Cannabis/Hemp Extraction Methods And The Products They Produce

Cannabis is no longer only ingested by smoking. The emerging industry has introduced a variety of concentrated products and for someone new to the space, it may be difficult to identify the right product. Since recreational and medical markets somewhat overlap and naming is inconsistent, it makes it challenging for many consumers to make an educated decision and to better understand what they are ingesting.  

Here are some methods of extraction and the type of products they make:

Hydrocarbon Extracts– A majority of extracts utilize butane (BHO), propane (PHO), or a combination of the two as a non-polar solvent. These products include shatter, crumble/honeycomb, sugar wax, and budder. All start from a hydrocarbon extraction and are relatively the same product with a different consistency due to procedures done post-processing to remove (or purge) remaining solvent. For example, shatter is purged at a low temperature under vacuum slowly over a longer period of time, while crumble is purged at a higher temperature while being whipped. The end product is a brown to gold consistency that can easily be smoked or “dabbed”.

Although they are the most popular and visually appealing, purging will never completely remove the solvent. The long-term effects of smoking these types of concentrates are still unknown, therefore these products may not be the best for consumers seeking medical solutions. In fact, these types of concentrates are often associated with the recreational market.

CO2 Extracts- Manipulating the pressure and temperature of CO2 can produce a variety of cannabis extracts. CO2 Supercritical equipment may be fine-tuned to capture cannabinoids, terpenes, or both. The extract produced is usually a clear, amber oil after the lipids/fats of the plant have been removed through a process called winterization. This oil can be used to make a variety of products ranging from vape pens and capsules to skin creams and sublingual strips.

CO2 is a non-toxic and greener form of extraction compared to its hydrocarbon counterpart. It is considered one of the most technologically advanced, however it is also the most expensive. The food, pharmaceutical, and herbal supplement industries frequently use similar equipment because it is safe, efficient, and scalable.

Alcohol Extracts- Alcohols (usually ethanol) are powerful, polar solvents that remove more components of the plant than both processes mentioned above. Because of this, these extracts are rarely smoked, but usually come in the form of a tincture or dark oil. Rick Simpson Oils a well known crude alcohol extract that is often consumed by medical patients due to its DIY simplicity. 

Solvent less Extracts- These are created via a mechanical process, instead of a chemical one. For instance, rosin is created by squeezing the essential oils out of the plant with a heat press. Other examples include kief/dry sift and hash. However, most of these extracts are difficult produce on a large scale and the lack of a solvent makes them more susceptible to microbiological contaminants.

The type of concentrate depends on what the consumer is looking for, whether its recreational, medical, or perhaps a little bit of both. As more states go recreational, the market is expected to change significantly. With concentrates giving an alternative to smoking, they will only continue to become more commonplace.