How Are Cannabinoids Extracted From The Plant & Refined?

April 17, 2017

Cannabis extraction goes through a very similar process as does the creation of our daily vitamins and minerals.

Two basic types of extractions will yield differences in complexity of the procedure.

  • Quick & clean
  • Long & dirty

Quick & clean is when you don’t spend too much time extracting cannabinoids from the plant. The less time you spend extracting elements, the less time there is for contamination also to get extracted and into the product. This tends to be a double-edged sword because while you get less bad stuff, you also get less of the good stuff. A quick extraction can take between two and four hours and tends to be the preferred method in the long run.

When it comes to a long & dirty extraction, this allows for more time for undesirable compounds to enter the equation, such as fats and chlorophyll. On the other side, this allows for more of the GOOD stuff to be collected for further manipulation. Using the long & dirty method means you have to spend more time cleaning up the initial cannabis extraction because you have extracted more impurities. Longer extractions can take all the way up to 24 hours.

Which extraction method you choose boils down to the outcome you desire to achieve.

After you have performed your initial extraction, using one of two basic methods (CO2 or Ethanol) we’ll discuss below, there is a final refinement step. The second step after extraction, for CO2 extraction refinement, is called winterizing. This is a basic process that uses ethanol to separate cannabinoids & terpenes from the undesirable compounds. If you were to perform an ethanol extraction, the refinement stage would involve the use of a carbon filter.

As the factory process scales up and begins to perform more and more extractions, it leaves room for more error. With larger operations comes with it more maintenance and a much more needed close eye on preventing contaminating larger and larger samples. The more there is to maintain and control, the more there is to go wrong, and the more testing and safety SHOULD be required before the finished product gets consumed.

What Is The Superior Method For Cannabis Extractions?

Since there are several methods available to achieve the result of extraction, there bubbles up questions about superiority. Which method is better, more precise and purer? Before taking one step forward, in cannabis extraction, a good amount of research is required to make your outcome a reality.

What we want from superior methods of extraction are, at the bottom line, purity and safety for human consumption, free from pesticides, mold, fungi, or any other harmful unknowns we don’t know about. The questions then boil down to, how do you know what extraction method will yield the result of a good clean consumption?

There are two primary cannabis extraction methods:

  • Supercritical CO2 (CO2 becomes a liquid under pressure)
  • Ethanol

Extracting cannabinoids and terpenes using the CO2 method generally, takes a little bit longer but produces a more immediately cleaner produce. Using the ethanol extraction method is much faster yet pulls out more of the bad fat and chlorophyll. If you were to use ethanol to extract cannabinoids, then the remaining ethanol extract liquid also has to be removed. Thus the ethanol cannabis extraction method tasks you with one more challenging step that can be difficult to completely clean from the product.

It is of the opinion of several master extractors such as Tilray [1] that the CO2 cannabis extraction method is superior because of how it is initially cleaner.

Simple Extractions Methods You’re Probably Already Doing

Last but not least, here are some cannabis extraction methods you're quite possibly already doing on a routine basis. If so, here are a few other at home cannabis extracting methods you can utilize and enjoy.

Kief - This is the simplest method and is composed of trichomes (the tiny crystal shaped mushroom that coats the outside of the plant). THC can range from 20-60%

Dry Sieve (Dry Sift) - A popular way to refine your kief further down by using a series of screens to harvest only the head of the trichome.

Hash - Using ice water to isolate the trichome heads (dry sieve), pressed together, heated (melting the trichomes together), and drying. It’s important to dry your hash completely to avoid mold.

Rosin - An at home extraction method that’s gaining popularity. Follow the link to learn more about it and how to create your rosin at home. [2]




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