Making cannabis oil isn’t easy. It is an involved process that takes time, patience, and some understanding of chemistry. The good news is that if you’re determined, you can master the process of making cannabis oil.

What is Cannabis Oil?

Cannabis oil is a concentrate, but more specifically, it is an extract. Cannabis oil is sub-classified as an extract because it requires a solvent whereas things like hashish, kief, and rosin, are solvent-less concentrates.

In this sense, all extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts – make sense?

How is Cannabis Oil Made?

Making cannabis oil is achieved through any of the following methods, albeit with varying degrees of difficulty and safety.

  • Alcohol Extraction
  • Supercritical CO2 Extraction
  • Butane Blasting or Closed-Loop Extraction
  • Distillation

Ethanol Extraction of Cannabis Oil

This process is relatively straightforward, and can be done at cooler temperatures or warmer temperatures. You need to soak the cannabis flower in ethanol which strips the flower of both the cannabinoids and terpenes.

It is a highly efficient method of extraction for making cannabis oil, with a low risk of toxicity. The ethanol evaporates and what is left behind is your cannabis oil. Depending on what temperature is used for extraction, the cannabinoid acids in the flower could decarboxylate and become “active”.

A few additional clarification measures may need to be applied to your extracted oil, but all in all ethanol extraction is one of the best methods for making cannabis oil.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction of Cannabis Oil

This process is quite difficult in that it requires that carbon dioxide be held at its supercritical temperature and pressure. In simple terms, this means that its ambient environment must be adjusted to keep carbon dioxide in its fluid state – something that cannot be maintained in the open air.

Supercritical CO2 extraction is exceptionally clean and precise, it is a natural sanitizing agent and allows for manufacturers to select and filter for specific compounds in cannabis by their molecular weight and density.

It is the gold standard for making cannabis oil, but it requires expensive equipment and isn’t conducive for those of you considering making your own cannabis oil.

What Happens?

Well, in layman terms, the CO2 (in a supercritical state) is passed through a compartment containing cannabis – stripping all of the trichomes, cannabinoids, terpenes, and waxes from the flower. The extracted solution is then separated into its constituents and the CO2 is filtered from the solution. At this point the CO2 is condensed and reused for the next batch of cannabis oil, and the extracted material is collected – any remaining CO2 reverts to a gaseous state in our atmosphere and evaporates.

Butane Extraction of Cannabis Oil

We have discussed butane extraction before on our post “What is Hash Oil?“, but for any newcomers, butane blasting entails spraying pressurized butane into a ceramic tube filled with ground weed or kief. The ceramic tube is open on both ends, and what exits is an oleoresin. This process is dangerous because the butane is released into the open air. It is highly volatile and carcinogenic so its not a safe process.

This butane blasting has given butane extraction of cannabis oil a bad wrap. This is unfortunate because in a closed-loop system, where the butane is collected, the safety concerns are addressed, the butane is purged from the finished product, and many of the terpenes are preserved – which are largely destroyed in other methods of extraction.

The issue is that open-loop butane extraction damaged the perception of butane as a solvent in the public eye. A lot of the criticism surrounding it is misguided. When used under appropriate conditions, butane extraction is a terrific method for making cannabis oil, rivalling Supercritical CO2 extraction.

Distillation

As a method of extraction, distillation has a unique appeal that other processes do not.

Distillation actually requires that the desired cannabinoids, terpenes, waxes, and trichomes be stripped from flower with a hydrocarbon or CO2 extraction technique. The stripped constituents are then “winterized” with ethanol to remove any unwanted compounds.

Finally, the remaining isolated compounds are put through short path, steam distillation. This yields a pure cannabinoid isolate.

This finishing method has been around for many years, and has been the go-to extraction process for cannabis research and testing. However, it has many applications in consumer markets as well. As product differentiation and consumer individuation evolve, distillation could become the preferred method for making cannabis oil.