Cannabis extracts are highly concentrated products that are made with a solvent. This means combining plants or plant materials with a solvent in a way that the cannabinoids contained within the plant are stripped away. The plant is then removed, and the cannabinoid-infused solvent is processed to remove all solvent, leaving only cannabinoid concentrate behind.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well-known cannabinoid—it’s the one that causes an intoxicating, euphoric feeling. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that comes from cannabis plants and has been widely used for its therapeutic benefits. Both cannabinoids can be extracted from plants for use in their more pure, concentrated form.
Though solvent-based cannabis extraction is a popular method for obtaining CBD and THC, that doesn’t mean it comes without its dangers. There are several types of solvents that can be used for extraction—each has its benefits, downsides, and potential risks.
Hydrocarbons for Cannabis Extraction
Currently, hydrocarbons are the most popular solvent used in cannabis extraction. A hydrocarbon is an organic chemical compound composed only of carbon and hydrogen. According to the FDA, butane (C4H10) and propane (C3H8) are the best hydrocarbons for extraction purposes due to:
- low boiling points
- high-volume production ability
- minimal processing required for solvent purging
- fully automatable to reduce operator error
- low-pressure operation
- GRAS by the FDA
Hazards will only occur if these solvents are not used properly when extracting cannabis. Butane is an exceptionally flammable gas, meaning if proper precautions are not taken, it can combust. Other than that, butane and propane have been regarded as safe for use for extraction purposes.
Alcohols for Cannabis Extraction
Certain alcohols can be used for cannabis extraction. Though they are highly effective, they tend to be less precise in extraction. They have a tendency to dissolve not only pigments and waxes but also the targeted cannabinoid extract. The two preferred alcohols are isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Isopropyl alcohol possesses a much higher risk for toxicity, though, so many tend to stay away from it for extraction purposes. Ethanol, on the other hand, has several benefits:
- highly efficient
- low toxicity risk
- easy storage
- relatively inexpensive
CO2 for Cannabis Extraction
CO2 extraction involves a highly regulated temperature and pressure system to generate phase changes in carbon dioxide. At the same time, the plants are protected from decarboxylation during the process of extraction. Benefits of CO2 as a solvent include:
- chemically inactive
- leaves less residue than other solvents
- easy to obtain
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