Phytocannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the reason why cannabis is all the rage. That said, this compounds don’t just come flying off the flower as we would wish them to. It takes intense labor backed by science to actually “extract” the cannabinoids (as well as terpenes) from cannabis. Without doing this it would be difficult to create cannabis extracts or concentrates.
There are two different methods that come into play when creating cannabis concentrates and extracts; solvent based and solventless methods. Below is a breakdown of how the two methods work.
Solvent Extraction Vs Solventless Extraction
Solvent-based extraction is an extraction method that uses solvents in the form of volatile chemicals to dissolve resin glands (trichomes) from the plant material. After this, the solvent is gotten rid of and leaves behind an extract. This method is used to make cannabis extracts such as shatter, wax or vape oil.
Solventless, or mechanical extraction does not require solvent. Instead the resin glands are beaten down to produce a concentrate. This method is used to make cannabis concentrates such as kief, hash or rosin.
Solvent-based extraction is mostly used to extract specific cannabinoids such as THC or CBD.
The solventless method is however considered more natural and leaves more of the original cannabinoids intact. Because no “chemicals” are involved this is considered generally safer. This is especially the case when extremely volatile solvents such as butane are in question.
That said, both methods are widely used on a domestic and even commercial scale and have several benefits to offer.
Solvents Used in Cannabis Extraction
Below is a breakdown of the common solvents that are used to extract cannabis:
1. Extraction using Hydrocarbons
Hydrocarbons include butane, hexane or propane. This used to be a common extraction method but has faded in popularity due to the risks associated with it. Hydrocarbons are highly volatile and have sparked fires on many occasions.
An open- loop system is cheap but extremely dangerous due to the risk of explosions. Closed loop systems are more expensive, they may cost up to $30,000. However, they are safer.
If you prefer to use this method it is advisable to carry out the extraction in the outdoors. To add to this you will need fire safety equipment on stand- by should need arise.
2. Supercritical CO2 Extraction
This is a common extraction method used at a commercial scale. The carbon dioxide is compressed at super critical pressures to a liquid state which is then passed through the plant material to extract the cannabinoids. The carbon dioxide being volatile is then evaporated to leave behind a pure extract.
This method is effective and generally safe. However it is cost prohibitive for small cannabis enterprises as the equipment used in this process are fairly expensive.
3. Alcohol Extraction
Alcohol is a fairly affordable solvent and consequently it is used by most home extractors. It is a popular choice for making Rick Simpson Oil which is super concentrated cannabis oil. However, alcohol is volatile and can spark a fire easily. Caution is therefore advised.
Solventless Cannabis Extraction
Here are some of the common methods used to extract cannabis without the use of a volatile solvent. Solventless methods can be easily used at home.
1. Shaking and Sifting to Make Kief
This is among the simplest methods of making a cannabis concentrate known as kief. This involves collecting the residue that remains at the bottom of your grinder when preparing cannabis buds. This residue is usually made up of resin glands which have a high concentration of cannabinoids. You will need a fine screen to create pure kief.
2. Ice Water Extraction
This method is popularly known as the bubble hash method. It involves mixing buds with ice cubes and cold water and shaking to separate trichomes. This method is cheap and safe.
3. Heat and Pressure
Also known as the rosin press, this method uses low heat and very high pressure to create a cannabis concentrate that is known as rosin.
The rosin press separates trichomes from the cannabis buds and leaves to create an extract that resembles extracts made with solvents but with no contaminants.
Some rosin presses are cheap and can be used at home while others are expensive and intended for commercial use.
Types of Cannabis Extracts
There are several types of cannabis extracts that you can expect to find in the market.
1. Cannabis Oils
These are common in the market and may be in the form of Rick Simpson Oil or vaporizer oil. The oil is extracted from the leaves or flowers of the plant. They can be obtained using a solvent or by pressing.
This is another popular cannabis oil extract that contains a high concentration of cannabinoids. It is usually opaque, rather than gooey making it easy to dab.
This is a form of wax that is more crumbly than but softer than shatter. It has the appearance of a honeycomb.
Shatter is one of the purest forms of cannabis concentrate that is usually translucent and brittle. It is amber colored and mostly used for dabbing.
Also known as moonrocks, this is a new entrant that is gaining popularity on its own merit. It is made by coating buds with cannabis resin and then rolling them in kief.
6. Butane Hash Oil
Abbreviated as BHO, this is a potent extract that is made using butane. It may come in the form of wax, budder, or any of the other types of concentrated mentioned above.
Types of Cannabis Concentrates
Kief is made up of crystallized trichomes that remain as residue from the leaves and buds of the marijuana plant. It contains a large concentration of THC and other cannabinoids and is used in the preparation of other cannabis concentrates.
Hash is created by lightly heating kief and then subjecting it to very high pressure to create a solid mass. It may have a grainy consistency or may be smooth.
This methods preserves cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product.
3. Bubble Hash
Bubble hash is created when kief is pressed and later extracted using a water bath. The buds are first immersed in a bath of ice and water and agitated to allow the ice to knock off the trichomes from the plant material. The water is drained and the trichomes are dried and pressed into clean hash.
Rosin is a cannabis concentrate that is made using a rosin press. It is packed with potent resin glands that are unadulterated. For more information cannabis rosin you can read our previous article by clicking the link.
That wraps up our brief guide on cannabis extraction.