The demand for cannabis continues to grow beyond the bud market and now includes hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis products. Using cannabis extracts for the production of edibles, cartridges and other products such as topicals, patches, capsules, and concentrates is important as hydrocarbon exploration grows. Knowing how to follow an extraction method both safely and in the most efficient manner possible can be extremely profitable.
Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that have only hydrogen and carbon atoms. This would be butane and propane when looking at cannabis extraction. Vape oil, edibles, topicals and the other number of extract products have used this method.
Although butane and propane do not sound like that should be taken into your body, hydrocarbons have been used for decades in the area of food extraction. They have been used in the production of flavors and colorings for years. The compounds are now utilized to make cannabis extracts with defined profiles as well. While the purity of hydrocarbon extracts varies, some have up to 90% of the plant’s cannabinoids which is high quality.
Production done properly means that hydrocarbons can be used safely so there are minimal production risks while making a high-end product.
Hydrocarbon Extraction Products
Hydrocarbon extracts are made into many different forms. They can be oil, glass, budder, shatter, wax or hash. Along with these pure forms of the extract are the products made from it. This includes edibles, vape cartridges, capsules, along with topicals and patches.
If any of these cannabis products are to be profitable, then the extract has to be high quality. An example of this is found when a product uses nugs to make the extracted product rather than trim or shake. Nugs are going to be higher quality and make a better end product. The extraction process itself will also determine the level of quality and profile of a product. The refinement steps play a significant role.
Hydrocarbon Extraction of Cannabis Products
Hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis products is usually done with butane as the main solvent. It can be done with others or with a combination of solvents, but butane is the primary one. When butane is mixed with the cannabis plant material, then the hydrocarbon dissolves the compounds that are part of the cannabis plant. Butane is used most often as it is a great solvent for extraction purposes. Its boiling point is low at 30.2°F and is used as a liquified gas when doing the extraction. The benefit of this is that you are not exposing terpenes and other plant parts that are sensitive to temperature to heat.
Propane has an even lower boiling point (43.6°F or -42°C) than butane so it is often used by producers in combination with butane. Propane allows additional compounds like terpenes to be extracted from the cannabis plant and also offers the ability to purge the leftover solvent more effectively.
Steps for Hydrocarbon Extraction
Hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis products can be done in small batches or larger industrial-sized ones. The steps are similar.
- The liquified butane that is cold (this can also be a hydrocarbon blend) is utilized to wash the cannabis matter. This dissolves the cannabinoids like THC and CBD as well as the terpenes, lipids, and waxes. The terpenes are an important part of the process as they give the aroma and flavor to the products being extracted.
- The solution that comes from this washing can then be further refined in various ways depending on what the final product is going to be. A centrifuge will be used to remove terpenes and the process of winterization will take lipids out. Dewaxing and decarboxylation are two other methods that can be used in the refinement step.
- Once the refinement is complete, the solution is then put through a collection chamber so the majority of the solvent(s) can be taken out. There should be very little residual solvent remaining. The butane that was used can often be recovered and used again.
- To finish the process off, the solution is purged one final time to get rid of any remaining hydrocarbons. This may be done by a vacuum oven or whipping.
The most important factor to note is that while hydrocarbon extraction can be done almost anywhere, there are significant dangers when dealing with flammable solvents. Butane and propane can be dangerous when not used with the utmost care. Larger facilities of legal extracts are careful to work in complaint production facilities and are using equipment that is designed to specifically work for this operation.
The Pros and Cons of Hydrocarbon Extraction
While hydrocarbon extraction is not the only method used for extraction, it is often the most preferable. However, it has both positives and negatives.
- The producer can keep the authenticity of a particular strain being used. The unique chemical makeup of each strain can be maintained whereas other extraction processes can change that makeup. Hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis products maintains the makeup of the plant, so its combination of cannabinoids and terpenes remains.
- This type of extraction is versatile. It can produce a wide range of extracts because the butane/propane levels can be adjusted to get the desired outcome.
- This type of extraction process can use trim or shake. It allows the producer to use parts of the plant that normally would not be used. While it is not good as bud, the trimmings tend to have lots of resin that has cannabinoids. Using this part of the plant is called a trim-run.
- The solvents can be risky if the extraction is not done properly. Proper equipment and a safe environment have to be in place.
- It can be risky for the consumer if not done properly. The use of low-end solvents could have contaminants, or a poor purge could leave the residual matter in the extract. Consumers need to know where they are buying from and what’s in their cannabis product.
Hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis products is not a complicated process and offers a variety of high-end products. However, quality control is important, as is safety in overseeing the process. If those factors are addressed, then hydrocarbon extraction is a great way to produce high-end cannabis products, making a company a substantial profit.
Olivia Solero is the Co-founder of Cannabis Stack. Olivia has an unusual blend of creative thinking and the ability to put that thinking into effect. She likes to write; loves to edit; she knows how to lead, follow or get out of the way; she is good with a buck and wicked smart when it comes to data.