You’ve likely heard about CO₂ concentrates, but do you know why they’re so popular? Discover what separates supercritical CO₂ extraction from other methods used by the cannabis industry.
Extracting cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis plants using CO₂ is a great way of producing a quality product. Many cannabis processors are shifting to this relatively new method of extraction. But what’s it all about? How does this extraction process function? Let’s explore this topic and the products that CO₂ extraction produces.
HOW IT’S MADE
Let’s begin with the extraction method itself. To make CO₂ concentrates, an expensive, high tech machine needs to be purchased and operated by a professional. First, you need CO₂ in a gaseous form. This gas goes through a compressor, which subjects the CO₂ to high pressure. This pressurised CO₂ is then cooled down to around -56°C, turning it into liquid.
Next, a special heater raises the temperature of this liquid while keeping the pressure in check, which turns the CO₂ liquid into a supercritical CO₂ fluid, or sCO₂. What is meant by “supercritical” is that the CO₂ has surpassed its critical point in pressure and temperature, turning it into a form between liquid and gas. This sCO₂ fills up the container like gas, but with a liquid consistency.
Now, the sCO₂ goes into an extractor where the plant material is placed. The interaction between the sCO₂ and the cannabis results in the separation of desired compounds (like cannabinoids and terpenes) from the mix. Afterward, the sCO₂ and the extracted mix go into a separator, which isolates the cannabis compounds from one another, as well as the sCO₂. The desired compounds are then captured separately in individual vials, while the sCO₂ goes through a condenser that turns it back into a liquid, which can be reused. And voilà! You have your CO₂-extracted chemical compounds.
By controlling the pressure and temperature of the sCO₂, a machine can extract different compounds. This also allows for more exact measurements and greater versatility of products. This method of extraction isn’t just popular within the cannabis community; sCO₂ is regularly used to isolate different plant constituents for perfumes, oils, and additives. This is considered a great method because sCO₂ doesn’t damage or significantly alter the chemical composition of the material extracted. Furthermore, it doesn’t leave behind any toxic remnants like butane and other solvents.
EFFECTS AND WAYS TO CONSUME CO₂ EXTRACTS
The effects of consuming CO₂ cannabis extracts vary greatly depending on the contents of the product. Some extracts are super psychoactive, others don’t even contain THC. That’s the beauty of CO₂ extracts; the products can be very specifically tailored to one’s preference. CO₂ extracts are often vaporized, dabbed, and used in edibles. This method of extraction has been especially popular within the CBD market as it’s considered to be the “cleanest” and safest.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER CONCENTRATES
Because CO₂ becomes supercritical at temperatures below 31°C, many different cannabinoids and terpenes can be extracted and isolated from the plants. With other extraction methods, the solvent and heat applied can change the chemical composition of desired cannabis compounds, as well as destroy many terpenes in the mix. For example, compounds such as CBDA and THCA can be easily extracted using sCO₂, while it’s virtually impossible when using ethanol. CO₂ products provide the scientific community with unadulterated cannabis compounds to study, as well as the opportunity to analyse the interactions between them.
The machines used to produce these extracts are highly customisable and can produce a product that looks like any form of cannabis concentrate. This allows processors to utilise a single system for creating a wide variety of extracts.
These extracts can be very flavoursome because the sCO₂ extraction process preserves the terpenes that normally are eliminated during solvent-based extractions. Terpenes are the compounds that make cannabis smell and taste amazing, and are also said to contribute to cannabis’ numerous therapeutic applications.
CO₂ is non-toxic to us humans (in small amounts, of course). Our bodies produce it naturally. Most other modern cannabis extracts involve solvents which can be damaging to our health when ingested. Another thing to consider is that making concentrates like BHO can be extremely dangerous because they involve volatile compounds and heat. There have been various instances of people suffering serious injuries making homemade BHO.
DRY ICE HASH
Aside from using CO₂ extractor machines, cannabis can also be processed by using dry ice, which is CO₂ in its solid form. One needs to simply grind the buds and plant material, and place it in a special mesh bag with an appropriate micron size (the size of the tiny holes). The material is then mixed with dry ice and shaken over a flat surface. This allows the trichomes or kief to separate from the plant matter. The kief is then collected, pressed, and used in a variety of ways. Just be careful not to touch the dry ice!
CO₂ CANNABIS EXTRACTS: REIGNING TECHNOLOGY
CO₂ extracts will most likely take over the market. This method is the safest and most efficient at producing large volumes of cannabis concentrates. With the current wave of marijuana legalization across the US, Europe, and South America, competition in this space will increase. With novel scientific discoveries occurring every year, only sCO₂ extraction has the versatility to satisfy the modern cannabis market. At least for the time being.