by Dan Ketchum
Extraction is all part of the journey your cannabis takes from plant to vape, the essential process by which cannabis is separated from the flower and produced in concentrated form.
While old-school extracts paved the way for the litany of extraction options we have today, new-school extraction technologies allow us to extract cannabis from beautiful cured buds — and oftentimes, the way to capture that natural flower in all its balanced glory is a process known as solventless extraction.
Here’s what that means to you and your cannabis experience.
What Is Solventless Extraction?
As you can probably tell from the term itself, solventless extraction is very much defined by what is not present in the process — namely, in this case, petrochemical solvents. Many extraction processes use a solvent to strip cannabis of its numerous plant components and extract a THC-rich oil, which is then separated and refined. Common solvents are petrochemical in nature, and often include alcohol, ethanol, or even butane. Yes, you read that right, and that’s exactly why it’s not hard to understand that traditional solvent-based extraction isn’t always ideal.
Solventless extraction, like the precision Hi-Phi process we use at Mistifi, also captures concentrated natural oils rich in THC (or CBD), but it does so without the use of petrochemical solvents. Hi-Phi, for instance, uses a combination of CO2, high pressure and low heat. While modern-day solventless extraction leverages cutting-edge tech to fine-tune the final product via that heat and pressure, solventless extraction actually traces its roots back to hand-pressed hash.
Live Resin vs. Rosin
Anyone curious about extraction processes will come across the terms live resin and live rosin nearly from the jump, so before we dive deeper into solventless extraction, let’s clear that up. Live resin is a type of cannabis concentrate that’s extracted from flash-frozen cannabis, typically using butane as a solvent to strip away undesirable compounds from the plant, resulting in a sticky brownish-yellow concentrate that’s dried into an amber.
Sticky, potent, amber-hued live rosin, like live resin, is extracted from freshly harvested or recently flash-frozen cannabis plants. That’s where the “live’ part comes from. But unlike live resin, live rosin concentrate is the result of a solventless extraction process using pressure and heat rather than chemical solvents.
The Solventless Extraction Process
But how exactly do we get to that live rosin? Typically, the fresh cannabis plant is dipped in an ice water bath. Then, mesh is used to separate the trichomes — the sticky, resin-rich hairs on cannabis bud where flavorful terpenes and cannabinoids like THC and CBD are produced — from the plant, resulting in what is known as bubble hash or ice wax.
Then, precise measures of low heat and high pressure simultaneously go to work on that cannabis plant material in a device known as a rosin press. Essentially, solventless extraction leverages the fact that cannabinoids are semi-liquid, which means they can be extracted by suitable heating and pressure. So rather than a chemical solvent, heat melts and compression squeezes THC-rich rosin from the fresh plant. The final product of solventless extraction can vary, with the resulting live rosin taking the form of solid shatter, wax, pliable taffy, or buttery badder.
Why Solventless Extraction Matters
Much of what makes solventless extraction so elegant is what it doesn’t do to your cannabis. While solvent-based extractions are efficient at stripping just about everything they need to from the plant, we think of them as a sort of a blunt, powerful sledgehammer.
Sure, they’re getting the chlorophyll out of there, but in the process, solvents are also altering the natural ratio of the terpenes present in the plant, as each naturally occurring compound dissolves at different rates. And that changes the smokability, flavor, potency, and character of the weed, often very much for the worse.
But that’s not the only reason why solventless extraction matters — far from it.
As the extraction consultants at Divi note, the chemicals used in solvent-based extraction processes often come with a substantial carbon footprint. More than that, solvents such as butane, propane (yes, you read that one right, too), and ethanol pollute both air and water supplies by releasing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the environment. Safer solventless extraction features a lower carbon footprint and is VOC-free.
While advanced solvent-based extractions claim to leave little to no traces of the solvent behind, that’s not always the case.
According to Buzzfeed’s reporting based on data from Steep Hill Laboratories, some concentrates extracted with butane still contain butane concentrations as high as 50,000 parts per million. That’s about a 2% to 5% butane concentration. This sort of potentially harmful residue is not a factor in solventless extraction processes.
It’s a Better Experience
With a solvent-based process, maintaining the exact proportion of compounds such as THC and the terpenes that lend a certain strain its aroma and flavor profile ranges from difficult to impossible. That’s because some extraction processes, especially those that rely on petrochemical solvents, burn terpenes right off the plant. In some cases, artificial additives are pumped back into the final product in an attempt to replace the terpenes and other compounds that have been lost along the way. When the ratio of these crucial cannabinoids and compounds is changed, the entire experience changes for the cannaseur who partakes, from the flavor to the effect and vibe of the high.
At Mistifi, our wholly unique solventless Hi-Phi extraction process uses an expertly tuned synergy of low temperature and high pressure to preserve the exact ratio of THC, terpenes, and all those other beautiful cannabinoids and compounds that occur in the flower, just as they appear in nature. We call that the Golden Ratio, and you won’t find it in extracts using any other process. But you don’t have to take our word for it — try Hi-Phi for yourself in any of our triple-strain pens to find out why solventless extraction is the way to an elevated craft cannabis experience.
Dan Ketchum splits his time between Dallas and LA as a freelance lifestyle, fashion, health, and food writer with more than a decade of experience. In cannabis, been fortunate enough to collaborate with Cannabis & Tech Today, FOCL, Vitagenne, Reign Together, Tough Mama, and more.