Extraction is a core aspect of the cannabis industry, referring to the process of removing the most potent chemical compounds of the plant so that they can be used as ingredients in various cannabis products. There are several approaches for removing the most sought out cannabinoids of the cannabis plant. Hydrocarbon extraction is one of these approaches, gaining attention in the industry due to the efficiency of the technique, and the high-quality results of the extraction.
The increasing popularity of this method makes it important for anyone entering this field to have some understanding of how it works, and some of the key benefits that are helping to position hydrocarbon extraction as an industry standard. Read on for a closer look at those details.
The Hydrocarbon Extraction Process Explained for Those in Cannabis Industry Training
In the hydrocarbon extraction technique, hydrocarbons such as butane and propane are used as solvents to remove potent cannabinoids from the plant matter. The three cannabinoids most commonly sought by cannabis quality assurance experts include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and terpenes – all of which can be refined into highly concentrated extracts used to formulate some of the most popular cannabis products sold on the market.
The extraction of the cannabinoids occurs by flushing cold liquified butane, propane, or some other hydrocarbon blend through the solvent tank to wash the cannabis plant. From there, the following happens:
- The hydrocarbon dissolves the cannabinoids into the solvent
- The solution that results is passed through fine filters to remove unwanted materials
- When the level of desired concentration is achieved, the solution is filtered into a collection pot
- From the collection pot, the hydrocarbon is removed from the solution
- The solution is further purified through a final purging stage (e.g. vacuum ovens, whipping)
What Are the Advantages of This Extraction Method?
Deriving from the compression of plant and animal remains over long periods of time, hydrocarbons have been safely and effectively used as organic solvents for decades in other industries. As a prime example, they’ve been used for years in the food industry to create natural food flavourings and some types of cooking oils. The scientific safety and merit of the technique is therefore well documented, making the use of hydrocarbons an ideal choice as organic solvents for manufacturing cannabis concentrates.
Other well-documented advantages of the hydrocarbon extraction method in the cannabis industry include:
- An extremely low boiling point ensures little to no solvent residue
- A very clean method, as negative polarity helps to keep contaminants out of the final extraction
- Less plant waste, as it dissolves only some parts of the plant while leaving others unscathed
- Much higher yields, meaning a large number of products can be generated from a single extraction
- High-purity extractions, as the plant’s flavour, aroma, and cannabinoids are all well preserved
- A safer method, as the required extraction equipment operates at relatively low pressures
Butane or Propane: Is One Type of Hydrocarbon Better Than the Other?
When looking at propane and butane as the hydrocarbons of choice in this extraction method, students enrolled in cannabis industry training may wonder if either one is considered to be better than the other. Butane is sometimes favoured by master extractors, due to its significantly low boiling point (31.1°F), allowing for cold boiling to better preserve the plant’s temperature-sensitive cannabinoids.
Propane extraction looks very similar to butane extraction, but with a boiling point that produces much higher pressure. While some producers prefer this method for the high purity, aromatic terpenes that can be derived from it, the high pressures resulting from propane’s boiling point of -43.6F often make it necessary to use liquified gasses or dry ice to assist in the recovery of these extracts.
While both hydrocarbons clearly have their own advantages used alone, many master extractors will often choose to use a blend of both types. Mixing the two allows for a middle ground boiling point that allows the technician greater versatility in the types of end products that can be produced, better able to isolate and capture additional terpenes. The most common mixtures seen in the industry are 50-50 blends using an equal combination of both hydrocarbons, and 70-30 blends using 70% butane and 30% propane.
Interested in taking specialized training to pursue a future in one of many possible cannabis quality assurance careers?
Contact the Academy of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences for more information on its Cannabis Management, Quality and Edibles diploma program!