Cannabis Extraction: Which Method Smokes the Competition?

Philip Ghezelbash August 9, 2019 0 comments

When medicating, the right method of cannabis extraction is just as important as the right chemovar.

Choosing the right cannabis extraction doesn’t stop at deciding on the concentration. The extraction process is an important step in understanding the final extract and its uses.

Cannabis extract, otherwise known as concentrate, is an oily substance containing concentrated amounts of cannabinoids. The THC and CBD (and other cannabinoid) levels differ depending on the chemovar. Cannabis extract can be used to create a variety of concentrated cannabinoid products, such as budder, shatter, oil, or wax. These can then be consumed through different methods, such as dabbing or vaporizing

Why Use a Cannabis Extract?

Many people prefer a cannabis extract for its easy, less obvious consumption in the form of vaping or edibles. Moreover, because it is a concentrated product, less is needed for the same effect, and patients can more accurately measure dose. 

One of the main draw cards for cannabis extract is the fact that it provides specific cannabinoid levels. Patients can choose the cannabinoid ratio based on personal preferences and medicinal needs. There are three main methods for creating cannabis extracts:

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cannabis extraction

CO2 Extraction: Safe to Perform and Easy to Find

Otherwise known as supercritical CO2 extraction, this is a safe and environmentally friendly way to extract cannabinoids from cannabis plant material. It’s not just cannabis extractors who use this method, though; it’s used industrially on products like coffee and omega-3. 

CO2 extraction works by heating supercritical CO2 to high levels in a contained space. This pressurizes the gas and transforms it into liquid Co2. Producers then force the liquid through the cannabis flower to extract the cannabinoids. Once complete, a separator removes compounds, such as terpenes, and this extract is left out until the CO2 evaporates off. This method is best for budder, shatter, oil, and wax.

Benefits to CO2 Extraction

  • CO2 extraction is a relatively safe and effective extraction method. There is little risk of explosion. 
  • It is easy to find, as it’s the method that many commercial cannabis extraction companies use.
  • CO2 acts as a shelf-life extender by sanitizing the extract.
  • Allows for the specific selection of compounds left in the resulting extract. 

Reasons CO2 Extraction is not DIY

  • Requires skilled use of complex industrial equipment that is extremely expensive to purchase.
  • CO2 extraction could be deadly if a leak occurred in a room without ventilation or sensors. 

Hydrocarbon Extraction: Potent, Terpene-Rich

Hydrocarbon extraction typically uses gasses like butane or propane to act as the solvent, instead of CO2. 

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Perfume and food production processes use this method. For cannabis, it’s known for its ability to produce a potent extract that is rich in terpenes. 

Manufacturers spray butane or propane through a container filled with cannabis. The gas extracts the cannabinoids and terpenes as it passes through the flower, and settles as cannabinoid-potent butane/propane in another container. The gas evaporates and the result is a finished cannabis extract.

This method does well for the creation of shatter, crumble, oil, and wax. 

Benefits to Hydrocarbon Extraction

  • Cheap extraction system.
  • This method extracts a range of compounds, so it’s ideal for those who want the receive the medicinal benefits terpenes as well and cannabinoids.

Reasons Not to Use Hydrocarbon Extraction

  • The flammable gas used in this system makes it potentially dangerous, as a spark could cause an explosion.


cannabis extraction

Ethanol Extraction: Simple Process Extracts Single Cannabinoids

Much like the other extraction methods, ethanol extraction uses ethanol as the solvent. Ethanol extraction involves soaking cannabis in an ethanol bath where the alcohol then extracts trichomes from the plant. Additionally, ethanol removes unwanted substances, such as chlorophyll. So, producers put the product through a refinement process to remove any unwanted compounds alongside the ethanol. 

Processors often use ethanol as a food additive. This means it’s safe, so long as manufacturers use the proper refinement processes. 

Benefits to Ethanol Extraction

  • Extremely efficient at removing single cannabinoids for those wanting a refined cannabinoid extract.
  • Easy to use, good for small and large scale extractions.
  • Dependable process.

Reasons Not to Use Ethanol Extraction

Can result in unwanted compounds if not refined properly.  Ethanol extraction is best for creating product for: edibles, distillates, high-quality oils, other cannabis concentrates. 

So Which Cannabis Extraction Method is Best?

All three of these extraction methods have their pros and cons, so it really comes down to your preference, skill level, and access to equipment. Weigh the pros and cons listed, and speak to someone who knows what they are doing with cannabis extractions. When it comes down to it, choosing a cannabis extraction may simply boil down to what cannabinoids and terpenes you need in your medicine.

If you’re looking to try your hand at extracting yourself, be careful to keep in mind your ability level and understanding of the methods and equipment before setting off. As all these processes involve potentially dangerous chemicals, be sure to seek professional advice before starting. 

Author avatar

Philip Ghezelbash
Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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