Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Whenever you speak to someone in the CANNABIS INDUSTRY ABOUT EXTRACTION it's inevitable that you are going to hear that one method of extraction is superior to all of the others.
If you make the mistake of asking, you will be educated in the ways of Universal Extraction Facts! You are going to be told that a certain method is hands down, 100% the "BEST" and all other methods are overpriced and sub-standard. If you listen, you will hear the same vernacular over and over, you will begin to notice the same catchy language used from supporters on all sides. You'll begin to find yourself inundated with an onslaught of trending words like "ROI in 30 days", "Zero-Winterization", "100% Efficient", "FDA Approved" or "99% Pure". The language being used to explain the power of a particular method, is almost engineered to be more effective than the equipment they are selling you on.
In truth, the only method that is important depends on what drives sales and appeals to your customer base [from a business standpoint] - so do your research, seek out unbiased opinions from trusted sources that have references, and for the love of God, DO NOT BELIEVE A SINGLE WORD the equipment manufacturer's salespeople are saying!
Looking back over the last two decades of cannabis culture, it used to be that depending on the area of cannabis you were directly involved, your choices [concerning extraction] were laid out for you by those who trail blazed the extraction industry for cannabis:
Recreational Cannabis belonged to team Butane,
Medical Cannabis to CO2, and
Industrial Cannabis [Hemp] to Ethanol.
Since I know there are some of those aficionados that are reading this blog post, let me state, that I do not belong to any particular team, I firmly believe that there is a perfect extraction method for every situation - I just happen to excel at CO2!
Here is what I do know:
One of the single greatest differentiating powers of supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) with carbon dioxide (CO2) is the tunable selectivity of the extraction workflow
But, CO2 extraction is not limited to SFE, Subcritical Liquid Extraction (SLE) can create an extraction method that is not only tuneable but selective and efficient. We have all heard of "liquid washes" when it comes to Ethanol, and Butane, well the same principle applies to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). CO2 can be as gentle as the extractor's talents allow - I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly...from all sides!
SFE is AGGRESSIVE, it creates an extraction process that is SIMILAR TO ETHANOL, in which the CO2 acts as an aggressive solvent. When I say "aggressive" solvent, I am referring to the solvent's inability to differentiate between desired and non-desired compounds.
Why is an "aggressive" extraction method a poor choice for any lab? Simple, it adds a downstream focus on cleaning extracts, that could have been free of non-desired compounds in the first place, and "cleaning" requires additional skilled workers, SOPs, equipment, labor, and capital investment. No matter your argument, no matter your "team" when it comes to extraction, as a stakeholder/shareholder, I think we can all agree that the less time [expense] required to make a shelf-ready product the better.
FOUR FACTS/MYTHS ABOUT CO2 EXTRACTION [NOTICE, I DID NOT SAY SUPER-CRITICAL CO2 EXTRACTION]
I. CROSS-PURPOSED TECHNOLOGY vs. ADVANCEMENT IN AN EMERGING MARKETPLACE
In the early stages of cannabis, the technology used in CO2 equipment had not quite caught up to the price tags associated with it. No denying this. Compared to alcohol, CO2 abilities were limited in terms of variables, CO2 required a much more technical workforce, and the oils were very similar to ethanol and butane outputs (heavily contaminated and full of non-desired compounds) - now that I think of it, extraction as a whole was in its infancy. Technically, there are still manufacturers that are producing the exact units that they first introduced into the cannabis market decades ago, with little to no technological progress involved with the mechanical or digital applications of their extractors, but knowing their weaknesses are not their responsibility, its YOURS!