Cannabis extracts have been prepared for hundreds of years. In fact, the use of cannabis resins in India and China may go back many thousands of years. No matter when it started, however, the basic processes behind making any extract relies on the fact that marijuana’s medicinal compounds are only present in the trichome resin glands.
The glandular trichomes appear most abundantly on the surface of the female flower buds. They grow a microscopic globe of oil at their peak and are the only location of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The plant is thought to use these chemicals to prevent herbivores from foraging on them and to protect the genetic material in seeds from UV rays.
Once a female flower is pollinated, however, it will divert energy away from trichome production and move it toward seed formation and maturity. This is why farmed cannabis is usually grown without the presence of male plants. With pollination, cannabis buds contain about one to five per cent cannabinoids.
Without pollination, cannabinoids can reach almost 30 per cent of the bud by weight. Steep Hill Labs in California states that the concentration of cannabinoids in the trichomes can be as high as 50 per cent.
Extraction removes the oil found in the trichomes from the plant. Extraction methods can be grouped into two categories: physical removal and collection of the resin heads, or chemical removal of the resin with a solvent. The science behind extraction methods has become a broad subject, so we will focus for now on the safest and least labor-intensive approaches to making your own extractions at home.
Finger Hash – The simplest and maybe the earliest form of extraction is live resin hash, known as traditional Indian charas or finger hash. You know that sticky brown buildup on your hands after an afternoon of trimming? Well, that’s what I’m talking about. It is one of the most potent forms of cannabis.
A common extraction technique for finger hash is to trim with latex gloves on and let the resin from fresh plants collect on them instead of your hands. After trimming is complete, freeze the gloves inside out for 15 minutes. The hardened resin will easily collect and form a lump. Of course, the process of making charas like you’ll find in India is a real art handed down through hundreds of years of experience. Don’t expect this level of quality at home, but your own finger hash will still be a high-quality product with the most exquisite smells and tastes.
Drying and Curing – Another form of hash that is produced from dried and cured cannabis buds. When the buds are dried, the stalks of the trichomes become brittle and snap off, making them easier to be collected through a screen in a process known as keifing.
Buds can be banged on tight, fine-mesh screens or rolled in a tumbler known as a pollen collector to yield large amounts of high-quality, extremely potent hash. This powder, known as keif, can then be left as is or pressed into a puck, like the traditional hash from Morocco. When pressed together, the resin heads break open, exposing the oil inside to air. This causes a brown color and changes in smell and effect.
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Ice Hash – Trichomes can also be removed in a process known as ice hash, which involves using water and ice mixed with dried buds. The water is then filtered through fine-mesh screens that collect the resin heads. The wet resin is then dried to produce a brown hash of pure quality. There are also methods that involve using dry ice to make the trichomes cold and brittle, which can yield a higher purity as it doesn’t accumulate as much fibrous impurities as the water method.
Chemical Methods of Cannabinoid Extraction
Other types of cannabinoid extraction rely on chemical processes that solubilize or otherwise liquefy the oils to remove them from the buds. There are two types of products that can be made with this method.
The first is a tincture, in which the cannabinoids are left in a solution of alcohol, butter, coconut oil, vegetable glycerin, or propylene glycol. The other is to make a concentrated resin by evaporating the solvent from a cannabis-solvent mixture. This is how concentrates like phoenix tears, shatter, butane hash oil (BHO), and CO2 oil are made.
One of the simplest forms of the chemical extraction process is making cannabis-infused coconut oil. Coconut oil, as opposed to butter, is better at attaching cannabinoids to its lipid structure and thus making a more potent extraction.
Alcohol Extraction – Another easy way to remove the oils would be to use an organic solvent like alcohol to remove the oil from the plant matter. Soaking cannabis in high-proof ethanol creates a tincture of the medicinal compounds that can then be used to dose in small amounts under the tongue.
This mixture could also be evaporated slowly, which would leave a residue of cannabis resin on the container. The tincture can also be warmed to increase the rate of evaporation, but care must be taken that alcohol fumes do not build up because they can be flammable or explosive.
Rosin Technique – The last type of extraction is a newer method that involves heat to liquefy the oils and pressure to flow them away from the plant material. This process is known as the rosin technique, and it can be done at home using cannabis, parchment paper, and a hair straightener or a specially made heat press.
Buds or hash are folded in a piece of parchment and squeezed in the hot press to push the hot oils from the cannabis. The pure oil that collects around the pressed product is a pure, full-melt resin that can be vaporized in oil pens or shatter rigs without the fear of ingesting harmful residual solvents, such as butane, that can be left in commercial products like shatter or BHO.
Cannabis and Coconut Oil: A Winning Combination
The extraction of THC into coconut oil is said to be the healthiest and most bio-available in comparison to other oils. Both coconut oil and cannabis provide numerous benefits for well-being, and edibles are a long-lasting effective method of medication.
- 8 grams of dried decarboxylated cannabis buds for every cup of organic virgin coconut oil. (If using bud trim or shake, measure at ½ cup for every cup of coconut oil.)
- Slow cooker
- Cheese cloth
- Metal-mesh strainer
- Bowl with spout
- Melt coconut oil in the slow cooker, add cannabis. Cook covered on low for two to four hours.
- Place the strainer over the bowl and line with a double layer of cheese cloth.
- Strain oil through cheese cloth to remove the dried matter. Squeeze the leftover matter to extract as much oil as possible. Discard the spent matter.
- The coconut oil is ready to use. Consume the oil as is, use in recipes, or rub on skin as a lotion. Store in a cool, dry place or the fridge.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to consume your medical cannabis is by extracting the cannabinoids from the dried flowers (bud) into oil and making something edible with that oil.