While solventless products aren’t a new thing, they’ve only more recently been easier to come across. This is in thanks to Phil “Soilgrown” Salazar, who in 2015 accidentally made rosin when trying to thin out his no-melt hash with a hair straightener. His discovery led to a new method for extraction: pressure.
If you’re new to the cannabis space, you may be unfamiliar with solventless (AKA non-solvent) concentrates, what they are and their benefits. Extraction refers to how the active compounds—cannabinoids and terpenes—are removed and collected from the cannabis plant. These collected compounds are the concentrates (or extracts, if solvents were used). Depending on the extraction method and processing, the solventless concentrate becomes one of many forms: live rosin, dry sift (hash), kief, bubble hash, and solventless shatter, to name a few.
What is the difference between a concentrate and an extract? Sometimes the terms concentrate and extract are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Concentrates are products derived from solventless extraction, and extracts are made using solvents. Although water can be a solvent, during solventless extraction, the water is only used as a medium (not as a solvent) in which the plant matter floats and the trichomes sink. The water doesn’t dissolve anything during this process, which is what a solvent would do. So, extraction techniques using water are considered solventless, and the resulting products are concentrates.
Be careful not to confuse solventless (or non-solvent) with solvent-free. Solvent-free actually means that the product was extracted using solvents but then distilled to get rid of any remaining traces of solvent residue.
Solventless products are arguably superior. Simply put, solventless extraction is any extraction that doesn’t use solvents. The extraction is achieved through mechanical and natural means. It starts with the highest quality flowers. Solventless extraction is a handcrafted process that begins with growing clean, superior cannabis flowers high in terpenes and cannabinoids. The plants are carefully hand-picked to retain their natural resins. The extraction can utilize either water-based or dry-based methods and uses only water, ice, heat, and/or pressure, depending on the desired end product.
Water-based methods work because cannabinoids are not water soluble. After picking the plants, the plant matter is fresh frozen to preserve the cultivar and to ensure no terpenes—the aromatic properties—are lost. This preserves the state of the resin maturity and helps the trichomes (the highly potent part of the plant where the sticky resin is) break off easier. Then the plant matter is washed in an ice water bath. Finally, the material is filtered to separate out the trichomes from the plant. The resulting product is bubble hash.
There are also dry-based extraction methods, which can produce dry sift hash, for example. These methods utilize mesh screen filters to agitate and sieve, either by hand or mechanically, the plant matter in order to separate out the kief. The kief can then be gathered into a block to make dry sift hash or kief powder can be added to joints or edibles.
The hash from the wet- or dry-based extractions can then be pressed to make rosin, which is gaining popularity in the cannabis world. It is pressed using heat and pressure, which separates the plant matter. The resulting clean and potent solventless concentrate output—the live rosin—is a terpene-rich, cannabinoid-filled oil.
Not surprisingly, solventless concentrates are created without the use of solvents. So why does that matter? Unlike solvent extracts, which use substances like butane, propane, carbon dioxide (C02), or ethanol, solventless concentrates only use water, heat, ice, and pressure for extraction. This offers a cleaner and purer product, not only for the consumer but also for the environment. When making solvent extracts, the characteristics like the potency, flavor, and appearance of the product will change depending on what solvent was used, in addition to the type and quality of the plant. Solvent methods can destroy the terpenes and plant fats, leading to poor flavor and losing the essence of the plant. With solventless extraction, there are not those extra factors affecting the end product, so the true expression of the plant comes through.
Here are some more benefits of solventless concentrates and their extraction process.
Although experienced technicians can produce an extract with few impurities even when using solvents, solventless extraction only uses ice water so there will be no impurities, creating a safer product. This especially shows through when the process begins with high-quality plant materials.
Using chemical solvents is concerning because there is always the risk of the final product containing residual toxins. Although the health risks are uncertain and there are safety tests and regulations within the legal market, these toxins could potentially be harmful to the consumer. Solventless products are a cleaner and safer alternative. Because of this, solventless concentrates appeal especially to medical cannabis consumers for health reasons.
Solventless extraction is better for the environment. Even without solvents, cannabis produces volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but using solvents releases even more VOCs into the environment. VOCs can increase ozone levels as well as contribute to respiratory and liver issues. Additionally, solvents pollute local water supplies.
Solventless concentrates are also much safer to make than solvent-based extracts. Most solvents are flammable, so using them has dangerous risks, possibly leading to explosions or toxicity. When using solvents, it’s very important to follow safety measures in a professional laboratory setting and to use advanced equipment as instructed. Experienced extract technicians learn to mitigate risks, but accidents still happen, usually from trying to take shortcuts or using faulty equipment.
The disposal process for cannabis waste is complicated enough without using solvents. The waste must be unusable and unrecognizable. All wastes must be documented and disposed of at a proper facility. This waste disposal process is much less work when solvents are not used because then there are no hazardous chemical wastes to also sort and dispose. Hazardous chemical waste requires special bins for each chemical, different hazardous disposal facilities, and more tracking and paperwork.
Solventless extraction is more cost-effective for small businesses because there are fewer expenses, especially lower upfront costs, and the necessary tools are inexpensive and easy and safe to use. The extraction can be done by even only one or a few people—anyone can be trained to do it. Although the business costs are lower, the cost of concentrates for the consumer is higher because the labor is more hands-on and extensive than for a solvent-based process and because the concentrates are produced in smaller batches. The solventless process is artisanal and produces a higher-quality product, so it appeals to connoisseurs who appreciate and are seeking the quality, flavor, and experience they get from solventless concentrates.
What can help maintain the shelf stability of solventless concentrates? Like other high-quality products, such as food, solventless concentrates can degrade quickly, especially if not stored properly. Products naturally will break down over time. Concentrates are best when used fresh, but here are some things to do that can help maintain their shelf stability. Environmental conditions, such as light and heat, and storage practices can affect the concentrate’s shelf life. Terpene-rich products, as concentrates are, will deteriorate quickly when exposed to air. So to store your concentrates, it is best to use an air-tight, dark refrigerator or freezer. Ideally, customers will bring an insulated bag or cooler to keep their purchased concentrates in while transporting them. Packaging is also an important factor for shelf stability. Glass containers are best for storing your product because they are not porous and will keep out any potential contaminants.
Solventless concentrates are a higher-quality product that is safer, healthier, purer, and retains the true expression of the original plant.
During solventless extraction, the quality of the cannabis flowers and the preservation of the plant’s natural resins will come through in the end product. It will mimic the flavor and aroma that the plant has right before harvest. If there are issues with the plant in the beginning, or if lower quality flowers are used, those will show through in the solventless concentrate.
Concentrates appeal to consumers because they are refined and efficient. They can be ingested or vaporized, offering consumers smoke-free options. Live rosin is an ideal choice for dabbing because of its lower melting point.
The world of solventless concentrates is always evolving as producers innovate and experiment. The reason for producing concentrates, however, remains the same—higher potency while retaining the plant’s profile. Solventless concentrates are artisanal and highly desired in the current high-end and connoisseur cannabis markets.
The extraction process retains the true expressions of the plant—and the purest flavors.
7/10 (July 10) is National Oil Day, a day to celebrate cannabis oils, including concentrates. Some people even refer to it as International Dab Day. 7/10 seems to have gotten its name from spelling OIL upside-down. If you’ve never tried concentrates before, 7/10 is a good day to give it a try.