How to Extract THC
April 23rd, 2018
As both recreational and medicinal marijuana become increasingly legal across the United States, the way people ingest cannabis is becoming increasingly creative.
No longer are cannabis enthusiasts confined to consuming the flower alone. These days, there’s wax, shatter, sugar, budder, and an ever-growing range of other cannabis concentrates that can be consumed in lieu of smoking the plant.
Making these concentrates is an art all its own as there are quite a few different ways THC can be extracted from the plant to produce them. If you’re curious about making your own, then spend some time getting to know the pros and cons of three of the most popular methods of extraction.
Butane is a common method of extraction but it can also be a very dangerous one. Whether you’re extracting at home with basic equipment or you’re doing it in large scales, the process is essentially the same.
Basically, you fill a metal or plastic tube with the cannabis plant—the higher the quality, the better. Then, you put a mesh screen or other breathable filter on one side of the tube and subsequently spray the butane into it. The result is a cannabis-butane solution dripping into whatever container you put on the end of the tube to collect it.
But in order for this new solution to be safe, you have to get rid of the butane in it. You do this by heating up the solution in hot water. As this happens, you’ll notice your solution start to bubble—that’s the butane making its escape. Because the water will cool relatively quickly, it’s critical that you change it often to ensure all of the butane is removed.
CO2 extraction occurs through a process called supercritical fluid extraction. Other gases aside from CO2 can be used during this process but CO2 is far and away the most common.
You’ll find that most sticklers for purity and potency gravitate toward this method over the others because it compresses at a lower temperature—approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is far below the deactivation temperature for both cannabinoids and terpenes, which results in a more flavorful solution and reportedly clearer high.
To use this method, you put the marijuana plant in some form of an extraction vessel them push liquid CO2 through it. In a nutshell, the process works by using temperature and pressure to draw out the cannabinoids and terpenes into separate chambers attached to the vessel.
Different temperatures and pressures can be used in this method depending on the desired flavors and different kinds of highs you want from it.
Ethanol extraction is a simple, centuries-old process that, in the early days, was basically just a matter of soaking the plant material in an ethanol solution heated by hot water for varying amounts of time depending on the desired result.
But despite the safety and simplicity of this method relative to the others, many cannabis producers have opted not to use it due to one glaring issue.
The primary reason people have been turning to butane and CO2 instead is because ethanol molecules’ polar and nonpolar ends mean that, in addition to drawing cannabinoids and terpenes out of plants, it can also bring unwanted chemicals, like chlorophyll and plant wax, out too. The result is a highly murky substance.
But new technology has made this much less of a problem. For instance, popular ethanol extraction system, Ethos 4, can extract 98.5% of THC while leaving most of the unwanted stuff behind. And there are now a number of alternative systems just like it. With these technological advances, ethanol extraction has been gaining a lot of popularity as a preferred method.
What Extraction Method is Right For You?
The best extraction method for you depends on a number of factors including your budget, the type of concentrate you’re aiming to make, and safety concerns you might have.
For instance, if you’re primarily looking to make some form of hash or shatter, then you’ll want to consider using butane extraction for the golden amber-colored hard substance it creates. On the other hand, if vapor is what you’re after, then CO2 extraction is your best bet as it produces a relatively pure and clear oil that lends itself well to vaping.
Moreover, if you’re producing concentrates in variable environments then you should consider the fact that butane extraction is highly flammable, and should really only be done using explosion-proof equipment in a secure building. Meanwhile, CO2 and ethanol extraction methods don’t have that problem.
All of that being said, the method you use is really a matter of your particular concentrate needs and the conditions you’re working with. As of right now, butane and CO2 are the most popular methods among producers but, as mentioned, new technology has made ethanol extraction an increasingly popular choice as well.
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