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Cannabis Extraction Processes

Everyone knows the cannabis plant – we’ve all seen the green flower at some point on TV, in magazines, or even smoked some of the good stuff ourselves. But what about extracts, or more specifically, concentrates? This lesser known form of the cannabis plant is making huge waves in the industry for many reasons.

Concentrates are a form of cannabis in which the different chemical compounds of the cannabis plant are extracted and processed into a much more compact form. These concentrates can be processed to become oil, wax, budder, hash, shatter, or live resin amongst other compounds. This form of cannabis has many benefits over the traditional, plant based form, including:

  • It’s space saving – many concentrates can pack the power of several grams of flower into much less volume of concentrates.
  • It’s Discrete – concentrates allow you to vape, consume edibles, pills and tinctures, and generally consume cannabis in a much more low-key manner.
  • It’s Cleaner – While  combustion adds a lot of impurities to the process of getting high, concentrates provide an alternative. Vaping and dabbing provide a cleaner high without exposing you to unnecessary plant material that smoking cannabis flower does. These extracts also provide enhanced cannabinoid purity and great taste due to the preservation of terpenes. This also allows the effects  from concentrates to generally be stronger and longer-lasting. 

What Is Extraction? 

Talking about concentrates is one thing, actually producing them is something else. So how do we go from dried flower to a beautiful, golden batch of shatter? Enter extraction.

The key is in the trichomes. These are the crystals you may have seen on your dried flower – they look just like sugar! These are the structures that carry most of the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant, such as THC, CBD, and several other terpenes. 

Trichomes must be separated from plant matter as cleanly as possible, while also being condensed into a much more compact form. The cannabinoid compounds are very heat and pressure sensitive making them prone to biochemical degradation under extreme conditions. Therefore, extracting the cannabinoids efficiently while still retaining all the desired compounds is truly a blend of art and science. There are several different methods for extraction, all with their own sets of pros and cons. Let’s take a look!

Alcohol Extraction

One of the most popular and efficient methods of extractions is using alcohol as a solvent. This process involves submerging or washing the cannabis plant matter with alcohol (usually isopropyl alcohol or ethanol) in order to strip the trichomes away. This method is extremely popular as it is cost effective, dependable, and sustainable. 

While the alcohol does a great job of separating the plant from the cannabinoids, unfortunately it does the same thing with fats, waxes, chlorophyll and other unwanted compounds, making the resulting concentrate less pure than desired. This means a secondary refining process usually takes place where these unwanted compounds are removed from the mixture, improving the purity and taste of the remaining concentrate. 

This type of extraction is flexible, working well for large companies and small ones alike; its scalability and safety make it a great choice for many concentrate companies. 

Hydrocarbon Extraction 

Another popular method for extraction is by using hydrocarbons as a solvent, namely butane and propane. This type of extraction retains a greater variety of terpenes more effectively than the alcohol extraction process, making it ideal for products which don’t have flavoring or terpenes added during the refinement process, such as pills or tinctures.he lower boiling point of these hydrocarbons is very useful in preserving heat-sensitive cannabinoids and terpenes such as myrcene and delta-9 THC.

While these solvents provide more flavor, they do come with their own set of risks. Butane and propane are both highly flammable and volatile, making hydrocarbon extraction a relatively dangerous process. Because of this, hydrocarbon extractions are usually smaller in scale than ethanol extractions, though their efficiency and speed still allow a healthy volume of extraction to take place.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction 

Supercritical CO2 may sound scary at first, but have no fear! This is actually a very safe method of extraction and has been used for years in other extraction processes for coffee, tea, and perfumes among other things.

This method uses pressurized and heated supercritical CO2 and passes it through the plant material of the cannabis plant. This fluid collects the trichomes and is then fed into another chamber, allowing the cannabinoids, terpenes, and CO2 to be separated. The CO2 is then condensed and recycled, able to be used again for extractions. This process is much safer than hydrocarbon extraction, as the compounds involved are much less volatile and flammable.

CO2 extraction allows for great specificity in selecting which compounds are extracted and which type of concentrate is produced with only minor adjustments to the equipment. The solvent density of CO2 targets specific molecular weights to be dissolved.  Therefore, adjusting temperatures and pressures in the extractor allows dissolving specific molecular weights of compounds. This tunable aspect of CO2 extractions allow for creativity and ways for companies to differentiate themselves by developing proprietary adjustments for temperature, pressure, flow rate, and solvent-to-feed ratio to produce unique concentrates. The biggest concern with CO2 extractions is the costliness. The advanced equipment often prices start-ups and small businesses out of this extraction process, which is a shame!

Non-Solvent Extractions

Now that we have covered the most popular extraction methods using solvents, we can briefly touch on the methods that don’t use solvents. These methods are less popular as they are less efficient at extracting the cannabinoids from the plant matter and usually result in concentrates with lower percentages of THC and CBD than their solvent counterparts. They are also less friendly to large scale or commercial producers.

Non-solvent methods are fairly simple and do not require any expensive equipment or dangerous compounds. However, some of these methods can produce a better tasting and aromatic product due to the natural, terpene preserving processes. Some examples of non-solvent extractions are Dry-sieve extractions, water extractions, or using a Rosin Press.

The Rosin Press is particularly interesting for extraction. Using a hydraulic or manual Rosin press, immense pressure is combined with heat in order to compress bubble hash, kief, trim or flower into a more concentrated form. During this process, almost all of the cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved, making this a very popular method for those who don’t want to use chemicals in the extraction process and yet maintain a very high quality product. Due to the non-chemical process and fairly simple mechanical nature of the Rosin press, it is also much safer than other extraction methods. With all of these benefits, it is no surprise that the Rosin press is on the rise!

The Seed & Smith Difference 

Regardless of whether it is the distillate in your Seed & Smith Dart pod or an extract type in our array of concentrates, we believe in the, “Gold in, Gold out,” mentality when it comes to our extraction processes. We take great pride in our extraction processes that results in a full flavor profile, great taste, and strain specific terpenes in each batch on concentrate.

During our extraction process, the full spectrum terpenes are removed at a critical point during the harvesting process to protect the terpenes from any degradation. Isolating these terpenes at this point is vital to the taste and experience you receive when consuming Seed & Smith concentrates. Regardless of what form your cannabis comes in, it should be 100% cannabis derived. No botanical terpenes, no harmful artificial solvents, and zero compromise when it comes to producing premium  concentrates – that’s the Seed & Smith difference and a standard we live by.

The Future of Extractions 

The natural cycle of technology is innovation followed by efficiency. We predict the same cycle in the cannabis industry. New methods will emerge and old ones will become safer, more efficient, and less expensive. The world is moving towards more environmentally friendly ways of production no matter the industry, and this can be seen in the cannabis industry as well.

 

Some of these novel extraction processes include ultrasound technology, hydrodynamic extractions, and even using bees as an extraction tool! The general sentiment around the cannabis industry has been that companies are moving towards more custom extraction processes, allowing the preservation of terpenes and bioavailability in their concentrates. It’s an exciting time for anyone in the cannabis industry, whether you are a grower, processor, or consumer!

October 17, 2018
Cannabis News  |  Product News

In early 2014 we came together to build an innovative company focused on two things: creating exceptional cannabis products and demonstrating our passion and our process for doing so. We began by rehabbing an old forklift manufacturing facility, turning a dated industrial space into a state of the art production campus that’s open to the public. Welcome to Seed & Smith. Here we meld science and love in our quest to trigger a renaissance in cannabis.

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