Cannabis: Extraction Basics, Scientifically Speaking

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Extraction—this term can mean different things to different people. It can refer to huge holes dug in
the earth to extract minerals (mining) or pulling a tooth at the dentist. Solvent extractions are familiar to scientists and nonscientists alike; the process of making coffee or tea is a solvent extract and you drink the “raw extract” without further refi nement or cleanup. Solvent extractions are the type used in the cannabis industry and the term extract is used as a noun for a wide variety of products in the cannabis industry. This column series on extraction begins with an overview of the terminology and attempts to clarify some misconceptions. We also cover more specifi c types of extraction methodologies and the physical parameters that make them similar or different from one another. Finally, we discuss the trend towards ultra-refi nement after the extraction process to focus on isolation of specifi c compounds and the impact that has on medical and recreational use formulations.


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In the cannabis industry, the term extraction usually refers to solvent-based extractions unless the
product was made using a physical process such as “kiefing” (removing the trichomes) or rosin-pressing.
Examples of this latter type of physical extraction of oils can be seen in other industries, for example, when making olive oil or other seed oils— extreme pressure bursts plant cells and releases the raw oil. Rosin can be pressed from high-quality flower material in a similar way partly because the cannabinoids and terpenes are highly concentrated within the trichomes and are not more
evenly distributed throughout the plant itself. When making cannabis rosin, heat is also utilized to help
liquify and aid the cannabinoids and terpene mixtures to release from the plant cells. Rosin is the
only true solventless cannabis extract. Kief and hash are scientifically not considered extracts because
they are only physical separations of the trichomes, which are kept mostly intact. Kief and hash are,
however, considered concentrates because the active components are more concentrated than they are in the original plant material.


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