If you’re unfamiliar with what alcohol extraction has to do with weed, here is a quick entry with encyclopedic knowledge on everything you’d ever want or need to know.
Alcohol Extraction Overview
Alcohol extraction is a process of removing essential oils, fats, and other chemical compounds from plants. Any plant as a matter of fact. Alcohol extraction is by no means exclusive to cannabis.
However, of the many possible ways to use alcohol to extract material from plants, only a few work well with cannabis. This is because of the unique chemistry of the desirable compounds in cannabis. The extreme delicacy of the terpenes in cannabis also limits viable extraction to just a few methods.
The most common is butane extraction. The safest is supercritical CO2 extraction. And the most cutting edge is ethanol extraction, or more rarely isopropyl alcohol.
Butane is a popular choice, especially for home extraction setups. That’s because butane does a great job “selecting” for the active cannabinoids and terpenes that make concentrates so potent and flavorful.
In the professional, industrial setting, supercritical CO2 extraction has ruled the day. It’s cheap, safe, has a low toxicity. But it grabs a lot more plant material than butane, which means purifying the extract takes longer and is more difficult. The result is lower yield and reduced terpene and cannabinoid profile.
Capna Labs, in California, is pioneering a new ethanol-based extraction method that they argue is the safest and most efficient method to date.
Ultimately, no extraction method is one hundred percent efficient. And all have their strengths and drawbacks. Cannabis is a complex plant, and patients and recreational users alike desire different products. The goal, however, is always the same. To produce the purest concentrate possible.
History of Alcohol Extraction
Hashish is one form of cannabis concentrates, made by extracting THC from dried weed and compressing the resin into balls or cakes. Hash oil is another form, and sometimes people use butane to extract the hash oil.
In short, hash is basically an unrefined, or “unfiltered” version of the concentrate you get from alcohol extractions. Using alcohol to extract THC and other cannabinoids and terpenes from weed just produces a much more concentrated, much purer concentrate than hash can offer.
Alcohol Extraction and Today’s Cannabis Scene
Alcohol extraction has skyrocketed to popularity and notoriety in today’s cannabis scene. From medical patients to serious dabbers, concentrates are currently the “it” thing.
No wonder extraction companies are in a virtual arms race to patent the best and highest-yield processes for producing concentrates. Perhaps no customers have ever been as demanding as cannabis consumers.
And if a company could produce a stable, pure concentrate safely and affordably, they’re in a position to really capitalize on the growing extracts and concentrates market. The most recent innovation is to use ethanol alcohol in the extraction process. Reportedly, ethanol can extract desirable compounds as well as butane and as safely as CO2 methods.
But alcohol extraction isn’t only the province of high-tech labs run by major companies. Fundamentally, the chemistry behind making cannabis extracts with alcohol is simple enough to do at home.
Butane is cheap and readily available, which makes producing your own concentrates possible.
Unfortunately, home extraction labs have given concentrates somewhat of a bad reputation. Butane is extremely combustible, which makes it a bit dangerous to work with. It’s very easy to create explosions or fires with butane if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Furthermore, butane is extremely toxic to humans. And home extractions methods sometimes have a hard time removing all the butane byproducts from the concentrate.
That said, butane does a better job than most other solvents at capturing and extracting the desired cannabinoids and flavorful terpenes while leaving other taste-ruining plant material and chlorophyll behind. And the relative ease of using butane to make cannabis concentrates has made it a popular DIY project for committed cannabis enthusiasts.
Why Alcohol Extraction Matters
The process of extraction is turning weed into an oil concentrate. And that matters because oil concentrates are the foundation for everything from vape oils to dabs to tinctures.
Developing efficient, safe, and high-yield extraction processes is essential to the future of medical cannabis. In many states where medical use is legal, but recreational use still prohibited, patients only have access to cannabis in edible forms like oils.
And besides, many patients can’t inhale cannabis smoke for a variety of reasons. Access to non-toxic, high quality concentrates is of the utmost importance for them.
That requires efficiency not just in terms of the cannabinoids and terpenes that make extracts so awesome, but also in terms of removing all the other stuff that would make concentrates taste terrible.
Furthermore, vaping high-quality cannabis concentrates can reduce the harm of inhaling burned plant material when you smoke weed.
Alcohol extraction matters because the better we get at it, the closer we get to turning cannabis into a safe and precise medicine. And at the same time, the more intense our recreational experiences can become.