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:

8 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.

    • Bill on

      The oil extracted by Aurora and other Canadian firms is of terrible quality, its hard to blame Radient because the input biomass is terrible too. How do I know , I sold my first Company to Aurora , I sit on the boards of multiple firms, I run 6 labs making extracts in 6 states, and I have been extraction Cannabis professionally since 2005 in California. Each of the methods described are for making distillates of THC or other Cannabis compounds. Butane is still around because of all the three methods discussed its come close to producing strain specific absolutes. Live Resin , Terp Sauce, Rosin , and shatter in their various forms contain strain specific terpene profiles, and the user data suggests quicker onset and stronger effects from absolutes as opposed to distillates. Its very difficult and dangerous to operate butane labs, there are newer solvent free methods for making absolutes that involve microwave technology as well. Acids found in Cannabis have other properties that are desirable, its not true that only decarboxylation will have efficacy in humans there is plenty of scientific research on the different acid forms. It is true that THC needs decarboxylation to have the psychoactive effect but that does not mean THC-A has no value in terms of efficacy. Co2 has its merit as a research tool but its a terrible idea for a large scale operation. Its much slower even with microwaves , it changes the PH (too much to discuss here) and it produces the lowest quality most contaminated crude oils. All of these technologies are stone age , the entire article discusses which technology is better DVD, VHS , or Laser Disc. The Cannabis industry is very conservative and there is a ton of follow the leader, financing is also very difficult so a ton of better methods are still out of reach but they are slowly emerging. Cannabis is the most difficult crop to grow well, period. Extraction is only in the very early stages so this article will be cool to re-read in 10 years.

    • Hunter Blevins on

      i have both a cold press and a hydrocarbon extraction set up. The cold press oil is solvent-less and you have a cleaner more natural oil in return. It produces a CBDa oil. When ingested, the acids in your body are able to break the molecules and turn them into CBD. We have a licensed ER doctor as one of our owners and Pharmacists who have been involved in the making of our products. Their patients have seen unreal results from our oils and other products. The oil has a very nice natural plant aroma and tastes very nice also.

      • Loki on

        To be fair thats not true because anything with an acid molecule has to decarbed and our body can not do that. eating CBDa will not turn into CBD. Hence why companies make “tankers” that have decarb’ed.

  2. Derrek on

    Hi I am struggling with a thought after hearing and comparing ideas on cannabis consumtion.

    While the demand for fresh raw cannabis as dietary essential is in far less demand than the convenience of cannabis products like extracts there does seems to be a difference between consuming the whole plant raw and using the body as it’s own extractor to absorb cannabinoids into the bloodstream which is the ultimate goal of all consumption methods.

    Proponents of cannabis as a dietary essential claim that consuming raw cannibis as a vegetable or blended juice is superior to all forms of extraction including is closest equivalent CO2 full extract products since the raw plant consumption includes fiber and nutrients in their natural form. .
    What are your thought on this comment. ?


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