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. For high-volume extraction companies, ethanol can be the most efficient and cost-effective solution for separating cannabis compounds from plant matter.
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 for Cannabis and Hemp
Ethanol has a long history of extracting oil from plant materials for therapeutic use. In today’s highly competitive marijuana extraction sector, extraction artists have a wide range of extraction solvents to choose from such as carbon dioxide, light hydrocarbons (propane and butane), and ethanol. These solvents are used to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis or hemp resin.
What Is Ethanol Extraction?
Ethanol is more common than you think. Ethanol can be found in grain alcohol made by fermenting plant sugars from agricultural crops. Ethanol (C2H5OH), also known as ethyl alcohol, is a colorless and flammable liquid that can produce intoxication, be used for fuel, and also be used as a solvent. Ethanol can be fermented from different crops, but corn is the main source of ethanol in the U.S.
Ethanol extraction can be performed under warm or cold temperatures. Generally, raw and ground-up cannabis material (dry or frozen) is soaked in pre-chilled ethanol for a certain amount of time to separate the plant’s trichomes from the plant matter. Warm ethanol extraction has been a staple in amateur home extractions. For larger batches, room temperature or cooled ethanol can improve the quality of cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis and hemp extraction.
After the initial extraction process using food grade ethanol, the solution is filtered and the ethanol is purged from the extract. Post-processing techniques gently remove ethanol from the extracts through evaporation. Ethanol may be removed with rotary evaporators, falling film evaporators, or a vacuum distillation system.
Winterization is a term used to describe the process of removing impurities such as plant lipids, chlorophyll, waxes, and fats from the oil. Chilling the oil and ethanol solution can cause these undesirable compounds to separate (precipitate) and rise to the top for easier removal. The cooling process can be performed in freezers, cold rooms, or other cooling equipment.
Keep in mind, ethanol has a higher boiling point than butane or propane. Because of its relatively higher boiling point, many of the terpenes that give cannabis the desirable flavors and aromas that many consumers enjoy, are lost in the ethanol extraction process. The inevitable loss in terpenes from the ethanol process also diminishes the entourage effect of the final ethanol extract product when compared to BHO extraction. Regardless of ethanol’s weaknesses, large-scale throughput and financing can easily overcome equipment limitations.
Ethanol extracts can also undergo a final polishing phase where adsorbents can be used to lighten the oil’s hue and improve the translucence of the extract. Popular adsorbents such as activated charcoal and bleaching clays can improve not only the color but also the quality of ethanol concentrates.
The residual ethanol is evaporated, condensed, and reused in the closed-loop extraction system to increase cost-efficiency and throughput. All of these operations take place in a lab-grade facility with adequate ventilation and storage areas.
Why You Should Choose Ethanol Extraction Over CO2?
Every extraction company favors one solvent over another for various reasons. Butane is the most common solvent used for cannabis extraction and CO2 extraction has also been touted as safe and eco-friendly. Ethanol extraction, however, offers both safety and efficiency when extracting cannabis or hemp on a large scale.
For high-volume extractions, ethanol can be the most efficient at separating cannabis compounds from the plant matter. Ethanol is an extremely polar solvent that can bind to cannabinoids, terpenes, but also chlorophylls and other water-soluble undesirable compounds. Many terpene boiling points are about the same as ethanol’s boiling point, thereby, increasing the risk of terpene loss when removing the ethanol solvent.
Ethanol’s polarity problem can largely be overcome with chilled ethanol (-40ºC or below) to bypass most of the chlorophyll, lipid, and other unwanted compounds. Under the proper conditions, ethanol extraction can produce isolate or limited full-spectrum concentrates with cannabinoids, and some terpenes, flavonoids, and other therapeutic compounds.
Ethanol can be easy to scale because using this solvent becomes cost-effective at a higher volume (1,000 to 5,000 pounds per day) compared to CO2 extraction, for instance. As hemp farming heats up across the nation, growers and extractors are looking for the most versatile and cost-efficient to reap CBD for a variety of infused products, not just CBD flower.
Is Ethanol Safer?
Ethanol extraction is no safer than hydrocarbon and CO2 extraction, that is to say, all extraction methods are safe for production under the approved building requirements. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified ethanol as a Class 3 solvent with low toxicity. Ethanol is one of the safest solvents for food grade and pharmaceutical extraction processes.
In pharmaceutical manufacturing, residual ethanol below 0.5 percent or 5,000 parts per million (ppm) is considered generally safe. Some legal cannabis states, however, have enacted stricter cutoff residual solvent levels based on recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Residual cutoff levels vary by state.
While ethanol extraction may not be any more dangerous to use than light hydrocarbon extraction or CO2 extraction, the building requirements for ethanol extraction are less stringent than hydrocarbon extraction approval. Jurisdictions are familiar with approving distilleries that use ethanol compared to approving propane and butane facilities that elicit negative images based on a lingering stigma from black market extractions.
On top of receiving quicker approval by local governments, storage limits for ethanol are much more lenient compared to other solvents. That means an extraction facility can store more ethanol in the facility and use large volumes of ethanol at one time for cannabis or hemp extraction. Storing large volumes of solvent can keep the continuous extraction going without missing a beat.
Ethanol extraction systems are the go-to solution for large-scale commercial operations that process a high volume of cannabis or hemp. Ethanol is fast, reliable, and efficient at extracting low to mid-quality oils from cannabis and hemp for companies looking to scale. With the proper ethanol extraction system, cannabis companies can process hundreds of pounds of material per hour and gain a competitive edge.
Cut Labor Costs
Automated controls eliminate weeks or months of apprenticeship training required for manually controlled hydrocarbon systems.
Eliminate Operator Error
Pre-programmed recipe-monitoring system checks pressures and temperatures hundreds of times per second to remove risk of operator error.
Process 18 pounds of dried plant material or 25 pounds of fresh-frozen material per run. Single operator can process 400 pounds of biomass in a single day.
Improve Run Time
50-minute average run time with a 10-minute soak. Run-to-run changeover times of two minutes.