There are many cannabis extraction methods that are used in order to separate the plant from the various components of cannabinoids that are present in each plant. The right extraction method for you is wholly dependent on the end goal that you wish to accomplish.
Different factors will influence your goals, such as what products you want to create, how much time or expense you want to spend on the process, and the tools you have access to.
Some popular methods of extraction include hydrocarbon extraction, ethanol extraction, and CO2 extraction. You will also need to take into account factors such as safety, whether or not you are trying to produce a full-spectrum cannabis oil or if you have a large quantity of flowers to process.
Let us take a closer look at each and break them down:
1. The CO2 Extraction Method
This method of cannabis extraction involves carbon dioxide being pressurized in a metal tank to the point where it creates a supercritical fluid. This fluid is then used to pull out the flower’s desirable compounds.
The following step requires separating the fluid to leave behind only the concentrates, which include shatter, budder and hash oil.
This method of extraction can be more expensive to carry out than methods involving alcohol. It does, however, produce higher yields with very little loss of the more valuable materials. Plus, the carbon dioxide reagent can be reused again once the process is complete, reducing waste. This is done by putting the supercritical CO2 into a condenser that returns it back to its former liquid state.
This is one of the most economic way to extract cannabinoids from the plant. Another great part about this method is that if any CO2 stays behind in the extract. It simply evaporates making it an easier and safer method to produce a variety of preparations, especially medical and food grade oils. In addition, this method does not require any post-processing to purify the final product.
The CO2 method is known best for being efficient and clean. It is one of the safest methods of extraction. Plus, CO2 is also a “tunable” solvent. This means that you are able to tune your solvent in order to extract specific and desirable components from the plant. So, you are able to produce a wider variety of products using this method, making it super versatile too.
2. The Hydrocarbon Extraction Method
The hydrocarbon method of extraction involves a solvent of either propane or butane. This is the most popular method for extracting cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
The propane or butane solvent is passed over the raw cannabis in order to dissolve the active compounds, the cannabinoids and terpenes.
The solvent is then heated so that it will evaporate the propane or butane off. This leaves behind the cannabis extraction you are after. Hydrocarbon is a non-polar solvent and as such it binds to fat-soluble compounds in the plant that you are extracting.
The extract you gain from this extraction method has a higher purity than any other method. This highly concentrated cannabis extract can be used in creating a variety of cannabis products like oil, wax, hash, shatter, glass and more.
This method of extraction is an extremely clean way to extract the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. It leaves behind little to no residue. You are left with a very clean extract that is high in cannabinoid and terpene levels once you finish.
3. The Ethanol Extraction Method
This single-stream process of extraction can be performed under cold or hot conditions. Ethanol is a type of alcohol which is used to soak the raw cannabis, pulling out the trichomes.
Once this part of the process is complete, the cannabis is removed. The remaining liquid is filtered to separate the alcohol from the extract.
The warm ethanol method requires that the ethanol boils and then get cooled and dripped through the tightly packed cannabis material. This process extracts the cannabinoids and terpenes. This is a very time-efficient process. However, it is a small batch process and does not yield a very clean extract, requiring further processing.
Since it is heated, the cannabis also goes through a process known as decarboxylation which activates the THC. Thus, you are limited in the products you can produce from your extract. It is more common to use ethanol at cooled or room temperatures.
This ensures that the cannabinoid acid is preserved. It can thus be leveraged to produce many different types of THC-products.
Ethanol is a polar solvent, which means it will bind to the water-soluble compounds of the cannabis plant. It will result in a less potent and less pure product which requires further processing before it is ready to create other cannabis products.
Some of the water-soluble compounds in the plant are proven to carry the health benefits, so it is preferable not to remove them.
Each of these method for extraction have their own pros and cons. There is no definite favorite among executives in the industry. It is difficult to pinpoint one single method as superior or optimal. The Carbon Dioxide method is quite popular for its versatility and non-toxic factor.
The ethanol method is believed to make the best of the advantages that you get with the CO2 and butane methods, as it carries the safety of CO2 and efficiency of butane.
When comparing the ethanol and hydrocarbon methods, notice the boiling point of ethanol is much higher than that of the hydrocarbons (Propane or Butane). This means the recovery process of the end product can be slower and difficult using the ethanol process.
The method you choose will be solely based on the outcome you expect and the tools and materials you have with you.