Cannabis Concentrates have become a popular group of cannabis products for both recreational and medicinal usage both prior to and since the limited and now general legalization in certain US states and international countries and communities. One of the major reasons for its popularity is the potency of the euphoria causing active ingredient THC. While buds or “flower” are the most common form of cannabis that is consumed, flower carries somewhere between 7% and 30% THC, concentrates contain between 60% and 90% THC.
The much higher THC content of concentrates tends to give a better deeper and longer lasting high and require much less consumption of plant material and all of the non-active chemicals that the plant material contains like chlorophyll, inactive waxes and oils, and by products of the cultivation process. In sanctioned legal grows the chemicals required in cultivation are mandated to be organic and non carcenogenic. That still doesn’t make the residual chemicals or plant materials good for you.
Most concentrates use some type of solvent such as alcohol, butane, CO2, Ethanol, or other chemical. There are few methods of extraction that don’t use some sort of potentially flammable and more than likely toxic substances. The processes of extraction usually includes some methods of evaporation or or evacuation of the solvent chemical. Since legalization, concentrate makers have established and equipped laboratories with numerous devices that are intended to make the extraction process with much less exposure and risk of combustion to solvent chemicals.
I cannot stress enough that making cannabis concentrates other than Kief and Ice Hash, use flammable and dangerous solvent chemicals that should be handled only in a well ventilated place or outside. You should take great pains to ensure that there are no pilot lights, heaters, sparks, or open flames in your work area. Failure to properly ventilate evaporated solvent can be toxic and if flame, spark, or heat source are either present or introduced during the extraction process the results can be explosive.
Always use caution when extracting concentrates. As a good rule of thumb you should restrict the number of people involved in the process or allowed in the vicinity. Use the best quality tools, containers, and accessories that you can find to prevent contamination of your product. Try to minimize exposure of naked skin, inhalation of chemicals, and exposure to foreign substances. In short treat any solvent solutions or extractions as though you’re handling unstable nitroglycerin.
If you intend to use a method of extraction more than once or using more than one specific type of material it can be beneficial for you to treat the process as scientifically as possible. What I mean by this is take notes of your process and take note of the numbers such as weights, volumes, times, etc. Weigh your source material, measure the amount of solvent introduced, pay attention to the amount of time each step takes, and when the extraction process is completed make note of the weight of finished product produced.
Over time you may be able to refine your methods or tools, improve upon your practices, and possibly increase the quality or volume of the extracted product. I recommend that for the first few attempts at home extraction you follow the steps as they are provided without variation or substitutions. Only after you have done it enough to be comfortable with the process should you tweak any of the steps, materials, or tools, if ever.
Alcohol of various kinds can be used in the extraction process. Isopropyl alcohol is the cheapest and easiest to acquire solvent for cannabis concentrate extraction. Those are the main reasons why this method is so popular among those who want to make cannabis extracts at home. Without further ado, here is how you can use anhydrous Isopropyl Alcohol to make cannabis extract:
What you will need
A well-lit and well-ventilated work space away from heat or flame, that contains an easy to work with hard flat surface that you can work comfortably atop.
Anhydrous Alcohol 90-98% Isopropyl Alcohol
Marijuana plant material Buds, trimmings, or a combination of the two
1 jar with a lid A glass or metal container large enough to hold your plant media and solvent.
1 glass jar without lid It can even be smaller than the first jar as long as it is large enough to hold your solvent liquid after the extraction
1 glass baking dish Your baking dish should be large enough to hold your solvent after the extraction is done
A strainer or extraction container
A sharp straight edge like a razor blade or paint scraper
Silicon baking mat
First there are two types of Isopropyl alcohol. There is ordinary rubbing alcohol which is between 50 and 80% pure alcohol. Anhydrous alcohol is over 90% and pure alcohol. It contains less water than ordinary rubbing alcohol and it can be obtained in the same places. Make sure that you are using only anhydrous alcohol of 90-98% purity for your extraction. The reason you want alcohol as pure as you can find is because the more water in your solvent the more impurities you will get back in your extraction.
What you are extracting from your plant material is trichomes. These are the crystalline structures that contain the majority of THC and terpenes. If you look at either a bud or leaf of marijuana using a magnifying glass or hand microscope you can see the trichomes which appear to be dusted along every part of the cannabis plant except the root. Trichomes can be any shade between clear or white to amber. In fact the prevailing color of the trichomes is one of the ways that cultivators can tell whether a plant is ready to be harvested or not.
You can use buds or plant trimmings as material for extraction because trichomes are present on and in both. You will get varying amounts of finished product depending upon the quality of your material and how it is handled up to the time of the extraction process. Most people assume that you will more trichomes out of processing buds rather than plant material however the buds have a value and are the salable part of the plant whereas the leaves and stems are leftovers after your plants are harvested and the buds are removed.
If you don’t use the trimmings for concentrate extraction the trimmings are just trash. However concentrates are even more expensive to buy than buds are! The only reason you may get more trichomes from buds than from leaves is the buds are denser and 90% more potent with THC than the leaves and stems. Ironically at the end of the cultivation and harvesting process you will end up with more trimmings than you do buds. Extracting the trichomes and THC from the part that has no marketable value can maximize a cultivators profits and salable products.
If you are using the small buds which are often discarded with the trimmings you should go through your plant material and cut or break these up. If you are running straight buds in your extraction you will need to cut or break up the buds to best expose every part of your material to the solvent. Due to the mushroom like shape of trichomes your solvent will cause them to break off from wherever they are by dissolving the stems and carrying away the larger heavier section of the trichome.
Always freeze your material and solvent when doing an alcohol extraction. The colder you get your material and solvent the better and more productive your extraction will be. In other extraction processes you can use either fresh plant material or the more common dried plant material. In an alcohol extraction you need to use dried plant material whichever source you choose. Undried leaves and stems still contain a lot of water which will diffuse into your solution. It will carry contaminants like chlorophyll, fertilizer residue, or dirt into your extraction if you use them so only use dried and cured plant material.
Freezing makes your trichomes stiff and hard and much easier to break off from the plant matter. Every second that they are exposed to room temperature the warmer your solution is and the less pure trichomes you will retrieve. Once you remove plant material and alcohol from the freezer you want to get through the actual extraction process as quickly as possible. Your two ingredients should be exposed to each other for only a brief period so you want to combine plant matter and solvent to each other only long enough to dissolve the trichomes from your media.
It is a trade off between the solvent dissolving trichomes for your extract and the fact that water dissolves a lot of different components of your plant material that don’t contain THC or cannabinoids. They both work actively on your plant material for the entire time the two are exposed to each other.
Most people know to use a glass jar or container when combining plant media and solvent. Many of them forget that the jar is as important in the process as your mixture is. This is why when I am prepping for an extraction I put my broken up plant material into the container I plan to use so that the jar is cold as well as my material and solvent. I then wrap a rag or dishcloth around the jar to keep the temp uniform and not freeze my hand at the same time.
Don’t fill the jar all the way to the top with plant material. When you add the alcohol you need at least a half inch or so of alcohol over the plant material once it is saturated. You have to watch carefully as you fill the jar with alcohol because you don’t want any dry patches where the alcohol doesn’t penetrate. You can even use a spoon or stirrer to ensure that all the air pockets are filled with alcohol.
Extraction is fairly easy. Take your jar from the freezer and set it on your flat surface in your well ventilated space. If you want to be sure that the temperature remains low in your extraction jar you can place the jar in a bowl full of ice. This can be a big help if it is hot in your workspace. Fill your jar with alcohol until all of your plant material is submerged and you have at least a half inch of alcohol above the level of the plant material.
Leave yourself a little air space in the jar for best results. After you fill the jar, put your lid on it and allow your jar to sit for around 1-2 minutes. Make sure that the lid is on firmly. Agitate your jar briefly by turning in upside down and back 10 to 15 times. You don’t want to just shake it back and forth and if you choose to swirl your jar, try not to stir your mixture too much.
The reversing up and down of the jar agitates your solution and helps to break your trichomes lose from the plant material without over agitating your plant material and causing the delicate structures within the leaves to burst and impregnate your solution with chlorophyl. After agitating your mixture gently, set the jar down and allow it to rest for around 60 seconds.
Take the lid off of the jar and put a coffee filter over the mouth of the jar. Secure it down with a rubber band. Pour your solution through the coffee filter into another jar or container. This first straining may still have small bits of plant material floating in it. Take a strainer and place another coffee filter in the strainer basket. Take your jar of solution and pour your solution through the coffee filter into your baking dish.
The liquid will be anywhere from a light yellow color to a deep honey colored shade. If your mixture has a green shading or tint you have left it in your plant material too long or you have shaken the jar too hard while agitating it. If it is bright green you have captured to much of the plant material along with your trichomes.
Of course when you dump the solution out of your jar there is still alcohol saturating your plant material. Once finished pouring all of the liquid through your coffee filter take the filter off of the top of the jar. Pour the saturated plant material into a second coffee filter placed in your strainer. Take a third coffee filter, fold it In half, set the folded filter on top of the saturated plant material and gently press the liquid out of it. You will strain this pressed solution into another baking dish if you are making a big batch or throw it in with the previously extracted alcohol if your making a small batch. If your pressed liquid is visibly green keep it separated from the rest of your solution. Put it into a separate dish.
Set your baking dish or dishes full of solution in a well ventilated spot. If you have a clean fan that is not full of dust and dirt you can even put a fan above your dish to blow away the alcohol fumes and help your alcohol to evaporate faster. Check periodically to see how your evaporation is going. Once all of the alcohol appears to have evaporated leave your dish to sit for at least two hours longer.
Alcohol fumes are highly flammable so you do not want to expose your mixture to heat, open flame, or sparks until you can be sure that all of the alcohol has been evaporated away. You are going to introduce heat to your baking dish by setting it in a pan of water that you have brought to a boil on the stove. Carry the hot steaming water to your ventilated work space and place your baking dish atop it.
Once you warm the dried material at the bottom of your baking dish you’re going to use a scraper or razor blade to scrape all of your material together. I prefer using a metal putty knife/ paint scraper, which I use exclusively for this purpose. You can use any clean, rigid, straight edged tool you prefer for scraping up your concentrate.
Pile all of your concentrate together at one end of the baking dish. Then using your tool spread the concentrate back out over the bottom of your baking pan. Repeat at least twice. By scooping it up and then respreading it you are expressing any residual alcohol out of your product and allowing it to evaporate out of your concentrate. Once you are absolutely certain that you have agitated your concentrate well and you can see that there is no more liquid alcohol anywhere in your baking dish let it sit in your ventilated space for another half hour to an hour.
If there is any remaining liquid alcohol in your baking dish it will float atop your tarry honey oil when It is warmed and agitated. It will look like oily little puddles atop your material. If you find any liquid alcohol remaining in your evaporated material. Set it in your well ventilated area for another hour or two to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Once you are sure that all the alcohol has been evaporated out of your product repeat the step above with the pot of boiling water.
Once your concentrate is completely evaporated and has had the additional drying time you can then take it into the kitchen. As a good rule of thumb, before taking it into your house, hold the baking dish below your nose and smell it for any remaining alcohol fumes. If you don’t smell anything but hash then it is probably safe to take on into the house.
Once you have your baking dishes in the kitchen boil your pot of water again. You could also use a skillet if your baking dishes are small enough to fit into it. Don’t fill the skillet completely with water, don’t let the water level rise higher than halfway up the outside of your baking dish. Before you put the dish into the hot bath turn the heat off under the pot. Tis will help to prevent water from the bath from getting into your baking dish.
Set it down gently causing as little disturbance to the water as possible. Using your scraper, scoop your concentrate all together at one side or the other of your baking dish. Stir or agitate your concentrate to dispel any remaining residue of alcohol. Spread it across the bottom of your baking dish one last time and let it sit for about a minute.
Even though you are not making concentrate to be sold commercially, you will still need to package your hash up and store it until you’re ready to use it. The absolute best thing I can recommend you use to package it up are silicone containers. The concentrate won’t stick to them so it is so much better than plastic, metal, or even glass. You can buy them in your local head shop, online both ebay and amazon both carry them, or from a dispensary that sells concentrates.
Once your hash is all cleaned up and processed you will find that you have an amorphous puddle of very sticky, tarry, product that you’re going to want to consolidate and shape into some convenient shape or form. For getting your concentrate out of the baking dish and ready to be put into your storage containers, is non stick silicone baking pads.
The best time to get it out of your pan is when it is still warm and somewhat gooey. Scoop it up from your baking dish like your using a spatula. Use your tool to shift the sticky substance from the baking pan over to the silicone baking pad. Turn your tool face down and rub the concentrate off onto the baking pad. Try to be neat and make sure to keep it on the baking pad. Hash is very sticky and it will adhere to anything it comes into contact with so don't leave sticky trailers of it dangling from your silicone pad.
Once you have your product out of the baking dish and on the baking pad allow your product to cool and harden on the pad. Give it at least 5 or more minutes. To consolidate all the swipes of hash into a single form just fold your baking pad over and squeeze the hash together. It should stick together while remaining stuck to the pad as well. Release your pad to lay flat again and fold to add more of your product to the growing wad.
Once you have folded all of your product together into a single piece continue folding it to make it thicker and denser. You will finally wind up with it all in a chunk. You can shape it however you like using the pad. Then using your straight edged tool or a razor blade cut it into uniform manageable pieces and place them into your storage containers or barring that on unwaxed parchment paper.
If you choose to stick your concentrate to parchment paper keep in mind that it is very sticky. Depending on the temperature you store it at, your hash will stick hard to your parchment paper and it will be difficult to separate the two at room temperature. To make it easier to remove from the parchment paper, pop it into the freezer for a few minutes. You can use your concentrate in any of the various ways one consumes wax or other concentrates.