How is Marijuana Processed?
The processing of marijuana and THC extraction is just as intricate and significant as the process in which the plant is grown. It is by dialing in each step of the marijuana extraction process using the appropriate tools and cannabis extraction equipment that processors are able to successfully produce the concentrates consumers know and love.
To put it simply, cannabis and hemp extraction is the process of removing the coveted compounds from the plant itself. Containing an incredibly complex structure, the cannabis plant produces over 120 different terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids all unique to one another. It is no surprise that THC extraction has increased immensely in popularity and necessity within the cannabis community and though some processing methods have become a universal law, other THC oil extraction methods are rising due to specialty and efficiency.
Both hemp and cannabis extraction create end products suitable for human consumption within the industry. These products are known as the ever-popular edibles, balms, oils, hash, shatter wax, you name it. Having the appropriate cannabis oil extraction equipment enables smaller and larger MSO (multi-state operators) scale producers to create a wide variety of high-quality concentrates and extracts.
The marijuana extraction method you choose correlates directly with the scale of the product you are working with, the quality of your end product, and the desired derivative you would like to obtain from the plant. Hemp and THC extraction methods are then broken down into two formal techniques, the first being solventless extraction and the alternative being a solvent-based extraction method.
The solventless extraction method uses agitative techniques and machines that utilize low pressure and heat systems to separate cannabinoid trichomes from the plant’s biomass. This form of extraction does not contain the use of chemical solvents such as butane, ethanol, CO2, etc. In contrast, solvent-based extraction methods use pure chemical solvents to purge the coveted compounds from the plant material while selectively extracting oil from cannabis creating a potently pure product.
The three most popular and effective methods of solvent-based hemp and THC extraction are as follows (in no particular order):
1. Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction
2. CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction
3. Hydrocarbons (Butane, Hexene, Propane, etc.) Extraction
Alternatively, the two most popular solventless extraction methods we will mention:
1. Heat and pressure extraction
All hemp and cannabis extraction methods come with their own methodology and systematic approach and figuring out which is best for you can seem daunting. Fear not! By choosing which final products you want to produce you will be able to see which method of hemp or weed extraction is best suited for your processing company!
One universal truth pertaining to marijuana and hemp extraction methods is when purchasing high-quality marijuana processing equipment from a reputable source you increase the production speed, quality, as well as the versatility of products provided by your company. In turn, increasing smaller “mom and pop” concentrate producers as well as larger industrial-scale producers’ ability in becoming a profitable long-term investment and providing pure high-quality products through CBD and cannabis oil extraction.
That said, let us take a more in-depth look into the five most popular methods of solvent-based and solventless hemp and marijuana extraction methods as well as the all-important solvents that make the process possible!
An Overview of Solvent Based Extraction
Understanding how solvent-based hemp and cannabis extraction works will help guide you in the choices you make when building a business based on cannabis oil extraction for numerous reasons. After all, the THC extraction process is not “cooking” it is chemistry and knowing what solvents to use, the hows, the whys, the dos and the don’ts will ensure your end product is compliant, consumable, and of the best quality!
Let us dive into an overview of the most popular methods of solvent-based extraction, so you can see why the successful cannabis companies within the industry have evolved the way they have. Similar to growing a cannabis plant you need to start from the ground up. The quality and nutrients within the soil are monumentally important in regards to the health of the plants JUST LIKE the solvents you use as a cannabis oil extractor!
The three most effective and efficient methods of hemp and marijuana extraction are:
• Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction,
• CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction,
• Hydrocarbons (Butane, Hexene, Propane, etc.).
These methods have revolutionized extraction quantity and quality throughout the years and their technological machinery has adapted and proven to be the most effective in permitting processors to extract the active compounds, cannabinoids, and terpenes within the cannabis plant biomass. Enabling extracts and concentrates to not only contain THC and CBD but become terpene-rich full-spectrum extracts that are rich in beneficial nutrients.
Let’s take a look at the Ethanol extraction method, which has been used for botanical extraction for hundreds of years. Ethanol extraction for CBD and THC is by far one of the safest, most common methods of cannabis extraction due to its impressively wide range in versatility when producing hemp and cannabis end-products. Not to mention, it is arguably the easiest and safest extraction solvent to work with.
CBD and THC alcohol extraction is known as a “clean solvent” due to the fact that it leaves no residual solvent residue in the final product. Considering its versatility in isolating active compounds and cannabinoid derivatives it is one of the most idealistic extraction solvents for small and large-scale producers in the game.
This brings me to an alternative cannabis and hemp extraction method known as the C02 (carbon dioxide) extraction method. CO2 works in extracting THC and CBD by using pressurized CO2 to pull cannabinoids and other components from the hemp and cannabis plants’ biomass. By using a high pressure, low-temperature closed system the C02 acts as a solvent to separate and preserve oil from the plant. This cannabis oil extraction equipment tends to come at a much higher price tag than that of the hydrocarbon and ethanol marijuana processing equipment. Not to mention, it takes a more experienced cannabis oil extractor to get the job done successfully.
The third most popular solvent-based method of hemp and weed oil extraction is hydrocarbon extraction. This cost-efficient and effective form of extraction uses solvents such as Butane, Hexane, and Propane, to name a few. Airing on the more affordable side of extraction equipment, hydrocarbon extraction produces a potent final product authentic to strain flavor profiling. YUM!
Other benefits seen in using hydrocarbons for marijuana and hemp extraction are greater yield by weight, the versatility of final products produced, as well as time efficiency, compared to a much longer extraction process when using the C02 method of CBD and THC extraction. Note: This is the only weed oil extraction method that can produce the beloved “live resin”, which is a high-quality oil obtained from fresh frozen cannabis.
Why Solvents Are Superior to Solventless Extraction
This is a rather common question floating about the cannabis community and the answer can be altered slightly depending on the final products and scale of the producer. The most obvious difference between the two is that solvent-based hemp and cannabis extraction chemically separates the coveted terpenes and cannabinoids from the biomass while solventless extraction methods essentially use agitation techniques, heat, and pressure to “pull” resin from the cannabis flower.
Not to say one is better than the other, but your extraction method of choice ultimately depends on what the producer is trying to create and at what scale. To put it plainly, solvents can yield 10-20x more through THC and CBD alcohol extraction as opposed to solventless extraction methods. Furthermore, most large processors use solvents; over CO2 because CO2 equipment is more costly and less time-efficient with increased safety precautions.
Using hemp and marijuana extraction methods entails more complex closed systematics than that of solvent-less methods, but the final product is of increased quantity and overall quality and value. The ability to chemically separate, select, and preserve cannabinoids, coveted active compounds, and terpenes for sale through solvent-based methods is unparalleled to any other extraction method.
What are The Most Common Solvents?
The most common solvents used in hemp and THC extraction, cleaning and maintenance within manufacturing and processing facilities of the industry vary in specialty and versatility. It is of the utmost importance when looking into solvents for your facility that you are purchasing from a reputable source assuring that the purity and grade of these necessary solvents are up to par. A rule of thumb when purchasing solvents for manufacturing and processing facilities is that purity levels of solvents correlate to price.
Remember: The higher the purity = Greater and higher quality yield!
The Different Solvent Chemicals
The most common solvents when using ethanol extraction and/or hydrocarbon extraction methods are as follows:
•Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) is the most commonly used food-grade solvent and is well known for its versatility in use and final products of extraction. Known for its effectiveness in the CBD extraction process this solvent is perfect for high volume hemp extraction on a large scale although extracting THC with alcohol is safe, effective, and insanely common as well of course.
•Butane is the primary solvent used in hydrocarbon extraction, in fact, this method of extraction is also known as Butane hash oil extraction (BHO). Butane has a lower boiling point than other solvents which enables extractors to covet a wide variety of the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids giving your extracts the ideal full-spectrum taste, look, effects, and nutrients.
•Propane: Another common solvent found in the hydrocarbon extraction method. Also has a lower boiling point than that of ethanol and contributes to full-spectrum live resin end products. Note: Many extractors use a 70/30 butane to propane ratio during the THC extraction process which allows for the extraction of even more terpenes!
Though these three solvents are the most commonly used in hemp and marijuana extraction processes. There are other cannabis extraction solvents for sale that enable large and small-scale extractors to produce the highest quality full-spectrum extracts on the market today.
Since some solvents have lower boiling points than others you are able to extract a widely impressive variety of terpenes, cannabis oils, and active compounds to curate the most sophisticated extracts for consumption. The hemp and THC extraction process is truly a process where science meets art, in using the purest grade solvents you have the ability to curate the greatest quality and quantity of extracts that truly enhance the taste, aroma, beneficial effects, and overall integrity of the plant itself.
Solvents for THC and Hemp Extraction:
•CDA 12A- This solvent is also known as completely denatured alcohol that is very commonly used as a cannabis oil alcohol for extraction. Denatured alcohol is excluded from federal excise tax and aids in removing cannabinoids from cannabis plants.
•Pentane- Used in the extraction process, mostly due to its low boiling point.
•Hexane- Used in extraction and sometimes preferred because of its lower toxicity levels.
• Heptane- Used in extraction, heptane has low toxicity and a low boiling point.
•Methanol and Acetone- Though less common solvents these are a great alternative to alcohol and gas in extraction due to their lower boiling point.
Solvents for Cleaning
Isopropyl Alcohol 70% and 99% is the most commonly used solvent for cleaning materials under cannabis state regulations. It is easily stored, affordable, and versatile in use. This solvent is used in all manufacturing and processing facilities and is best bought in bulk.
What Do Solvent Chemical Grades Mean?
Understanding purity levels and grades of solvents used during THC extraction is important when perfecting the processing and manufacturing of extracts. Remembering that buying from a reputable source is key due to the fact that the purity of these solvents is directly correlated with the quality of your end product.
Solvent chemical grades and regulatory guides within the cannabis industry helps determine their intended use. The different grades of chemicals are determined by the product’s purity. For example, ACS-grade or American Chemical Society chemicals are the highest purity available. These chemicals air on the more expensive side, as they come with a certificate of analysis. If you have food, drug, and medical applications that have stringent quality specifications, you’ll want to use an ACS grade (≥95%) chemical.
Followed by USP and Reagent grade chemicals that are of high quality and used in laboratories for analytical use. Then there are lower grade chemicals that are only to be used for educational and cleaning purposes, but not extraction.
Why High-Quality Extraction Equipment Matters
So, why does purchasing high-quality extraction equipment matter? Considering the dynamics and state regulations held by the cannabis industry, having high-quality extraction equipment does, in fact, matter. Regardless of the marijuana and hemp extraction method you choose, the quality of the equipment, as well as the starting material of the plant in processing, will show immensely in the quality and yield of your end product.
Bottom line, hemp and THC extraction is truly a scientific art that should not be taken lightly. Cutting corners in cost and the purity and grade of extracting solvents is not recommended. The extraction process takes time to master, but with the appropriate materials and knowledge, you can produce and extract the most precious and coveted cannabinoid, terpenes, and active compounds of this magical healing plant.