CO2 extraction: a look at the process
What is CO2 Extraction
CO2 extraction is a process that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to pull the desired phytochemicals from a plant. In the world of cannabis, the process pulls all of the essential cannabinoids, terpene oils and waxes out of the plant material. The extraction process creates an amber-colored oil (CO2 oil) which the consumer can vaporize in several different ways.
What is CO2
CO2 is considered to be a “tunable solvent” making it extremely versatile. CO2 is effective in creating a multitude of end products by means of controlling temperature and pressure.
Why Use CO2
At certain temperatures and pressures, CO2 acts like a solvent. However, CO2 doesn't have the same dangers associated with solvents. Additionally, so many manufacturers are using CO2 as a way to create a pure, clean, quality oil which involves little to no post-processing. This greatly differs CO2 from so many other toxic solvent products.
What is Supercritical CO2
Supercritical CO2 extraction is another way of talking about CO2 extraction. Although it's not the only form of extraction, when we talk about the most commonly used extraction, we are referring to supercritical CO2 extraction. Carbon dioxide (CO2) usually presents as a gas at standard temperature and pressure (i.e. earth). However, Supercritical carbon dioxide refers to CO2's fluid state, which takes place above its critical temperature and pressure.
CO2 extraction is already a conventional extraction method in the food and herbal supplement industries. Also, many people may not realize that CO2 extraction is used for the removal of caffeine from coffee beans in order for manufacturers to produce decaffeinated coffee. Furthermore, CO2 is used as an extraction solvent in the production of essential oils.
CO2 extraction is now an incredibly important component in the cannabis industry as well.
Here's how it all works (in simple terms)...
The first step is when the extractor takes gaseous CO2 and runs it through a chamber where it will be subjected to extremely low (-70°F) temperatures and increased pressure. This causes the gas to change into a fluid (hooray, science). In this state, CO2 exhibits special properties so when it is reheated and pressurized, it then becomes supercritical.
A supercritical fluid has properties between a gas and a liquid. For instance, a supercritical fluid can fill a space like a gas; however, still maintain its liquid-like density.
Next, the supercritical fluid passes through a chamber that contains the raw cannabis material. The supercritical fluid can pass through the raw cannabis while gently dissolving the membrane of the trichomes. This allows for the capturing of their many active compounds.
What is Subcritical CO2
Subcritical (low temperature and low pressure) CO2 extractions aren't as common as the supercritical CO2 extractions because they take more time and produce less product. Interestingly enough, subcritical CO2 extractions retain the essential oils, terpenes, and other sensitive chemicals within the plant. Conversely, supercritical is a high pressure and high-temperature process.
Why Supercritical CO2 is SO Awesome
Regardless of whether or not you fully understand the process of CO2 extraction, (we get it- it can be pretty complicated for us folk who aren't scientists) here's the significant part that you need to know!
Supercritical CO2 extraction allows the extract makers to isolate, capture and scientifically research and understand cannabinoids. Studies are becoming more and more specified regarding known cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. However, there are well over one hundred other cannabinoids that are relatively unstudied, for example, cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabicitran (CBT).
Something to Think About
Consider this: it wasn't long ago that we were still significantly unaware of the incredible health benefits of CBD. Now, new laws are being passed and old laws are being revisited in terms of how we can benefit from CBD in the medical field.
Just imagine if CBD wasn't studied. Now think about the 100+ of the other cannabinoids that exist. CO2 extraction is paramount in being able to understand the unknown medical benefits of the other, less prevalent cannabinoids. Furthermore, once experts begin to understand how the cannabinoids work individually, they can begin to research how they work together. A theory known as The Entourage Effect explains just how beneficial different cannabinoids can be when used together. However, we can only begin to understand the theory after we understand the cannabinoids individually. This is why CO2 extraction is so important.
A Quick Example For Our Scientific Readers
The terpene pinene cannabinoid helps counteract cognition malfunction as well as reduces memory loss associated with THC.
The myrcene cannabinoid can decrease resistance in the blood-brain barrier which can enable easier passage of beneficial chemicals.
When you combine of pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene, it helps maintain calmness.
So you see, if extractors only removed the THC or CBD cannabinoids, the consumer could be missing out on some incredibly important health benefits.
The chemicals in the cannabis plant are continuing to show just how impactful they can be on the brain. Understanding different cannabinoids through the CO2 extraction process is hugely important in continuing to make medical advancements. Who knows where we will be in 5 or 10 years, but it will likely be in large thanks to a CO2 extraction method.
Additional Benefits of CO2 Extraction
The first of the many great features of CO2 extraction is that it is so customizable, but that's only where the benefits begin.
Another benefit of CO2 extraction is that running supercritical liquid CO2 through the hemp plant or marijuana plant kills any microbial bacteria, insect mites, mold, or mildew on the plant. Therefore, CO2 extraction guarantees that your concentrates will not only be cleaner, but significantly healthier for your consumption.
The third benefit once again correlates to an important safety feature. In other extraction processes, experts use ethanol alcohol to winterize and use butane to extract or de-wax the cannabis oils.
Due to the lack of chemicals and preservation of terpene aromas, CO2 extracted oil is also much better tasting, making them ideal for cannabis concentrates.
Other Forms of Supercritical Extraction
Supercritical (sc-CO2) extraction isn't a new method of separation and extraction. In fact, supercritical extraction has been around for decades and first appeared in the 1980's. From the extraction of essential oil for perfumes to the decaffeination of coffee and tea, supercritical extraction has been incredibly important in a number of different industries, including the cannabis industry.
CO2 Extraction Equipment
While we understand that the vast majority of our readers won't be purchasing their own CO2 extraction, the information surrounding the equipment and process is still very interesting.
For instance, CO2 extraction machines that are capable of producing large quantities of product can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, only lab technicians should purchase and use these machines.
But not to worry, people like you and I can still make high quality, non-toxic, CO2-extracted cannabis concentrates at home. In fact, all it takes it some basic materials, some easily available dry ice and all-natural cannabis.
CO2 Extraction - Cannabis Oil Vs. Hemp Oil Vs. Marijuana Oil
With the growing popularity of the cannabis plant also comes a growing amount of misconceptions and misunderstandings. As a quick review, we want to make sure that our readers are aware of some important features of the cannabis plant.
Think of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant as an umbrella term. Under the cannabis umbrella are both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant. While these two plants share many qualities, they are also very different from one another.
The marijuana plant is what we think of in terms of the psychoactive effects and feeling "high." While there are both THC and CBD compounds in the marijuana plant as well as countless medicinal benefits, most people still only consider the marijuana plant as a recreational substance.
On the other hand, the hemp plant is making great headway in terms of medicinal benefits associated with the herb. The hemp plant has no more than 0.3% THC. In other words, it won't get you high. Therefore, we are using products from the hemp plant more and more often not only for human consumption but also as a safe way to treat our pet's ailments.
This all may be old news for you, but what we want to stress is the importance of spreading the facts about cannabis. Just think of how many people could benefit from the remarkable herb if we didn't have so many misunderstandings about it.
CO2 Extraction: The Bottom Line
The main thing that cannabis consumers should take away is that the method of extraction using supercritical CO2 produces cannabis concentrates that are overall more appealing and much safer. Specifically, the method of extraction using supercritical CO2 produces cannabis concentrates that are cleaner, have significantly less toxicity, and are more aromatic than butane hash oil products.
Whenever purchasing a product, we encourage our readers to do as much research on the method of extraction as possible (spoiler alert: Honest Paws uses CO2 Extraction). Know what you're putting in your body!
Furthermore, when purchasing a cannabis product for medicinal purposes for yourself or for your beloved furbaby, it is even more critical to ensure that you are reaping all of the benefits that the product has to offer.