of unwanted fats and lipids from the final product, but it’s not always totally successful. Many processors, therefore, use a second refining process to further isolate the CBD-containing oil from other compounds in the mixture.
The way that they do this is similar to the winterisation process. Each type of oil in the mixture has a different evaporation temperature.
The processor takes advantage of this by using a variety of evaporation temperatures to remove different oils from the mixture. Selectively heating and distilling the oils isolates the ones that you want while allowing you to get rid of those you don’t.
Testing And Compliance
Once the CBD oil is isolated from the hemp plant, the final stage is testing for compliance. Manufacturers want their CBD isolate to contain as little THC as possible (and to offer sufficient CBD to customers).
Typically, a third-party laboratory tests CBD oil for purity and quality. The lab will only issue its approval if the CBD oil achieves a low enough level of THC to make it safe, and is high in CBD.
The whole point of the growing, processing and refining process is to make CBD oil as palatable and potent as possible. Suppliers who choose the best crops and refining techniques often end up with the most potent products on the market.
So, in summary, here’s what you should consider if you decide to buy CBD:
- Whether it is made from low-THC hemp clones
- The purity of the CBD extraction process
- The testing that has been done to check the purity of the product
- The quality of the refining methods