Extracting Cannabinoids

Hashish has been a popular form of cannabis that is comprised of the dark resin from female cannabis plants.  The resin glands, or trichomes, have a higher concentration of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), and other active cannabinoids than the rest of the plant.  There does not seem to be an absolutely surefire way to completely extract 100% of the active agents in marijuana.  Any given method for extraction is only as effective as the artist behind it.  The extraction of cannabinoids has been an art form since the dawn of antiquity when hashish and cannabis was cultivated and used in The Middle East.  The process has a sliding scale of techniques, ranging from primitive methods to high-tech extraction machines.  As development and practice continues to grow so will the quality and purity of hash around the world.


Working with resin can be a sticky and tedious task.  The quality of the product hinges on the patience and skill that goes into its preparation.  The hash industry has seen a boom in recent years with the development of solvent based extraction.  These new systems are significantly more sophisticated than the simpler methods.  The question arises, are these new systems better, faster, and/or safer?  Some of these systems require serious safety protocols for the solvents used.  Dangerous reactions can occur that require skilled professionals or chemists to operate the machinery.  Do these new systems result in higher yields?  Let us compare some of the basic methods to some of the more complex.


Simple methods for extracting the resin from cannabis include: rubbing dried plants between your hands until the resin begins to ball up, crushing dried leaves and buds into a fine mixture and then filtering it through a series of screens. These methods are effective in the sense that they can produce higher concentrations of resin than the starting plant, but allow room for lost yield.  The benefits of simple methods are costs.  The price tag on using a filter or a blender is miniscule and typically already accessible in the average household.  


The revolutionary methods that are being created to separate resins, oils, and wax from plants are much more scientific.  The components and techniques involved are more chemically based than the simpler methods.  Solvents are an important method for extraction.  Many cannabinoids are not water soluble, meaning that simply submerging the plant in water will not separate the resin from the plant.  Treating the plants with a variety of solvents has made the extraction of cannabinoids more effective.  


Popular methods for extracting resin are: Butane, a non-toxic and somewhat volatile method requiring a proper lab setting, CO2, a non-toxic and safer method than butane that requires skill to have great results, Isopropyl Alcohol, has effective results that require a longer process for purging.  All of these methods require more expensive equipment than the simpler methods and are reserved for those looking to scale their art for commercial use.


The different techniques will yield different traits (i.e. color, smell, consistency).  There is not a single best practice that everyone should follow.  The process of creating hash is an art form and new technology only results in new tools.  It is up to the artist to utilize each tool to its full potential.


The age of hashish may have been at the dawn of antiquity, but the new refining methods may be forerunners to the biggest age of hash the world has ever seen.


*Here is a great video from Proextraction.com that does a great job visualizing the process.


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