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As the cannabis industry grows, consumers are responding strongly to edibles, topicals and concentrates, all products with extracted CBD and THC. Multiple extraction methods are currently used to produce extracts and more are expected. Two broad groups exist, solventless and solvent-based, with various pros and cons. One method, Supercritical CO2 extraction, is gaining ground in the industry. Having already been used for many years in other industries, Supercritical CO2 extraction is expensive and technically demanding but many cannabis product companies maintain it is the best method for the production of high-quality extracts.

Consumer awareness is growing

Though marijuana flower sales dominate the cannabis industry in states with legal marijuana, sales of concentrates, edibles, and topicals containing THC and CBD are growing at a rapid pace. These various categories of cannabis products make for a complex terrain for consumers to navigate once they get past the initial stages of use. However, consumers in such states are becoming increasingly sophisticated and concerned with how such products are manufactured for both purity and environmental friendliness.

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With CBD now becoming more readily available in all U.S. states, due to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, a much broader range of consumers will be introduced to cannabis products. However, most CBD products are concentrates, edibles or topicals with CBD-only flowers a much smaller category. This new reality creates a setting in which extraction methods become a much bigger topic for sophisticated consumers especially given the general focus of CBD product consumers on health and wellness issues.

Retailers are responding to such consumers by providing more information about aspects of production, for example, which extraction methods are used to produce concentrates, whether sold as concentrates or as key ingredients in edibles and topicals. Extraction methods are typically divided into solvent-based and solventless with solventless methods often viewed as the more natural approach. However, CO2 is a natural product, unlike most other solvents.

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Preferred extraction methods

Solventless methods are not as effective at extracting CBD and other key ingredients from cannabis as are solvent-based methods. One solvent-based method using CO2, Supercritical CO2 extraction (SCO2), is particularly prized for high-quality cannabis products. As Sunniva Inc’s (OTCMKTS:SNNVF) manager of extraction and formulation, Mylad Piroozbakht, put it, “the main benefit of SCO2 is that it enables the extraction of more total cannabinoids along with other plant components like fats and waxes.”

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After extraction, CBD purity is verified in the lab (Source)

Diamond CBD, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PotNetwork Holdings, Inc. (OTCMKTS:POTN), explains why it prefers SCO2 in its website’s FAQ section. While pointing out that “poisonous solvents” are often used to produce cheaper CBD oil products, SCO2 is used to produce the CBD oil found in all its products. Diamond CBD explains that SCO2 “maintains the purity of the CBD oil throughout the entire process.” In addition, the process “retains all of the naturally occurring beneficial molecules found in the hemp plant.”

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CO2 is the natural solvent choice

Solvent-based extraction methods can be further separated into “petroleum-based solvents such as butane or propane,” the “poisonous solvents” to which Diamond CBD refers, and “more natural solvents such as CO2.” And, yes, there are multiple forms of CO2 extraction but Supercritical CO2 extraction is currently the favored approach for high-quality CBD products.

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CO2 is preferred for all kinds of botanical extractions for many reasons including the fact that, though it is a solvent, CO2 is also naturally occurring. In fact, the FDA has “labeled CO2 safe for industrial extractions” in contrast to petroleum-based solvents. In addition, CO2 can be utilized at temperatures not exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit which is one of the reasons that it maintains the purity of CBD and other compounds.

Though SCO2 is preferred over other CO2 extraction methods, it also requires expensive equipment and highly trained personnel. These requirements set a high bar that fly-by-night operations are not interested in meeting. As consumers become more aware of the differences in extraction methods, they will recognize that Supercritical CO2 extraction leads to a superior product that will more strongly support their health needs.

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Here comes the CBD boom

Where consumers go, investors will follow. It will be interesting to see if savvy investors pick up on the differences in extraction methods in advance of consumer demand. However that dynamic plays out, CBD consumers will certainly become aware of the differences as CBD develops a more widespread presence in the health and beauty industry. And given the extreme growth forecasts of cannabis industry analysts and the interest from big corporations and major celebrities, it seems likely that CBD could soon be visible in medicine cabinets across the nation.