Back when Paris Hilton was on TV, the weed industry began the shift that is currently moving habitual smokers to either eating their weed or dabbing it—heating oily extracts from the marijuana’s resinous buds and leaves to inhale high concentrations of cannabinoids and tasty terpenes. The resulting extract is loaded with levels approaching 90% THC.
Extracts, colloquially called things like shatter, batter, wax, dabs, and honey, aren’t just potent, they can be faster to consume and less odorous. They were also more convenient to consume and more comfortable to use discreetly.
The demand for cannabis extracts is so high that dispensaries have added 300,000 concentrate items to their Leafly listings since the beginning of 2018, a nearly 600% increase since the first quarter of last year. To keep up, extraction labs and equipment manufacturers have developed increasingly sophisticated equipment to produce more of the syrupy, creamy and or brittle amber goodness with safer methods.
With extraction, cannabis plant material can be frozen for the technician use another time if, say, the strain isn’t currently in demand. As soon as dispensaries see an uptick in requests for that strain, the weed comes out of the freezer and the process begins.
Frozen weed goes into a stainless steel vessel while butane or propane gas enters the solvent chamber. A recirculating chiller cools and condenses the solvent vapor into a liquid so that it can travel through the plant material to bond with its cannabinoids, terpenes, and lipid molecules.
The cannabinoid-rich solvent then moves into a third chamber, the dewaxing column, to cool it -40 and -90 degrees Celsius. The lipids solidify and separate from the solvent, and a filter traps the fatty solids as the liquid passes into a heated collection chamber where most of the butane is boiled off. The solvent can be recovered and used once again in a closed-loop system.
Next comes degasification, where the raw cannabis extract is poured onto trays and load them into a vacuum oven, which sucks out residual hydrocarbons as they boil off without boiling off the medicinal compounds.
What we get is a sticky, resinous substance with high concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes. The consistency depends on a few factors including the starting material and how tightly it’s packed in at the beginning of the process.