Articles intended to explain all the ins and outs of the cannabis industry are often written in simpler terms so that novices don’t get lost. But cannabis – both the plant and the industry that has emerged around it – is highly complex. There is a lot to know, especially if you want to make money processing cannabis plants.
Take cannabis extracts. They seem simple enough if you go no further than a basic understanding of how chemical compounds are extracted from plant material. Cannabis plant material, also known as biomass, can yield hundreds of combined cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fats, and other substances. Getting your hands on all those things require starting with an extract.
Extracts can be sold as-is or further refined to make new products. To illustrate the point, several types of extracts are described below. Note that, according to Houston-based CedarStone Industry, processors have plenty of options when choosing extraction methods. There isn’t just one way to get cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemicals out of cannabis biomass.
Cannabis Crude Oil
If there is such a thing as a rudimentary extract in the cannabis world, it would be crude oil. It is so named because it is the cannabis equivalent of the petroleum that oil companies take out of the ground. Cannabis crude oil contains all the chemical compounds a plant yields during the extraction process. Some of those chemical compounds are active while others are not.
CedarStoneIndustry says that many processors sell some of their crude oil straight up and then further refine the rest. Refining allows for isolating certain compounds, removing unwanted constituents, and even creating other types of extracts.
Cannabis shatter is an extract that looks a lot like glass. It is very hard and translucent. Processors create shatter by first drying biomass to a moisture level of 5% or lower. The biomass is then subjected to a hydrocarbon extraction process at cold temperatures. This pulls resin out of plant material without bringing a lot of the fats and lipids with it. You wind up with a relatively pure extract that, after drying, can be eaten like hard candy.
A live resin extract is an extract taken from freshly harvested plant material. The resin is extracted at cold temperatures so as not to unnecessarily degrade cannabinoids and terpenes. To preserve the freshness of the plant material prior to extraction, it is frozen almost immediately upon harvest. This locks in all the plant’s flavors and odors, making for a more robust resin following extraction.
Distillates and Isolates
Distillates and isolates are extracted products derived from crude oil. A processor would first extract crude oil using a chemical solvent, natural solvent, or even supercritical CO2. The resulting extract would then be distilled in order to separate the mixture’s numerous components.
Let us say you were manufacturing a CBD distillate. You probably do not want any other cannabinoids in your product. You may want a terpene or two for flavor, but that would be about it. Distillation allows you to capture CBD and the desired terpenes while getting rid of the rest of the compounds.
Similarly, an isolate is a distillate that has been put through a secondary distillation process to further purify it. Isolates tend to offer the highest concentration of the desired cannabinoids and terpenes.
Cannabis extract products are pretty popular in both the recreational and medical markets. They are not necessarily easy to produce and doing so requires scientific knowledge and experience. But do it right and you can create all sorts of highly potent cannabis products.