What You Need to Know About CO2 Cannabis Extraction

Cannabis extraction involves pulling the desired compounds out of the plant while leaving behind everything else.  It’s an integral part of creating cannabis edibles, vapes, topicals, tinctures, shatter, wax, and other concentrated products. 

Both recreational and medical cannabis users are increasingly concerned about the safety of solvent-based cannabis extraction, particularly with butane and other hydrocarbons.

In contrast, carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction is seen as a safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly alternative. Here’s what your customers should know about this cannabis extraction method and why they might prefer it.

What is CO2 Extraction?

Although it has a history of use in coffee and other industries, CO2 extraction is relatively new to the world of cannabis. It uses pressurized carbon dioxide to separate cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytochemicals from cannabis flower. 

This process is highly tunable, which means it can be tweaked to isolate specific compounds. CO2 extraction is used to create a wide variety of concentrated cannabis products, including vapes, tinctures, and edibles.

There are two types of CO2 extraction: supercritical and subcritical.

Supercritical extraction is far more common and involves pressurizing and heating carbon dioxide to turn it into a supercritical fluid that behaves like a gas and liquid at the same time. In this state, CO2 becomes an efficient solvent and can be used to make products on a large scale.

Subcritical extraction uses similar pressures but lower temperatures. It’s a much slower process that produces a lower yield, so it’s not that widely used. However, it does a better job of retaining terpenes and other fragile molecules. 

That’s why some CBD and cannabis companies use this method to create artisanal extracts that are as close to natural as possible. The resulting products are often called “raw” because they contain higher levels of cannabinoid acids like CBDA and THCA.

CO2 Extraction: Benefits for Consumers

From a cannabis consumer standpoint, the key advantage of CO2 extraction is cleanliness and safety.

Some cannabis users are concerned about residual solvents left behind by ethanol and hydrocarbon extraction, which isn’t an issue with CO2 because it’s completely safe and simply turns back into gas after the extraction process.

CO2 is also considered green and environmentally friendly.1

Unlike hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide is nontoxic, nonflammable, renewable, and doesn’t harm the environment. It can also be captured and reused in subsequent extractions, further reducing its environmental impact.

One Step of the Process

CO2 extraction is just one step in the process of going from raw cannabis plant material to the finished product. There’s also preparation of the plants and refinement of the extract.

To illustrate, the cannabis extraction experts at Ontario’s Motif Labs use a 10-step process to create pure, potent cannabis oils. 

First, they select high-quality cannabis or hemp biomass and reduce its size by milling. Next, the cannabis is decarboxylated to convert cannabinoid acids (like THCA and CBDA) into their active forms (THC and CBD) and then extracted with supercritical CO2.

The resulting crude extract undergoes further refinement, which includes winterization to remove fats, waxes, and lipids, filtration, a second decarboxylation, double distillation, and finally precision blending. This advanced process is used to create odourless, tasteless, clear cannabis oils with high concentrations of THC or CBD.

Helping Consumers Understand CO2 Extraction

CO2 extraction is a clean, safe, and environmentally-friendly method that can produce high-quality cannabis extracts. 

Tinctures, vapes, edibles, and other products made through this technique are a good choice for cannabis consumers concerned about residual solvents.

If your customers are looking for artisanal products that are as close to natural as possible, they might also prefer those made with subcritical CO2. Our Cannametrics platform includes a wide array of cannabis products made with CO2 extraction.

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Gleb Oleinik

Gleb Oleinik is a freelance writer from Vancouver with a passion for educating people about the benefits of cannabis. He’s read hundreds of studies about cannabis, cannabinoids, and terpenes, helping him translate complex scientific research into plain language. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym, out in nature, and working on his website projects.