What is Cannabis Hydrocarbon Extraction?
Published on 8/19/21
One of the more common ways to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from raw cannabis, hydrocarbon extraction methods are becoming a hot topic as more people dive deeper into the world of cannabis and how it's produced. If you're wondering how to extract THC from weed, you're in the right place. In this article, we're going to cover what hydrocarbon extraction is, why it's so popular, how it's used and what type of cannabis products are made using this extraction method.
What is Hydrocarbon Extraction?
First off, we must address cannabis extraction, which is the process in which cannabinoids and terpenes are taken out of raw cannabis plant material. There are over 400 chemical compounds in cannabis and at least 100+ of those are cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD). To make cannabis concentrates, these cannabinoids must be extracted from the original plant matter and condensed into a concentrated, usable form. There are two main overarching types of extraction methods: solvent and solvent-free. Methods that are solvent-free result in products like kief and hash, which can be made through basic techniques of separating specific aspects from the original plant matter. Extraction methods that rely on solvents can make a wide variety of products and include alcohol extraction, CO2 extraction and hydrocarbon extraction.
There are two types of hydrocarbon extraction methods (both of which are also the solvents used in the extraction process): butane extraction and propane extraction. Butane is a light hydrocarbon extraction method often referred to as BHO extraction (Butane Hash Oil). It is also the most common out of the two hydrocarbon variations. With a boiling point of just 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit, it is used as a liquified gas during extraction that keeps the cannabis terpenes from losing flavor and cannabinoids from losing potency. Hydrocarbon extraction is also highly efficient, resulting in a high-percentage, high-quality yield. The overall process is as follows:
How Hydrocarbon Extraction Works
The initial step is to use cold hydrocarbons (butane, propane or a combination of the two) to wash the original cannabis plant matter. This dissolves the desired cannabinoids and terpenes into an extractable solution.
Several different methods can be used on the dissolved solution to create specific end products (shatter, resin, oils, etc.). In refinement, crude oils and other unwanted products still mixed with the desired solvent are removed. Some of these processes include winterization, which removes lipids from the solution via a secondary solvent and freezing; decolorization, which further removes unwanted materials from the extract via filtration; or dewaxing, where plant lipids are removed via filtration and solvent isolation.
Once refinement has been fully processed, the concentrated solution is collected and any remaining butane (or other hydrocarbons) is removed. The remaining solvent is then passed through to the beginning of the system and goes through the process until the extraction is fully purged of all butane and undesirable content.
Same as refinement, the way the solution is purged is dependent upon the desired final product. Whether it's collected over time, vacuum dried, or immediately collected, the final purge marks the end of the hydrocarbon extraction process.
A Brief History of Hydrocarbon Extraction
It's worth noting that hydrocarbon extraction has been used for a long time, and not just for cannabis. Records as early as the 12th century show that people used extraction methods to make cannabis products like hash. It wasn't until the 1970s, however, that hydrocarbons became a popular extraction method for certain food flavors and colors. At around the same time, hydrocarbons also became used to extract cannabinoids. It wasn't until after the 1990s and the explosion of the internet, however, that it has become such a widely popular method for many common types of cannabis products.
Cannabis Products Made Using Hydrocarbon Extraction
Cannabis products can be made from a variety of different extraction processes; but as we said before, hydrocarbon extraction is one of the most common methods. This is because of its low cost and high extraction quality compared to other methods. As such, glass, shatter, wax, oil and hash are some of the most popular forms of hydrocarbon extracts you'll find on the market or make yourself. These cannabis extracts can in turn be used in products like edibles, tinctures, topicals and vapes.
Is Cannabis Hydrocarbon Extraction the Best?
Hydrocarbon extraction is incredibly popular for several key reasons. First and foremost, as we covered, there are a lot of different types of products you can make with hydrocarbon extraction. Secondly, both butane and propane are FDA-recognized ass safe ingredients if used correctly. Because hydrocarbons can operate at lower temperatures, the unique characteristics of any given cannabis strain are better preserved throughout the process (higher temperatures tend to burn off potency and flavor). Additionally, the overall yield is much higher compared to other types of extraction methods. While CO2 extraction yields roughly 8% by weight, butane extraction can yield anywhere from 15% to 30% - much more bang for your buck. It is relatively inexpensive, the extraction process is fairly quick, and it produces a high-potency product that can be used for a wide variety of cannabis products.
However, it's not a foolproof extraction method and there are some cons. While CO2 is cheap, the equipment you need to get started can sometimes be more costly. It's also likely not the best option for people wanting to create their own extracts. The process is more complicated than other solvent methods and if not done properly, harmful byproduct contaminants can end up in your final product. Additionally, the equipment and the safety features (both butane and propane are highly flammable) you need to properly set up are best used in a professional, controlled setting. So while this might be one of the best options for professional producers, it is likely not the best option for DIY cannabis creatives.
What type of cannabis extractors do you prefer? What is your favorite THC extraction method and why? Share in the comments below!