Cannabis Extracts: Solvent vs. Solventless

This article provides an overview of the different forms of cannabis extracts. We distinguish the two main categories as solvent extracts and solventless extracts. You will learn about the different methods of extraction, and understand the pros and cons of each.

I remember my first time walking into a dispensary in downtown Vancouver. I thought I knew all there was to know about weed, a reigning cannabis king coming to claim his kingdom. A couple steps in and I realized how wrong I was; I wasn’t the king. I don’t think I even knew where the castle was. This was 2013, and cannabis extracts were still relatively new to the mainstream market.

I was confronted by a massive deli-style fridge at the back of the room. I was flabbergasted, and didn’t really understand what I was even looking at. The fridge was rammed absolutely full of little plastic jars, and inside each was a parchment paper muffin mould. At the bottom of each mould were slabs of what looked like hardened honey, others had brittle bits of what looked like orange ear wax. The colours ranged from a light golden brown to a dark brown. It was in this moment I was introduced to the world of cannabis extracts.

I picked up a job at that very dispensary; one that was renowned in Vancouver for having the most extensive selection of cannabis concentrates. Working there meant you had to brush up on your product knowledge, and quickly. I was already studying cannabis strains, so that knowledge was transferrable from flower to extracts. Where I needed the most education was with all the other terms on the label: live resin, live rosin, rosin, shatter, sap, wax, budder, solventless, BHO, PHO, bubble hash, 73u, 45u, 90u, 120u. I was confused, to say the least, and at that time there was not much information on the internet to educate me. After doing my own research, comparing articles and blog posts, I had a rough idea. Years of experience in the industry finally allow me to explain these terms to others. So, here you will find a shortcut to understanding the world of cannabis extracts.

Solvent vs. Solventless

This is the chief distinction; the two main subgroups that all cannabis extracts can exist beneath. The whole idea behind cannabis extracts is to “extract” the cannabinoids from the rest of the plant. All cannabinoids that a cannabis plant contains live within the glandular trichome heads on the flowers (buds). Ordinarily, a higher trichome density (sticky, sparking clear glands) suggests higher cannabinoid content. The idea is to separate those trichome heads from the rest of the plant material to get your cannabis extract. There are two distinct approaches to this: one method uses solvents, and the other does not. Extracts made with the use of solvents include live resin, distillate, isolate, shatter, wax, budder, sap, BHO, PHO. Solventless extracts include live rosin, rosin, many different hash making methods, and the terms 73u, 45u, 90u, 120u.

Which is better? Ah, this is a question for the ages. It’s like the other important questions, like what came first, the chicken or the egg? What is the meaning of life? Like most things, the answer to our question is incredibly subjective. The question should be, which is better, for you? At the end of the day there’s only one way to know for sure, and that is to try sampling the most premium extracts you can find in all their different forms. Don’t worry, we can help you with that 🙂 But if you’re looking for some shortcuts or tips, we can help you there.

Solvent Cannabis Extracts

Extracting using solvents is dangerous, let’s face it. Butane is the most popular solvent in cannabis extraction, and it’s highly explosive and flammable. Used in improper settings, butane extraction can be deadly. But for the sake of this article we aren’t concerning with the creation of the extracts, but the consumption. When butane, propane, or any other solvent is used to extract cannabis, a process called “purging” must take place at the end of the process, to ensure there is no residual solvent left in the oil. When performed by experienced extract artists with integrity, you are left with a clean product. Usually, high end solvent-extracted oils are perfectly safe to use. But, because the industry is still black market and unregulated, sometimes extracts are not purged properly, and trust me, you don’t want to be ingesting butane. That’s a no no. So be careful. If you do a dab and you feel like your nose hairs are burning, that can be a sign of residual butane. Yes, it’s happened to me. You’ll be ok, just don’t keep dabbing it. Try to return it, and if not, I’d probably throw it away. Extracts that use solvents are usually under the names: shatter, pull-n-snap, sap, wax, budder, live resin, diamonds, and tied to terms like BHO (butane hash/honey oil) or PHO (propane hash/honey oil).

Solventless Cannabis Extracts

Solventless extracts are extracted without the use of, yeah you guessed it, solvents! This form of extraction relies on heat, pressure and water. And yes, at this point you’re probably thinking what the heck, water is literally the universal solvent. And you’re right. Remember this cannabis industry is built on the shoulders of pseudo scientists, so sometimes the rules bend a little. When we say “solventless” what we actually mean is without the use of any chemicals. I guess when they were naming the processes, “extracted using a solvent” sounded a little more tame than “extracted using chemicals”. Either way, it is generally accepted that solventless extracts are cleaner than solvent-made extracts, which is why the medical cannabis community is so attached to this form of extraction. This umbrella term includes Live Rosin, Hash Rosin, Flower Rosin, Full Melt Dry Sift, Bubble Hash (45u, 73u, 90u and 120u), and other forms of hashish such as Nepalese, Afghan, Moroccan and Lebanese.

There are some downsides to solventless extracts. One is that there is generally more plant material left on the finished product than solvent-made extracts. The taste will often reflect that, much more of a chlorophyll flavour, and there will be more residual resin left on your dab nail. Secondly, because heat is being used to extract, some of the more volatile terpenes will become collateral damage, often making that plant taste more prominent. Many extractors prefer the higher yields, and many users prefer the purer taste of solvent-made extracts, which is why they remain so popular even though they carry a higher health risk.

The World of Cannabis Extracts

Ok, so now, you’re much better equipped then I was when I walked into the world of cannabis extracts. You’re welcome for the leg-up. Now get out there with your new knowledge and enter the world of cannabis extracts!