Extracting the Truth About Solvents
CATEGORY Hit Tips
LENGTH 6 MIN READ
AUTHOR Nora Lenhardt
Enlighten your next sesh with a high-level breakdown of solvent use (or lack thereof) within the spectrum of cannabis extracts.
To solvent or not to solvent? That is a common, confusing question facing many cannabis consumers – experts or otherwise. Below, you’ll find a few key things to keep in mind as we break through the bewilderment together.
What is a solvent?
Essentially, a solvent is a substance that breaks down or dissolves another substance. Within cannabis, solvents refer to the chemicals used to extract (i.e., separate) terpenes and cannabinoids (found within the plants’ trichomes) from other plant material. Water can technically act as a solvent too, but within the cannabis market, products made with solvents signify that a chemical solvent was used in the process.
Solvents are merely a means for isolating the parts of the plant that elicit its coveted effects.
As you may know, it’s the terpenes and cannabinoids that give a plant its essence and effects – namely, its flavor, aroma, and potency. It’s important to note here that any extract is only as “good” or “potent” as the original plant it comes from. A solvent isn’t going to make or break low-quality cannabis; it can impact an end product’s purity, but we’ll get there. The takeaway for now is that using a solvent is merely a means for isolating the parts of the plant that elicit its coveted effects; a solvent dissolves plant material, leaving behind the good stuff.
What kind of chemicals are used in solvent-based extraction?
Hydrocarbon (specifically, butane and propane), carbon dioxide (CO2), and ethanol (alcohol) are the most common solvents used within the cannabis market. Along with varying degrees of heat and pressure, different solvents are utilized to garner the desired consistency of the final product.
Many dabbing go-tos like budder, wax, and shatter utilize hydrocarbon solvents to extract viscous, highly concentrated resin from the cannabis plant. Packaging often displays the solvent used; for example, a “BHO” (butane hash oil) on your packaging signifies that butane was used to make your magical extract or vaping oil. We use BHO when crafting our Live Resin products from flash-frozen flower, and you’ll notice our packaging marked accordingly.
While vapes, edibles, and even topicals are commonly made with hydrocarbons, CO2 and ethanol are also popular. One solvent isn’t necessarily “better” than another; equipment, yield size, budget, and time must also be considered.
For example, hydrocarbon extraction is incredibly precise at targeting specific cannabinoids and terpenes, but it’s a complex, dangerous (i.e., flammable!) process that requires advanced machinery and expertise. On the other hand, CO2 is generally easier in terms of setup and elicits less of a carbon footprint (ironically), but it requires more post-processing techniques. We use CO2 to extract raw oil from aeroponic flower, then manipulate it in numerous ways to produce our signature FSHO.
Aren’t chemicals bad?
That word – chemicals – may set off alarms in your head, but it’s important to remember that every legit, licensed cultivator (like Aeriz) must abide by specific regulations to sell their products. General hysteria around the concept stems from mishaps involving unregulated, unreliable sources.
Solvents have been used in food and beauty products for decades, so this isn’t a new technique unique to the cannabis market. All solvent-based products are purged of chemicals and go through rigorous testing to make them safe for human consumption. And – as you’re probably wondering – no, you cannot “taste” the solvent used.
What about solventless methods?
Chemicals are not the only way to isolate and obtain terpenes and cannabinoids. While this may seem like a marvel of modern science, solventless processes have been around for hundreds – if not thousands – of years. In fact, hashish is often regarded as the OG cannabis extract and we have our wise, weed-loving ancestors to thank for their techniques.
Utilizing precise heat, air, pressure, and often water or ice, trichomes can be separated from other plant material with zero chemicals involved. Once done by hand, this process generally takes longer – even with more modern screens and machines to do the job.
One solventless cannabis extract surging in popularity is live rosin (not to be confused with live resin, which uses a chemical solvent in a similar process). After harvest, our aeroponic flower is immediately frozen to preserve its terpene profile. Next, it’s gently hand-stirred in an ice bath to remove those delicate trichomes. From there, it’s filtered multiple times and then manipulated with heat and pressure to achieve its desired consistency. Overall, it’s a more “mechanical” method that retains the highest integrity of the original plant; as no chemicals are used at any time, it’s as close to “natural” as one can get. You can enjoy our live rosin products in a badder or vape cartridge.
Is solventless the same as solvent-free?
Here’s where things get a little hazy. While “solventless” guarantees that no chemical solvents were used in the extraction process whatsoever, “solvent-free” signifies that chemical solvents may have been used but were entirely flushed out. Remember, all products that utilize a solvent are thoroughly purged; however, there is the tiniest chance of a miniscule amount of residual solvent remaining. Again, this is highly unlikely when purchasing from a lawful supplier whose products have undergone expert extraction and third-party testing.
So, which should I choose?
In terms of experiencing a great high, all methods are safe and effective. Technically, solventless extracts do retain more of their original terpene and cannabinoid profile, often elevating their effects. Thanks to scientific advancements, though, solvent-based extracts are hardly lacking in euphoria. Some consumers do feel more comfortable knowing that absolutely no chemicals touched their product (ever!), which is another reason they may prefer solventless methods.
It often comes down to business needs, consumer budgets, and cannabis proficiency. Solvent-based methods are best for producing large-scale, industrial yields more quickly. Solventless methods are more cost-effective on a smaller scale and may take longer, making them a bit pricier. Finally, it’s worth noting that – in general – only the truest of cannabis aficionados can discern a solventless high from a solvent-based one.
Our aeroponic assurance.
Whether made with or without a solvent, all our extracts are derived from our premium aeroponic flower and are expertly crafted into a range of consistencies and potencies. For a more in-depth look at our extract offerings, visit our product page.