What is Solventless Extraction

If you’ve ever found yourself in the concentrates section of your local dispensary, you’ve probably noticed the broad selection of extracts available to consumers. Even 10 years ago, the concentrate options available to cannabis users wasn’t nearly what it is today, and that’s largely thanks to the continued innovations in extraction processes.

cannabis flower and extracts

From live resin, to shatter and rosin, cannabis concentrates are distinct, though most share certain similarities. One uniting factor is their solventless extraction process. Even in the short history of cannabis concentrates, solvent-based extracts have largely dominated the market. Today, solventless cannabis options are becoming more prominent, as consumers gravitate towards high-quality cannabis extracts.

Admittedly, approaching the modern array of concentrate products can be a daunting task, especially when learning about the details of solventless vs. solvent-based extractions. For those who are curious to learn more about the new innovations surrounding solventless extraction, we’ve got you covered!

Key Takeaways

  • Solventless extracts use methods like heat, pressure, and time to turn plant matter into a concentrate, whereas solvent-based products use chemical solvents like ethanol or butane.
  • There are a number of concentrates that can be made without solvents. Depending on the specific methods used, extractors may create products with varying textures, colors, and flavors.
  • While there is plenty of overlap between solventless and solvent-based extractions, many consumers gravitate towards solventless options that boast benefits that solvent-based options may not have.

What is Solventless Extraction?

Extracts describe products in a concentrated form, extracting the essential compounds from cannabis and hemp flower to create a more potent product. To do this, many concentrates involve the use of chemical solvents, like CO2, butane, propane, or ethanol to separate and isolate cannabinoids from plant matter.

Solventless extracts are made without using these chemical solvents. Instead, solventless concentrates use heat, pressure, and time to create extracts. There are a variety of methods used to create solventless extracts — just like solvent-based concentrates.

Solventless Extracts vs. Solvent-based Extracts

While solventless and solvent-based extracts may share similarities in their final products, the main distinction lies in the methods used to transform compounds from flower to an extract.

Solvent-based concentrates use solvents to dissolve and extract compounds, like cannabinoids and terpenes, from the plant material. The concentrates are then purged of these chemical materials before hitting store shelves and the consumer market, leaving behind a concentrated extract. Sometimes, solvent-based concentrates may be called “solvent-free” for this reason, though the extraction is not solventless.

Solventless extracts typically use mechanical or heat-based methods, including sifting, pressing, and ice water extractions to separate cannabis compounds from the plant material. While solvent-based products are ultimately purged of chemicals, many consumers prefer solventless concentrates as they never interacted with chemicals.

Types of Solventless Extracts

There are a variety of ways to produce cannabis concentrates without solvents, which can lead to unique products and outcomes. Those who have tried a variety of solventless extracts can attest to the fact that they each carry their own distinct qualities.

Rosin

One of the oldest, DIY methods of solventless extraction is rosin. This concentrate is made through applying heat and pressure to flower or hash, which causes the trichomes to release resin. This results in a shatter-like concentrate that tends to maintain much of the original plant’s terpenes and flavor.

Consumers have historically made rosin at home using items like hair straighteners, though larger producers generally have access to industrial presses to maximize output and limit waste.

While making solventless concentrates at home is far less dangerous than attempting to make solvent-based concentrates without proper training, be aware it is still a learning process and may lead to wasted product.

Rosin can resemble a number of textures. Rosin budder, for example, is made by applying heat and agitation and can result in a consistency ranging from saucy to more of crumble-like consistency.

Kief and Hash

One solventless concentrate that consumers who own a grinder may be familiar with is kief. Dry-sift kief collects over time through a mesh-screen filter, which separates the powdery trichome material from the plant matter. Kief can be added on top of bowls or in joints for a more potent kick, used to make edibles, or pressed into hash for dabbing.

Hash is the oldest-known concentrate, made by squeezing kief together. While there are a number of ways to make hash (see below), one of the first methods simply involved rubbing flower buds by hand and scraping the trichomes off to form small, concentrated balls.

Ice Water Hash / Bubble Hash

Water-based hash extracts, often called ice water or bubble hash, use cold water as an extraction method. Extractors mix ice-cold water with plant material, agitate the mixture, then filter it through a series of screens, and separating trichomes from the plant matter. Extractors then remove the moisture from trichomes using a press.

This is how live rosin is made, a highly sought-after, solventless alternative to live resin. After flash-freezing the plant matter, effectively preserving the plant compounds that may be lost in other extraction methods, the wet flower is made into bubble hash, which is then mechanically pressed into live rosin.

What Are the Benefits of Solventless Extracts?

There’s a reason that solventless concentrates are taking the extract world by storm — actually, several!

Flavor

For one, solventless extracts tend to have flavors more accurately mirroring that of the original plant and strain. Concentrate connoisseurs may gravitate to those products with more terpenes, in that it not only offers a broader flavor profile, but also may contribute to the entourage effect. Essentially, with more compounds (like terpenes) in a product, users can expect a synergistic effect, with all compounds working together to create a more optimal experience.

With products like live rosin especially, which is known for maintaining the original essence of the plant, the flavor profile is one of its top features. This is why some companies have moved to create edibles with live rosin.

No Chemicals

While solvent-based extracts must be purged of any chemicals and solvents used to make the product before sale, many consumers simply prefer concentrates that never used solvents in the first place. Many health-conscious consumers simply feel better knowing that the final product is guaranteed to contain no residual solvents.

Enjoying Classic Concentrates

Concentrates like rosin, kief, and hash are some of the older cannabis concentrates, compared to newer options like wax, shatter, budder, and live resin. 

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say objectively whether or not solventless or solvent-based extractions are better. Each has benefits, and many concentrates, regardless of extraction method, have a fair amount of overlap in their effects.

Still, there is plenty to be said for solventless extracts. From newer options, like live rosin and bubble hash, to old favorites like rosin or hash, solventless concentrates offer a unique experience that any cannabis consumer should try!

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