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Cannabis Extraction Methods for Marijuana Concentrates

Marijuana extraction is a process that allows you to separate cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemicals contained in the cannabis plant. You can focus on separating individual components of the plant or creating inclusive extracts that have a specific combination of materials. The most typical extracts are those that focus on THC and CBD, which are two desirable cannabinoids in-demand with consumers. There are over 100 types of cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, with over 500 chemicals in total.  Another beneficial use for extraction is creating concentrates of chosen compounds. There are many ways to learn how to make cannabis extract.

Cannabis Extraction Methods

There are many types of cannabis extraction methods available to commercial producers. Some of these are experimental and don’t yet have widespread usage. The type of cannabis extraction you should use depends on the equipment and resources you have available, your intended usage for the extraction product, and whether you’re creating products to sell in marijuana-legal states or those that only allow non-THC containing ingredients.

CO2

Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction is a relatively common way to target compounds in the cannabis plant. This method uses a combination of high pressure and high temperatures to keep the CO2 in a supercritical state, which makes it exist in gas and liquid form at the same time. This chemical separates cannabinoids and other chemicals from the base material.

This is a relatively expensive method for extraction, as the equipment can get pricey. However, that drawback is balanced by the fact that you have fine-tuned control over every aspect of the method. You end up with different results based on the overall temperature that you’re extracting at, the residence time in the equipment, and the system’s pressure. Experimenting with these characteristics can result in a much different yield. You also minimize losses of important chemicals in this method, and get a higher overall yield compared to methods such as alcohol-based extraction.

The reagent cost for the CO2 is relatively low, because you have the option of condensing the supercritical material back into a liquid form. After filtration, you can put it back into use as an extraction material. The CO2 naturally evaporates out of the extract, so you don’t have to have a separate process in place to separate the extract from the reagent.

Alcohol

Alcohol-based extraction is another common method in widespread use today among professional and personal extractors. The alcohol acts as a solvent and aids in the extraction process. The plant matter is combined with the alcohol, such as ethanol, and then the resulting liquid is filtered. While this is a highly effective way of extracting various types of chemicals, it does require extensive safety precautions due to the flammability of the solvent. It completely evaporates off of the extract, so you don’t have to worry about any toxic materials needing to get filtered out from the mixture. It’s highly versatile and makes it possible to separate a wide range of chemicals. It’s also one of the most cost-effective ways of creating a marijuana extract.

Butane

Butane hash oil extraction is a solvent-based extraction method that uses butane rather than alcohol. Liquid butane is the reagent in use with this method. It gets added into equipment that is heated to a certain temperature and kept under vacuum pressure. The butane is removed from the extract through being vaporized, which converts it from a liquid to a gas.

Butane-based marijuana extraction has a number of risks that aren’t present in many other extraction methods. The first is the flammability of the material, as this goes up once the butane is turned into a vapor. If the temperature of the equipment is too high, there is a hazardous situation that could result in an explosion. Unlike alcohol and CO2 extraction, you need a process to remove butane from the resulting extract. Since butane is toxic, this step is essential. You can reuse the filtered liquid butane for another round of extraction.

The primary benefit to butane hash oil extraction is the low costs associated with this method. It’s also possible to extract more terpenes, which are the chemicals that control the taste of an extract.

Propane

Propane is an alternative to butane that has a lower boiling point. Due to the change in temperatures for the extraction process, you have access to extracting different chemicals. You can take a base material through both methods of extraction to get the most out of the available chemicals. The hazards associated with propane cannabis extraction are similar to those of butane. You do need a system in place to get the propane out of the extraction and to prevent any fires or explosions from happening.

Solvent-Free Extractions

These first few methods for marijuana extraction focus on using solvents and other reagents to produce the cannabis extract. However, there are solvent-free methods that are available. Typically, these methods are used by individuals, rather than commercial producers, but they can be useful to know when considering whether a non-solvent based extraction method may be appropriate for your product line.

The plant matter can be placed into a grinder and then filtered through a sieve to create kief. This extract has crystals that include cannabis trichromes and other significant amounts of the plant matter. The grinder separates trichromes from inflorescence. It doesn’t use any heat or pressure, so many of the chemicals are retained for a more flavorful and concentrated material.

Dry sieving is an extraction method that creates hash without subjecting the plant matter heat or liquids. This is another method that’s more suitable for individuals creating extract for their own use rather than on a commercial or industrial scale. You’re freezing the cannabis buds to make it easier to break them apart. You then sieve the resulting material through screens until the trichromes are the primary chemicals left in the mix.

You can also create hash through putting the cannabis in ice water, which also serves to take the trichromes out of the plant matter. It then needs to dry out before it’s properly considered hash.

Another solvent-free extraction process creates an end product called rosin. You have a few ways of starting this method, as the base material can be cannabis buds, or you can use either hash or kief. This is a more advanced technique that incorporates both pressure and heat, which can help you get more chemicals concentrated in the base material. Since neither the plant buds, kief, or hash have been heated before, this gives you a lot of flexibility in the chemicals you focus on extracting.

The full extraction process is quite similar to solvent-based methods, but you don’t have to use expensive equipment to do so. Since it’s not using a solvent, there’s also not a risk of that contaminating the extract with toxic chemicals. While this method is popular with basic equipment for individuals, there are several commercial heat presses designed to make this a viable extraction method for companies as well.

Ultrasound Cannabis Extraction

The cannabis industry is constantly changing, which means that new methods of marijuana extraction incorporating many types of technology are finding their way to the commercial marketplace. A surprising extraction method uses ultrasound technology. It works alongside alcohol-based cannabis extraction and results in higher yields and better overall productivity.

Ultrasound cannabis extraction creates bubbles in the alcohol solvent. These bubbles end up becoming super-heated, and since they’re so small, that allows them to impact the plant cell walls. The oils from the plant are easier to pull into the solvent once this occurs. The primary problem this fixes is the challenges of using polar solvents to try to extract non-polar chemicals. It’s easy to end up with far too much of the original plant matter in an alcohol-based extraction because of this chemical reaction.

One reason why this method could take off is because the ultrasound equipment is already tried and tested for commercial usage. It may not have been intended for creating cannabis extract, but it doesn’t take much to switch it over to this use case.

Hydrodynamic Cannabis Extraction

Another innovative extraction method focuses on full spectrum extracts, which is an extract that tries to retain as many desirable chemicals from the plant as possible. This “whole plant” approach is popular among consumers due to the perceived entourage effect that cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds have with each other. In short, this effect indicates that the cannabinoids may have a greater impact when they’re taken together, rather than separately.

Hydrodynamic cannabis extraction starts with cannabis flowers that are frozen. It uses a combination of ultrasound technology and hydrodynamic spinning to break the flower into smaller parts. The centrifugal force ends up creating a nanoemulsion. This emulsion contains many desirable chemicals in a liquid form, and then separates the original material from this liquid.

The temperature and pressure are kept low in the equipment, which results in fewer compounds being destroyed during the extraction process. The liquid is dried and ends up being a full spectrum extract that is solvent-free. It retains the original taste and smell of the plant that was used for the extraction, so it’s important to focus on the right types of plants to appeal to consumers looking for this type of extract.

Bee Assisted Cannabis Extraction

This is one of the most unusual cannabis extraction methods on this list. You can go all-natural and all-organic by turning to nature’s extraction machines – the bees. This is an innovative approach that may or may not end up seeing wide scale usage, as it’s in the early phases of being developed. When the bees collect cannabinoids from a feeding material, they take it back to the hive and begin producing honey that includes these chemicals. No additional reagents are used in this method, as the bees’ system takes care of everything.

In a marketplace that’s filled with consumers looking for natural, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly ways to enjoy cannabinoids or use them for medical applications, being able to turn to the bees is a refreshing extraction method for some people. Scaling this method would require being able to maintain many beehives, but the processes are in place and equipment is available for doing that on a commercial scale.

The cannabinoid concentrations are not particularly high with this extraction method, which can be a concern, but the upside is that they are extremely bioavailable. Since bioavailability is a problem that comes up with some types of extracts, having a method that produces cannabis extract readily processed by the human body is exciting.

Types of Cannabis Extracts

The end products from the extraction methods above vary in form, usage, and chemical profile. Depending on your customer base, you may need to use several extraction methods to create the ingredients you need for your products. Some of these extracts can be used as-is as well, which opens up your market potential.

Kief

This extract looks like a powder and has a distinct smell and taste.

Hash

This extract is sometimes called hashish. It’s pressed into a block and is another extract that has a distinct smell and flavor. It’s usually green and has a slightly different chemical profile from kief. Both kief and hash can be used on their own, or as ingredients in another product.

Dry Sieve

Dry sieving also results in hash blocks, although it does have a different chemical profile than the previous two methods.

Honey

The bee assisted cannabis extraction method, unsurprisingly, creates honey. You can use this honey as an ingredient, on its own, added as a sweetener, or used as a topping for other food. Anything that you’re able to use regular honey in, you’re going to be able to use the cannabis infused honey that these bees create. Keep in mind that if the bees aren’t in a tightly controlled environment, they’re also going to pick up pollen from the fields surrounding their hives. If you have cannabis plants growing, they’ll be able to pick up those flavors. If there are wildflowers or other types of flowers nearby, you can create unique flavor combinations. For example, honeysuckle and orange blossom are two popular flavors in honey at the grocery store. Being able to naturally flavor your products with careful curation of flowers is a method that’s sure to get the attention of the natural products market.

Oil

Solvent-based extraction methods end up creating an oil that is suitable as an ingredient in other products or on its own. Some uses for a cannabis oil extract include putting it into creams for skincare or topical pain relief, adding it into food to create cannabis infused edibles, or taking it as-is.

Rosin

This is a viscous material that is translucent. Typically, it has a slightly yellow color, although the exact depth of color depends on the chemicals present in the solution after the extraction is created. It is similar to tree sap, which makes sense since the base material is cannabis flower.

Butane Hash Oil (Shatter)

Shatter is created when you use the butane extraction method described above. This material looks like a clear or light-yellow material that is hard to the touch and brittle. It incorporates both cannabinoids and terpenes, although if the terpene level is too high, the material is soft rather than hard.

Propane Hash Oil

Propane extracted hash oil has a much different appearance and consistency than butane does. It looks similar to butter and is opaque and goes through a hash oil extractor.

Full Spectrum Extract

The appearance of full spectrum extracts depends on the method used to create it. It’s often available in a powdered or liquid form, however.

Sourcing Cannabis Extracts

If you want to use cannabis extracts in your product line but you don’t have access to the lab equipment required to create it, you can source it from a third-party company. When you work with another company, you want to make sure that they go over exactly how they extract the cannabis chemicals, the types of cannabinoids and terpenes that they’re focusing on, which types of extractions they have available, and whether they do testing for concentrations and to ensure that the end product is solvent-free.

You may need to evaluate several manufacturers or distributors before you find a company that meets your needs. Ideally, you can get a recommendation to a particular company from other people in the cannabis industry. That’s not always possible, especially when you’re first starting out.

Producing Your Own Cannabis Extracts

You can eliminate any control issues by simply producing your own cannabis extracts with cannabis extraction equipment. There are many sources for commercial equipment, even those suitable for companies who are simply experimenting with doing their own extractions. For example, short path distillation kits are available for a relatively low cost and offer a straightforward way of experimenting with your own cannabis extracts.

Since you control every part of the process, from the base material to the testing, you can rest assured that it’s gone through all of your quality control and is up to the standard you expect for your customers. Bringing extraction in-house is not as difficult as you might think, especially when you work with a company that offers comprehensive training and education on different types of extraction methods and how to get the most out of the lab equipment. These types of trusted partners are worth their weight in gold, and it’s importable to work with reliable and reputable organizations that have a lot of expertise in the cannabis industry. You face challenges that other industries simply don’t encounter, so someone selling generalized extraction equipment may not be able to give the best recommendations.