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 debate surrounding which CBD extraction method is superior rages on, and for good reason. Both supercritical CO2 and ethanol extraction have pros and cons. However, we feel our proprietary ethanol extraction is the best method for producing authentic full spectrum CBD oil. Additionally, our in-house chromatography
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
Ethanol Extraction vs. Supercritical CO2
The debate surrounding which CBD extraction method is superior rages on, and for good reason. Both supercritical CO2 and ethanol extraction have pros and cons. However, we feel our proprietary ethanol extraction is the best method for producing authentic full spectrum CBD oil. Additionally, our in-house chromatography technique enables us to selectively pull THC from our oil, creating a unique broad spectrum (THC free) CBD oil.
Here, we break down the differences between the two most commonly used CBD extraction methods (ethanol vs. CO2) to help clear the air.
Extraction methods are various processes used to procure and concentrate the medicinal compounds found naturally in hemp.
There is no absolute ‘best method’ when it comes to CBD extraction methods, and it truly depends on what you’re trying to create. In a nutshell, supercritical CO2 is used for producing highly-refined CBD isolates.
In contrast, ethanol is the go-to when opting for a full-spectrum CBD oil with a wide range of beneficial phytonutrients.
Supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction has exploded in popularity and is arguably the most common choice amongst CBD companies. The question remains, though, as to whether or not that’s a good thing. Let’s explore this topic further.
Supercritical Carbon-Dioxide (CO2) CBD Extraction
Supercritical CO2 extraction requires the use of costly and technologically advanced equipment, and also a well-trained technician to operate the machine.
This particular technology has applications in many areas other than hemp, such as:
- Sterilizing tissues and organs for transplants
- Extracting fat from snack foods
- Removing caffeine from coffee to make decaf
- Extracting flavor oils from hops
This process involves starting with gaseous CO2 and transforming it into a liquid by cooling it to under -69°F (-56°C) and applying 75 pounds of pressure per square inch.
At this point, the CO2 is now liquid, so the technician gradually increases the temperature and pressure until the fluid reaches a ‘supercritical’ state, meaning that it possesses both the properties of a gas and a liquid.
This dynamic allows for the supercritical CO2 to fill up a chamber like a gas, but soak the extraction material (hemp) like a liquid.
CO2 extraction is recognized in the cannabis industry for having an incredibly low environmental impact. Compared to a butane/propane extraction, CO2 is promoted as one of the safest techniques. However, despite these positives, CO2 is not without its flaws.
After the CO2 passes over the hemp, it goes through a separation chamber, where changes in temperature and pressure allow the CO2 to evaporate and leave behind cannabinoids, terpenes, and wax. The CO2 vapor then passes through a condenser to be returned to its liquid state and saved for future use.
CO2 extraction is often marketed as ‘solvent-free,’ suggesting it is a cleaner alternative to other extraction methods. However, this is usually not the case.
The resulting extract, while full of cannabinoids and terpenes, requires winterization due to the high content of wax and lipids. The most commonly used solvents for this purpose are ethanol (ironic), isopropanol (petroleum-based), or methanol (toxic wood-alcohol).
Most companies using CO2 extractions perform winterization through distillation, which is typically performed at very high heat. In this common method the two benefits of CO2 are lost; a solvent is still employed (“solvent free” therefore is not accurate) and the hemp extract is subjected to high heat (the cold benefits of CO2 are lost).
Furthermore, (and more importantly if you are consuming hemp-derived products for therapeutic benefits), this lengthy purification process, which is required to remove the co-extracted constituents (waxes and plant fats) from the extract, can take away from the final cannabinoid and terpenoid profile.
A study published by Planta Medica in March of 2018 found that CO2 extraction drastically changed the chemical composition of cannabis. [ 1 ] Compared with the dried plant flower, CO2 extracts eliminate many of the subtle flavor and aroma molecules that provide nuance and subtlety to the experiential effects of different cultivars.
Advocates of CO2 extraction tout the non-polar nature of carbon-dioxide, meaning that it doesn’t pull out any of the water-soluble components in hemp.
However, this is only a benefit if your end goal is to make CBD isolate, as most experts agree that the full range of compounds found in hemp provides a unique therapeutic synergy known as the ‘entourage effect.’
One sure benefit of this method is that CO2 effectively eliminates any unwanted microbes, assuring that the end product is free from mold and mildew.
Alcohol (Ethanol) CBD Extraction
Cannabis is a fascinating plant that can produce more than 500 compounds that represent almost every biogenetic class. As such, we choose to utilize ethanol extraction to create the most full-spectrum CBD product possible.
Ethanol is simply, alcohol. It is made from plant fermentation and is a by-product of plants themselves.
Ethanol is a polar solvent, allowing it to extract both water and fat-soluble plant compounds, such as [ 2 ]:
- Cannabinoids (CBD, THC, CBC, CBG, CBDV)
- Terpenes (myrcene, limonene, pinene, linalool, b-caryophyllene, terpinene, eucalyptol)
- Flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol, quercetin, and cannflavin A and B)
- AminoAcids (all eight essentials)
- Alkamides (immune-promoting compounds)
In our ethanol extraction, food-grade ethanol is passed through the hemp flowers and brought to a very low boil. During this simmer, we gently cradle the flowers as they mix with the ethanol and create natural friction, producing a vapor that is full of beneficial compounds. We then recirculate the ethanol through the plant matter multiple times, allowing for maximum extraction.
Our sophisticated ethanol extraction process effectively removes undesirable plant waxes and chlorophyll without the high-heat exposure used in other extraction methods.
Ethanol has been referred to as “the best of both worlds”. This extraction method is recognized for having the efficiency of a butane extraction while maintaining the safety of CO2. The FDA classifies ethanol as safe for human consumption and therefore it is commonly used as a food preservative and food additive.
Now that we’ve talked in-depth about the two primary extraction techniques, let’s discuss the bottom line on choosing which extraction method you should look for in your CBD products.
Petroleum-Based Hemp Extraction
Petroleum-based solvents, such as Butane and Propane, were among the first extraction methods used by farmers, cannabis growers and home-grown CBD enthusiasts. These solvents work well due to their non-polarity, meaning they allow for the extraction of all the desired compounds (such as cannabinoids and terpenes) from the plant material without also extracting undesirable compounds (such as chlorophyll and plant metabolites). The problem with this extraction process is that it involves high heat and high pressure, is highly combustible and highly toxic, ruling out being a viable option by many health and wellness companies.
While petroleum-based solvents have their purpose, in a commercial setting, typically a solvent-based approach or a super critical (CO2) extraction are performed for feasibility and cost efficiencies.
How Do We Ensure Our Products are Clean and Solvent-Free?
We employ distillation techniques to remove the solvent from the extract. Our testing protocols test down to 1 part per million (1ppm) in which no ethanol is found in our extracts.
We strive to keep our products as natural and as close to the hemp plant as possible. Ethanol is well-known in the herbalism world to be the most natural and efficient solvent to get the most beneficial compounds from the plants. These methods have been employed for hundreds, if not thousands of years which is why most of the larger herbal companies are still using ethanol extraction over CO2.
The cannabis industry will continue to emerge with new technologies, making consumption more efficient, effective and more accessible. However, this doesn’t always equate to a better solution for extraction. We have found what works best for us in order to provide our customers with the healthiest products that have true therapeutic potential.
We passionately believe the 500+ phytonutrients extracted from hemp via ethanol extraction offer a far superior user experience to the isolated CBD that results from CO2 technology.
However, some people may prefer to use CBD isolate, due to the perceived ‘purity’ or ‘simplicity’ it offers. While we at Ananda Professional certainly advocate for the use of full spectrum, ethanol extracted CBD, there is nothing wrong with using CO2 extracted isolate if that is what you prefer.