If you’re into vapes in any capacity, it’s highly likely that you’ve come across companies who are proud of their proprietary distillation processes and throw around phrases like “full-spectrum” and “CO2 extraction.” They sure sound fancy and scientific, but to the unassuming customer they are just flavour text that doesn’t mean much aside from making the product appear highly refined. With the hopes of educating that same customer, we’ve put together descriptions and details of two of the most popular distillation methods that are used today. One definition we’d like to get out of the way first though is winterization.
This is the process of further refining the initial distillate to remove fats and waxes through a cold filtering process. These fats and waxes make the distillate taste off, reduce the overall potency, and can even make the distillate look “streaky” and poor.
Butane extraction is by far the most widespread and popular method for cannabis distillation. It is also known as BHO (Butane Hash Oil) for short, so when shopping around know that these two phrases are interchangeable.
BHO extraction is done by “washing” the bud with butane (essentially pouring butane over the bud). As the butane washes over the bud, the solvent grabs the terpenes, lipids, and cannabinoids from the plant, which leaves behind bud that no longer contains most of its active cannabis ingredients, as well as a liquid mix of butane and potent THC. In order to remove the THC from the butane, a vacuum pump or heat is used to separate the cannabis from the butane. As butane evaporates at a lower temperature than THC is activated, producers are able to burn off all the butane and leave pure cannabis wax behind. With this extraction, it is heavily recommended to winterize the distillate.
The Positives & Negatives
The biggest positive which draws most companies to using BHO extraction is how inexpensive and fast the process is overall. The materials are so cheap and widely available that essentially anyone could do this from home using standard kitchen equipment in less than an hour. However, as with most things, the faster and cheaper methods aren’t the safest. If you’re attempting this at home (or even with professional equipment) it can be very dangerous, primarily because of the butane that is used to extract the THC. If you are unsuccessful in removing the butane entirely from the wax, you are then inhaling butane which is a serious health hazard and risk. Be aware of this when purchasing and smoking BHO distillates.
As the name would suggest, this process uses CO2 to separate the THC from the plant. This process requires specialized equipment, and can not be done at home. CO2 is known as a supercritical fluid, which essentially means the gas will turn into a liquid under specific pressure. This liquid is then used as a solvent to make the cannabis extract in the same method as BHO: you pour the liquid over the bud to extract the trichomes and cannabinoids. Separating the CO2 from the THC is then just as simple as letting the CO2 turn back into gas. This process is much more customizable than butane extraction, as you can reduce or increase the extraction of specific compounds. As this entire process is done at a much lower temperature, winterization is absolutely necessary.
The Positives & Negatives
The first negative that stops many from pursing this process is the high initial cost and time investment. The proper equipment costs thousands of dollars and requires some training to operate, plus the entire process of extraction takes longer than butane and this cannot be avoided. However, if that is worked past, the final product is unquestionably better. This process preserves terpenes, flavours, and the CBD profile much better than the butane method, and is also much better for the environment due to the fact that CO2 is a natural gas. Additionally, it can even be recycled to save money and time.
A massive positive to this process is the non-toxicity of the solvent. Both workers and smokers will be presented with no health risks due to the use of this process, which is a big relief for both parties.
Butane extraction is the most common method due to its speed and low cost, however there are significant health risks that go hand in hand with BHO extraction if it is not done correctly, and the general taste and potency of the distillate can be worse because of this. CO2 extraction is very costly and time consuming, but the distillate that is produced is non toxic and cleaner overall. Using this process, it is much easier to fine tune your distillation process to extract what you want and remove what you don’t, resulting in a highly customized and safe distillate.