Choosing the right cannabis extraction method: Experts weigh in on CO2, hydrocarbon & ethanol

(This is an abridged version of a story that appears in the October issue of Marijuana Business Magazine.)

CO2? Hydrocarbon? Ethanol? Which extraction method is best for your cannabis company?

The answer boils down to what you hope to accomplish.

Do you want to produce full-spectrum cannabis oil? Is safety your primary concern? Do you need to process a large amount of marijuana flower as soon as possible?

In CO2 extraction, carbon dioxide is pressurized in metal tanks until it becomes a supercritical fluid, then the fluid pulls out the desirable compounds from flower. The fluid is then separated, leaving only concentrates including hash oil, shatter and budder.

Hydrocarbon extraction typically refers to using butane or propane as a solvent that’s passed through the raw cannabis matter to collect cannabinoids and terpenes. The solvent with the essential oils is then heated up to evaporate off the butane or propane, leaving behind the extract.

Ethanol extraction is conducted by soaking raw cannabis in ethanol to pull trichomes into the solvent. The cannabis is then removed; the liquid is filtered and the alcohol purged from the extracted material.

Whatever your goals may be, each of the three main types of cannabis extraction has its strengths and its weaknesses – with no hands-down favorite among industry executives.

“It’s tough to pigeonhole one extraction process as being optimal,” said Jim Makoso, co-owner and vice president of Lucid Labs, an extraction branding and licensing company with locations in Nevada and Washington state. “There is no one process that’s better over another without putting qualifying statements on there.”

Marijuana Business Magazine asked experts who make their living extracting cannabinoids to share their preferences as well as the pros and cons of their chosen method.

Clicks on the links below to learn more about key criteria to evaluate extraction methods:

2 comments on “Choosing the right cannabis extraction method: Experts weigh in on CO2, hydrocarbon & ethanol
  1. Steve Stout on

    Some things that weren’t considered:

    1.) Hydrocarbons are being phased out. California requires a Type 7 license which is increasingly difficult to get. Ethanol and CO2 are Type 6 and much easier to obtain.

    2.) Some cities and counties have banned the use of hydrocarbons and more are doing so inside and outside of California.

    3.) Hydrocarbons require considerable expense to make the room their in safe. This also means continued inspections and ongoing costs to prove you are safe.

    4.) Most municipalities severely limit how much Hydrocarbons you can store on-site. This could cause an outage if shipment is held up.

    5.) Hydrocarbons create product stigma that is easily exploited by competitors.

    6.) CO2 does not scale because you can only make the pressure vessel so big. Some run several CO2 systems and an army of technicians, but this is costly.

    7.) Ethanol is seen as extracting unwanted components like chlorophyll and waxes, but cryogenic chilling (-20F to -40F) solves this, eliminating the need for Winterization.

    8.) Ethanol’s polarity can extract both oil and water components, with water seen as bad. However, cannabis is a complex plant with many components we don’t fully understand. Chances are, some water-based components may have beneficial properties.

    9.) There are ethanol product lines processing over 10 metric tons of hemp flower per day, something the other methods would never attempt.

    10.) Radient Technologies employs microwaves with ethanol to process essential oils, caffeine, nicotine, hemp and cannabis at an industrial scale. They process for Aurora, the largest cannabis cultivator in the world.


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