CBD has become so popular as a consumer product that we are starting to see an entire DIY industry pop-up. What home brewing is to beer making, home extraction is to the CBD market. In fact, there is no shortage of CBD enthusiasts who get into home extraction thinking that they can do it with nothing more than plain tap water. But can you really extract CBD with water alone?
CBD can be extracted using water as the only solvent. However, you cannot do it just by dumping some hemp biomass into a bowl of water and forgetting about it. For the record, the process of extracting CBD from hemp using water is known as steam distillation. Houston-based CedarStoneIndustry says that steam distillation is the cheapest way to extract CBD. Unfortunately, it is also highly inefficient and incapable of producing consistent CBD concentrations and quality.
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More About Extraction
To truly understand how steam distillation works, it is helpful to understand exactly what CBD extraction is. Cannabidiol is one of more than a hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. It is extracted mostly from industrial hemp.
CBD extraction is essentially the process of separating cannabinoids, terpenes, and other substances from hemp plant material. It might help to think of it like a water-filled sponge. Squeezing the sponge in your hand extracts the water by forcing it out through pressure.
When you extract CBD from hemp, you are also extracting other compounds. You are forcing them out of the plant material by way of a solvent, pressure, or some other process. Steam distillation takes advantage of two things: heat and water’s properties as the universal solvent.
How Steam Distillation Works
Steam distillation is an amazingly uncomplicated process in principle. First, you place hemp biomass in a distillation chamber. It can be laid on a screen, suspended from the top of the chamber, or whatever. Next, water underneath the distillation chamber is heated to boiling point. The chamber is also slightly pressurized.
As steam from the boiling water rises through the distillation chamber, it envelops the plant material and slowly separates the desired compounds. Those compounds are carried away by the steam. The steam enters a cooler chamber where it condenses. From there, the compounds in the condensed liquid can be easily separated.
Steam distillation is very similar to the distillation process used to produce spirits. Distillation itself is an ancient practice that goes back thousands of years. As such, humanity has pretty much perfected it.
CBD Extraction at Home
People looking to extract CBD at home may choose to go with steam distillation because it doesn’t cost much. You only need a few basic pieces of equipment and a little bit of counter space. That being said, commercial hemp processors tend to prefer other extraction methods.
The most popular is arguably CO2 extraction. CO2 extraction utilizes carbon dioxide as a solvent. The gas is combined with pressure in a specialized extraction chamber to break down plant material so that CBD and other compounds can be harvested. The downside to CO2 extraction is that it is quite expensive. Doing it successfully also requires specialized knowledge and quite a bit of skill.
It turns out that you can extract CBD from hemp with water alone. But doing so requires mastering the process of steam distillation. It is not as simple as dropping some plants into a bowl of water and letting them soak.