CBD isolate – what is it, how is it made and how do you use it?

What is it?

CBD isolate is cannabidiol (aka CBD) in its most concentrated form. It is a 99% pure compound that has been isolated from a purified hemp extract via an extraction process that removes all of the other plant compounds (i.e., cannabinoids, flavonoids, fats and terpenes). The resulting product is an odourless and tasteless crystal or white powder that can be used on its own, mixed with an edible or topical oil, added to food, added to an E-liquid, or combined with other hemp plant compounds to produce a unique hemp product. Pure CBD oils are made from the isolate infused in an edible oil such as hemp, olive or coconut oil and do not contain any of the other hemp compounds unless they have been separately added and are listed as ingredients. The isolate’s lack of smell and taste makes it extremely versatile, which is why it is used in many CBD foods and cosmetics on the market.

How do you make it?

CBD is one of more than a hundred chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the hemp and cannabis plant. It is usually extracted from hemp plants rich in CBD and low in THC (0.2-0.3% usually) via supercritical CO2 or ethanol extraction. Whilst other extraction methods are available, these are most commonly used for commercial CBD products.

Supercritical CO2 extraction

Supercritical CO2 extraction is a safe and efficient process proven to yield a fresh, clean, aromatic oil or paste. This method puts CO2 under high pressure while maintaining a low temperature, which turns it into a ‘supercritical’ liquid that maintains the properties of both a liquid and a gas. In this state CO2 becomes a highly efficient and ‘tunable’ solvent that can extract specific desired plant compounds from hemp, depending on the pressure and temperature used. The extracted compounds are collected and the pressure is reduced to return the CO2 to its gas state, allowing it to be recycled for further extractive purposes. Because of the low temperatures needed, many of the heat sensitive compounds in the plant are preserved such as terpenes.

Ethanol extraction

Ethanol extractionuses ethanol as a solvent to extract cannabinoids from the hemp plant. Ethanol can dissolve both both water soluble and fat soluble molecules which makes it a more efficient solvent than CO2, in that more of the plant is extracted than with CO2, which is more selective about what it extracts. Whilst this can be beneficial for obtaining a full spectrum extract, it can also result in an extract containing many unwanted plant compounds such as chlorophyll, wax and lipids. This will then require further refining using post-extraction filtering methods, which can denature some of the plant compounds. However, some ethanol extractors cite that the water-soluble component extraction (i.e., the extraction of chlorophyll) can be mitigated by using cold extraction temperatures, thereby reducing the need for extensive filtering methods.

Making the isolate

To isolate pure CBD from a CBD extract, several more steps are required, which can include decarboxylation, winterization, distillation, rotary evaporation and chromatography. Because the cannabis plant does not make the cannabinoids CBD or THC directly, hemp extracts need to be gently heated in order to convert the cannabinoid acids (e.g., CBDA) into cannabinoids (e.g., CBD), which supposedly increase their bioavailability. There is some discussion of the potential health benefits of the raw acidic form of the cannabinoids, which is why many CBD products include CBDA or are sold as raw and unheated extracts, but evidence for this is only anecdotal at this stage.

Depending on how the extract is created, there can also be a wide range of fatty acids, plant materials, chlorophyll, cannabinoids, and terpenoids contained in the extract that need to be removed. Winterization can be used to further purify the extract. This involves soaking the extract in alcohol and freezing it to separate the waxes, lipids and residual solvents. The end result is a more concentrated extract in terms of cannabinoids, and the terpenes are also removed during this process.  

This can then be further refined using distillation, to produce a highly concentrated CBD oil. The final stages include using rotary evaporation to remove traces of the solvent or chromatography in order to separate the CBD and produce pure CBD crystals.

How do you use the isolate?

CBD isolate can be placed directly under the tongue or added to a food or any other product that you can either ingest, inhale or apply to your skin.

Some of the popular uses of the isolate include the following:

  • Vaping – using a vaporizer or e-cigarette (add the isolate to an e-liquid)
  • Dabbing – requires a dabbing rig
  • Cooking/Baking – just add the CBD to melted butter or an oil and use for baking and cooking
  • Add to smoothies
  • Add to water, juice and coffee and any other beverage
  • Blend into honey or agave syrup – heat the honey/syrup in a double boiler and blend the CBD until fully dissolved
  • Create your own CBD oil by adding the required amount of CBD isolate to an edible oil of your choice
  • Cosmetics or body oils – just add the isolate to your favourite body or facial oil

Advantages of using CBD isolate

  • The lack of taste and odour makes it appealing to those who dislike the bitter taste of CBD oils and extracts, or the smell of cosmetics made with full spectrum CBD.
  • The versatility of the isolate enable people to use it in a wide variety of consumables
  • As vaping offers the highest bioavailability of all modes of ingestion, vaping CBD crystals provide the most cost efficient and effective way of consuming CBD
  • For anybody who absolutely cannot fail a drug test, such as military service members, police officers, emergency first responders, and pilots, CBD isolates maybe the safest way of consuming CBD because they contain no trace of THC.


  • CBD isolate is not a full spectrum CBD product and does not have the purported advantages of the ‘entourage effect’, a term used to denote the perceived synergistic interaction of hemp compounds.

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Hattie Wells

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