02 February 2016

Cannabis Extracts: Beginners Guide

Cannabis extracts are made by extracting cannabinoids and other molecules from Cannabis sativa L., plants. Whole plant extracts do not in fact use the whole plant, even though the whole plant is able to be used, for other purposes, such as juicing leaves or making salve with the roots etc. Whole plant extract means all the medicinal molecules from the plant are captured and concentrated; these molecules being cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids; this is what equals a whole plant extract. Cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids are found in abundance in the buds of the Cannabis plant and whole plant extracts come from the buds. There are two basic methods for extraction:
  • Solvent: Chemicals separate cannabinoids from plant matter
  • Mechanical: Resins are pressed out of plant using machines

For medicine, or those concerned about their chemical intake, extracts that don’t use solvents are most desirable. The following terms refer to the consistency of the extract, but are sometimes used interchangeably as terms for types of extracts:

  • Crumble: dry, crumbly chunks
  • Wax: sticky, stretchy, stays together when cool
  • Shatter: hard, candy-like
  • Live Resin: Extract taken from fresh plants instead of dried

The following are different types of Cannabis extracts:


  • Solvents: None
  • Process: Simplest extract, using only dried trichomes collected during trimming or by rubbing buds over mesh screens.
  • Result: Fine, powdery dust
  • Note: Can be smoked on its own, but burns up quickly. Kief makes an excellent material for making extracts.


  • Solvents: Herbalists use Ethanol to make Cannabis tincture or Hash oil from Hashish or Kief. Ethanol would produce lousy hashish, so it should be made without solvents
  • Process: Pressed kief
  • Result: Can form a paste-like substance through to solid chunks
  • Note: One of the oldest extracts, using kief and pressure, traditional hash is made. Many use hash as a generic term for extracts.

Bubble Hash

  • Solvents: None, ice water is used
  • Process: Buds or trim are run through a series of mesh screens, called Bubble Bags, after being soaked in ice water

  • Result: Similar to traditional hash, but the ice bath extraction removes more trichomes
  • Note: This is one of the more popular extraction techniques for DIY smokers since the process is safe and relatively easy

  • ISO Hash

    • Solvents: Isopropyl alcohol or Ethanol
    • Process: Alcohol extracts cannabinoids and then evaporates
    • Result: Tarry oil to shatter
    • Note: Also popular among DIY smokers who don’t mind chemicals in their extract. Some believe the taste of extract suffers from this process.

    BHO (Butane Hash Oil)

    • Solvents: Butane
    • Process: Cannabinoids are extracted from the plant using butane
    • Result: waxy oil to hard shatter
    • Note: make sure to test BHO as residual butane may be present

    CO2 Oil

    • Solvents: CO2
    • Process: Expensive machines using pressure and CO2, in a process known as supercritical fluid extraction, separate the cannabinoids from the plant
    • Result: liquid (often used in vape pens) to waxy consistency
    • Note: much cleaner than BHO, tends to be more expensive


    • Solvents: Butane
    • Process: Plant material processed to an oil will form a gooey wax at specific temperatures
    • Result: Soft, creamy 'crumbles' (like ear-wax!)
    • Note: Tends to have less THC than other extracts. This process preserves more terpenes, giving it a better flavour.


    • Solvents: Alcohol (Ethanol is the only form of alcohol recommended for internal medicinal application. Never Isopropyl Alcohol (ISO) because ISO is not safe for internal use)
    • Process: Cannabinoids are extracted and suspended in alcohol
    • Result: A concoction of cannabinoids and alcohol
    • Note: Tinctures use food-grade alcohol making them excellent medicine


    • Solvents: None extracted through heat and pressure

    • Process: A hair straightener, some parchment paper and pressure
    • Result: Clean oil or shatter
    • Note: Increasingly popular due to its simplicity and the clean finished product

    Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)

    • Solvents: Pure Naphtha or Isopropyl Alcohol
    • Process: Whole plant is extracted in alcohol
    • Result: Sticky tar remains, containing high levels of various cannabinoids (depending on the strain of the plant)
    • Note: Developed in 2003 by its namesake,Rick Simpson, RSO has become a popular alternative cancer treatment. RSO has also been found to be a highly effective topical ointment.

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