Over the past few years, CBD has exploded onto the market. There are still lots of things that we all need to know when choosing which CBD brand to use. One of those things is how, exactly, is your CBD oil produced?.
Here is a general overview of that process.
First—someone has to grow the hemp! Remember, hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC, so is non-intoxicating (it won’t get you “high”). Hemp grows pretty quickly and ideally, it should be grown without pesticides, organically and sustainably. Hemp is high in biomass and can be used to return nutrients to the soil, so sustainable growth is “built in” to a certain extent. Getting organic certification is a long and expensive process—currently, many growers may use organic methods, but have not yet received the official USDA “Organic” certification.
Next, the hemp flower is harvested—but even before harvest, it is tested to ensure that the levels of THC are <0.3%– otherwise, it cannot be used to produce CBD. It is also tested for pesticide residue, heavy metals, and microbial contaminants. The rest of the plant is most commonly used as biomass and some may be used as feed….or to make hemp products.
The flowers of the hemp plant have the highest levels of CBD—so these flowers, containing the trichomes (hair-like projections of the flowers which contain resin glands) are harvested, tested, and cured (air-dried) for 3-4 weeks. The dried flowers are now ready for extraction—the process that “pulls” CBD (along with other cannabinoids and terpenes) out of the dried flower.
The Green Roads video doesn’t explore growing and harvesting hemp– but at Green Roads, all industrial hemp is grown in the US on registered farms and grows hemp that carries both Certificates of Origin (CoO) and Certificates of Analysis (CoA). 
Extraction is a physical-chemical process that is based on both the physical and chemical characteristics of whatever it is you are extracting. In the CBD world, this usually means ethanol or CO`2 extraction processes along with some form of distillation.
During ethanol extraction, the dried plant is placed into an alcohol solution and soaked for a period of time. CBD, other cannabinoids and terpenes dissolve into the ethanol, leaving behind the fibrous plant material.
CO2 extraction uses low temperatures to extract the CBD (along with the other plant constituents) and requires some expensive equipment—but it produces a very pure end product.
Often, the first extraction is followed by a process of fractional distillation which is based on the differences in boiling points of the various cannabinoids and terpenes. The end product here is often a very thick oil or even a solid depending on the process used. (In the Green Roads video, the “CBD distillate” is a solid yellow waxy mass.) Other distillates may be more liquid and darker. The distillate contains very high concentrations (potencies) of the CBD, making it easier to dilute it down to the levels required in various formulations—whether those formulations consist of oils, tinctures, capsules, gel caps or as a topical.
An extra fractionation or distillation step may be used to remove any residual THC, changing the oil from a “full spectrum” to a “broad spectrum” CBD. Terpenes can also be removed by more distillation steps, providing pure CBD. CBD isolate can be obtained by drying these pure fractions of CBD oils. By the way—if the product is intended to be “zero THC” it may go through even more extractions and distillation steps.
Again– you won’t see the extraction process in this Green Roads video– but according to their website, all raw materials are “from facilities that use the most advanced extraction technologies, including CO2 extraction.” The video does include a look at the solid, yellow full spectrum CBD distillate that is further processed into a CBD cream as we watch.
Now comes the mixing of the CBD distillate according to the formulation used by each company or brand. (This is where the Green Roads Video starts off even though the first scenes begin at the end of the process– the packaging and labeling site)
CBD Oils can be produced by diluting the very highly concentrated CBD distillate with carrier oils and sometimes flavors or additional ingredients. These ingredients may be other botanicals like Passiflora or valerian root if the oil is intended to help people sleep or another botanical like orange oil for a boost of energy, or amino acids like l-theanine to help with falling asleep more easily. Some CBD companies go the opposite route, though—they may use CBD isolates (pure CBD in solid form) and add that to carrier oils, flavors, or other ingredients. Carrier oils can include coconut oils (also known as MCT for Medium Chain Triglycerides), hemp seed oil, grapeseed, or other oils. Why? First of all because CBD dissolves readily in oils and secondly, because it is believed that the fatty oils can improve the absorption and bioavailability of CBD. Oils like orange or lemon oils are sometimes used to “cover” the “hempy” taste of pure CBD oils.
The concentrated distillate (or CBD isolate) can also be combined with various cream, balm and lotion bases for topical products. Or—it can be put into gel caps as an oil or into capsules as a dried product. In the Green Roads video, the raw concentrated distillate is a solid, yellow waxy substance and in the video you will be watching the production of a topical cream.
The video starts at this point and then gets into taking the CBD full spectrum distillate and using that to produce a cream. After the initial scenes, you will see both Kristin and Megan wearing full lab gear, including lab coats, masks, hair nets (we don’t see the footies, but they are there!) This is to ensure that the product does not get contaminated.
The person in the background is mixing the raw material according to Green Roads’ formulation (recipe) for making a CBD cream. It is being gently heated and mixed with a carrier oil. Looking over the topical creams from Green Roads, this may be the Muscle and Joint Cream, which contains extracts from lavender, cucumber, and avocado oil (along with Vitamin E); the Pain Relief Cream, which contains avocado oil, vitamin E, and eucalyptus oil; or the Skin Relief Cream which contains safflower oil, avocado oil, and lavender oil. We don’t know which one, but the point here is that each cream has its own formulation or recipe with different total amounts of CBD—and this step is where all the specific ingredients are added according to the pharmacist’s formulation.
The video starts and ends in the area where the final product– a CBD cream– is packaged, safety sealed, labelled, cleared and quarantined– and where exemplars from this lot are sent for 3rd party testing. The entire process is automated—but there are real people heavily involved all along the way—some to work the process and others to check and certify that process. Green Roads takes quality control (QC) seriously!
Depending on the type of product, it will be packaged in glass or plastic bottles and containers, labeled with the total potency (concentration) and ingredient list along with directions on use and other information. Every product is given a specific and unique lot number so that it can be tracked.
Finally—the last step before selling is testing. Some companies will test the product along every step while others test the product at certain points in the production process. All companies should have the end product tested by an independent lab before it goes to you, the consumer. Not all do, though, and one of our strongest recommendations is to make sure that any product you buy is 3rd party tested for impurities, microbial contaminants, toxins, and heavy metals.
Another thing to check when you are buying CBD products is whether the products you are looking at are produced in a GMP facility. The facility in the Green Roads video is a GMP facility.
GMP stands for “Good Manufacturing Practices” which are a set of regulations requiring manufacturers and processors of products “take proactive steps to ensure that their products are safe, pure, and effective.” The regulations followed are from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and include the maintenance of accurate records, following sanitation and hygiene guidelines, equipment maintenance and precision, the required qualifications for personnel, process validation and testing and consumer complaints. The goal of GMP is to provide the consumer with pure, accurately quantified and tested, and high- quality products. In a GMP facility, all the employees and visitors have to be fully gowned, masked, hair-netted and shoes covered so no contaminants are accidentally introduced into the product. The Green Roads facility is a GMP-certified one, explaining why everyone is wearing lab coats and other protective gear.