Alcohol extraction is a process designed to remove essential oils, fats, and other chemical compounds (like cannabinoids) from botanical material AKA plants. Any plants. But for our purposes, we’ll be discussing it in relation to the marijuana plant, of course.
There are quite a few different ways to perform an alcohol extraction but only a select few are effective in cannabis. Both the delicacy of cannabis terpenes and the unusual chemistry of the compounds people want to extract from cannabis limit extraction methods to three primary options: butane, supercritical CO2, and ethanol extraction.
Butane is popular for home users because it’s exceptional when it comes to selecting the active cannabinoids and terpenes required to make concentrates potent. Meanwhile, supercritical CO2 is popular in professional settings because it’s relatively cheap and safe, but purifying the extract takes longer than it does with butane. And finally, there’s ethanol, which we’ll be breaking down today.
Ethanol is relatively new to the cannabis extraction game so there’s a lot we still need to learn about it, but it’s gaining popularity as many argue that it could be the most effective and safest option we have—it might be able to select active cannabinoids and terpenes as well as butane does and it could be as safe to use as the CO2 method.
What to Look for in the Best Equipment
Ethanol extraction has only recently become popular due to a long-held belief that its molecular makeup diminishes its potential as a solvent. The polarized ends of ethanol molecules mean that they bond with different types of molecules on either side. Therefore, while ethanol can easily bring out cannbinoids and terpenes from plants, it also tends to draw unwanted molecules along with it, resulting in bitter, murky concentrates.
But with the rise of technology overall has also come a rise in ethanol extraction technologies. These days, there’s equipment on the market that will extract the vast majority of the chemicals you’re after while leaving the rest behind.