How CBD Oil is Made and Why it Determines Extract Quality

how cbd oil is made

Understanding how CBD oil is made is important because it plays a massive part in an extract’s quality. All CBD oil comes from the hemp plant. It’s produced via a process that takes multiple days and has numerous phases.

How is CBD oil extracted

Although all CBD is from the same plant, it isn’t all made the same. Providers differ in how they extract, refine, distil, and formulate their CBD oil. For example, extraction methods could use supercritical CO2 techniques or solvents like ethanol, oil infusion, or hydrocarbons. 

These differences lead to varying product strength, purity, and quality, plus cannabinoid and terpene content. Organically farmed and produced CBD products also have some distinctions in how they are produced versus non-organic extracts.

Pure Australian CBD Oil

Other processes used during CBD oil production, like hemp purity testing and third-party laboratory tests, are also a key consideration. This guide will cover how CBD oil is made, the steps involved, and why this matters for overall product quality.

Where’s CBD Oil From?

Industrial hemp in Australia

Before we delve into how CBD oil is produced, let’s briefly recap its origins. CBD is a cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are natural, helpful chemicals made by cannabis that your body can use. The human body has specific receptors designed to bind with cannabinoids. Cannabis is an ancient plant. Human cultures worldwide have used it for millennia, both for its health-promoting effects and for textiles, building materials, and fibres.

CBD Product shot

In Australia, most CBD oil comes from industrial hemp, which is a ‘cultivar’ of cannabis. This cultivar or type of plant has been altered over time through breeding techniques to suppress its THC content (the intoxicating cannabinoid). As such, industrial hemp is different from marijuana in Australia, and extracts from it won’t get you high. Hemp plants are all different in quality. The soil they’re grown in, the nutrients they’re fed, methods of cultivation, and the environment they’re grown in all influence plant purity. This significantly affects how good the CBD oil made from it is. 

How CBD Oil is Made

CBD Oil production process

Making CBD oil involves several essential steps, each indispensable to the effectiveness of the end product. It all begins with cultivating and harvesting hemp plants. The plants are then dried, processed, and tested for purity. Next comes extraction, refinement and distillation. Finally, extracted CBD oil is formulated and re-tested in the lab. Let’s run through each of these key production phases.

Hemp Cultivation

Hemp cultivation in Australia

Before CBD oil can be extracted, hemp must be carefully grown. Many factors play a part in the selection and cultivation of plants. One of these is which seeds are used, which will determine the strain and cultivar. In Australia, hemp farms can only use industrial hemp seeds under regulation. This ensures the plants are compliant with the 0.3% THC concentration limit. Other strains of cannabis sativa require special medical cannabis farming licensure to grow. Both federal and state laws strictly regulate hemp cultivation.

Hemp plants germinating

Controlling the environment where hemp is grown is another critical element that farmers consider. Although hemp is resilient and tough as a crop, it tends to grow best in particular conditions. Specifically, temperate, mild climates with moderate precipitation are optimal for hemp yields. Farmers have to ensure soil is well drained and plants have adequate space. Because of their size and height, hemp plants are planted in more spread positions than other crops.

Hemp plantation

For this reason, most hemp is also grown outdoors instead of greenhouses. Many farmers will test their soils before they plant their seeds. Because hemp readily absorbs nutrients and chemicals from the ground, this is a vital step to prevent plants from becoming contaminated by soil containing toxins such as heavy metals.

Farmer watering his hemp crop

Advantageously, hemp doesn’t need much water compared to other crops. Additionally, it tends to be resistant to pests like insects. This natural pest immunity means most hemp doesn’t need to be treated with pesticides. This makes it great as a crop in places like Australia, where water supply is often constrained, and farms prioritise hardy plant types. Achieving fully formed, budding hemp plants takes two to six months. Sunlight exposure is a significant determinant of plant maturity timings and flowering cycles. Despite its robustness, growers must pay attention during cultivation to the well-being of their crops. This includes monitoring each plant to ensure it’s well irrigated, correctly spaced, fertilised, pest-free and not affected by diseases.


Harvesting industrial hemp

Once hemp has fully matured, it can be harvested. The plants can take multiple months to achieve their full ‘ripeness’ of nutrient, cannabinoid and terpene content. Today, most farmers automate the harvesting process using machinery. Manual harvesting of hemp can be very taxing and physically challenging. Harvesters are used to achieve this efficiently. Hemp harvesters are specifically designed to gather and separate each part of the plant. It uses two distinct mechanical components to strip the leaves and buds from the top bush of each plant while simultaneously obtaining its fibrous stalks from below.

Processing hemp plants

There is a reason why the hemp buds and leaves are collected separately from the stalks. Each plant part is used for distinctive purposes, and keeping them separate is essential to making extraction and processing easier later. Stalks of hemp contain few nutrients and cannabinoids. They are primarily used for their solid and robust fibres. In contrast, the leaves and buds extract CBD oil because they contain terpenes, cannabinoids, and phytonutrients.

Hemp plants drying in dryhouse

Once the plants are collected, they’re chopped loosely and left to dry. This is sometimes done in outdoor spaces. More advanced farm operations use particular humidity and temperature-controlled dryhouses to optimise the hemp’s drying conditions. This helps to maximise cannabinoid content and prevents fungus, bacteria, or mould infection. The drying process is critical to ensuring the integrity of the cannabinoids and terpenes in the final extract. It’s also vital to eliminate moisture content. Water in hemp can degrade CBD oil and cause problems during extraction. 


Woman grading hemp plant quality

Curing, safety testing and decarboxylation of dried hemp happen next in the CBD oil production process. After being dried out, the hemp is assessed and graded. Each batch of dried plants is inspected visually and chemically to check its purity. This involved checking for toxins, moulds, fungus and heavy metals. Preventing contamination at this stage is vital to avoid these contaminants from ruining the entire CBD oil batch later. Depending on their grade, the plants will also be categorised. Only the highest grades of hemp are used for making CBD oil. Lower-quality grades could produce hemp foods, materials and fibres. Sometimes, samples are taken at this point for more in-depth testing, depending on the operation.

Hemp separation

High-grade hemp that will be used for CBD oil extraction is then decarboxylated. This process uses low heat levels to alter the hemp leaves and buds’ chemical composition and molecular structure. Temperatures of just over 100 degrees Celsius are used to achieve this. It chemically changes the cannabinoids in the plant. Significantly, decarboxylation chemically transforms CBDA and CBG into CBD. As a result of decarboxylation, overall CBD concentrations are massively increased. Think of this process as ‘bringing out’ the cannabinoid content or further ‘ripening’ the raw hemp plant matter to maximise its yield.

Extraction and Refinement

CBD extraction using machinery

Now that the hemp has been cured and processed, it can be extracted for its rich CBD oil. Various methods can be used to do this, each with advantages and disadvantages. These methods commonly use supercritical CO2 gas, ethanol (solvents), hydrocarbon, or oil infusion techniques. This stage is crucial in determining overall CBD oil quality and purity. As such, we’ve created a separate section below comparing these differing extraction approaches.

Full spectrum CBD tincture

Once initial extraction is complete, ‘crude’ hemp extract undergoes further refinement to remove undesirable plant matter. This may include winterisation (which removes fats and waxes), filtration, and distillation to concentrate CBD. During this phase, any remaining THC traces are also eliminated from the mixture. 


Scientist testing CBD oil batch

After extraction and refinement, most providers will test their CBD extract to confirm its pure and high quality. A meticulous procedure uses a technical process called ‘high-performance liquid chromatography’ or HPLC. This involves taking a sample of the CBD extract and mixing it into a liquid solvent. The solvent mixture is pressurised and passed into a specialised testing chamber. HPLC then uses a reactive agent to react with the solvent, separated using pressure and movement. Flow rate analysis of the subsequent test liquid is then applied to confirm CBD concentrations with very high accuracy. This type of testing is also used to verify the absence of pesticides, heavy metals, fungi and solvents. It helps to guarantee that the produced CBD oil is of the highest quality and safety levels.

Distillation and Formulation

Distillation of CBD Oil

After extraction, refinement, and testing, distillation removes any remaining chemical compounds, water, or plant material. This results in high-purity CBD oil with 0% THC. At this point, the oil extract is ready to be formulated. Formulation refers to mixing CBD oil with carriers and ingredients to prepare an end product for sale. 

Woman holding CBD product

Most CBD oil isn’t left in its raw state as a pure hemp extract. It’s typically combined with a ‘carrier’ oil to enhance absorption, dose consistency, flavour and ease of use. Common carrier oils include MCT (from coconut), olive oil or other plant oils. Additional ingredients such as natural flavours (e.g. vanilla bean), sweeteners (e.g. stevia), vitamins, minerals or other plant extracts can be infused into the mixture here to enrich its nutrient value further. This also improves palatability, as raw CBD oil tends to be hard to consume for most people.

Organic CBD oil

The mixing process is performed under stringent conditions to ensure a homogenous and stable product. Homogenisation means thoroughly dispersing CBD throughout the mixture, preventing inconsistencies. Before a batch of CBD oil is bottled, it’s stability tested. This involves testing the extract in various temperature, light, and humidity scenarios. It further verifies safety, shelf life, and reliability.

Laboratory Testing

Third party lab testing CBD oil

Quality CBD oil producers will run third-party laboratory testing on their extract batches after production to validate the cannabinoid levels and purity of their product. This unbiased assessment guarantees that a CBD product meets all regulatory, safety and purity standards. Additionally, it boosts trust and credibility for a CBD oil product.

These labs conduct several tests. Potency testing is done to determine the concentrations of CBD and other cannabinoids. This testing confirms that a product has declared CBD and THC concentrations within legal limits. Purity testing is equally important to detect dangerous pollutants such as pesticides, heavy metals, microbiological organisms, and residual solvents. These testing phases ensure a product is effective, safe, and legal.

Cannabis in medical laboratory

Some providers also use terpene profile testing to confirm terpenes in the CBD oil batch. Terpenes are natural scent chemicals from hemp that affect a CBD oil’s flavour, scent and therapeutic properties. These compounds enable the ‘entourage effect’ in full-spectrum CBD products by boosting cannabinoid absorption.

The output of lab testing by third parties is a Certificate of Analysis (CoA). The CBD oil batch produces these certificates and will include a batch number or identifier. The CoA is an analysis report. It specifies all the findings and measurements from the testing regime. In particular, it will list ng/mL concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, contaminants and even nutrients like chlorophyll. Once lab testing is completed, the CBD oil is ready to be sold and used.

CBD Extraction Methods Compared

CBD oil extraction methods

The extraction approach used to make CBD oil significantly affects the product’s purity, effectiveness, and safety. Let’s examine the different techniques and how they compare.

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction

Preparing hemp for CO2 extraction

Supercritical CO2 gas extraction of CBD oil uses inert gas, heat and pressure. This is the most effective extraction technique in maximising CBD oil purity, quality and strength. It eliminates the risk of the extract becoming contaminated by solvents. Supercritical extraction is the most complex and costly but produces the most pure product. During extraction, hemp resin is passed through multiple highly pressurised chambers. In each chamber, CO2 gas is superheated and passed through the resin under extreme pressure.

The heat and pressure separate the resin because each component has different densities. Separated hemp plant matter can be removed from the liquid extract. For isolate CBD oil, this plant matter is discarded. However, some matter is kept stable and retained in the extract for full-spectrum CBD oil. High purity is achieved because no harsh chemicals or solvents are used during processing. As such, the risk of solvent residues left in the extract is prevented.

CBD Drops

Because it uses no solvents, CO2 extraction is the most safe and environmentally sustainable. Extraction can also be finely tuned to alter the cannabinoid and phytocompound levels in the final oil. The purity and customizability of this method enable differing spectrums of CBD oil to be produced. Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate CBD oil can all be made via CO2 extraction, depending on desired results.

Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol extraction of CBD oil

CBD oil can also be extracted using solvents like ethanol. This lower-cost method produces a product of lower strength, purity, and safety. A solvent is a liquid that can dissolve other substances through a chemical reaction. Solvents such as ethanol are used in this extraction method to break down the cannabis resin. Heat is applied to the solvent mixture to accelerate its chemical reaction with the resin and aid in the decomposition of plant matter.

This heat is also used to evaporate the solvent after extraction. Doing so enables its removal from the final pure oil. Once extraction is complete, the oil must be re-filtered to remove any remaining traces of solvent. Many are toxic and harmful if consumed (like ethanol). However, the process is never guaranteed to remove all solvent traces. Some inevitably remain in the final CBD oil. The risk of contamination with ethanol or other harmful chemicals is high, even when all precautions are taken.

Unfortunately, solvent extraction damages or destroys beneficial plant nutrients like flavonoids and antioxidants, making the final extract less nutritious. Additionally, solvents can degrade cannabinoids like CBD, reducing the potency and quality of solvent-extracted CBD oil. Despite this, many providers opt for solvent extraction because of its simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and speed. It doesn’t require complex, expensive machinery or expertise like supercritical CO2 gas extraction.

Hydrocarbon Extraction

CBD production facility

Hydrocarbon extraction of CBD oil is most effective for terpene preservation but suffers from safety problems like ethanol extraction. That’s because it also uses solvents. Specifically, it employs hydrocarbon solvents like butane or propane as an extraction medium. These are still powerful in dissolving cannabis resin but preserve terpene content more thoroughly than ethanol. After extraction, purification must be performed using heat and vacuum techniques. 

Butane and propane are very toxic, which is problematic. They’re also highly flammable, making hydrocarbon extraction dangerous. Ensuring the entire process is executed with the utmost care and precision is crucial. Advantageously, the hydrocarbon process results in potent CBD oil with the highest levels of terpenes. However, its use of solvents still makes it less preferential compared to CO2 gas-based extracts.

Oil Infusion

Oil infusion CBD extract

Oil infusion is another way CBD oil can be extracted; however, it’s much less popular than other methods. It involves heating hemp matter, which is then infused with a carrier oil like MCT or olive oil. The heated mixture is left for multiple hours to complete the infusion. 

CBD oil is made using oil infusion, mainly by individuals or small producers. It’s not efficient and produces lower-quality extracts. On the other hand, it is cheap, safe, natural, and easy to do. Unlike extraction methods that rely on toxic solvents, oil infusion is solvent-free. This favours it among people concerned about solvent use but who want to avoid paying for expensive supercritical gas extraction of CBD oil.


Australian CBD tincture

Now that you’ve learned how CBD oil is made, you can fully appreciate the degree of planning, work, care, and investment involved. This level of financial, time and labour cost is a big reason why CBD oil is so expensive in Australia. However, it also underscores the importance of how CBD oil is produced in determining end-product quality. Many phases involve getting this magical oil from the hemp plant to the tincture bottle. Each requires meticulous planning and attention. 

Hemp has to be farmed, harvested, dried and processed. It’s then graded and tested to ensure quality is controlled. Decarboxylation and processing of the plants is the next step to maximise cannabinoid potency. Extraction can only be performed using CO2 gas, solvents, hydrocarbons or oil infusion. The methods and controls used across these phases matter. It profoundly affects CBD oil concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, nutrients and antioxidants.

Moreover, it will fundamentally determine how good the product is and its effectiveness for you. Lab testing is the only accurate way to understand how well a producer has made their CBD oil. It verifies cannabinoid content, terpene profile, plus the absence of contaminants. Remember these factors the next time you choose a CBD oil in Australia to ensure you pick the best product possible.


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