Whether you’ve been in the cannabis game for years like we have — we won’t ask your age if you don’t ask ours — or you’ve yet to smoke your first joint, it’s easy to be confused by the difference between solvent, solventless, and solvent-free extracts.
We’re here to help!
In this article, we discuss the difference between the three types of concentrates and give you the secret to the best cannabis extracts.
It All Starts With Cannabinoids
Getting to know the difference between solvent, solventless, and solvent-free extracts starts with the target of all three processes: cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act on the cannabinoid receptors in your brain (CB1 and CB2).
Even more specifically, cannabinoids are the things that make marijuana the wonder that it is — they’re the stuff that gets you high, relieves your pain, and takes the edge off your anxiety.
Currently, there are around 113 different cannabinoids with familiar (and unfamiliar) initialisms, including:
Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if there was a way to strip all those cannabinoids (and terpenes and flavonoids) from the plant matter and take them more directly?
You guessed it — there is! It’s called extraction.
What Are Extracts?
The end result of extraction is — wait for it — an extract.
Extracts are basically concentrated cannabinoids (which is why they’re also called concentrates) without the plant matter to get in the way.
Extraction works by breaking the bonds that hold the cannabinoids on the surface of the cannabis and results in a finished product that ranges from solid to liquid to everything in between.
The topic of this article, then, is HOW you separate the cannabinoids from the flowers where they originate: with a solvent, solventless, or solvent-free.
Solvent Vs. Solventless Vs. Solvent-Free
Extraction Method: Chemical
Solvent extracts are made by passing chemicals (solvents) over raw bud. The chemicals dissolve the cannabinoids and hold them in solution after the plant matter is removed.
Then, the chemical is forced to evaporate. When it does, it leaves behind a liquid or solid that is all but pure cannabinoids.
Types Of Solvent Extraction
There are several different types of solvent extraction that fall into the general category of hydrocarbon extraction.
1) Butane Extraction
Butane extraction is one of the more common methods of separating the cannabinoids from the plant matter.
It works by packing raw buds into a tube or pipe and then forcing butane (lighter fluid) from one end to the other.
The butane is then allowed to evaporate and the resulting concentrate is an oily substance aptly called butane hash oil.
Now before you run out to buy a big bottle of butane to make your own solvent extracts, be warned: butane extraction is a very dangerous process if not performed correctly.
First of all, butane is a highly flammable substance that will explode if not handled properly.
Second, butane vapors can collect at low levels (the floor) where you’re not likely to detect them until it’s too late. Add any kind of spark to this mix (even static electricity) and you’ve got big problems.
Third, butane vapor can be deadly if inhaled in high quantities so it’s important to work in a well-ventilated area.
Butane extraction is very similar to the process used to make methamphetamines (meth) and we’ve all seen the charred results on TV when that goes wrong (no more trailer!).
Bottom line: Leave butane extraction to the experts with the fancy and SAFE equipment.
2) CO2 Extraction
Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction is another complicated chemical process that requires expensive lab machines to get right.
CO2 extraction machines use supercritical CO2 (i.e., very cold and under high pressure) to remove the cannabinoids from the plant matter.
This supercritical property of CO2 is great for chemical extraction because it is “gentler” than other compounds and won’t cause damage or denaturing (making it unfit for consumption).
And because the solubility in CO2 varies with pressure, supercritical CO2 can be used to extract selected compounds (rather than a combination of all compounds) with just a few small adjustments.
The one drawback to CO2 extraction is that the machine to do the job is extremely expensive.
The cost of an industrial, state-of-the-art, supercritical CO2 extraction system can run you about $39,000. Chances are, you don’t have that kind of coin burning a hole in your pocket.
Thankfully, you don’t have to put your life in jeopardy or go into debt to experience the rush of consuming a cannabis extract.
Solventless extracts to the rescue!
Extraction Method: Mechanical
Solventless extracts are those that have been produced without chemical solvents.
They are much more DIY-friendly than solvent extracts and can often be carried out with nothing more than your hands, a grinder, or a hot iron.
Types Of Solventless Extracts
Handle marijuana buds long enough and you’ll get a bit of sticky icky on your hands. Your first instinct might be to rush to the nearest sink and scrub that stuff off. Don’t do it!
Instead, rub your hands together or roll your fingers around against your thumb. With enough effort, you can corral that sticky into a small ball.
And, like the solvent extracts in the previous section, it’s pure cannabinoids.
For more information on how to make and use hash — the original solventless extract — check out these articles from the HMJ blog:
- How To Make Hash: The Complete Guide
- Hash (Hashish): What Is It And How Does It Differ From Marijuana
Another common type of solventless extract is kief.
Kief is the word cannaenthusiasts use to refer to the terpenes and cannabinoids of the cannabis plant.
Essentially, kief is the solid form of the stuff you remove from the plant matter in solvent extraction.
By far, the easiest way to get ahold of your own kief is to purchase and use a grinder. More specifically, a four-piece or three-chamber grinder.
A four-piece grinder is composed of a lid, a grinding chamber, a collection chamber, and a kief chamber. You put your dried and cured weed in the grinding chamber, attach the lid, and give the whole thing a good screw (no, not that type of screw).
During the grinding process, two things happen:
- The buds are sliced and diced
- The kief is dislodged from the plant matter
The ground-up leaves fall through the screen at the bottom of the grinding chamber into the collection chamber. If you continue to agitate the grinder, the free kief will fall through the screen at the bottom of the collection chamber into the kief chamber.
After a while, you’ll amass enough of the sticky powder in the kief chamber to do some really cool things.
Extraction Method: Distillation (it’s much more complicated than it sounds)
Solvent-free extracts are a close relative of solvent extracts.
One of the major problems with solvent extraction is that it can leave behind trace amounts of the solvent (e.g., butane or CO2).
Sure, the amounts we’re talking about are extremely small, but they can add up over time. Do you really want to be introducing potentially toxic substances into your body?
Solvent-free extracts address this concern by running the solvent extract through another set of laboratory processes to remove every trace of solvent residue.
So, what started out as a solvent extract, is now 100% free of the harmful chemical used to create it — it’s solvent-free!
Which Extract Is Right For You?
Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
A person’s choice of solvent versus solventless versus solvent-free is 100% personal and may change a number of times in their life.
The best advice we can give? Try them all!
There are so many different varieties of extract, you can spend several years running through the list. What fun!
Talk to the budtenders at your local dispensary and see what they recommend to start you out.
The Best Extract Comes From High-Quality Buds
Your cannabis extract can come from any strain and be of any quality.
The best extract, however, comes from high-quality, organic buds.
For a truly righteous extract experience, we recommend only using a high-quality variety (headies or beasters) of your favorite strain. It will make the experience so much better.
Plus, with a good quality, organic strain — like those grown at Honest Marijuana — you’ll need less hash oil to experience the same effects. A little will go a long way.
You may have to pay a bit more for a high-quality extract, but you’ll be much happier with how you feel when you use it.
If you live in Colorado, find some Honest Marijuana and discover what the purest marijuana experience on the planet feels like. You won’t be sorry.
For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100-percent all-natural marijuana products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.
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