Rooting itself in consumer goods, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, the cannabis industry shows no signs of slowing down. But with such fierce competition from brands and Licenced Producers across the country, it’s becoming increasingly important to invest in the development of unique and innovative products. Cannabis 2.0 has opened a door for brands to experiment in a number of new product categories, such as vapes, edibles and topicals, all of which require the use of cannabis extracts. Extraction is substantially complex, and the importance of choosing the proper extraction method is vital in formulating a high-purity product.
Utilizing the CO2 cannabis extraction technique has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. Many industry leaders choose to partake in this method due to its reputation for producing an exceptional product unparalleled to its competitors.
What is Cannabis Extraction?
Scientifically put, cannabis extraction is the technique that services the conversion of the target molecules in cannabis material, or biomass, and formulating it into a usable concentrated format. The process includes removing unwanted oils, fats, and plant materials from the plant matter and collecting the most desirable compounds, including THC, CBD, and terpenes. The produced extracts are significantly more concentrated than cannabis flower and resulting in higher cannabinoid and terpene content.
What is CO2 Cannabis Extraction?
There are two modes of CO2 cannabis extraction, supercritical and subcritical. With supercritical, the CO2 is subjected to very high pressures and higher temperatures, reaching conditions that are optimal for rapid and efficient extraction of cannabinoids. This maximizes extraction speed and yield, allowing for competitive pricing when it comes to price per mg of THC or CBD.
The reason CO2 tends to make a higher quality extract when compared to competing techniques, is the ability to tune temperature and pressure parameters, such that the CO2 solvent is more selective of the desirable molecules. This is achieved through a series of process set points within the machine, resulting in a crude extract that is relatively potent and easy to purify into a highly potent distillate.
- The first step in the process is cooling the CO2 gas until it becomes CO2 liquid. Once this has occurred, the fluid can move through the extraction process.
- The CO2 liquid is moved through a preheater, where it becomes pressurized and heated to a point where it evolves into the supercritical phase. The severity of these parameters can be adjusted to either favour extraction speed or final purity of product.
- Supercritical CO2 is moved through an extraction vessel which is filled with finely milled cannabis plant matter. At this point, the resin is extracted from the biomass.
- The pressure is decreased upon entering the separator collection columns. The decreased pressure reduces the solubility of the cannabis plant matter and the resin regresses from the CO2 solvent. Through the use of multiple separator columns, at varying pressure and temperature conditions, this presents another area of “tunability” that allows the operator to target specific compounds within each separator.
- The supercritical CO2 converts back to gas and evaporates, ensuring there is absolutely no residual solvent remaining in the extracted oil.
Similar to supercritical extraction, subcritical also utilizes pressurized CO2 gas but at a lower pressure and temperature that keeps CO2 in liquid phase. This results in a longer and less efficient process, however, it maximizes retention of terpenes and further increases potency of the resulting crude. This is a perfect method when targeting the production of coveted full spectrum extracts.
Before the CO2 cannabis extraction process can commence, several crucial steps must first occur.
Steps Before Extraction
- Premium Biomass Selection
When selecting the suitable biomass for extraction, multiple factors should be considered, such as the cultivation site the plant matter is derived from, the desired cannabinoid and terpene profile, and the end goal for the finished product.
- Sample & Test
Before all extraction processes, cannabis and hemp plant matter are screened through a comprehensive sampling and testing protocol, which guarantees the biomass is compliant with federal standards.
Milling is completed to assist in optimal particle size and even particle distribution, which allows for a maximized extraction throughput by allowing more biomass to be packed into each extractor.
When the steps leading to the extraction process have been completed, the CO2 extraction may begin.
THC and CBD are extracted more efficiently than their acid counterparts (THCA, CBDA), allowing for a faster extraction with improved cannabinoid recovery. Decarboxylation converts THCA to THC and CBDA to CBD. The cannabis biomass is heated at controlled temperatures to ensure maximum conversion decarboxylation, while ensuring minimum degradation, such as the conversion of THC to CBN. Additionally, this process removes any excess moisture.