Isolating the desired compounds in the cannabis plant can be done in a variety of different ways. However, this does not mean that it is a simple thing to do.
Before specific compounds are extracted from the plant’s makeup, they need to be isolated. This ‘isolation’ is merely separation from the other compounds. The extraction methods work to separate the different cannabis components into the extracts.
Single or Whole Plant Extracts?
The cannabis plant contains 113 known cannabinoids, and producers use extraction techniques to isolate and then separate the desired cannabinoids. More often than not, the most sought after cannabinoids are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol, known as CBD and THC respectively.
It is also possible to extract a number of cannabinoids and combine these into a single extract product. When this happens, the final extract is called a ‘whole plant extract.’ Due to convincing studies done on the ‘entourage effect’, whole plant extracts are proving to be the more popular option and could also be the more profitable option for the future.
Whole plant extracts could contain an additional 550 compounds,including terpenes.
The Three Most Popular Methods
Whatever the compounds are that you may be looking at extracting, there are three extraction methods that are the most common. In this article, we will take a look at all three but it is important to keep in mind that extracting cannabinoids is based on chemistry so care should be taken if performing cannabinoid extractions in the kitchen. And, most importantly, all the extractions and final products should be put under independent lab testing to ensure that they are safe enough for human consumption.
Before you begin, you will need the right apparatus. Companies such as gavita could provide cost-effective options. With the safety warnings and preparations in mind, let’s dig into the various cannabis extraction methods:
Cannabis Alcohol Extraction
Many of the most common extraction techniques use solvents like alcohol.
How does it work?
The plant material, in this case, cannabis, is soaked in ethanol. Thereafter, the plant material is removed, the remaining liquid filtered and the alcohol is usually removed through evaporation.
The main issue with this is that solvents are inherently inclined to dissolve water-soluble substances such as chlorophyll.
This can be a cause for concern because when the chlorophyll is removed from the end product, it causes the extract to have a bitter flavor.
During alcohol extraction, especially during the evaporation stage, the temperature should be closely monitored. Extracting using alcohol can be a longer process than the others and can also be one of the more dangerous because of the flammable nature of ethanol. However, while the dangerous element is definitely one con to this extraction method, one of the pros is that it often leaves you with a pure product, free of toxic residual. Furthermore, it allows you to perform a whole plant extract that includes terpenes and other cannabinoids.
CO2 Cannabis Extraction
Many extraction methods employ the use of testing agents or reagents and this can increase the cost of the entire extraction process. Therefore, the CO2 cannabis extraction method has become a more popular method due to the lack of solvent used. With this method, cannabinoids and desired components are isolated and removed using CO2.
How does it work?
However, before you get too excited, there are a few critical things to bear in mind. The carbon dioxide needs to be converted into supercritical CO2, rendering the CO2 simultaneously a gas and a liquid. To do this, high levels of both heat and pressure are used.
The cons of this method include a higher price tag; the equipment needed can be costly. However, what this expensive method lacks in cost efficiency, it makes up for in yield. Furthermore, by adjusting specifics like temperature, runtime or pressure; CO2 extraction allows you to isolate and then extract specific compounds
Once the initial cost of the equipment is taken care of, the CO2 extraction method can become dramatically more cost-effective. This is because the supercritical CO2 is converted into a liquid form and, after being properly filtered, can be reused. This then becomes a cheaper option as less reagent is required and less waste is produced. If there is any leftover CO2 in the final extracted product, it conveniently evaporates. Therefore, those who are extracting for medicinal purposes or those that are looking for a high-quality final product can rest easy knowing that there will no solvent left over in the final product.
The resulting extract of butane extraction is another rising star in the cannabis industry, known as ‘shatter’.
How does it work?
Butane hash oil is created when you use butane as the solvent in the extraction process. This is done by combining the cannabis plant matter with butane in a liquid form in a heated and pressurized system. The butane is then removed using evaporation in a vacuum. The vacuum is an essential part of the process because it converts the butane to a vapor form.
Shatter is a transparent resultant extract, that usually comprises of a variety of cannabinoids, including terpenes, THC, and CBD. In simple terms, shatter is a hardened butane hash oil. One of the most important factors in this extraction method is to ensure that terpene levels are kept low- if the terpene levels rise too high then it acts as a solvent which softens the extract.
Due to the nature of gas butane to easily burn, this method can be hazardous. The temperature should be carefully monitored- if it is not then there is the real danger of an explosive reaction. Furthermore, a system is required to remove the leftover and possibly recycle the butane.
If this extraction method is used, it is critical for the resulting product to undergo stringent analyses because butane is a toxic substance.
While the danger is one of the most prominent cons to this method, it still has pros that make this a popular choice method. These pros include the low cost involved as well as the lack of complicated equipment. Furthermore, the resulting extract can often be flavorful.
Whichever process is used, it is critical to always take the necessary safety precautions and to thoroughly test the final product.