The value of the cannabis extract market globally was placed at $2.74 billion last year. The value is expected to reach a value of $15.5 billion by 2030. These statistics paint the picture of a highly lucrative industry whose full potential hasn't been exploited.
Cannabis extra tors use different methods to extract the bioactive molecules from cannabis. In this brief article, we compare and contrast three methods that are commonly used to extract cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. They include the following:
- Soxhlet extraction
1. Marceration as a Cannabinoid Extraction Technique
Maceration is an herbal extraction technique that involves using a polar solvent to soften and break down herbs and in the process, bioactive molecules leach from the material into the solvent. Coarsely powdered cannabis is placed in a container and a solvent (menstruum) is poured over it. The container is then covered for 2-3 days until the cannabis material is completely dissolved. The duration will vary based on the size of the particles, the polarity of the solvent, and the extraction temperature. At room temperature, this takes 2+3 days. The solvent should however be changed every 24 hours. The process can be repeated over and over to maximize the output. Maceration is a common method used to make tinctures from the roots, stems, and leaves of plants.
2. Percolation as a Cannabinoid Extraction Technique
Percolation is derived from the Latin word “percolare” which means to strain. It is basically a “straining” method. A liquid is passed through a porous medium and the extract (solvent plus extracted compounds) is collected beneath.
Just like with maceration, the cannabis is placed in a container and a polar solvent added. The container is left to sit for 4-6 hours until the plant material breaks down. It is then poured into a percolator and more solvent is added (picture how a coffee percolator works). The mixture is left to sit for a day and the percolator is then opened and the liquid is allowed to drain to the bottom where it is collected. It's a suitable method for making cannabis tinctures.
3. Soxhlet Extraction as a Cannabinoid Extraction Technique
Soxhlet Extraction is a more complicated way of extracting cannabinoids but it's highly efficient. It requires the use of an apparatus known as a soxhlet extractor that has different chambers and a source of heat. The system is set up to maximize contact between the extracting solvent and the plant material. It uses a small amount of solvent that is recycled in the system. Ethanol which is commonly used as the extracting solvent is heated to a boiling temperature where it evaporates. The vapor is then condensed and drips into the main chamber where it causes the liquid level to rise. The liquid is gradually pushed through the plant material and the process is repeated until most of the bioactive material in the plant material has been extracted with high efficiency.
Which is the best method of extracting cannabinoids?
Maceration and Percolation are both simple ways if extracting cannabinoids that do not require costly apparatus or knowledge. However, their efficiency and scalability are limited. Soxhlet extraction is a more advanced extraction method that requires an investment in apparatus and high-level technical expertise. But in the long run, soxlet Extraction provides the option for scalability and mass production of cannabis Concentrates, something which the other methods can't provide.