The more you know (about THC)

by DGO Staff

There are certainly no shortages of products to choose from on the shelves at Colorado dispensaries.
Whether you’re looking for a tincture, an edible, or some good ol’ bud, you have hundreds, if not more, options to choose from. In other words, it’s never been a better time to be a stoner.

But while marijuana enthusiasts have always sung the praises of high-potency products like hash, these cannabis extracts — which include products like live rosin, bubble hash, and shatter — have become increasingly popular in recent years. That popularity is due, at least in part, to the fact that extracts, often referred to as concentrates, come with higher concentrations of THC. In turn, these products can offer incredible medicinal and therapeutic benefits to users — and can provide major relief to those who have found little success with other commonly-used remedies.

But while the pain relief benefits can be gleaned from all types of concentrates, the truth is that not all extracts are created equal — literally. That’s because there are numerous ways of extracting concentrates from cannabis — and these extraction methods vary significantly from one another. Some use toxic solvents, others are clean extraction — but all of them are complex, requiring expertise and precision. If you want to get the most out of your concentrates, it can be helpful to know what method was used during the extraction process. Here are the most common extraction methods you should know.

CO2 extraction

CO2 extraction is a method that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to remove the cannabinoids from the plant. This is a safe and non-toxic method because it uses non-toxic solvents — unlike other methods that use butane or other types of solvents to pull concentrated amounts of THC from the plant.

The CO2 extraction method works by using pressurized carbon dioxide to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material. The pressure and heat generated by the pressurized CO2 causes the cannabinoids to separate from the plant material. The CO2 extraction method uses a non-toxic solvent to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material.

What’s attractive about CO2 extraction is that it can also be used to extract other compounds, like terpenes, from the cannabis plant, in addition to cannabinoids like THC. Keeping the terpenes in the concentrates adds more flavor to the concentrates — and provides a unique experience to users. But while it has become one of the more popular modes of extraction, it is more expensive than some other extraction method. In turn, CO2 products can — and often do — have a higher price tag than other types of concentrates.

Ethanol extraction

This method uses ethanol, which is a type of alcohol, to extract concentrates from cannabis buds. During the extraction process, ethanol is mixed with the plant material, which is placed in a sealed container. The container is then shaken to agitate the plant material, which helps release the cannabinoids. From there, the ethanol and cannabinoids are then separated.

This method is popular in part because it is a lot cheaper than CO2 extraction. However, it is not as safe as CO2 extraction, as ethanol is flammable and can be explosive when mixed with other substances.

Ethanol extraction is also popular because it is cheap and easy to use. Plus, ethanol is easily removed from the final product — but it takes a professional, and a lot of quality testing, to get the job done. In other words, it’s not wise to try this at home.

Butane extraction

If you’ve ever used butane hash oil, or BHO, then you’ve used a concentrate that was extracted using butane extraction.

This method is a common way to extract concentrates. It uses butane, which is a solvent, to extract the cannabinoids from the plant material. During this process, butane gas is passed through the cannabis plant matter in a sealed cylinder in order to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the raw plant matter.

This is generally a clean extraction method, but one of the concerns is that residual solvent and impurities can be leftover from the butane solvent. As such, only very high purity butane should be used when doing
BHO extraction.

This method also requires the concentrate to be tested to make sure no residual solvents are present. In addition to the concerns about trace solvent in the cannabis concentrates, it’s important to note that butane is highly flammable and poses a risk to those who use it to extract concentrates from the plant.

Water extraction

Water extraction is a method that uses water to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material. Although this method is effective, it typically requires a lot of water to process the concentrates — and is therefore not as environmentally friendly as other methods of extraction.

There are numerous types of water extraction processes, including cold water extraction, pressurized hot water extraction, and ice water extraction.

Ice water extraction is commonly used for distillates because it yields a more powerful and pure result with less chance of contamination, especially when compared to carbon dioxide extraction and butane extraction.

During the ice water extraction process — which uses a combination of ice, water, and fermentation — ice water is used to remove the trichomes and leaves from the cannabis. This allows for the preservation of terpenes and cannabinoids while removing the risk of contamination occurring during the process.

Other types of water extractions will use different methods to extract the oil, terpenes, and cannabinoids from the plant. Supercritical CO2 extraction

Like CO2 extraction, the supercritical CO2 extraction method uses pressurized carbon dioxide to produce a clean, safe concentrate, but it does so at a higher temperature (up to -50 C). This makes it possible to extract more cannabinoids than the conventional method.

To perform an extraction using the supercritical CO2 extraction method, the plant material is ground into small matter and then placed into an extraction vessel. From there, the CO2 gas undergoes high temperature and pressure. A pump then forces supercritical CO2 into the extraction vessel, where it meets the plant.

This breaks the trichomes and allows part of the plant material to dissolve into oil. Because the supercritical CO2 works like a fluid, there is no need to use other solvents in the process.

The downside to using the supercritical CO2 extraction method is that it takes longer to complete than other methods. This is due to the continuous fluctuations in temperature and pressure — which impact the time needed to complete the extraction process.

Supercritical fluid extraction

Similar to the supercritical CO2 extraction, the supercritical fluid extraction method uses a combination of carbon dioxide and ethanol to extract concentrates from plant matter.

With this method, the pressure and heat generated by the mixture of CO2 and ethanol are enough to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material.

Steam distillation

Steam distillation is a method of extraction that is similar to the water extraction method. This method uses steam to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material.

What’s unique about steam distillation is that it helps to preserve more of the terpenes in the extract, which
adds flavor and other unique benefits to the concentrate it yields. Compared to cannabinoids, terpenes are not as structurally sound, which means they are more easily damaged during the extraction process.

As such, it can be difficult to preserve them using other methods.

Pressure and centrifugal separation

This method is newer and uses pressure and centrifugal separation to extract the cannabinoids from the plant material.

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