Primary Cannabis Extraction Methods Explained

The cannabis extraction world continues to evolve as technology advances and consumer demand increases. With a market prime for gains, many brands are adding solventless extracts to their SKU lineup. The good news is, there are several popular cannabis extraction methods to accommodate manufacturing needs.

Cannabis extraction is an age-old practice that now receives regular updates and advancements thanks to the emerging legalization of cannabis. Legalization and innovation lead to a bevy of producers and products to choose from-providing brands with ample opportunities. Depending on the company and consumer goals, each extraction method has a useful purpose in an operation. 

Before diving into it, it is worth revisiting cannabis extraction tech's past that brought the market to what it is today. The earliest extractors had no idea they’d lay the groundwork for today's market. Records indicate that hash extraction came from Egypt around the 12th century, with the first written mention of hash extraction. It would take another 400 years or so before the practice would find its way into Europe. 

Egyptian hashish bricks

Pictured: traditional Egyptian or Moroccan style hash (source)

While extraction tech certainly has evolved over centuries, the reasoning primarily has not. Extraction is still widespread because of its effects on cannabis-boosting its potency while retaining much of the plant's profile-depending on the method chosen.

Extraction options continue to evolve as well. Since the 2000s, many extractors have turned to hydrocarbon solvents like butane to do the job. While hydrocarbons do well to retain the plant's profile, producers and consumers wanted to maximize what they could extract from the plant.

Over time, advancements have allowed extractors to preserve plant profiles with relative ease. Because some methods fail to fully retain a plant's characteristics, hash makers have discovered reinserting desirable traits such as adding terpenes back into a product.  

Various Methods of Cannabis Extraction

With ages of evolution now ramping up like no other period in history, brands have a slew of options to choose from. Each has its benefits and possible drawbacks worth considering before making any investment. 

Hydrocarbon Extraction

The hydrocarbon extraction method uses various solvents such as butane to dissolve the sought after cannabinoids and terpenes from the rest of the plant material. When further refined, hydrocarbon extraction is an ideal process for creating mid tier consumer options like shatter, wax, sugar and many other products. 

Butane Hash Oil In Budder Form On a Tool

Pictured: BHO budder (source)

Most consumers are familiar with hydrocarbon cannabis extraction thanks to the popularity of live resin/BHO (butane hash oil). The common term thrown around in the industry is "light hydrocarbon," which is used for hydrocarbons using low molecular weights. Producers relying on a light hydrocarbon process are likely to use either ethane, propane or methane when extracting.

Hydrocarbon extraction has the potential to create stellar products. It’s important to note that the chances of achieving a great product are always lower when blasting trim, "mids" or other lower grade material in need of remediation for various problems-such as bugs, mold and mildew.

Short Path Distillation Method

The short path distillation method and its related process-short path wiped film distillation-combine to represent two of the market's most common extraction methods. 

Short path distillation gives producers more options than other methods  because of its versatility. Not bound to or rendered ineffective with solvents, short path distillation can use chemicals or not when creating popular distillate extracts (products composed of specific distilled cannabinoids) for edibles and vape cartridges.

Distillate can then be recombined with terpenes to make products like vape cartridges, which are typically mid to lower shelf in final quality. The end product is often a potent, affordable option for consumers. 

Cannabis Extraction Short Path Distillation
Pictured: cannabis extraction via short path distillation (source)
For its part, short path wiped film distillation does not use solvents. Instead, the method focuses on melting points in cannabinoids. This evaporates material when inside the extraction vessel and incorporates a blade to  cut material for even distribution.
Using either process will lead to the creation of isolates-a pure and potent product. Many consumers opt for isolates for their cannabinoid-specific offering and a lack of odor or taste, making it ideal for infusions without altering the taste of the other product very much. 

CO2 Cannabis Extraction Method

CO2 is a popular method thanks to the viscosity of the oil it produces-making it ideal for vape cartridges and edibles. The material used in the process, typically either trim or low to mid-grade flower, is decarboxylated prior to the starting the process.

Unfortunately, this method often results in a loss of volatile terpenes that can occur at this point in the process. Decarbing first also helps generate the highest yields possible. Once heated up, the material is ground until it resembles a coffee-like consistency.

CO2 Cannabis Extracts in beakers

Photo by Rachel Loeber from Cannabis Business Times

CO2 is another excellent option for producers looking to extract specific plant compounds-but it is important for producers to know about the plant to do the job correctly. Each compound has its own boiling point and will require time to reach that temperature.

It also takes time to master the process-which can financially impact a company. The dedication and investment could pay off in the end when your company has several new SKUs to offer consumers.

Cost is another big barrier with CO2, as CO2 extraction systems frequently carry the highest price points for cannabis extraction equipment.

Ethanol Cannabis Extraction Method

Like hydrocarbon, ethanol extraction is a standard method beloved by extractors of THC and CBD alike. The process is rather versatile, given that it can be performed under hot or cold temperatures with cured or frozen ground cannabis material.

The plant matter is first soaked and chilled in ethanol to strip away  trichomes and cannabinoids from the plant. Larger batch yields tend to call for room temperature or cooled ethanol, enhancing the quality of cannabinoid and terpene retention.

The later steps require the removal of the ethanol from the material. This is achieved using filters, evaporation and vacuum distillation systems depending on the process. 

cannabis extracted using ethanol method

Pictured: cannabis extracted with ethanol (source)

Winterization is a critical component in the process, which helps remove the impurities in the forming extract. As the name suggests, winterization is the process of chilling an ethanol mixture, causing unwanted compounds to rise to the top for easy removal. The desired results can be achieved using a freezer, other cooling tools, or a cold storage space. 

Wildly popular for a reason, ethanol does have drawbacks to be aware of, most notably is ethanol's potential for volatile terpene loss. Despite the risk, the reward and high output are present for very high output producers. The ethanol cannabis extraction method is key in bringing popular concentrates like cartridges, tinctures, and edibles to sales shelves. 

Solventless Extraction (Rosin/Ice Water Hash/Sift)

Lastly, there is solventless hash extraction and the anchor it has become in today’s high end and connoisseur cannabis markets. Consider us a bit biased, but solventless extraction has immense potential due to its low entry costs and ability to maximize preservation of terpenes and cannabinoids more than other methods out there.

fresh frozen cannabis flower being hand paddled in a PurePressure Bruteless vessel

Pictured: fresh frozen cannabis being hand paddled in a Bruteless vessel to separate trichomes from the plant material.

As the name suggests, solventless uses zero chemicals when extracting cannabinoids and terpenes from plant material. Instead, water, ice, heat and pressure are used to aid with the various types of solventless extractions.

When making water hash, ice and water are used to help agitate and effectively separate the trichomes from their plant material. Many people will argue that water is a solvent, but in this case it is not. Ice and water do not instantly chemically dissolve trichomes, they simply mechanically separate the trichomes from the plant.

Solventless extraction can go a number of ways, leading to the creation of several top consumer options, including dry sift, traditional hash, bubble hash, and live rosin, which can be used as is or added into a topical, cartridges and edibles.

The solventless cannabis extraction method has numerous benefits to consider. However, it requires top quality material. Otherwise, your end result won't live up to expectations. To ensure that products are of the highest caliber, be sure to use the finest starting material. Doing so ensures that the extracted profile provides consumers with a potent, flavorful and aromatic option that few others on the market can live up to. 

Catching the Cannabis Extraction Market Fever

The extract market is booming and doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon. The same could be said over much of the world despite legalization incrementally opening access to more countries. 

By 2020, extracts and concentrates were already well on their way to establishing significant market shares and sector dominance in some instances. In March 2020, Grand View Research reported that the global market already had a value of US$7.3 billion in the year prior, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.6% between then and 2027. 

Global cannabis extract market share, by region, 2019 (%)

Grandview Research

The report highlighted several market factors driving demand, including increasing medical marijuana treatments for various patients across the world. The analysis also offered optimism on countries legalizing cannabis in a bid to thwart the illicit market.

While no other nations have joined Uruguay and Canada in passing adult use reform just yet, signs point to Mexico and Israel joining the ranks in 2021, with slimmer chances for nations like Luxembourg and South Africa that sit on the cusp of legalization this year or soon after.

The North American market looks particularly favorable. The three major players are already well-positioned, with Canada already operating its marketplaces, Mexico following suit soon, and the U.S. seemingly open to federal decriminalization at the very least.

By the end of 2020, analysis from firms like ReportCrux Market Research projected additional market prosperity for the continental market. For its analysis, ReportCrux projected that the North American extract market should vault from $5.26 billion in 2019 to $19.2 billion in 2027, with a 17.6% CAGR during the period. Once again, the increasing need for cannabis in medical treatments played a significant part in the report.

Delivering Solventless Extraction

Cannabis extraction methods remain competitive with several methods to choose from. However, solventless extraction is standing out to hash makers as the process continues to be proven in the industry.

PurePressure’s mission is to provide premier, USA made equipment for solventless extraction to your home or commercial operation. Our products come backed with top notch user-end support and we offer free shipping on all non-equipment purchases to the lower 48 states.

If you have questions about solventless extraction or any PurePressure equipment or products, do not hesitate to reach out by giving us a call at 720-446-9565 or by filling out this form. Our knowledgeable team of experts will guide you through every step of the process.