Cannabis Extraction and Distillation
Cannabis extraction and distillation are a big deal. If you’ve ever hit a dab rig, puffed from a vape, or eaten an edible – you’ve experienced cannabinoids that have been extracted and distilled. But what does this process look like? Fadi Yashruti of Root Sciences joins to guide us through the cannabis extraction and distillation process.
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Cannabis Extraction and Distillation
What is cannabis extraction?
Cannabis extraction is, nowadays, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the cannabis industry. Not only are today’s legal marijuana sales more than 50% infused products and concentrates, but it’s expected to become 90% of the market.
Cannabis extraction is the process of converting targeted molecules into a usable form by removing the oil found in the trichomes from the cannabis plant collecting the most potent compounds, such as THC and CBD.
If you are an entrepreneur, investor, or just someone interested in the cannabis business, here is all you need to know about the cannabis extraction process.
Types of cannabis extraction methods
Different types of cannabis extraction methods are used to concentrate and target molecules from the cannabis plant. They are not new but they have adapted different techniques popularly used like agriculture, biopharma, petrochemical, and other alike industries, the most known cannabis extraction methods are:
Cannabis alcohol extraction
This method of Cannabis extraction consists of cannabis being soaked in alcohol (the solvent), then the plant is removed, the liquid is filtered and the alcohol is evaporated.
The biggest challenge one could have with this method is that, when using ethanol, the most commonly used alcohol for extraction, it has a propensity to mix with water dissolving the chlorophyll from the extract, which can result in a bitter flavor, making it unpleasant to consume.
On the other hand, one of the benefits of this cannabis extraction method is that there is no risk of leaving toxic residual chemicals in the final cannabis extracts, and allows the extraction of all compounds of interest, like cannabinoids and terpenoids.
It also should be carefully performed, the ethanol is a highly inflammable substance, and the temperature must be attentively controlled.
Cannabis CO2 extraction
Instead of using alcohol for cannabis extraction, this method uses carbon dioxide to remove the cannabis components from the plant matrix. Then the CO2 is turned supercritical, which means it becomes simultaneously liquid and gas. Next, it goes into a condenser and turns into a liquid allowing it to be used again, which makes it economical to use and reduces the amount of disposal waste.
This cannabis extraction method can be used to extract specific compounds by changing the temperature pressure or runtime. And, since any remaining CO2 evaporates after the process, this method of extraction guarantees that no residual solvent will be present in the final product.
Cannabis butane or propane extraction
This method of cannabis extraction starts with cannabis and liquid butane in a pressurized and heated system. Then, using evaporation under a vacuum the butane solvent is removed, turning from liquid to a vapor.
It creates an extract known as shatter, which is a clear material that usually includes THC and CBD.
This method is no stranger to danger. First, the butane burns easily when in its gas stage, so the temperature must be managed very carefully or the risk of exploitation could increase.
Also, the system used for this extraction should include circulators that remove and recycle the butane. Keep in mind that butane is highly toxic to humans, so after the extraction process, analytical testing should be done to ensure it is all removed from the final product.
Even with the risks this method of cannabis extraction brings, it remains a very popular method among manufacturers, primarily due to its low costs in equipment and running, and because it produces flavorful extracts compared to the prior methods mentioned above.
Instead of butane, some manufacturers prefer to produce propane hash oil because propane’s boiling point is less than butane and the risks are lower. Even though they are similar methods of cannabis extraction, the extracts that come from them are not. For that reason some manufacturers decide to combine the propane and butane for the extraction, resulting in a product with a broader chemical composition.
Cannabis Solvent-Free Extraction
This method of cannabis might be the most simple one of them all, but it’s worth mentioning as well. Cannabis solvent-free extraction cuts down to extracting the desirable components of the cannabis plant simply by grinding and sieving. It doesn’t work for the extraction of all components, but it is enough to separate some like Kief.
What products are created from Cannabis Extraction?
- Tinctures – cannabis-based liquid in bottles with droppers that are administered sublingually
- Capsules – cannabis concentrates in capsule form orally ingested
- Vape oils – cannabis-based oil-filled cartridge, usually contains CBD or THC
- Hash – pressed concentration of the cannabis plant’s trichomes glands
- Wax, Dabbable Oils and Shatter – oils processed with butane or CO2 and orally ingested
What’s the difference between a cannabis extract and a concentrate?
The easiest way to differentiate between a cannabis extract and a concentrate is by focusing on the way the product was made.
For producing extracts solvents, hydrocarbon-based solvents or CO2 with high heat and pressure are used to chemically extract the desired components.
Concentrates are made through mechanical processes to remove trichomes from the plant, such as bubble bags, ice washer machines, screens, or others. They are also made with CO2, water, vegetable glycerin, vegetable oils, animal fats, isopropyl alcohol or ethanol without heat or pressure.
What Is Cannabis Distillation?
The cannabis distillation is a post-processing method done after the solvent extraction to obtain an odorless and tasteless oil that could have over 90% of CBD/THC concentration.
How to make cannabis distillate
After the cannabis extraction process is completed, a winterization process takes place. It consists of mixing the extract with ethanol and placing the mixture in a super cold environment for a period of time, this way the impurities will separate by falling to the bottom and the concentration of the extract can be filtered.
Then, in order to add the psychoactive effects to the concentrated oil, it has to be exposed to 104 C / 220 F for the cannabinoid called THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) to lose its acidic form and turn into THC.
For the further purification of the processed product, the proper distillation is required. It involves heat, steam, and vacuum pressure to separate the chemical compounds in the concentrate to get to a concentrated cannabinoid distillate. The desired compounds are separated, leaving a refined collection of potent cannabinoids.
To reach optimal potency sometimes several rounds of distillation are needed.
Licenses for Cannabis Extraction and Distillation
If you are interested in getting into the business of cannabis extraction, you should not limit your understanding of the industry in the process of extraction itself. You may want to take into consideration the licenses and permits needed to start with your economic activities.
Even though the process of getting your license approved can become tedious, licenses are needed. Your local government probably has an application process that states the requirements needed, they may include your business plan, selected locality, engineering documents and code standards. Licenses for extraction do not cross state lines. Take into consideration some jurisdictions allow only certain types of extraction, for example, some states don’t approve licenses for the use of propane or butane for cannabis extraction but do allow the use of other solvents like CO2 for the process.
These requirements can vary or be somehow abstract depending on the municipality you are in, hence we recommend you to consult with an experienced lawyer to facilitate the licensing process.
What is Root Sciences?
Root Sciences is one of the biggest distributors of hemp and cannabis processing equipment on the market. After years of practitioning the art of cannabis extraction, they started developing innovative cannabis distillation technologies around 2016, becoming a global industry leader.
They have partnered with VTA and their products provide quantifiable purity and potency results achieving test results up to 99.85% total cannabinoids with the use of their distillation equipment.
We had the opportunity to chat with Fadi Yashruti, Cofounder of Root Sciences, on our Youtube channel to get to know them and their work a little better. If you are interested in hearing more about them check it out here
Interested in coming on as a guest? Email our producer at [email protected].