Imagine you are working as a pharmacy tech at a licensed medical cannabis pharmacy. A patient comes in to purchase their medications. As they are looking over their options, they ask what extraction method a particular manufacturer uses. Though you don’t say anything, you wonder if it really matters.
In short, it does. Extraction methods make a difference because they influence everything from quality to medical efficacy. A company’s extraction method can even affect its output and pricing structure. Experienced medical cannabis patients know these sorts of things. And to many of them, extraction method matters.
There are four main extraction methods used by cannabis processors in this country. According to the Deseret Wellness medical cannabis pharmacy in Provo, UT, each method has its pros and cons. Each one means something to experienced patients who understand how it all works.
1. CO2 Extraction
CO2 extraction is a method whereby cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted using CO2 and tightly controlled pressure. It is believed to be the most preferred extraction method in the industry right now. The method is appreciated because it yields an extremely high concentration of full-spectrum CBD oil.
Also on the positive side is the lack of toxic residue, the lack of residual chlorophyll, and the fact that concentrations can be more easily adjusted. On the negative side, CO2 extraction is awfully expensive. It definitely creates a higher quality product, but that product costs more.
2. Chemical Solvent Extraction
Second to CO2 extraction in terms of popularity is chemical solvent extraction. Under this model, processes utilize a solvent like ethanol to separate plant material from the desired compounds. Plant material is soaked in the solvent for a time, then removed. The resulting liquid is distilled in order to capture cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.
Efficiency is a key factor here. Not only is this method almost as efficient as CO2 extraction, but it also yields consistent results in terms of concentration. It leaves no chlorophyll behind. However, there is always the possibility of residual solvent hanging around.
3. Natural Solvent Extraction
Extracting with a natural solvent is nearly identical to extracting with a chemical solvent. The biggest difference is the choice of solvent. Instead of using a chemical, a processor might choose something like olive oil. Natural solvent extraction leaves behind no toxic residue. It is comparatively inexpensive and fairly efficient.
The two downsides are a lower concentration of CBD oil with each batch and the presence of chlorophyll. Unfortunately, chlorophyll affects the taste of a medical cannabis product.
4. Steam Distillation
The least expensive means of extracting cannabinoids is steam distillation. Processors do not need a whole lot of expensive equipment or a tremendous amount of floor space. However, steam distillation is terribly inefficient. On the plus side, it leaves behind no chlorophyll or toxic residue.
On the negative side, steam distillation does not produce a whole lot of consistency. This makes it hard for processors to guarantee the consistency of their finished products. As a result, their products tend to be on the lower end of the price spectrum.
Why does all of this matter to patients? Because they are relying on medical cannabis to treat their conditions. A consistent treatment requires a consistent medication. Above and beyond that, certain patients may be uncomfortable using products that were derived through chemical means.
It boils down to the fact the patients have differing opinions on extraction methods. It is no different than the opinions people have about certain kinds of food. For some patients, extraction method is important. It matters enough that they are choosy about the products they buy.