If you barely recognize cannabis these days, welcome to the club! With cannabis medicine taking all sorts of—no pun intended—high-tech forms like CBD oil, RSO and tablets, it’s a whole new world when it comes to one of nature’s oldest plant remedies.
But how do plants get transformed into such a bewildering array of formulations? Welcome to the fascinating world of cannabis extraction methods! From very ancient handmade approaches to techniques developed in strict laboratory conditions, here’s a survey of some of the most noteworthy ways cannabis researchers and producers are bringing the healing power of cannabis to an ever-wider audience.
Solventless and Solvent-Based Extraction Methods: A Brief History
Believe it or not, we humans have relied on cannabis for roughly 5,000 years! It has been documented that as far back as 2,900 BCE, Chinese physicians were using cannabis to treat pain and inflammation, among many other conditions we’d readily recognize.
The first known cannabis extract—hashish, or hash—shows up around 900 AD. Hash is made by removing and concentrating the gooey trichomes that coat the cannabis flower, often by manually rubbing cannabis flower or soaking it in ice water. While its popularity has faded with the introduction of newer and more potent cannabis extracts, it still occupies an important place in the history of cannabis extraction methods. We should note that the unpressed or “powdered” form of hash is called kief; it’s frequently added to cannabis flower to add potency and flavor.
Cannabis Extraction Methods: Modern Approaches
The modern story of cannabis extracts really took off in the 1990s, when the butane hash oil (BHO) technique gained popularity. While the process was risky—both due to the exposure to chemical solvents and the legal environment of the day—a series of refinements eventually led to the safe, effective, and widely accepted techniques used today.
This THC extraction process involves washing plant material with liquid butane. The liquid strips the plant of the trichomes (where the cannabinoids and terpenes are produced on the plant) that cover it. The extract is then placed in an oven in order to purge all of the solvent, leaving behind a clean and pure cannabis concentrate with virtually no traces of butane.
While BHO may be one of the most popular cannabis oil extraction methods, it isn’t the only one. Other solvents like CO2 and ethanol are similarly used to strip cannabis plant material of its resinous trichomes before being purged from the final extract.
Solventless Extraction Methods
Not every cannabis extraction method requires the use of a solvent. There are several different types of cannabis extracts that are made without the use of any solvents whatsoever, but that instead use mechanical force to collect the plant’s trichomes.
One very new and popular example is the rosin press–a piece of machinery that looks a lot like a hydraulic press but is actually made for squeezing cannabis. The rosin press works by first heating its plates before bringing them together to squeeze a piece of cannabis plant material like flower, kief, or hash. When the material is heated and squeezed, an oily resinous substance called rosin is excreted.
Solventless methods are preferred by some cannabis consumers who want to avoid the solvents used in other extraction methods—whether that be for health or flavor reasons. Solventless extracts are becoming more widely produced and available.
Common Types of Plant Extracts (Solvent-Based)
There are a wide variety of textures, flavors and experiences available in the world of solvent-based concentrates. Below are a few of the most common and widely sought out.
There are several different types of concentrated cannabis oils, made through a variety of different cannabis oil extraction methods. Common concentrated oils that you may find at dispensaries include distillate, honey oil, CO2 oil, live resin oil, RSO oil, and others. There are also several different ways to use these oils, for example vaping live resin oil out of cartridges, ingesting RSO oil orally, or dabbing distillate. While CBD oils are technically concentrated extracts, they usually don’t fall into the category of concentrates, instead usually being labeled simply as ‘oils’ or ‘tinctures’.
Unlike liquid oils, waxes are a class of concentrate that are solidified. There are several different kinds of waxes including budder, badder, honeycomb, crumble, and others. Different waxes will have different textures and appearances, but they are all still solid in nature.
Like a lot of other concentrates, budder gets its name from its texture/appearance, which in this case resembles butter. Budder is a waxy concentrate that is similar to crumble, but is more creamy and not quite as thick. You may also come across similar concentrates called ‘batter’ and ‘badder’. All three of these concentrates are very similar in nature except for having a slightly different texture.
Sometimes also known as ‘honeycomb wax’, crumble is a waxy concentrate that crumbles apart in your hands. It has a dry and powdery texture and is easy to handle, potent, and affordable.
Shatter is a thin brittle sheet of solidified concentrated oil that gets its name from its tendency to shatter apart into many different pieces. While it may not be the most flavorful (in contrast to live resin for example) or the most potent (in contrast to distillate for example) concentrate available, shatter is a solid middle-of-the-road extract that many concentrate enthusiasts enjoy.
When it comes to flavor, one of the most exciting developments in the cannabis extract world are the semi-solid products known as “live resins.” Made with a cannabis extraction process that uses flash-frozen cannabis flower as opposed to the dried and cured cannabis, live resins contain an extremely high proportion of flavorful and aromatic terpenes. As a result, many people describe live resins as being nearly “hyperrealistic” in terms of their flavor profiles.
Isolate is a white crystalline powder that is highly refined and purified to contain one active ingredient, typically THC or CBD. One of the big advantages of CBD isolate is that it contains no whatsoever, so anyone looking to avoid ingesting THC may be better off with isolate rather than a full-spectrum hemp CBD product that contains trace amounts of THC.
Capsules and Tablets
Finally, you may have heard of or tried cannabis tablets and capsules. While they can be produced by a number of different extraction methods, they typically combine a potent cannabis concentrate with an emulsifier such as soy lecithin to form a dense, consistent, and shelf-stable product.
Short for “Rick Simpson Oil”, RSO is produced by extracting cannabinoids into a solvent such as isopropyl alcohol, then reducing the extract into a viscous oil with gentle heat. It can be taken orally or topically, and it’s known for its straightforward relief of symptoms.
Common Types of Cannabis Concentrates (Solventless)
Solventless extracts have a long and storied past. Some have been collected and used for hundreds of years, while today newer and more technologically advanced solventless extracts are gaining in popularity. Below are the most sought after solventless extracts.
Kief refers to the collected trichome crystals that cover the plant, which are shaken loose through various mechanical methods. The collected kief has a higher potency than regular flower, but a lower potency than most other concentrates—usually measuring at around 30% THC content. Because it isn’t sticky and doesn’t require a dab tool to apply, kief is easier to handle and work with than most other concentrates and is a great option for adding to joints and bowls.
Similar to kief, hash is also made by mechanically collecting the trichomes that cover the cannabis plant, although the final product ends up looking much different than kief. Hash is usually a sticky black or brown substance that is often in the shape of a small brick or a ball. In fact, kief can be pressed into hash with the right temperature and pressure. Also like kief, hash is a lower-potency concentrate typically measuring at around 30% THC content. Hash is also the oldest concentrate in existence, having been prepared and used for hundreds of years.
Bubble hash is usually made by using ice water to shake loose the trichomes. Bubble hash, sometimes also called ice hash, has been known to be a bit more potent than regular hash. It is also closer in consistency to loose kief than to sticky bricked hash.
Rosin is a solventless concentrate made by simply squeezing the resin from the plant using heat and pressure via a specialized machine called a rosin press. It’s a sticky concentrate that is known for being very tasty and rich in terpenes, even if it may sometimes be a little lower in cannabinoid content than other concentrates.
Cannabis Extraction: Wrapping Up
Believe it or not, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the world of cannabis extraction methods. Hopefully, this article gives you an idea of the various types of approaches enterprising cannabis producers have used to improve the potency and usefulness of this truly ancient plant medicine!
If you want to explore different consumption methods for yourself, visit your local Green Goods dispensary. We stock a variety of different solventless and solvent-based cannabis concentrates and extracts. Stop by today or browse our live online menus to see what we currently have in stock. We look forward to seeing you!