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What are the cannabis extraction methods?

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

Here you will learn everything about the various extraction methods in the cannabis field.

The most common methods of cannabis extraction include Co2 (carbon dioxide extraction), ethanol extraction or also called alcohol extraction, hydrocarbon extraction and oil extraction. In this process, the cannabinoids and other plant compounds such as alkaloids and flavonoids are extracted from the plant material

Basic requirements for a successful extraction.

Various extraction methods enable the extraction of the valuable and sought-after cannabis extract. Besides the method, the quality of the plant material used is crucial for the extraction. The correct harvesting, drying and storage can be a decisive factor here in order to produce extracts of the highest quality.

Cannabis extraction methods at a glance

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction/ Co2 Extraction

Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, or Co2 extraction for short, is probably the most common extraction method. The term super critical here does not mean that the process is super critical, but refers to the state of the carbon dioxide.

To extract the cannabinoids from the hemp plant, the plant material is saturated with liquid Co2 to dissolve the cannabinoids and terpenes as well as other plant substances from the plant material. Subsequently, the temperature is raised and the pressure is lowered so that the carbon dioxide reverts to a gaseous state and can be separated from the extract. Highly concentrated extracts remain.

In principle, a distinction can be made between two methods for Co2 extraction:

  • The Supercritical / Supercritical Co2 Extraction

  • The subcritical Co2 extraction

Subcritical Co2 extraction is particularly gentle. However, due to the low temperature and pressure, several extraction processes are necessary. Gentle processes may be recommended if one wants to maintain a high level of terpenes in the extract.

Compared to other processes, production by carbon dioxide extraction is safe and non-toxic and therefore an approved process for the pharmaceutical and food industries. However, plants for the production of Co2 extracts are very expensive and therefore mostly not recommended for private use.

Ethanol extraction

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, is found in methylated spirits and other products. The highly explosive alcohol is also used in cannabis extraction. In this process, the plant parts are soaked in ethanol for several days. The mixture is then filtered and an ethanol extract mixture enriched with cannabinoids, flavonoids and alkaloids remains. Heating evaporates the ethanol and the pure extract remains. Normally, the extracts are further processed (filtered) before the ethanol is evaporated to remove unwanted substances such as chlorophyll from the extracts.

Caution. The handling of alcohols such as ethanol involves high risks. In addition to the high risk of explosion, care must be taken to remove all ethanol from the extracts in order to avoid health risks.

Hydrocarbon Extraction

Another popular method for cannabis extraction is hydrocarbon extraction. Hydrocarbons are a group of chemical compounds consisting of carbon and hydrogen. The following hydrocarbons are used for cannabis extraction:

  • Butane also called Butane Honey Oil (BHO).

  • Dimethyl ether also called DEXSO.

During the extraction with hydrocarbons, the plant material is flown through by the preferred hydrocarbon mixture, thereby extracting the cannabinoids from the plant parts. Subsequently, the extracts must be purified, here the hydrocarbons are evaporated with the help of heat and the gas is sucked off by means of vacuum. The pure extract remains. Depending on the type of extraction, a suitable material must be used here to collect the extracts. For butane PTFE film and for dimethyl ether Teflon, otherwise the substances may react with other substances that come into contact with them.

Oil extraction

In oil extraction, the cannabinoids are extracted from the plant parts by non-polar substances. In most cases, olive oil, hemp seed oil or MCT coconut oil is used for the production. In this process, the plant material is filled into a vessel together with the oil, left in the dark for 24h and then heated in a water bath. The mixture is then allowed to cool and filtered. The whole extract is ready.

It should be noted that the cannabinoid concentration obtained is usually not as high as with other extraction methods. But the production of a whole extract is very safe, cheap and suitable for everyone.

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