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Extracting the Solvent Truth

Solvents have a lot of cannabis consumers stumped. Get a high-level breakdown of solvent use (or lack thereof) to help inform your next sesh.

To solvent or not to solvent? That is the common, confusing question facing many cannabis consumers – experts or otherwise. Below, you’ll find a few key things to keep in mind as we break through the bewilderment together – no PhD required.

What is a solvent?

Basically, a solvent is a substance that breaks down or dissolves another substance. Within cannabis, solvents refer to the chemicals used to extract (i.e., separate) terpenes and cannabinoids (found within the plants’ trichomes) from other plant material. Water can technically act as a solvent too, but within the cannabis market, products made with solvents signify that a chemical solvent was used in the process.

“Solvents refer to the chemicals used to extract terpenes and cannabinoids from other plant material.”

As you may recall, it’s the terpenes and cannabinoids that give a plant its essence and effects – namely, its flavor, aroma, and potency. It’s important to note here that any extract, concentrate, oil, etc. is only as “good” or “potent” as the original plant it comes from. A solvent isn’t going to make or break low-quality cannabis; it can impact (to an extent) an end product’s purity, but we’ll get there. The takeaway for now is that using a solvent is merely a means for isolating the parts of the plant that elicit its coveted effects; a solvent dissolves plant material, leaving behind the good stuff.

What kind of chemicals are used in solvent-based extraction?

Hydrocarbons (specifically, butane and propane), carbon dioxide (CO2), and ethanol (alcohol) are the most common solvents used within the cannabis market. Along with varying degrees of heat and pressure, different solvents are utilized to garner the desired consistency of the end-product.

Many dabbing go-tos like budder, wax, and shatter utilize hydrocarbon solvents to extract viscous, highly concentrated resin from the cannabis plant. Packaging often displays the solvent used; for example, a “BHO” (butane hash oil) on your packaging signifies that butane was used to make your magical extract or vaping oil.

“Hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and ethanol are the most common solvents used within the cannabis market.”

While vapes, edibles, and even topicals are commonly made with the above hydrocarbons, CO2 and ethanol are also very popular. It’s not that one solvent is necessarily “better” than the other; equipment, yield size, budget, and time must also be weighed within the “pros and cons” list. Hydrocarbon extraction, for example, is incredibly precise at targeting specific cannabinoids and terpenes, but it’s a complex, dangerous (i.e., flammable!) process that requires advanced machinery and expertise. On the other hand, CO2 is generally easier in terms of setup and elicits less of a carbon (ironically) footprint, but it requires more post-processing techniques.

Wait, aren’t chemicals bad?

That word – chemicals – may send off alarms in your head, but it’s important to remember that every legit, licensed cultivator and dispensary (like Marigold!) must abide by specific regulations to sell their products. General hysteria around the concept stems from mishaps involving unregulated, unreliable sources.

Solvents have been used in food and beauty products for decades (for flavor, aroma, and color), so this isn’t a new technique unique to the cannabis market. All solvent-based products are purged of chemicals and go through rigorous testing to make them safe for human consumption. And lastly – as you’re probably wondering – no, you cannot “taste” the solvent used.

“All solvent-based products are purged of chemicals and go through rigorous testing to make them safe for consumption.”

What about solventless methods?

Chemicals are not the only way to isolate and obtain terpenes and cannabinoids. While this may seem like a marvel of modern science, solventless processes have been around for hundreds – if not thousands – of years. In fact, hashish is often regarded as the OG cannabis extract and we have our wise, weed-loving ancestors to thank for their techniques.

Utilizing precise heat, air, pressure, and often, water or ice, trichomes can be separated from other plant material with zero chemicals involved. Once done by hand, this process generally takes longer – even with more modern screens and machines to do the job.

“Trichomes can be separated from other plant material with zero chemicals involved.”

One solventless cannabis extract surging in popularity is live rosin (not to be confused with live resin, which uses a chemical solvent in a similar process). Harvested cannabis is immediately frozen to preserve its terpene profile and then trichomes are gently removed from the flash-frozen flower using water, heat, and pressure. This more “mechanical” method retains the highest integrity of the original plant; it’s as close to “natural” as one can get.

Aeriz Jenny Kush live rosin.

Is solventless the same as solvent-free?

Nope! This is where it gets a little tricky. While “solventless” guarantees that no chemical solvents were used in the extraction process, “solvent-free” signifies that chemical solvents were used, but were entirely flushed out. You’ll remember that solvent-based products are thoroughly purged; however, there is the tiniest chance of a miniscule amount of residual solvent remaining. Again, this is very unlikely when purchasing from a licensed dispensary whose products have undergone expert extraction and third-party testing.

So, which should I choose?

In terms of experiencing an awesome high, all methods are efficient, safe, and effective. Technically speaking, solventless extracts do retain more of their original terpene and cannabinoid profile, but thanks to science, solvent-based extracts are hardly lagging in euphoria. Some consumers do feel more comfortable knowing that absolutely no chemicals touched their product (ever!), which is another reason they may prefer solventless methods.

“Some consumers do feel more comfortable knowing that absolutely no chemicals touched their product, which is a reason they may prefer solventless methods.”

It often comes down to business needs, consumer budgets, and cannabis proficiency. Solvent-based methods are best for producing large-scale, industrial yields more quickly. Solventless methods are more cost-effective on a smaller scale and may take longer, making them a bit pricier. Finally, it’s worth noting that – in general – only the truest of true cannabis connoisseurs can discern a solventless high from a solvent-based one.

Have confidence in your choice.

At Marigold, we offer a wide range of solvent-based and solventless products at various price points, potency levels, and consistencies. You can shop assured that all adhere to the highest standards and regulations, and we’re excited to help you find the one that hits just right.