Ethanol vs CO2 CBD Extraction: Pros and Cons

Over the past decade, there has been an increased interest in the market for CBD extracts and other products derived from the (once illegal) cannabis plant. Though cannabis has been used by different civilizations for thousands of years, it wasn’t until recently that the science could effectively revolutionize the way in which the plant is consumed.

As time has gone on, cannabis producers have found ways that consumption can be more efficient, effective, and accessible than ever before. There is still certainly a significant amount of research that needs to be done regarding cannabis and its potential uses for consumers, but there is no doubt that we certainly live in some exciting times.

One of the biggest evolutions that can be seen in the cannabis industry is the increased use of CBD extracts. As the name might imply, an extract is something that makes it possible to isolate the portions of the cannabis plant that consumers want. For example, individuals who only want to consume CBD now have the unique ability to actually do so.

In this article, we will explore the different components of the ethanol and co2 extraction processes and weigh the pros and cons of each. Whether you are a consumer, a producer, or are simply interested in the industry as a whole, understanding how the hemp extraction process works can be quite valuable.

What is the purpose of ethanol or CO2 extraction?

The cannabis plant has been consumed by human beings and used in a variety of different forms for quite some time. The consumption of cannabis has been claimed to provide a variety of different benefits including support for emotional wellness, relief from discomfort, and many others.

Unsurprisingly, the cannabis plant has been discovered to be quite complex. In fact, scientist have discovered more than 100 different cannabinoids existing in the cannabis plant and each of these cannabinoids has a distinct set of chemical properties associated with it. While many consumers prefer the cannabinoid THC (due to its psychoactive properties), others prefer to focus on less psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, CBC, and others.

One of the primary purposes of cannabis extraction is to help isolate the cannabinoids that consumers want to consume while removing the ones that they prefer to avoid consuming. The extraction process makes it significantly easier to create customized extracts, which has resulted in consumers having more options than ever before.

In order to create a cannabis extract—whether it is primarily consisting of THC, CBD, or anything else—producers must first choose a specific solvent. Over the past few years, there have been several new types of solvents introduced, and each of these solvents has various pros and cons associated with it.

What are the different types of extraction processes currently available?

The cannabis extraction process from hemp seeks to exploit the different boiling points characterizing each cannabinoid in order to effectively isolate them. Then, once the cannabinoids have been effectively isolated, it becomes possible for producers to create customized products.

Currently, most cannabis extract producers use one (or multiple) of three different processes:

  • Butane extraction
  • CO2 extraction
  • Ethanol extraction

Butane extraction was originally the most popular due to it being a relatively simple and highly available process. Butane was further made popular due to the fact that is relatively non-polar, which makes it much easier to isolate specific cannabinoids. Additionally, butane is recognized for having a relatively low boiling point.

However, despite the long-standing popularity of butane, its significantly higher combustibility has led some producers to search for other (relatively safer) options. The emergence of CO2 extraction processes—followed by the more recent emergence of ethanol extraction processes—have given both producers and consumers considerably more choices.

What are the pros and cons of C02 Extraction?

Despite the fact that carbon is typically considered to be a pollutant, CO2 extraction is recognized by many in the cannabis industry for having an incredibly limited environmental impact. This is especially important in this particular industry due to the fact that many cannabis producers use environmental friendliness as an essential marketing point.

Additionally, when compared to butane extraction, CO2 extraction is quite safe. However, despite these apparent benefits, CO2 extraction is still not without its drawbacks. When compared to other alternatives, CO2 extraction takes a considerably longer time—this can create problems for some producers who are hoping to maintain their bottom-line without increasing prices. CO2 extraction may also yield lower cannabinoid profiles than some of the alternative processes, which is one of the reasons why some producers have begun trying to use new systems.

What are the pros and cons of ethanol extraction?

Ethanol extraction is one of the newest methods for creating cannabis extracts, though it has quickly become among the most popular. With each passing year, a larger number of cannabis producers have decided to change their methods.

Generally speaking, ethanol extraction is recognized for having the efficiency of butane while maintaining the safety if CO2. It has been frequently referred to as offering “the best of both worlds.” In fact, in terms of safety, ethanol has been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for being “General Regarded as Safe (GRAS)”, meaning that ethanol alone is actually safe for human consumption.

However, despite the myriad benefits of ethanol mentioned above, it is important to note that no extraction process is necessarily perfect. Ethanol’s high level of polarity makes it difficult to separate the product into a state of perfect isolation. Furthermore, though still perfectly safe to consume, ethanol extracts are recognized for having a significantly darker coloring and an occasional “grassy” flavor.

Weighing Your Options

Ultimately, there are many different things that will need to be considered when designing a cannabis extraction process. The process that makes the most sense for a specific producer will depend on the content they are trying to create and their various operating constraints.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of the different processes available:

  • Butane extraction: highly efficient, low polarity, relatively high risk
  • CO2 extraction: low efficiency, low level of risk, environmentally friendly
  • Ethanol extraction: low risk, high efficiency, low polarity, significantly darker byproduct

As you can tell, there is no system that is without its flaws. However, as time has gone on, an increasing number of hemp extraction facilities have decided to use an ethanol-based system.


As science continues to advance forward, both cannabis producers and consumers have discovered that they have more options available than ever before. The cannabis industry is rapidly evolving and, consequently, scientist everywhere are discovering new ways to create cannabis extracts in accordance with their customer’s needs. Though, as a producer, there are certainly many things for you to consider before deciding on an official process, it is important to recognize that you are not without options.

For more information on ethanol or CO2 extraction for hemp, contact Blue Forest Farms the processing and farming experts.