by Deb Powers
Where once users had only a few options to experience the mind-opening and relaxing effects of cannabis, today’s users have a wide range of ways to enjoy bud. Those options include vape oils, edibles, shatter, budder, infused beverages, sublinguals and transdermals. They exist thanks to the magic of extraction — ways of concentrating the most potent compounds from plants and making them available for use in vape oils, tinctures, salves, edibles and other types of infusions.
But while there are many different ways to extract cannabinoids and other compounds from cannabis, they are not all created equal. Understanding how extraction works and how the method affects the finished product — and ultimately, the intensity of your cannabis experience — will help you choose the products that deliver the most powerfully relaxing and mind-enhancing experiences you crave.
Extraction Methods Used for Vape Oils
With most plants, you can extract the volatile compounds — the active constituents that produce a desired effect — by soaking the plant matter in water. Cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, however, are not water-soluble, so extraction requires other solvents and methods. Each of the following major extraction methods has pros and cons that affect your ultimate vaping experience.
Ethanol cannabis extraction is one of the most commonly used methods, in large part because it is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to process large quantities of plants. It’s possible to extract nearly 100 percent of cannabinoids from the plant within 20 minutes — but the efficiency comes at a cost.
When the process is optimized for cannabinoid extraction, it often leaves behind other important compounds, such as terpenoids and flavonoids, that each bring unique elements to the overall effect of a vape oil. Researchers have experimented with hot, cold and warm ethanol extraction methods in an effort to preserve many of these phytochemicals, but each of the methods has drawbacks, from bitter flavor (too much chlorophyll) to incomplete extraction. As Rubin Torf, co-founder of Scientia Labs, told Analytical Cannabis, cold ethanol extraction takes longer and may not extract all the cannabinoids from the flower, resulting in a less potent oil.
This type of extraction uses a hydrocarbon solvent, most often butane, propane or a blend of both, to extract active compounds from cannabis plants. Plants are first washed in the solvent to extract the compounds, then refined by various methods to remove undesired elements from the concentrate. Finally, the solution goes through a collection chamber to remove the solvent. Because butane and propane have low boiling points, hydrocarbon extraction doesn’t expose the cannabis to high temperatures that can destroy terpenes, flavonoids and other delicate compounds. Thus, the main benefit of this method of extraction is that it can maintain the chemical profile of the original strain, including the more delicate botanical elements.
In addition, it can extract marijuana resin from trim and other less desirable parts of the cannabis plant. On the other hand, hydrocarbon extraction can result in unsafe products if it’s not carried out properly. It can result in dangerous levels of solvent residue or other contaminants in the resulting vape oil. That’s why it’s vital to always purchase lab-tested vape cartridges and pens from reputable companies.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
Supercritical CO2 extraction is emerging as the method of choice to create high-quality, true-to-nature full spectrum extracts. While it’s fairly new(ish) in the cannabis field, CO2 extraction has long been used to extract essential oils and flavorings from a wide range of plants, making it a natural for cannabis extraction. Its main drawbacks are the price of entry — it requires specialized equipment and highly trained technicians to even start playing with this extraction method.
The benefits for the end consumer — that’s you — are huge, however. Not only is CO2 capable of extracting the full spectrum of chemical compounds from cannabis without damaging even the most delicate flavonoids, it’s also highly “tunable.” In one study, researchers found that by playing with the temperature, time, pressure and other variables when using supercritical CO2 to extract essential oils from lavender flowers, they could fine-tune the chemical makeup of the resulting extract for higher yield and more concentration of its main terpenes.
In music, a hi-fi recording is one that preserves the audio quality of a piece of music or speech, rendering a copy that is, ideally, identical to the original. In cannabis extraction, Hi-Phi™ produces cannabis oil that preserves the exact proportions of each strain’s terpenes, terpenoids and cannabinoids — essentially, creating a cannabis oil that maintains the full potency of the original plant, as well as preserving its characteristic aroma and flavor.
Using Hi-Phi™, experienced technicians can customize the extraction process for each strain of cannabis, optimizing it to extract the exact ratio of cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids and other constituents as are present in the original plant. Meaning that you get the same experience that you’d expect from smoking the flower form of a particular strain.
Why Extraction Matters — the Entourage Effect
There’s more to preserving the exact ratio of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds than flavor and aroma. Scientists have long speculated that the beneficial effects of cannabis rely on more than just a few compounds in the plant. Instead, they believe that all of the compounds in the plant work synergistically in a phenomenon called the Entourage Effect, where each compound enhances and modifies the effects of the others. That may be one reason why it’s so difficult to consistently replicate the medicinal and other effects of cannabis in traditional laboratory tests, which nearly always use a standardized extract to test the effects of CBD or THC on pain, anxiety depression or other conditions.
When choosing a vape oil for your leisure or relaxation activities, it makes sense to choose one that’s as close to the original plant as possible. Vape oils produced using Hi-Phi™ technology like those found in Mistifi pens pack the full power of the flower into a safe, convenient and highly potent consumable form.
So why would you settle for anything less than extraordinary?