You may have heard horror stories about amateur weed extractors exploding their garages in failed attempts to make dabs or vape oil. The world of cannabis concentrates can be confusing, what with the sheer number of options out there, and the complex processes around how to make them. Extracting quality concentrates takes no small amount of time, capital investment, and esoteric knowledge of cannabis chemistry.
Often people use chemical solvents or hydrocarbons to make extracts — different forms of oil in which the plant’s cannabinoids, or chemical compounds like THC or CBD, are are concentrated up to or more than 80 percent, from the organic material. A solvent is merely a substance that dissolves into another substance in order to form a solution, while a hydrocarbon is a volatile chemical solvent. Propane, butane, and hexane, for example are hydrocarbons, whereas ethanol and CO2 are liquid solvents.
If you’re trying to make DIY extracts, it’s best not to use solvents at all. Solventless concentrates like water hash (a.k.a. bubble hash), kief, and rosin are the safest (and the cheapest) to make on your own, especially if you’re inexperienced, says Adam Lustig, CEO of Higher Vision Cannabis, which makes a signature vape oil.
Hydrocarbons and chemical solvents can be dangerous for novices to extract due to their volatility, explains Nikka T, founder of Essential Extracts and owner of Denver’s Herbal Cure medical and recreational dispensary. “And if you’re not making them properly, you create a product that can be detrimental to someone’s health who needs it for well-being.” That’s in part why, beginners should focus on solventless extraction, or mechanical separations, he says.
Before you begin, be meticulous about your environment. “If your extraction environment is not clean and sterile, you won’t produce clean, high-end product,” Nikka T says. Hash and trichomes, or fine protruding vessels from the plant, can be very sticky and attract dust, he cautions. He also recommends controlling the environment. “Temperature and humidity control are key to creating a solventless extract,” he says. The temperature should be between 35 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which will help preserve the plant’s terpenes, or chemical compounds, and to not attract extra moisture, the room should be below 40 RH (relative humidity).
To make water (bubble) hash, all you need to do is soak your bud in ice water, and either shake it up in a washing machine or via a paddle by hand, Nikka T suggests, or mechanically remove the trichome heads from the weed. The trichomes contain many of the plant’s oils and terpenes — removing those elements is the point of extraction, Nikka T explains. Next, some recommend you pour the mixture through through a filter and let it drip onto a glass oven dish, but Nikka T says to avoid fostering mold and microbes, break down the hash or use an at-home freeze dryer. “If drying in open air even after breaking down the hash and water mixture it will take up to two weeks to dry. It only takes 24 hours if using a freeze dryer,” he says. After, you’ll be able to smoke or vaporize the remaining plant resin, or hash.
On the other hand, to extract kief, or the resinous glands on the cannabis plant, you’ll need a three-chamber grinder that screens the kief crystals through to their own compartment. For larger amounts of kief, you’ll need to stack three to four screens on top of each other in order to sift the kief through in order to separate it from the plant material. People often use business cards or credit cards to get the kief neatly through the filters.
You can also make dabs using a hair straightener and parchment paper, known together as the rosin technique. Wrap a nugget of weed in parchment paper and press down on it with a hair straightener on medium-low heat for about five seconds. After you notice some oil inside the parchment paper, repeat the process about two to three times to get more out of the nugget.
Extraction methods using solvents require a great deal more know-how, and more sophisticated facilities that can cost at least $50,000. For solvent extraction, you generally pack the bud in a cylinder which goes underneath a tank containing butane, for example. The solvent runs through the cylinder, and the mixture collects at the bottom, Lustig explains. “From there, there are a variety of temperatures and pressures that give you various textures of oil, whether you’re trying to make shatter, wax, sugar, or oil,” he says. “It’s all in the way you finish it.” People will often buy cryogenic freezers (can be as cold as -300 degrees Fahrenheit) or vacuum ovens, depending on the required temperature for the concentrate they’re extracting.
If you are interested in using the highly popular butane solvent, Lustig suggests the Tamisium extraction unit. “It was designed in a way to make home butane extractions as safe as possible,” he says. The Tamisium system doesn’t loop the solvent back through the plant material which can be disastrous, nor does it allow butane to be exposed to oxygen, which could be flammable. Though, even if you have an extra $1,500 to $40,000 to invest in a Tamisium, you should still brush up on your chemistry before upping your DIY extraction game.
“My advice is to do your research and think about what finished product it is that you’d like,” says Lustig. “And know what it’s going to take skill-wise and financially to be able to do that. Make sure you’re ready.”