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. Wondering how to extract CBD? How are CBD oils made? Here we explain the difference between different extraction methods wheying their pros and cons.
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).
How to Extract CBD Oil: Different Methods That Works Best
Wondering how your CBD oils are made? You’ve come to the right place.
CBD extraction is an advanced process that requires many skills and high-tech equipment to yield clean and potent products. Without extraction, the CBD space would revolve around hemp flowers, limiting diversity in the cannabis industry to a great extent.
Can you imagine the cannabis market without oils, gummies, vapes, capsules, and topicals?
Today, we’ll elaborate on how to extract CBD from hemp plants, compare different extraction methods, touch down on their pros and cons — and pick the best technology for making safe CBD oils on a broad scale.
How Is CBD Extracted?
CBD can be extracted from cannabis plants, meaning you can use both hemp and marijuana for extraction.
The source of CBD determines the chemical profile of the end product and has a profound impact on its legality.
Hemp-derived CBD oils have less than 0.3% of THC and thus can’t get the user high. The lack of intoxicating effects makes hemp plants and their derivatives legal on a federal level. You can buy them in all 50 states without a prescription.
Marijuana, on the other hand, comes with significant concentrations of THC — usually upwards of 10% — which is enough to induce intoxication. The federal law still holds THC on the list of controlled substances, making marijuana illegal on a federal level. Individual states can interpret these laws independently; so far, 16 states have fully legalized marijuana, while 48 states have some sort of a medical marijuana program.
As mentioned, there are several ways to extract CBD from hemp.
Let’s start with the golden standard — CO2 extraction.
CO2 behaves like a gas; however, this can be easily changed when you use different pressure levels and temperatures.
CO2 extraction yields optimal results in terms of the product’s potency and preserved phytochemical profile. When the temperature of CO2 gets below -69 F, with pressure levels above 75 PSI, it turns into a supercritical state.
Supercritical CO2 can fill an extraction chamber where the plant material is contained, being just the perfect solvent. It results in a clean product with consistent concentrations of CBD and terpenes throughout the batches.
The carbon dioxide efficiently pulls the desired compounds by breaking up the trichomes in the extraction vessel, leaving away insoluble molecules.
Then the manufacturer uses a separator and splits the extract into individual compounds. Once there, CBD and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are sent back to the collection container. Meanwhile, CO2 leaves the extraction chamber condensed into a liquid form and transferred to a special storage tank for future operations.
CO2 Extraction Equipment
The CO2 extraction equipment includes multi-chamber machines that use special pumps forcing supercritical CO2 into the extraction vessel where it interacts with the plant and breaks the trichomes, dissolving part of the plant material. These machines are costly; they usually cost around $150,000, which is the main reason why CO2-extracted CBD oils are more expensive than products obtained with other solvents, such as alcohol.
Ethanol extraction is one of the least expensive methods to extract CBD from hemp. Alcohol is generally considered safe, although purging it from the final product requires caution and precision on the manufacturer’s part; otherwise, it can trigger explosions.
Alcohol extraction requires soaking the hemp plant in ethanol. The liquid will run through the plant matter, stripping it from the valuable compounds along with chlorophyll. Once the solvent has gathered enough cannabinoids and terpenes, the liquid is strained and then heated in a special dish. After evaporation, the extract is suspended in a carrier oil to thin it down and improve its bioavailability.
Just keep in mind that ethanol is highly flammable, and you should never extract CBD this way at home unless you can ensure the necessary safety measures.
Ethanol Extraction Equipment
Ethanol extraction is usually employed by small-scale manufacturers because it doesn’t involve such heavy financial investments as CO2 extraction. Ethanol extraction equipment involves a professional decarboxylator, large storage tanks where the plant matter can soak in alcohol, industrial strainers, a gentle heating machine, and storage containers that will contain the extracts before they are infused into the carrier oil and bottled up.
Let’s compare the efficacy and safety of both extraction methods.
CO2 vs. Ethanol Extraction
Ethanol is called a “polar” solvent, and as such, it will be more hydrotropic, meaning it will attach to more water-soluble compounds like chlorophyll. Consequently, the final product is generally less potent and pure — requiring more post-labor than CO2 extraction.
People advocating for ethanol extraction usually argue that these downsides can be avoided using very cold temperatures below -5F. While this is true, the process becomes more time-consuming and less efficient if the manufacturer wants to scale up its operations.
Properly performed CO2 extraction can still maintain many of the plant’s phytonutrients, not to mention that it can continuously yield potent products.
Other Ways to Extract CBD
The idea behind CBD extraction is to pull the desired phytochemicals from the plant matter and transform it into a viscous liquid full of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Although CO2 and ethanol are the most popular solvents, they aren’t the only ones. As mentioned, there are several ways to capture these valuable compounds, including:
- Dry Ice Extraction
- Hydrocarbon Extraction
- Vegetable Oil Extraction
Dry Ice Extraction
The dry ice method is one of the best ways to extract CBD at home. However, it requires more time than CO2 extraction or organic solvent extraction.
The dry ice strips CBD and other phytonutrients from the plant material. It’s a relatively inexpensive method of making high-quality CBD hash without using aggressive solvents.
Solventless extraction always produces cleaner extracts than solvent-based methods — not to mention that using dry ice brings a lot of fun to home extraction
How to Extract CBD Using Dry Ice
- 3 lbs of dry ice
- A large mirror or plexiglass sheet
- Heat-resistant gloves
- I goggles
- A putty knife
- A clean 5-gallon bucket
- 3 bags of bubble hash mesh (73, 160, and 220 microns)
- 3 large jars with lids
Dry Ice Extraction (Step-by-Step)
Put on the gloves and goggles. Next, grind your CBD buds into smaller pieces and place them in the bucket.
Cover the CBD buds with dry ice, leaving them there for 3 minutes. Make sure you only fill the bucket halfway. Doing so will freeze the resin so the trichomes can be separated from the plant material and transferred to the special mesh bags.
Fold each bag over the bucket with your CBD and dry ice, and shake it several times to cause the trichomes to fall off from the plant.
Turn the container upside down on the mirror and continue shaking to collect as much of the resin as possible. Once you’ve gathered the hash of the mirror, you can place it in one of the jars.
Do the same with the remaining bags and be proud of your homemade dry-ice CBD hash.
Hydrocarbon compounds include substances like propane, butane, and hexane. These solvents are relatively inexpensive, but they’re difficult to purge from the end product and thus can leave toxic residue at the bottom of the extract.
Hydrocarbon extraction requires soaking the hemp plant in the solvent. The liquid runs through the biomass, pulling the cannabinoids and terpenes from the flower along with water-soluble compounds such as chlorophyll.
Once the solvent has extracted enough phytochemicals, it is heated in a special dish to evaporate it and create a thick liquid.
Vegetable Oil Extraction
CBD can be easily extracted at home using vegetable cooking oils. These oils act as solvents, but the whole process follows similar rules as all other extraction methods.
Any common cooking oil can be used for this kind of extraction, including:
- Coconut oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Argan oil
- MCT oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Olive oil
If you want to extract CBD for homemade edibles, it’s best to go with a product with the highest amount of saturated fats, as they significantly improve the bioavailability of cannabinoids. People typically choose butter and coconut oil for cooking with CBD, while for salves and creams, argan oil and sweet almond oil are the most common choices.
How to Extract CBD with Cooking Oils
Cooking oil extraction is pretty straightforward. First, you need to decarboxylate your dried CBD in the oven. Set up the heat at 250 F and bake the flowers for 30-60 minutes, depending on how dry they are.
Then you combine the decarbed herb with the oil in a saucepan or slow cooker and slowly heat the mixture to gently simmers. Maintain the low heat and keep the CBD infusion for up to 2 hours.
Once done, strain the liquid from the plant matter and place it in a glass jar. You can keep it in a fridge for up to 6 weeks.
Why Is Decarboxylation Important for CBD Extraction?
Most CBD products are decarboxylated, which involves heating the CBD buds to transform the acidic precursor of CBD into its active version.
If you’ve ever cooked something with cannabis, you should know the process very well.
Decarboxylation, also known as decarbing, removes an extra carboxyl group from CBDA (the acid form of CBD), allowing it to interact with the endocannabinoid system immediately.
If you see a CBD product labeled as “raw,” it means it hasn’t been decarboxylated.
Final Thoughts: What’s the Best Way to Extract CBD?
Knowing how CBD is extracted allows you to evaluate the efficacy of different products based on the solvents used in the process.
People have been extracting cannabinoids from cannabis plants for hundreds, if not thousands of years, to use them for therapeutic purposes. Thanks to the current scientific breakthroughs, we can enjoy a wide range of cannabinoid-based extracts with a lot to offer in terms of their therapeutic properties.
Some extraction methods are superior to others when it comes to broad-scale manufacturing. CO2 extraction is currently the golden standard because it yields the purest products without bringing water-soluble compounds such as chlorophyll.
It does, however, require higher costs when it comes to equipment and lab workers, which is why some manufacturers turn to ethanol as their go-to solvent.
If you want to perform CBD extraction at home, you can either go with a solvent-based method — using cooking oils — or take a solventless approach and use dry ice to capture the desired compounds into DIY CBD hash.
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.