The extraction process: How are cannabis concentrates made?

Posted by Namaste Vapes on

Concentrates -- also referred to as oils, tinctures, and extracts -- describe cannabis flower that has been processed into a concentrated form. 

Concentrates can come in many forms, such as hash, budder, wax, shatter, hash oil, and rosin. Each type of concentrate is made in its own unique way, however they all have the same intention: to concentrate cannabis’ trichomes, meaning the resin glands that are found on cannabis flowers and leaves, into a more potent form (hence the name concentrate). 

They can be vaporized, smoked, ingested sublingually, or added to your favourite recipe. Cannabis concentrates are much stronger than your normal dried cannabis flower, so first-time users should start off with small amounts to avoid experiencing adverse effects. 

Now that you know what concentrates are, we’re going to cover exactly how they’re made in a process called extraction.

What is extraction?

Extraction is the process in which the cannabis plant’s cannabinoids are extracted from the dried flower and turned into a more concentrated form. There are multiple different ways to do this:

Extraction with butane

This is one of the most popular methods for extracting terpenes and cannabinoids, and it’s the best method for preserving cannabinoid acids, such as THCA. Cannabinoid acids are compounds that transform into another compound when heated. For example, THCA turns into THC upon decarboxylation, and CBDA turns into CBD. Butane is a hydrocarbon chain that dissolves terpenes and cannabinoids, leaving the rest of the compounds behind. This form of extraction involves running the butane through dried flower and then passing it through a filter. Then, the butane is removed from the product by using heat and pressure, a process called purging. Since high heat isn’t needed for this extraction process, the result is a terpene-rich product.

Extraction with ethanol

Approved for safe consumption by the FDA, ethanol is an organic solvent that also meets Canada’s Organic Standards. Ethanol dissolves the plant’s compounds, including terpenes, cannabinoids, waxes, lipids, and chlorophyll. Similar to extraction with butane, this process requires dissolving the cannabinoids and terpenes before running it through a filter to remove the excess liquid. Ethanol extraction is a safe and easy form of extraction that pulls the compounds directly from the biomass to provide a winterized oil. Winterizing is the process of placing your extraction in a cool temperature, which further allows compounds to separate and help create a cleaner product. At different extraction temperatures, ethanol produces different effects, from concentrated distillate to a full-spectrum concentrate.

Extraction with CO2 

CO2 is a gas at room temperature. It’s a naturally-occurring compound and one of the safest methods of cannabis extraction. When CO2 is pressurized under high heat,  it acts as a supercritical fluid, meaning it has properties of gas and liquid. This allows it to pass through solids and dissolve certain compounds. When it’s passed through the flower, it dissolves cannabinoids and terpenes and then is passed into a new chamber where the pressure and temperature drops. This causes CO2 to turn back into a gas. Extraction with CO2 requires specialized equipment. It pulls compounds such as THCA, CBD, CBG, THCV, and terpenes.