best way to extract thc

Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis Extraction

by Dan Ketchum

As Rollo May put it, “It is amazing how many hints and guides and intuitions for living come to the sensitive person who has ears to hear what his body is saying.” To develop those ears, it’s vital that you know what you’re putting into your body at all times, and that doesn’t end with your daily diet or the beans from which your coffee is sourced. At Mistifi, our technology allows us to capture the essence of nature, but we’re eager to demystify the process — we forgo trendy live resin and rely on our own extraction process to deliver a high that’s fit for connoisseurs of cannabis, but streamlined and accessible enough for connoisseurs of everyday life.  

All About Extraction Processes 

Let’s start at ground zero: What is extraction? In the cannabis world, extraction is simply the method that extracts concentrated beneficial compounds from the plant, and there are many different types of processes that do this. At Mistifi, we use a proprietary extraction process of high pressure and low heat, for instance (more on that later). Debates about the best way to extract THC are one of the cannabis community’s favorite pastimes, but here are some of the more common extraction processes:

  • Supercritical CO2 extraction, an expensive process which uses high pressure to extract THC. Utilizing CO2’s tunability as a solvent, we’re able to extract the plant’s delicate terpenes to match their naturally occurring ratios without any degradation.”
  • Ethanol extraction soaks the plant in ethanol, a food-grade solvent, to extract THC, which is then refined.
  • Water extraction freezes the cannabis in water, which causes the trichomes to separate from the plant. The trichomes are then passed through a series of screens until they retain roughly 50 to 70 percent of their natural THC content.
  • Hydrocarbon extraction utilizes liquid butane, propane or hydrocarbon blends to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant matter before refining them, resulting in a dangerous and complex process.

Learn more about how extraction impacts your high.

What Is Live Resin?

Cannabis resin occurs naturally in the plant, particularly in the  trichomes (or the small “hairs” on its epidermis). Resin not only lends marijuna its “sticky”(as well as powdery) qualities, it is also the substance that makes cannabis cannabis, and it includes compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol, or the psychoactive component Delta-9 THC. These compounds can be extracted straight from the plant, making it easier to consume, which is where various different methods of extraction come into play.

Live resin is simply a product of hydrocarbon extraction utilizing fresh frozen cannabis, but it deserves special mention for the industry buzz surrounding it. Via this method, cannabis plants are frozen to cryogenic temperatures as soon as they’re freshly picked rather than being dried or cured for extraction. Because live resin is typically extracted at extremely cold temperatures, the end result is low hash content.  The plant is then subjected to butane extraction to create the amber-like final product, live resin. While this technique does indeed extract everything from the flower, that means that it also maintains everything, even the undesirable chemical bits like chlorophyll and plant wax (allbeit at low levels). The processes that create live resin make it much more difficult to achieve a quality product, largely because the margin for error is vast.

And because terpene compounds dissolve at different rates, the butane heat blasting process disturbs the proportions at which they occur naturally. Coupled with the dethawing process, this often leads to a characteristic grassy or hay-like flavor profile.

Where Live Resin Falls Short

The live resin process was born out of the necessity of preserving terpenes in a smokable extract, but it falls short in the results. Before even diving into those results, though, we have to touch on its problematic use of butane. This simple hydrocarbon, derived from natural gas and petroleum, is not only highly toxic if not properly purged from the cannabis plant, it is seven times worse for the environment than CO2 from a greenhouse gas perspective, according to a 2018 study from Atmospheric Science Letters

Clearly, live resin extractors need to remove this toxic solvent from the frozen flower, and they go through many terpene-sapping processes to get there — however, the butane is never completely removed, with trace elements often lingering. Once the butane is as purged from the plant as it’s going to get, the resulting product is left with about 45 to 80 percent THC-A, a non-psychoactive form of the Delta-9 THC. THC-A has to be converted to THC in order for the final product to create a euphoric “high,” so live resin extractors either do that via a process of decarboxylation — which heats the cannabis for so long that it loses much of its terpene content — or they skip the process entirely and leave the (again, totally non-psychoactive) THC-A as is. THC-A can also crystallize at certain concentrations, which is why it’s notorious for clogging up pipes and pens.

After just about any type of extraction, a cannabis oil mixture is created, yielding a THC content of about 55 to 75 percent, and then distilled to increase that concentration to up to 95 percent THC. The resulting product is called distillate. Compared to distillate, live resin suffers from the complexities of decarboxylation and usually hovers at a THC content of around 45 to 50 percent. To offset those low THC levels and to prevent the THC-A from crystallizing and clogging smoking devices, vape pen manufacturers tend to cut or dilute live resin with distillate. While this does increase the THC content, it also affects the purity of the live resin, throwing off the ratio of terpenes, cannabinoids and other bioactive compounds.

Live Resin versus Distillate: Neither is Perfect

So if manufacturers are cutting live resin with distillate to bump up its Delta-9 THC content, why don’t we just go with distillate? The short answer to that question is heat.

Whether you’re distilling whiskey or weed, the distillation process involves heating a liquid to its boiling point until it turns into a vapor. But cannabis oil is a diverse mixture of compounds, and each one of those compounds boils or vaporizes at a different temperature. Terpenes are a very volatile thing; during most distillation processes, they’re either vaporized (which happens at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) or — at best — a fraction of terpenes are maintained and the distiller adds a new mix of terps to the final product. Those terpenes will, of course, be extremely different from the terpenes in the original mixture.

Once again, this leaves us with a process that breaks apart the ratio of terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds that naturally exist in cannabis plants. And once that ratio is broken up, there’s no going back.

Why We’ve Gone Hi-Phi

Regulation of vapes is relatively new, so much so that Ned Sharpless, the Acting Commissioner of the FDA, said in 2019 that the process is “a complicated one, with many unknowns.” That puts a lot of the responsibility on the consumer to know exactly how your cannabis makes the journey from plant to pen. Oftentimes, products advertised as “full-spectrum” or “true cannabis” extracts are not nature-identical at all —not only do they commonly contain undeveloped terpene ratios, they’re very liable to feature unnatural terpene-to-cannabinoid ratios as well.   

At Mistifi, we are always chasing that Golden Ratio of terpenes, cannabinoids and all the wonderful things that Mother Nature endowed the cannabis flower with in the first place. Across all these different extraction and distillation processes, the Golden Ratio gets thrown into upheaval on its way to the vape pen. That’s where Hi-Phi extraction technology comes in.

The Hi-Phi Process: Next Generation CO2 Extraction

While it’s common for cannabis companies to tweak the extraction process, the distinct nature of Mistifi’s proprietary, science-based  Hi-Phi extraction method is what makes it uncommon. Hi-Phi produces what we call Extra Virgin Cannabis Oil, meaning that the oil is as close to the makeup of natural cannabis flower as possible. When this delicate ratio is disturbed, as we’ve seen when exploring these less precise extraction processes, the flavor profile and the effects of the cannabis can be drastically altered. It starts with how the plant is sourced. In our case, that’s consistently sourced, top-shelf, cannabis that never gets frozen. Rather than being put on ice, the flower is naturally cured, a process that encourages terpene and cannabinoid profiles to fully develop into their most beneficial, experience-enhancing ratios. 

After curing, Hi-Phi extraction uses a combination of high pressure and low heat to facilitate a more controlled extraction, compared to solvent and high-heat methods. Rather than using butane, Hi-Phi relies on cleaner, more controllable CO2 (not high-pressure, supercritical CO2) to produce an even heat. That’s because when you heat terpenes and cannabinoids at a high temp, you degrade those compounds entirely. By finely tuning low temperature and high pressure,  we’re able to preserve the original ratios and maintain the exact strain-specific terpene profile, just as it occurs in the natural flower.

How Hi-Phi Compares

At Mistifi, we believe that the proportional preservation of compounds is the key to what makes Hi-Phi-extracted cannabis unique. Typically, high-temperature extraction processes not only burn away essential terpenes, those terpenes also end up getting added back in via artificial processes. Hi-Phi doesn’t need that artificial addition. With CO2 extraction methods like Hi-Phi, it’s far less common to isolate and reintroduce terpenes. In fact, Hi-Phi enables us to isolate terpene fractions all the way down to individual terpenes. This allows for precise, flower-exact terpine ratios just as it allows for better preservation of those terpenes during processing.

Likewise, by preserving each compound in its naturally occurring proportions, our vapes are able to offer a full-spectrum experience. When the full spectrum of well-preserved cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids work in tandem, they create what is known as the “entourage effect,” a synergistic relationship that Advances in Pharmacology notes has the potential to enhance the plant’s therapeutic effects. 

Hi-Phi versus the Rest

While Hi-Phi uses cured cannabis flower, the live resin process flash freezes the plant, preserving the terpenes that are present when it’s harvested. And while that sounds like great marketing, the terpenes that are present at the time of harvest are not the terpenes that we know and love — those terpenes exist in the smokable flower, the kine bud or “kind bud,” that we’re familiar with. Because flash freezing halts all biochemical activities from progressing, live resin-bound plants never get to that stage. The raw material that live resin relies on features a completely different flavor profile.

On the flip side, Hi-Phi leverages a slow, low-temperature curing process that preserves the familiar terpene profile better than flash freezing or hot-drying methods. During the slow cure, enzymes and aerobic bacteria break down leftover minerals and undesirable sugars. With those elements left in, as they are during flash freezing, you get that hay-like, grassy flavor that you’ll find in a flash-frozen, live resin pen. 

When it comes to average or low-quality weed, Flash freezing is an acceptable process for retaining as many terpenes as possible. But when you’re dealing with high-grade bud, a careful curing process is a necessity for maintaining its complex sensory profile. Like Franco “The Strain Hunter” Loja says, “Curing weed corresponds to aging a good wine. If the weed quality is average, it is not worth the effort and time necessary to cure it. On the other hand, if the buds are high grade, it is well worth waiting a little longer to get the best out of it.”

Beyond Extraction

Before curing, we select cannabis strains using our in-house Cantography system, plant-mapping tech that allows for unmatched consistency among the crops we choose. Hi-Phi extraction not only empowers us to maintain the natural terpene profiles of these strains exactly as they occur in nature, but each pen — Over the Rainbow, Houdini, and Phantom — combines three nature-identical extracts to create what we call a “super strain.”

Our cannabis oil is uncut, too, which means that it is completely devoid of the additives, artificial flavoring, carrier oils, chlorophyll, diluents, plant wax, reclaimed resin or thickening agents that you’ll commonly find in other oils. Just the natural magic of the flower remains, powered by science and extracted with care.  

Furthermore, our focus on terpene-friendly low heat continues to the vape pen itself. Mistifi’s lineup of vape pens are tuned to operate at low temps compared to the competition, which not only produces a perfect pull, it helps keep those terpenes the Hi-Phi extraction process fought so hard to deliver fully in-tact with each hit.  

Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, LIVESTRONG, Reign Together, Out East Rose, SFGate, The Seattle Times and more.

Sources:

Healthline – Why Smoking Reclaimed Cannabis Resin Isn’t a Good Idea

CRX Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 1, P. 42 – Q&A: Live Resins and Distillates

Advances in Pharmacology – Chapter Three: Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads

Leafly – What Are Live Resin Cannabis Concentrates

J.C. Younger – 5 Most Common Cannabis Extraction Methods in 2020

Healthline – Full-Spectrum CBD: What It Is and Best Products

Royal Meteorological Society – Atmospheric Science Letters: Lifetimes, Direct and Indirect Radiative Forcing, and Global Warming Potentials of Ethane (C2H6), Propane (C3H8), and Butane (C4H10)

Rolling Stone – How to Navigate the Wild World of Weed Pens

FDA – How FDA is Regulating E-Cigarettes

Weedmaps – The Basics of Hydrocarbon Extraction

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