CO2 Extraction – Better Than BHO?

From higher potency, to ease of use, and the preservation of certain cannabis terpene profiles, extracts have become the go-to for cannabis consumers. The two most common extraction methods for transforming flower or trim into oils are butane extraction (BHO) and CO2. While both methods provide an end product with high THC and cannabinoid content, the extraction methods and output are considerably different. It is therefore imperative to understand the intricacies of both common extraction methods before determining which practice is best for you, your brand, and your consumer base.


The methods for extracting the active ingredients from cannabis plants have become quite specific and scientific, so research and industry insight are key in helping break down the science to make informed considerations regarding your extraction method of choice. With the BHO approach, a vessel is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, which are used as a solvent to extract cannabinoids. BHO is a form of hydrocarbon extraction, utilizing a hydrocarbon, such as butane or propane, as the solvent to cull cannabis concentrates.


In CO2 extraction, the flower goes through high pressure, but instead of infusing a solvent similar to BHO to remove cannabinoids and terpenes, CO2 extraction relies on pressure and temperature and behaves differently during an extraction due to being a supercritical fluid, rather than a liquid. Imagine a substance quickly moving back and forth, transforming from a liquid to a gas. This method, though more complex, has become a favorite amongst medical marijuana enthusiasts who desire a “cleaner” product. CO2 is a non-toxic and greener form of extraction compared to its hydrocarbon counterpart, and therefore considered much safer for consumption.


Extracts made using the BHO method have been commonly popular due to speed of extraction and high THC concentration, as well as cheaper startup costs for extraction systems, some of which could be bought and performed at home. However, due to the extreme care and precaution needed in dealing with dangerous BHO extraction processes, many health concerns and considerations are now being raised, and the industry is seeing steeper regulations.


Hydrocarbons are combustible, and therefore have an inherent, ongoing risk of exploding. Handling of hydrocarbons and the risk of accident can, effectually, become a matter of life and death. In addition, the costly build of BHO extraction rooms, which have recently become more common due to the regulation within the industry, meant to contain an explosion should an accident occur, are required with hydrocarbon extraction. Special valves, lighting, and switches are required inside of a BHO extraction facility to help preclude accident or explosion, leading many to consider if the cost and risk outweigh the means.


Another critical concern in BHO extraction is the possibility of traces of hydrocarbons making their way into the end product. Our COO, Joshua Carmona states, “Long-term studies regarding the inhalation of trace amounts of hydrocarbons and health have not been conducted. There is an uncertainty when it comes to ingesting these products daily and long-term, especially for medical patients. With CO2, that inherent worry does not exist.”


While BHO was at one point a faster extraction process, the innovative and efficient technology of Xtraction Services equipment has negated that differentiator. From a production perspective, these new systems offer the same speeds and same capacity of output as BHO, without the liability associated with a combustible gas.


For more information on CO2 extraction, CO2 extraction systems, or the comparison of extraction methods, please contact us.