Breaking down cannabis extracts
Solvent vs. Solventless. Cannabis extracts are available in so many forms, sometimes it is difficult to decide which one you want. There is no better way to make this choice than with knowledge of what you are buying, and the risks and rewards associated with both.
I remember my first time walking into a dispensary in downtown Vancouver. I thought I knew all there was to know about weed, a reigning cannabis king coming to claim his kingdom. A couple of steps in and I realize I am not the king, I am merely a peasant. I don’t think I even knew where the castle was. This was 2013, and cannabis extracts were still relatively new to the mainstream market.
The world of cannabis extracts
I am confronted by an oversized, repurposed deli fridge right next to the cashier. I am flabbergasted, not really understanding what I am even looking at. A fridge rammed full of little plastic jars, and inside each, a parchment paper muffin mould. At the bottom of each container are slabs of what looks like hardened honey, others have brittle bits of what look like orange ear wax. The colours range from a light golden brown to dark brown. It was in this moment my introduction to the world of cannabis extracts.
I pick up a job at that very dispensary; one that was well-known in Vancouver for having the most extensive selection of cannabis extracts. Working there meant I had to brush up on my product knowledge, and quickly. I was already casually studying cannabis strains, and that knowledge was transferable from flower to extracts. But the rest of it, I realize with a avalanche of humility, I am totally ignorant.
Where I needed the most education was with all the other terms on the label: live resin, live rosin, rosin, shatter, sap, wax, budder, solventless, BHO, PHO, bubble hash, 73u, 45u, 90u, 120u. To say the least I experienced confusion, and at that time there was not too much information on the internet. I found a few explaining the differences between all the different terms. After doing my own research, comparing articles and blog posts, and drilling coworkers with questions day after day, I had a rough idea. After years of dispensary experience and working in the industry, I can now explain the world of cannabis extracts.
Solvent vs. Solventless
This is the chief distinction, the two main subgroups that all cannabis extracts exist beneath. The whole idea behind cannabis extracts is to “extract” the cannabinoids from the rest of the plant matter. All cannabinoids that a cannabis plant contains live within the glandular trichome heads on the flowers. Ordinarily, a higher trichome density suggests higher cannabinoids content. The idea is to separate those trichome heads from the rest of the plant material. There are two distinct approaches to this: one uses solvents, and the other does not. Etracts made with solvents include live resin, diamonds, distillate, isolate, shatter, wax, budder, BHO, PHO and saps. Solventless extracts include live rosin, rosin, and different types of hash such as Afghan, Moroccan, Nepalese, and bubble hashes.
Which is better?
Ah, this is a question for the ages. It reminds me of other big questions, like what came first, the chicken or the egg? What is the meaning of life? Like most things, the answer to our question is incredibly subjective. The question should be, which is better, for you? At the end of the day there’s only one way to know for sure, and that is to try sampling the most premium extracts you can find in all their different forms. But if you’re looking for some shortcuts or tips, we can help you there.
Extracting using solvents
It’s dangerous, let’s face it. Butane is the most popular solvent in cannabis extraction, and it’s highly explosive and flammable. Used in improper settings, butane can be deadly. But for the sake of this article we aren’t concerned with the creation of the extracts, but the consumption. With butane, propane, or any other solvent extraction, a process called “purging” takes place at the end of the process. This ensures no residual solvent remains in the oil. Extract artists with integrity and experience ensure this process is followed, and the result is a clean, safe product.
Usually, high end solvent-extracted oils are perfectly safe to use. But, because much of this industry remains an unregulated black market, sometimes extracts are not purged properly, and you do not want to be ingesting butane. That’s a no no. So be careful. This is why any good mail order cannabis service, such as your truly Lucky Herbz, makes sure to test for quality before putting it up for sale.
If you do a dab and you feel like your nose hairs are burning, that can be a sign of residual butane. Yes, it’s happened to me. You’ll be fine, just don’t keep dabbing it. Try to return it, if not, you can smoke it in a joint to be safer. Fire actually burns off the butane, whereas vaporizing it does not. Extracts that use solvents are usually under the names shatter, pull-n-snap, sap, wax, budder, live resin, diamonds, BHO (butane-hash oil) and PHO (propane-hash oil).
Solventless extracts are extracted without the use of, yeah you guessed it, solvents! This form of extraction relies on heat, pressure and water. And yes, at this point you’re probably thinking what the heck! Water is literally the universal solvent! And you’re right. Remember, this cannabis industry is built on the shoulders of pseudo scientists, so sometimes the rules bend a little. When we say “solventless” what we actually mean is without the use of any chemicals. I guess when they were naming the processes, “extracted using a solvent” sounded a little more than than “extracted using chemicals”.
Which is cleaner?
Either way, it is generally true that solventless extracts are cleaner than solvent-made extracts. This is why the medical cannabis community is so supportive of this form of extraction. Solventless is an umbrella term which includes Live Rosin, Hash Rosin, Flower Rosin, Full Melt Dry Sift, Bubble Hash (45u, 73u, 90u and 120u), and other forms of hashish such as Nepalese, Afghan, Moroccan and Lebanese.
What are the downsides to solventless?
There are some downsides to solventless extracts. One is that there is generally more plant material remaining on a finished product than a solvent-made extract. The taste often reflects this, much more of a chlorophyll flavour, with more residual resin on the dab nail. Secondly, because this extract method employs heat, some of the more volatile terpenes become collateral damage, often rendering that plant taste more prominent. Many extractors prefer the higher yields, and many users prefer the purer taste of solvent-made extracts. This is why they remain so popular, even though the carry a higher health risk.
We hope you have a better idea of the world of cannabis extracts! Now it’s time to try some of your own!