Have you ever wondered why CBD oil costs as much as it does? CBD might be one of the most popular supplements in the world these days, but you’d almost feel like you’re buying a niche product as high as the prices sometimes are for CBD. As you’re about to learn, though, there are some very good reasons why CBD is so expensive – and most of those reasons come down to how complicated the manufacturing process is. The next time you reach for a bottle of CBD oil from Bluebird Botanicals or another brand, take a moment to appreciate the amount of work required to make it.
Hemp Extraction Produces Raw Hemp Distillate
Before you can create CBD oil, you need hemp distillate – and for that, you need hemp. Hemp processing companies buy massive volumes of CBD hemp flowers from farmers, and it’s their goal to find only the best raw material. Although explaining the process of growing and harvesting hemp is beyond the scope of this article, it’s important to remember that CBD hemp farming is an incredibly challenging career. Hemp seeds with the desired genetic characteristics are very expensive, and harvesting the flowers requires an extraordinary amount of manual labor. Those factors contribute greatly to the high price of CBD products.
Returning to the subject of hemp extraction, though, processing companies buy hemp flowers in extremely high volumes because only about 20 percent of the flower by weight – at the most – is CBD. With that in mind, only a small percentage of the flower will end up as CBD oil. The rest will just become compost.
A hemp processor performs the extraction by loading the hemp flowers into an extraction machine that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to force the hemp to release its essential oil. The essential oil, however, isn’t a finished product that’s ready to use – it’s just a raw distillate. The CBD is in there, but it takes a bit of coaxing to get it out.
The equipment necessary for CO2 extraction is extremely expensive. Starting a hemp processing company can easily require an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Filtering and Winterization Produce a More Palatable Product
If you were to use CBD oil made with a raw hemp extract, you’d find that it doesn’t taste very good. That’s because hemp extract contains several unpalatable compounds such as chlorophyll and plant-based waxes. Those compounds are removed from virtually all CBD oil products because people generally avoid CBD oils that don’t taste good.
To improve the taste of the hemp extract, a hemp processing company will begin by running the hemp distillate through a filter to remove any coarse solids that may be present. The next step is a bit more complex, and it’s a process called winterization. To winterize a hemp distillate, the hemp processor adds alcohol to the distillate and then freezes it. The distillate freezes, but the alcohol doesn’t. Plant waxes and other undesirable compounds in the distillate form clumps and float to the top for easy removal. Gentle heating causes the alcohol to evaporate out of the mixture, and the alcohol is collected and retained for future use.
After filtering and winterization, the hemp distillate can be diluted with a carrier oil and used to make a full-spectrum CBD oil product. However, a full-spectrum CBD oil may contain THC at trace levels, and some CBD users specifically avoid consuming any CBD product with even trace levels of THC out of fear that it could cause them to fail a drug test. For that reason, some processors put their hemp distillate through further refinement before turning it into finished products.
Fractional Distillation Isolates CBD from Other Cannabinoids
One of the useful things about the cannabinoids and other compounds in hemp is that they all boil at different temperatures. That fact makes it possible to separate unwanted compounds from hemp distillate in a process called fractional distillation. This process involves heating the hemp distillate to a specific temperature and collecting the vapor for discarding or further processing. Fractional distillation makes it possible to obtain a broad-spectrum hemp distillate that retains its CBD content – along with some synergistic cannabinoids and terpenes – but has the majority of the trace THC content selectively removed. If the distillate is combined with a carrier oil and bottled at this point, it’s usually called “broad-spectrum” CBD oil to distinguish it from a full-spectrum product.
There’s also significant demand among consumers for CBD oil products that contain only CBD and absolutely no other cannabinoids. For those people, hemp processors can go a step further and completely isolate the CBD content from the other compounds in hemp distillate. To create CBD isolate, the hemp processor adds a solvent that causes the CBD to crystalize. The crystals are CBD isolate. CBD isolate is over 99-percent pure, so it has no THC that’s detectable in lab tests. CBD isolate is also oil soluble, so it’s easy to create a finished CBD oil product from CBD isolate by simply adding a carrier oil to dilute the CBD isolate to the desired strength.
Aside from the fact that it contains no detectable THC, an additional benefit of CBD isolate is that it can allow for the creation of much stronger CBD oils than would ordinarily be possible. As we mentioned above, hemp flowers contain an absolute maximum of about 20 percent CBD by weight – and much of the CBD is lost in the extraction process. With CBD isolate, though, it’s possible to create a CBD oil that contains much more than 20 percent CBD by weight. All of the strongest CBD oils on the market use CBD isolate.
Final Additions Turn CBD Extract into a Finished Product
Regardless of whether a CBD oil begins its life as a full-spectrum extract, a broad-spectrum extract or CBD isolate, the producer may add additional ingredients aside from the carrier oil before turning the extract into a finished product. Those ingredients may include natural or artificial flavors to include the taste of the CBD oil, and they may also include terpenes believed to have a synergistic effect when working in combination with CBD.