A Grow guide to cannabis extracts and how they're made

May 31 2018, 11:00 pm

Smoking a joint is probably the most common and recognizable way of using cannabis, but it is far from the only method.

Extracts are gaining popularity in the form of dabbing products, tinctures, infused oils, and edibles. Despite being illegal, these products make up a huge part of the market.

Daily Hive sat down with Phil Kwong from Holistek and 3 Carbon to learn more about the different types of extractions and how they’re made.

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An origin story

“Do you remember back in the day?” Kwong asks. “Hot knifing and finger hash and going through with the big ugly blue propane torch, stealing knives from your parents’ drawer, and dropping finger kief hash on there and trying to freebase it and hopefully not burn your lip?

“That is technically the first form of dabbing and extractions and from there things started to evolve.”

Kwong says that even though hash is not technically an extract, bubble hash in particular (which gets its name from the visible bubbling effect when heat is applied) was the introduction of a new field. Much experimentation followed, eventually leading to sophisticated extraction methods and a wide variety of products.

“When we go down the pathway of the journey and we look at the first wave of when people started realizing ‘I can get a glass tube, and some coffee filters and get a can of lighter fluid from 7-Eleven and blast through it on my porch into a Pyrex dish and turn it into oil.’ Well that was kind of the first spring forward into the advancements going into hydrocarbons.”

Hydrocarbon extractions 

“A hydrocarbon is a compound of hydrogen and carbon that is naturally derived from petroleum or natural gas (butane or propane). With hydrocarbon extraction, it is best to use instrumental or research grade gas,” says Kwong.

“What’s actually happening is you’re taking an organic solvent like butane, which is a light hydrocarbon solvent, and you’re washing the plant. That strips the chlorophyll, lipids, terpenes, cannabinoids, and you’re dissolving it all down into something called an oleoresin.”


Propane hash oil (PHO)/Jeff Curtis

Closed-looped system

3 Carbon works with ExtractionTek Solutions (ETS), a Colorado-based closed-loop manufacturer.

“Their fleet of closed-loop machines (in my opinion) has the highest quality and versatility on the market,” says Kwong.

A closed-loop a series of stainless steel, high pressurized columns.

“You take solvent that starts in a refrigerant tank and put it through your flower column that holds the dry material. I soak the flower and then bring it through the recovery column, and from there is where you recover the solvent.

“It goes through a hose and up to an expansion column, and from there it goes through a recovery pump and you get your solvent back, your oleoresin. That’s what you’ll use to create your final product.”

Different solvents will create different types of oleoresins.

“If you’re running pure butane or a blend, you end up with a molasses-type texture. With propane, you end up with a muffin-looking thing. High terpene sap surrounds a cloud of THCa crystals. and from there you break it down and process it again.”


“Muffin” (photo provided by Phil Kwong)

CO2 extractions 

Kwong prefers hydrocarbons extractions due to time and cost efficiency and because hydrocarbons capture a broader profile, meaning more of the plant’s good stuff like cannabinoids and terpenes.

“CO2 products won’t capture the same profile,” and it is also a more complicated and expensive method of extraction

Currently, Health Canada only allows for solvent-less and CO2 extractions. Hydrocarbon labs are not approved for production at this time.

“Other solvents are flammable, and there is stigma associated with them,” says Kwong when asked why he thinks other extraction methods are still banned.

“When you go on social media and see people making hydrocarbon extracts it’s in their garage and their basement. There’s not enough of a standard for Health Canada to look at.”

Kwong suggests that Health Canada should look at US-models of hydrocarbon extraction methods to help create guidelines for the emerging industry.

Product types 

“The most common products on the market right now in my opinion are light hydrocarbon extracted products like BHO (butane hash oil) or PHO (propane hash oil) or a combo of the two to make HCFSE and HTFSE (high-cannabinoid full spectrum extract and high-terpene full spectrum extract).”

Other popular hydrocarbon extracted products include live resin, fresh frozen sap, pull-n-snap, shatter, wax, and sugar wax.


Propane hash oil (PHO)/the_cannatographer

Consumer awareness

Extracts are an excellent alternative for people who want to use cannabis products but don’t want to smoke it.

“When we think about extractions, most people instantly think about shatter and dabbing products but there are so many other forms like transdermal patches, creams, tinctures, and syringes.”

And no, syringes do not imply an injectable form of cannabis. They are used to squeeze a specific dose of a liquid extraction in the consumer’s mouth.

“These are the types of products you can show your parents and introduce to your grandmother.”

In terms of health risks, Kwong says it’s important to know what’s in the product you’re buying.

“There’s always some health risks with solvents; health risks from consumption depend on where you got your product from and what the grade is (referring to the purity of the solvent).”

“Ask at your local dispensaries. You should know where your solvents come from and what the grade is; transparency and analytical testing is necessary. Companies should be able to provide tests on residual solvents.”

Kwong says that Health Canada does not allow for detectable traces of solvents in final products, but that Colorado started out with a limit of around 300 parts-per-million (ppm) and has increased the range to 5000 ppm.

While under 5000 ppm of solvent may be allowed, Kwong says that the aim should be under 100 ppm, and that closer to zero is ideal.


Propane hash oil (PHO)/the_cannatographer

When purchasing extracts, Kwong notes that “different types of extractions produce different highs. Depending on the actual extraction method used means capturing different profiles.”

This will affect its potency and the effects of intoxication.

The type of strain used (sativa, indica, or hybrid) will also produce different effects, so consumers should pay attention to what they’re buying in order to achieve the desired high.

Kwong also suggests that the chemistry experiments be left to professionals.

“If you produce one of these products at your house you’re at risk of starting a fire or explosion. The need for regulations of C1D1 spark free rooms, for light hydrocarbon extraction is necessary, for safe production.”

He also notes that control-looped systems need space and that “no one is buying a CO2 machine to set up in their house.”

Kwong’s final thought are that “extracts aren’t intimidating” and can be a great addition or alternative to your cannabis wellness routine.


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Jessica BrownJessica Brown