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Cannabis extracts are a rapidly growing and complicated topic. There are so many types of extracts and methods of extraction that it would take a book to explain all of them in detail. But we can still give you some solid basics upon which you can build a respectable knowledge base for the subject.
Read on to learn more about how extracts are made, what types of extracts you can find on the market and how they're used.
What is the Difference Between a Cannabis Extract and a Concentrate?
There are two main methods for removing and concentrating cannabinoids from cannabis: solvent-based extraction and mechanical, or solventless extraction.
Solvent-based extraction uses volatile chemicals to dissolve the trichomes from the plant material. Then, the solvent is then removed, which leaves behind an extract like shatter, wax or vape oil. These are called extracts.
Solventless, or mechanical extraction methods don't use chemicals. Instead, the trichomes are beaten, rubbed or pressed from the plant, resulting in a concentrate like kief, hash or rosin. These are called concentrates.
Both of these methods have advantages and disadvantages.
One of the advantages of solvent-based extraction is that it can be manipulated to isolate specific cannabinoids. These can be used to target specific effects, such as extra THC for a body high or CBD for relaxation.
But some people prefer to use solventless extraction methods to make concentrates because they see them as more natural.
The solventless processes also leave more of the original cannabinoids intact, unaltered by chemicals used for solvent-based methods. This has led to a growing interest in these solventless extraction methods, including the use of commercial rosin presses.
There is a growing interest in solventless extraction methods, including the use of commercial rosin presses. These solventless processes leave the original cannabinoids intact, unaltered by the chemicals used in solvent based processes.
Another extremely important consideration is safety.
- Solventless extraction processes are mostly safe to do at home, but solvent-based procedures can be extremely dangerous if done improperly and have even resulted in deaths by explosion or fire.
- Dangerous amounts of solvent can be left behind if the product isn't properly purged after manufacturing.
- It's even illegal to use certain solvents in many districts without a specialized license and equipment.
So those who are thinking of manufacturing their own cannabis products at home, solventless is the way to go.
Solvents Used to Make Cannabis Extracts
There are many types of solvents that can be used to extract cannabis concentrates, but in general, people use:
- Hydrocarbons (Butane, Propane, Hexane etc.)
Manufacturers that make butane hash oil or other hydrocarbon-based products should have special safety equipment and manufacturing equipment.
In other words, DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME.
In general, the process for creating hydrocarbon-based cannabis oil can be done with either an open loop or closed loop extraction equipment.
Open-loop systems are dangerous, even for experienced extractors. They are cheap, but they have resulted in many fatalities due to explosions.
Closed-loop systems are safer. They're also much more expensive--much, much more expensive. They cost thousands of dollars. A certified machine can cost between $10,000 and $30,000 just for a small model.
Manufacturers must also have a blast-proof environment in which to do the extraction, along with special safety equipment for the people operating the equipment. Blast-proofing a room can cost around $100,000.
Most municipalities make it a serious felony to manufacture BHO or other concentrates involving volatile solvents in an unapproved area without a license. Penalties generally include severe fines in the 5 to 6 figure range and jail time for months or years.
- CO2 (Supercritical CO2 Extraction)
Carbon dioxide is used for producing both extracts and concentrates. When used to make extracts, it's called supercritical CO2 extraction. This process separates the different compounds from each other using solvents--most commonly CO2. The carbon dioxide is at such an extreme pressure and temperature that it fluctuates between gaseous, liquid and solid phases.
This state makes it possible to break down the cannabinoids and separate them.
CO2 extractors are becoming easier to buy on the market in legal states, and basic small-batch kits can be found for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Again, this is something that requires special equipment and special training. CO2 extraction with a closed loop system involves the use of high-pressure equipment and must be done correctly to be safe.
Some, but not all municipalities make it illegal to use CO2 as well as hydrocarbons.
There is a simple hack for home-based extraction, but it's actually a dry ice method for making kief--a concentrate.
Those wishing to try supercritical CO2 extraction methods should check with their local government first (because chances are it's illegal), and never try to use specialized equipment without proper training.
Serious injury or death can result from improper or careless use of extraction equipment.
People generally use alcohol as an extraction method to make super-concentrated Rick Simpson Oil.
Making your own cannabis extracts with alcohol is illegal in most places as well. This is because it's a huge fire risk. Some people also attempt to use this method indoors which poses an explosion risk and risk of lung damage from vapors.
In short, lots of people use this method, and lots of people get injured doing it. Usually by setting themselves on fire.
This is because typical-strength alcohol doesn't work. This method requires 151 proof alcohol, which is also illegal in many states.
Other solvents are used as well, but these are the ones most frequently preferred.
Non-Solvent-Based Methods for Making Cannabis Concentrates
Admittedly, the above examples are pure killjoy (since they can't be tried safely at home), so here are a few different methods for safely making cannabis concentrates instead.
Many new solventless processes are emerging, such as sonication, but the most commonly used solventless processes are as follows.
- Shaking, Sifting and Dry Sifting-Used to Make Kief
Believe it or not, you're making kief every time you use a grinder. That residue that collects at the bottom of your grinder is kief, and it can be sprinkled on joints or in your bowl to make your hit more potent.
Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there're many ways to make kief, and most of them are safe and legal as long as you're in a legal state.
The oldest, safest and most tried-and-true method is to shake the plant material through mesh.
This can be done in many different ways. It's common to grind the plant and run it through a silk screen machine; others like to use a hashish drum.
Whichever method you choose, the finer the screen, the purer the kief, which can then be pressed into different grades of hash.
- Ice Water Extraction
Ice Water Extraction is used to make kief which is then pressed into bubble hash.
Contrary to popular belief, bubble hash has been around since about the 80s. The method was invented by Cannabis Seed Bank owner Neville Schoenmakers.
It's become more common in recent years with the availability of cheap and economical washing machines. A Bubbleator or similar washing machine can be purchased for $100 to $300.
This is one of the cleanest and safest ways to make high quality, very pure hash with no adulterants. This method does tend to leave behind many desirable cannabinoids that other methods don't.
- Heat and Pressure (Rosin Press)
Low heat and very high pressure are used to make rosin.
A rosin press uses heat and pressure to remove trichomes from the cannabis buds and leaves. Rosin can also be made from hash or kief.
The product is similar in appearance to extracts made with solvents, but with no added adulterants. Rosin can be very clear to very dark and in varying colors and is a very thick, viscous sap. It can be used as-is, or converted into other tasty treats.
Rosin presses range in price from a couple hundred dollars for a simple machine to thousands of dollars for industrial setups.
Types of Cannabis Extracts & Concentrates
Just as there are many different methods of producing extracts and concentrates, there are many different types of products that can be created by each method.
Below is a list of the different types of basic extracts and concentrates. Each is linked to an in-depth article explaining what the concentrate is like, how it's made and how it's used.
Types Cannabis Extracts
- Cannabis Oils
Cannabis oils are generally the natural oils extracted from the cannabis plant. It can be extracted from the leaves, buds or seeds, depending on the type.
There are as many ways to make cannabis oil as there are types of cannabis oil. The most common types are Rick Simpson Oil, vaporizer oil, topical oils, CBD oil, hemp seed oil, butane hash oil and edible oils. Some of these oils are obtained by pressing, and some by using solvents.
We have included a few cannabis oil types below.
Wax or budder is the runny cannabis oil extract that has more texture than harder products. These oils are opaque, rather than clear and tend to be gooey. They are easy to roll onto a pin and dab, but they stick to their container. You can read more about wax and budder here.
- Pie Crust/Honeycomb
Pie crust/honeycomb is a form of wax/budder that is crumbly and more brittle than wax/budder, but softer than shatter. It's easier to get out of the jar, but can crumble and scatter easily. You can read more about honeycomb here.
Shatter is a very pure cannabis concentrate that is translucent and very brittle, like glass candy. Shatter looks a lot like amber. It will have roughly the same potency as the other concentrates, but lacks other cannabinoids and terpenes for the most part. For this reason, shatter is the most ideal concentrate for dabbing. You can read more about shatter here.
- Caviar/Jelly Hash
Caviar, aka moonrocks, are made by coating buds with high quality resin and then rolling them in kief. Some will argue that caviar doesn't have the extra layer of kief on the outside while moonrocks do; but if you search for this item online, you can find both styles with both names.
Jelly hash is usually made by mixing one part of oil with 8 parts of bubble hash, although there are other techniques on the market.
You can read more about caviar, moon rocks and jelly hash here.
- Butane Hash Oil
BHO is a very potent cannabis extract made using butane. It can come in the form of wax, budder, honeycomb, or any of the other types described above.
Types of Cannabis Concentrates
Kief is the collection of resins and trichomes that you can see crystallized on the leaves and buds of the marijuana plant. This substance contains the greatest quantity of THC and other cannabinoids and is the source of all cannabis concentrates.
Kief can be left in its natural form and sprinkled onto flower to make it more potent, rolled into moonrocks and other exotic treats, or pressed into rosin.
The most common method of processing kief is to press it into hash. You can read more about kief here.
Hash is manufactured by applying very light heat to kief--not enough to combust it--and very high pressure to form a solid, shapeable mass.
This method of concentrate production preserves most of the natural cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product.
It can range in color from very light amber to dark black, and can have a grainy consistency or a smooth, tarry texture. You can read more about hash here.
- Bubble Hash
Bubble hash is pressed from kief that was extracted using a water bath. Flower or trim are immersed in a bath of ice and water and then agitated so the ice knocks the trichomes off the plant.
The ice water bath is then drained over a series of filters to collect the trichomes. The trichomes are laid out to dry for roughly 24 hours and then pressed into very pure, clean hash.
This process can be done by hand or with a Bubbleator. You can read more about bubble hash here.
Rosin is a highly sought concentrate and has become very popular in recent years because it contains high-potency trichomes without significantly changing the chemical profile.
There are some changes due to the small amount of heat used in the process (generally 150 to 180 degrees), but the changes are small compared to other chemical extraction methods. It's also fast and leaves behind no additional chemical residue.
Rosin presses can range from just a couple hundred dollars to thousands for a professional machine. You can read more about rosin and how to use a rosin press here.
This just touches the surface, and there are many different subtypes of each of these products, depending on what type of starting product is used (bud v shake and live v cured), what types of equipment are used in the refining process and how the products are finished. But these are the basic products. You'll see more details about both products and processes in the blue links embedded in the article.