Cannabis Extraction-Why is it So Important?

Extraction employee looking over cannabis extraction equipment.

CANNABIS EXTRACTION & WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT

If you landed on this article, you’re probably wondering what cannabis extraction is and why is it so important? If so, you’re in luck! This article will give you a much better understanding of the cannabis extraction process and why it is so important.

Extraction, or “botanical extraction,” in regards to hemp and marijuana, is the process in which the essential oils are removed (extracted) from plant material (in this case, the hemp plant). The process of primary extraction strips the cannabis plant of all its essential oils, which includes THC, CBD, terpenes, antioxidants, vitamins, as well as other beneficial components, creating a high potency cannabis oil

 WHAT KIND OF PRODUCTS CAN BE MADE WITH CANNABIS EXTRACTS?  

Un-dried cannabis flower is what’s used in cannabis products and uses some form of extract. cannabis products such as these include edibles, vape pens, tinctures, sublingual’s, topical applications, beverages, and concentrates (including oil, dabs, wax, shatter and even more). So, why is extraction so important? The answer actually, is quite simple-extraction is necessary to produce dosage and product consistency

WHAT ARE THE METHODS OF CANNABIS EXTRACTION?  

Organic solvent extraction, also commonly known as ethanol and hydrocarbon cannabis extraction methods (which are the primary commercial cannabis-extraction methods) With these extraction methods, extracts are created through the use of solvents such as butane, propane, ethanol, or a mix of certain Organic solvents

cannabis plants (hemp and marijuana plants), naturally, have irregular and erratic qualities. Speaking in terms of THC and CBD, the smell (aroma), taste and potency can greatly vary depending on the strain and genetics within those strains, therefore causing unsatisfactory variations.   And for this reason, it becomes necessary to isolate and separate THC and CBD components from the other cannabis components before being infused into a usable product. The distillation process is what makes this possible. 

WHAT IS MARIJUANA AND HEMP DISTILLATION?  

cannabis distillation (marijuana or hemp distillation) is a post-processing extraction technique done to a primary solvent-based extraction. Crude oil (I.e.-CBD crude) or raw oil which comes from the marijuana and hemp plants, first gets extracted using an extraction system. The crude oil will end up having a THC/CBD concentration of 60% to 80% (which depends on a number of different factors). Other components in the crude oil which are not THC and CBD is a blend of smells and flavors, which are also known as terpenes, as well as a variety of other useable plant based components which include antioxidants, vitamins, and other consumable substances.

The whole point of distillation is to further purify the cannabis oil, so it needs to be distilled with a specialized commercial distillation unit such. The distillation process further purifies the cannabis oil by isolating specific compounds, such as THC and CBD, resulting in a refined oil (or distillate) which is 90 percent pure.  The remaining non-THC and CBD components such as terpenes will have minimal effect on the smell and taste of the end product.  

THE SCIENCE BEHIND CANNABIS DISTILLATION? 

In simple terms, the cannabis distillation process is achieved by using a machine that heats a particular solution to a specific temperature in order to vaporize a sole compound of a solution without destroying it.  The vaporized compound is then condensed back into a liquid. Let’s take purified water for example. In order to purify water, the water needs to be heated to 100°C (212°F) which will vaporize H20 molecules within the water, leaving behind any unwanted compounds. The water vapor then needs to cool quickly to condense it into distilled, purified water.

One of the most common machines used for cannabis distillation is a short-path distillation unit. Short-path distillation units consists of three important, major parts: the boiling flask, condensing head, and the collection flask. The compound of cannabis being distilled is heated in the boiling flask. Next, the vapor passes through the condensing head (which turns the vapor into a liquid) and then is collected in the collection flask, at this point THC and CBD components are isolated. 

ORGANIC SOLVENTS  AND CANNABIS

There are many solvents that work for cannabis extraction (as well as other solvents that may be found to work in the future), however, currently-the three most common and popular solvents used in solvent-based cannabinoid extraction today are propane, butane and ethanol. propane, butane and ethanol are called Organic solvents and these three solvents work the best in cannabis extraction. 

PROPANE AND BUTANE-ORGANIC SOLVENT EXTRACTION METHODS

propane and butane are nonpolar solvents with low boiling points. They allow the process of extraction to capture the qualities of a cannabis variety by dissolving the cannabis resin gland heads, separating the cannabinoids and terpenes from the other plant compounds without using extreme temperatures or pressures. propane and butane have relatively low-boiling points (173°F).

propane or butane extraction systems can be very expensive and require more safety precautions to prevent flammable gas from escaping the system, which can put employees, others, and the facility itself at risk. propane and butane extraction systems require that the location itself must be up to Class 1 Division 1 hazardous areas standards.  

ETHANOL-ORGANIC SOLVENT EXTRACTION METHOD

Just as propane and butane have relatively low-boiling points, so does ethanol, however, the ethanol extraction method does not require pressure to extract compounds from the cannabis plant matter. The reason for this is due to the fact that ethanol is less flammable than propane and butane, which makes it much safer for employees to operate machinery.

Since ethanol has a slightly higher boiling point, this means that cannabis products need to be decarboxylated or distilled in order to ensure that residual solvents are not left over in consumer products.

Another difference that sets ethanol apart from propane and butane is that ethanol is polar protic ( meaning it has a positive molecular charge). So, let’s talk about polar solvents for a minute in order to understand what we mean by polar protic. Polar solvents contain bonds between atoms with very different electronegative qualities, (atoms such as oxygen and hydrogen), and have large dipole moments ( A dipole moment is a measurement of the separation of two opposite electrical charges). Polar protic solvents are capable of hydrogen bonding because they contain at least one hydrogen atom connected directly to an electronegative atom (such as O-H or N-H bonds).

These polar solvents are capable of forming hydrogen bonds with water to dissolve in water. With a positive molecular charge, ethanol binds extremely well with cannabinoids and terpenes. However, ethanol will also bind with unusable compounds such as fats (lipids), waxes, chlorophyll and other water-soluble compounds. These unfavorable compounds can negatively affect cannabis extraction equipment, as well as affecting the quality of the product.

IS THERE A WAY TO AVOID ETHANOL FROM BINDING TO UNUSABLE COMPOUNDS?

If you’re wondering if there is a way to avoid ethanol from binding to unusable compounds, the answer is yes. The solution to this problem is simple. ethanol needs to be chilled to -40°F, and will then leave behind almost all the unnecessary fats, waxes and chlorophyll.

ORGANIC SOLVENT EXTRACTION METHODS RECAP

So, let’s recap on the reasons why it’s best to use Organic solvent extraction methods:

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