CBD products are flying off the shelves, thanks to the compound’s potential to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and soothe inflammation. The CBD market is expected to be worth almost £1 billion by 2025, which is no surprise since CBD in all its forms (oil, capsules, and even drinks) can already be found in supermarkets and health retailers around the UK.
These products are often represented as natural and environmentally-friendly, which puts anyone who cares for the climate at ease considering the majority of us will choose a sustainable retailer over others. Indeed, many CBD brands play up their sustainability credentials. One is TRIP, with its CBD drinks and oil products entirely vegan and palm-oil free. While another is Botanika Life and its CBD beauty range produced using sustainable non-GMO farming practices. Does this mean that CBD is always eco-friendly, however? Let’s find out!
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How is CBD oil made?
CBD oil is made from hemp seeds, which are hand planted during the sowing season from late spring to early autumn. When ready to be harvested, hemp is picked and tested for THC content. If it contains less than 0.3% THC, it’s classed as hemp rather than marijuana — both are different types of cannabis plant species. It then goes through a drying process before being sent to a manufacturer that uses the plant to produce CBD products.
Supercritical CO2 extraction
The most common method of removing CBD from the plant is supercritical CO2 extraction — a process that uses a closed-loop extractor. The hemp is placed in a chamber, which is then filled with carbon dioxide that dissolves the cannabinoid compounds. The oil particles are separated from the carbon dioxide — the latter is reused — to be collected and used. So, although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as it is withdrawn from an environment before being returned, it does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.
CBD oil can be extracted using solvents such as butane and hexane too, however, these tend to be toxic. The use of CO2 is preferred as it preserves the quality of the terpenes which can enhance the effects of CBD. The process guarantees fresh CBD oil and is environmentally friendly, safe, and less toxic than solvents. It can also be extracted with ethanol, which helps to maintain the hemp’s natural chemical properties during extraction. However, residue from the solvent isn’t always removed and chlorophyll may be extracted too, resulting in an unpleasant taste.
Is growing hemp sustainable?
Growing hemp can be labour-intensive, however, it isn’t just used for CBD extraction. Hemp has a variety of uses. The main fibrous byproduct, for example, is ideal for producing rope, linen and paper, while it can also be used to create bioplastics depending on the formulation. This means that very little wastage is created, proving the hemp plant to be more sustainable than you may think.
Hemp production processes differ from business to business, and this information is not always available to the consumer. Not every manufacturer has the same protocol, and some methods may be less sustainable than others.
That said, hemp grows fast, enabling farmers to achieve a higher production rate using only a small piece of land. This in itself is immensely beneficial for the environment, as they won’t exhaust resources like other crops — for instance, one acre of hemp produces twice as much oil as an acre of peanuts.
Hemp is a hardy plant with deep roots that require no pesticides — good news for the planet! This allows it to source water and nutrients way below the topsoil, ensuring the ground isn’t drained of its vital minerals. Growing hemp prevents soil degradation, with production returning 60-70% of the nutrients hemp absorbs from the soil.
The plant can repair damaged soils by reversing the impact of compaction and erosion, while it’s also a self-offsetting species that traps CO2 from the atmosphere. It has a lower carbon footprint than cotton production, with between 300 and 500 litres of water used for 1kg of hemp compared to 10,000 litres for the same volume of cotton.
Hemp seems relatively sustainable, but there are limitations in the UK on where it can’t be grown, despite being legal to sell, import and use for industrial purposes. This does unfortunately lead to a high carbon footprint as manufacturers have to ship the product mass distances.
Palm oil content
Hemp is naturally biodegradable and recyclable. However, this doesn’t mean your CBD products are 100% sustainable. Your CBD tincture might include palm oil, for example. While this is a useful and efficient oil, production causes deforestation, contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions and destroys habitats.
CBD oil is also typically blended with a food-grade ‘carrier oil’ such as coconut, olive or avocado, to help dilute the solution and maintain CBD consistency within products. However, one of the most common carrier types is MCT — fractionated coconut oil.
Now you have a better understanding of how eco-friendly CBD oil is, we advise you to research brands before buying products to ensure you’re purchasing planet-conscious items. There are plenty of companies producing CBD products sustainably. Check these are free from pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilisers and solvents.