Learn about the methods of cannabis extraction, including CO2, hydrocarbon, ethanol, dry sift, rosin tech, and more in this guide on concentrate extraction.

Different Methods of Concentrate Extraction

Ever wondered how those potent dabs and glistening pieces of shatter are made? Cannabis concentrates, packed with flavor and cannabinoids, are created through a fascinating process called extraction. This technique separates the precious terpenes and cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, from the plant material, leaving behind a concentrated and powerful end product.

But how exactly do we achieve this separation? In this blog, we'll examine the various methods of cannabis extraction, exploring the science behind each and the unique characteristics of the resulting concentrates.

What Is Cannabis Extraction?

Cannabis concentrates are specially made products that are packed with the plant's most valuable compounds: cannabinoids and terpenes. Extraction is the process that isolates these riches from the cannabis flower. Through various techniques, extraction separates and concentrates these precious oils, creating products like shatter, wax, batter (or badder), and sugar.

The key in extraction is to maximize yield while preserving the delicate balance of cannabinoids and terpenes. Some methods use solvents, while others rely on mechanical processes, each with its own advantages and resulting in distinct concentrate types. Understanding these methods empowers consumers to choose concentrates that best suit their needs and preferences.

What Is the Purpose of Cannabis Extraction? 

The purpose of cannabis extraction is to isolate and concentrate the most valuable parts of the cannabis plant. By removing unwanted plant material, this technique creates potent and versatile concentrates that enhance the medicinal and recreational effects of cannabis. 

Extraction produces concentrates with unique properties and uses, offering users precise dosing, increased potency, and targeted effects. This process ultimately unlocks the full therapeutic potential of cannabis, making it a more accessible and effective option for a wide range of consumers.

Methods of Cannabis Extraction

There are several methods of cannabis extraction, each utilizing different techniques to isolate cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant. Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Solvent-Based Extraction Methods

Solvent-based extraction is a powerful technique that utilizes chemical solvents to selectively dissolve the desired compounds, cannabinoids and terpenes, from the rest of the cannabis plant material. This process separates the valuable resinous heads, rich in these compounds, from unwanted plant matter like stems and leaves. 

Hydrocarbon Extraction

Hydrocarbon extraction utilizes solvents like butane or propane. This method is known for producing highly potent concentrates such as shatter, wax, and badder, prized for their purity and strong effects.

In hydrocarbon extraction, cannabis material is placed in a closed-loop system where a hydrocarbon solvent is introduced. The solvent dissolves the plant's active compounds, creating a solution that is then filtered to remove impurities. The solvent is then purged from the solution, typically using a vacuum oven, to ensure no residual chemicals remain in the final product. This method is highly efficient and allows for precise control over the extraction parameters, resulting in a variety of textures and consistencies in the final concentrates.

Connoisseurs value hydrocarbon extraction for its ability to preserve the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, creating concentrates with both potent effects and a robust flavor profile. However, it requires careful handling and specialized equipment to ensure safety and product quality, as hydrocarbons are highly flammable and must be completely purged to avoid health risks.

CO2 Extraction

CO2 extraction uses supercritical carbon dioxide to separate cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis, producing high-quality concentrates. This method is renowned for its safety, efficiency, and ability to create versatile products like oils, waxes, and vape cartridges.

In CO2 extraction, carbon dioxide is pressurized, bringing it to a supercritical state, where it simultaneously exhibits properties of both a gas and a liquid. This supercritical CO2 is passed through the cannabis material, dissolving the desired compounds. The mixture is then directed into a separator, where the CO2 is converted back into a gas, leaving behind the concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes. Best of all, the CO2 can be recycled and used again, making the process more sustainable.

This method allows for precise control over temperature and pressure, which can be adjusted to selectively extract specific compounds. This results in high-purity concentrates with a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, preserving the plant's natural profile. Additionally, CO2 extraction is non-toxic and leaves no harmful residues, making it a preferred choice for creating clean, safe cannabis products. However, the specialized equipment and expertise required can make it more expensive than other extraction methods.

Ethanol Extraction

True to its name, this method uses ethanol as the solvent of choice for separating cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant. This method is highly efficient and scalable, making it ideal for large-scale production of various cannabis products, including tinctures, full-spectrum extracts, and oils.

First, cannabis plants are soaked in ethanol, which dissolves the desired compounds. The ethanol solution is then filtered to remove plant material. Following this, the ethanol is evaporated, often using a rotary evaporator, leaving behind the concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes. The process can be conducted at different temperatures, with cold ethanol extraction minimizing the extraction of unwanted compounds like chlorophyll, resulting in a cleaner product.

Ethanol is considered a safe solvent as it is non-toxic and evaporates easily, ensuring no harmful residues remain in the final product. Additionally, ethanol extraction is versatile, capable of producing both crude extracts for further refinement and highly purified final products.

This method is also cost-effective and relatively simple compared to other solvent-based extractions, making it a popular choice in the cannabis industry. However, the quality of the final product can be influenced by factors such as the ethanol's purity and the extraction conditions.

Solventless Extraction Methods

Solventless extraction utilizes mechanical processes to isolate and concentrate the desired compounds from the cannabis plant. These methods avoid any potential contamination from residual solvents, appealing to consumers who prioritize a completely natural product. Solventless techniques rely on physical manipulation, such as pressure, temperature changes, or agitation, to separate trichomes from the unwanted plant material. 

Rosin Tech

Rosin tech is a solventless extraction method that uses heat and pressure to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis flowers or hash. This technique is popular for its simplicity and ability to produce high-quality rosin concentrates without the need for additional solvents.

In rosin tech, cannabis material is placed between parchment paper and pressed using heat and pressure. The heat causes the trichomes to melt and adhere to the parchment paper, forming a concentrated rosin extract. The process typically involves using a specialized rosin press that allows for precise control over temperature and pressure, optimizing the extraction of desired compounds.

Rosin tech is valued for its purity. It also preserves the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes present in the original plant material, resulting in a flavorful and potent concentrate. This method has gained popularity among enthusiasts and small-scale producers for its accessibility and for its ability to yield high-quality rosin extracts suitable for dabbing or vaping.

Dry Sift

Dry sift is a solventless extraction method that uses screens or sieves to separate trichomes from cannabis flowers. This technique involves agitating the plant material to dislodge the trichomes, which are then collected and further processed into a concentrated form.

In dry sift extraction, cannabis flowers are gently shaken or rubbed over screens with varying mesh sizes. The agitation causes trichomes to fall through the screens, separating them from the plant material. The collected trichomes, often referred to as kief, can be pressed into hash or used directly as a potent concentrate.

Dry sift extraction is valued for its simplicity and minimal equipment requirements. It preserves the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes present in the cannabis flowers, resulting in a flavorful and aromatic concentrate. However, the quality of dry sift can vary depending on the starting material and the technique used.

Ice Water Extraction

Ice water extraction, also known as “ice water hash” or “bubble hash,” is a solventless extraction method that uses ice water and agitation to remove trichomes. Cannabis material is submerged in ice water and agitated through gentle stirring. The cold temperature and movement cause trichomes to detach from the plant material and sink to the bottom of the container. The mixture is then filtered through screens or mesh bags with varying micron sizes to collect the trichomes.

Ice water extraction is valued for its purity and full-spectrum profile. The final product can be pressed into hash or used directly in various consumption methods. This method requires careful attention to detail and good starting materials to produce high-quality hash with potent effects.

Other Extraction Methods

In addition to solvent-based and solventless extraction methods, several other techniques are used to make cannabis extracts. These methods offer unique approaches to achieve specific extraction goals, from capturing delicate aromatics to optimizing efficiency and purity.

Steam Distillation

Steam distillation is a method used to extract terpene-rich essential oils from cannabis plants. It involves passing steam through the plant material to vaporize its volatile compounds, which are then condensed and collected for use in various products.

In steam distillation, cannabis material is placed in a chamber where steam is introduced. The steam gently heats the plant material, causing the essential oils and terpenes to evaporate. The steam and vaporized compounds are then passed through a cooling system where they condense back into a liquid state. The resulting mixture separates into layers, with the essential oils floating on top of the condensed water.

Steam distillation is valued for its ability to extract delicate compounds without exposing them to high temperatures or chemical solvents. It’s commonly used to extract terpenes, which contribute to the aromatic and therapeutic benefits of other cannabis products. However, steam distillation may not be as efficient for extracting THC or CBD compared to other methods like solvent-based or CO2 extractions.

Microwave-Assisted Extraction

Microwave assisted extraction (MAE) is a new technique that speeds up the extraction process by applying controlled microwave radiation to the plant material, enhancing efficiency and reducing extraction times.

In microwave assisted extraction, cannabis material is placed in a solvent or water mixture, and then subjected to microwave radiation. The microwave energy heats the solvent and plant material, promoting the release of cannabinoids and terpenes into the solvent. This accelerated process can significantly shorten extraction times compared to traditional methods.

MAE is valued for its speed and efficiency. However, it requires precise control of microwave parameters to avoid degrading the plant’s sensitive compounds. Research into MAE continues to explore its potential for optimizing cannabis extraction processes in commercial and research settings.

What Concentrates Are Made Through Cannabis Extraction?

The extraction process yields a variety of cannabis concentrates, including oils, waxes, shatters, and hashes. These concentrates are highly potent and versatile, offering consumers a range of consumption methods such as dabbing, vaping, and incorporation into edibles or topicals.

Types of Solvent-Based Concentrates

  • Shatter: A glass-like concentrate that is brittle and transparent, known for its high potency.

  • Batter (or badder): A softer and more pliable concentrate than shatter, with a consistency similar to cake batter.

  • Wax: A sticky concentrate with a texture resembling beeswax, offering varying consistencies from crumbly to creamy.

  • Crumble: A dry and crumbly concentrate that can be easily broken apart, often with a texture like honeycomb.

  • Distillates: A refined concentrate with a high cannabinoid content, often used in cartridges for its potency and purity.

  • Live Resin: Extracted from freshly harvested cannabis plants, preserving high levels of terpenes for enhanced aroma and flavor.

  • Crystalline: Highly refined THC or CBD crystals, prized for their potency and used for precise dosing.

  • Sauce: High-terpene extracts with a sauce-like consistency, renowned for their intense flavor profiles and often preferred by dabbing enthusiasts.

  • Rick Simpson Oil (RSO): A high-potency cannabis oil extracted with solvents like naphtha, typically used for medicinal purposes.

Types of Solventless Concentrates

  • Rosin: Extracted using heat and pressure, producing a potent concentrate rich in cannabinoids and terpenes.

  • Kief: Also known as dry sift, consists of the resinous trichomes separated from the cannabis flower using screens or sieves.

  • Hash: Made from kief or directly from cannabis flower by various methods, including hand-rubbing, sieving, and pressing.

Types of Concentrates from Other Extraction Methods

  • Essential Oils: Captured through steam distillation, these oils preserve aromatic terpenes used for aromatherapy and enhancing flavor profiles in cannabis products.

  • Highly Concentrated Oils: Produced via supercritical fluid extraction (SFE), these oils contain high levels of cannabinoids and terpenes.

What Are the Benefits of Cannabis Extraction?

Cannabis extraction enhances potency, purity, and versatility in cannabis products. It allows for precise concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, enabling tailored therapeutic effects. Extraction also removes unnecessary plant material, offering cleaner consumption methods such as vaping and edibles, which are preferred for their efficiency and consistent dosing.

Is Cannabis Extraction Safe?

When conducted with proper equipment and adherence to safety protocols, cannabis extraction can be performed safely. Methods like CO2 extraction and solventless techniques minimize risks associated with chemical solvents, ensuring products are free from harmful residues when produced under controlled conditions. It’s best to buy cannabis concentrates from an officially licensed provider like SunMed because of the complicated production processes involved.

Is Cannabis Extraction Legal?

The legality of cannabis extraction varies by jurisdiction. In regions where cannabis is legal for medical or recreational use, extraction is typically regulated and permitted under specific conditions. It's crucial to comply with local laws and obtain necessary licenses or permits to engage in cannabis extraction activities legally.

As for the cannabis concentrates that extraction produces, in Maryland, concentrates that were previously only permitted for medical use are now legal for recreational adult use as of July 1, 2024.

Cannabis Extraction FAQs

What Is the Best Extraction Process for Cannabis?

The best extraction process for cannabis depends on factors like desired product purity, efficiency, and intended use. CO2 extraction is favored for its versatility and ability to produce clean, high-quality extracts. However, each method has its advantages, and the choice often depends on specific product requirements and regulatory considerations.

What Is the Healthiest Cannabis Extraction Method?

Solventless extraction methods like rosin tech, dry sift, and ice water hash are often considered the healthiest for producing cannabis concentrates. These methods avoid the use of chemical solvents, preserving the natural profile of cannabinoids and terpenes without introducing potentially harmful residues into the final product. However, reputable producers employing modern lab testing will make sure that solvent-based concentrates are perfectly clean and safe to use as well.

Is CO2 Better Than Butane for Cannabis Extraction?

CO2 extraction is generally considered safer and cleaner than butane extraction. CO2 is non-toxic, non-flammable, and leaves no residual solvents in the final product when properly purged. Butane extraction, while effective, requires careful handling due to its flammability and potential health risks if not completely purged.

Is Butane or Ethanol Better for Cannabis Extraction?

The choice between butane and ethanol for cannabis extraction depends on specific goals and safety considerations. Butane extraction is efficient but requires careful handling due to its flammability. Ethanol extraction is safer, less volatile, and can yield a broader spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes. It is often preferred for its versatility and safety profile in producing cannabis extracts.

What’s the Difference Between Cannabis Extracts and Concentrates?

The terms “cannabis extracts” and “cannabis concentrates” are often used interchangeably, but “extracts” sometimes refers to the concentrated substances obtained through various extraction methods, while “concentrates” specifically denotes final products with elevated cannabinoid levels, such as oils, waxes, or shatters, derived from these extracts.

Explore SunMed’s Cannabis Concentrates

At SunMed, we are known for our commitment to quality and innovation. This dedication extends to our diverse range of high-quality cannabis concentrates. Through the use of advanced extraction techniques, we preserve the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes from our sun-grown flower. This translates to flavorful and potent concentrates that capture the essence of each strain. Visit your local dispensary to explore SunMed's selection and discover the perfect concentrate to enhance your next cannabis experience.