Shatter, wax, honeycomb, oil, crumble, sap, budder, pull-and-snap…these are all words that describe cannabis extracts, but how are they made?
Most medical marijuana consumers know that cannabis concentrates, commonly referred to as cannabis extracts, are a lot more potent than standard cannabis buds. A well made cannabis concentrates terpene make up that is reminiscent of the cannabis strain it was extracted from. Consuming it reminds us of the smell and taste of the strain it was made from, but its effects are simply magnified due to a larger concentration. But how are extracts made and what makes a good product?And what’s the science behind making them?
We spoke to Trevar and Paul at Peridot Labs (who also happen to be our partners in helping us extract really good wax and shatter) to find out more about professional extraction processes…
You just started out at as a new lab in the bay area. What’s your background and what made you move into the cannabis realm?
Trevar: I was a founding team member and the Director of Media at a startup in San Francisco called FORA.tv for six years. I left that job to stay home with my first daughter. So my last gig was actually as a stay-at-home dad. Hardest job I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding.
I have a passion for building things and really enjoy working with a small team to solve problems and innovate. I also love cannabis. So, launching a cannabis startup was right in my wheelhouse. I mean, I get to play around with weed all day. 16 year old me would be really stoked for 36 year old me.
I also truly believe the plant is medicine, even when not used to treat or manage a specific condition. Our bodies are hardwired through the endocannabinoid system to receive and produce cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system appears to have one primary job, maintain homeostasis in the body. That just blows my mind. To me, that’s pretty strong evidence that cannabis has played a close role in the evolution of our species.
Paul: First of all, Trevar nailed that last paragraph and I couldn’t agree more. In addition, the fact that we all have an endocannabinoid system, which responds to both endogeneous (produced by our own bodies) cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids, needs to be pointed out even more to the public. Everyone should know about and understand its complexity that some compare to the immune system.
So I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from UC-Berkeley and a B.S. in chemistry from UW-Madison. My graduate work was centered around plant-based natural products and how Mother Nature makes them, how we can make them in ways inspired by nature, and what their utility may beyond the plant.
Following my studies, I began my career at Gilead Sciences as a Research Scientist focused on studying and developing new treatments or even a cure for HIV and hepatitis. Then after nearly seven years, I turned my scientific focus back to this magnificent plant that has been unfairly stigmatized, criminalized, and suppressed for far too long. That is one of the main reasons I wholeheartedly took the leap into the cannabis field. It is scientifically and medicinally fascinating, and I want to see and help it get back to its place as a safe and even enjoyable product or medicine that we should all have access to.
Which extraction methods are currently used and which ones do you believe are the best in terms of efficiency and quality?
Trevar: First off, Paul and I do not think propane or butane should be used for extraction. Those solvents were initially used because they’re not regulated and are readily available to anyone off the street. In the hands of a professional (and in a closed-loop system) those solvents are safe and produce a nice, clean product, but you’d be hard pressed to find any other biopharmaceutical medicine extracted or processed with either of those hydrocarbons.
We use a number of liquid solvents that are commonplace in biopharmaceutical labs. The liquid solvents we use are way safer, both to work with and to consume in small quantities, than butane or propane. The solvents we use are regulated, which means you have to have an actual business and, more importantly, the right credentials to gain access to them.
As for efficiency, we have certainly dialed in our work flow for maximum efficiency, but it takes a lot of steps to make a high-quality, refined cannabis extract. I don’t think many people realize how much work actually goes into making a really nice product.
Paul: Safety to both the end product user/patient and our employees is paramount to us. That is how we’ve designed our processes and methods and what we are proud of. In our opinion, how an extract or concentrate is made is not the most important factor. The most important factors are safety and quality. With mandated testing in the new state regulations (MCRSA), consumers will be able to see clearly what is in their product and also connoisseurs will learn more about what product attributes suite them best.
So in the end, there are so many factors to consider when choosing the best method. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and we will certainly continue to see an evolution beyond what we see today.
Could you tell us a little more why extraction is a process that requires professional knowledge?
Trevar: Cannabis extraction is an exact science, not an art form. And we believe one best left to actual chemists, not amateurs trained on the internet. It’s a matter of public safety, plain and simple.
Paul: Nailed it again. We work with very technical equipment and solvents — and yes, CO2 is a solvent — that could be hazardous if used or stored improperly. Some equipment manufacturers and online videos do teach how to properly use equipment and make products, but there is so much more that needs to be considered beyond that. Particularly, there are environmental, health, and safety issues that aren’t discussed in a user manual or YouTube video that are too often overlooked or neglected by amateur operations.
You are a specialized service – do you see the cannabis industry moving towards using them a lot more? How will dropping prices affect that movement?
Trevar: As cultivators of all sizes move their businesses aboveboard and out of the shadow economy, illegally run “hash labs” operated by amateurs will shutter as a legal, for-profit cannabis economy becomes a reality. So yes, service providers like Peridot Labs will be just like any other custom manufacturer in any other industry.
As for prices dropping, they’ll certainly be a market correction as the legal, regulated market shakes out. Just like any other boom, they’ll be winners and losers. I think they’ll always be a place for custom manufacturers though because extracts are the future of the industry. Flower will become a niche product as concentrates and edibles take over the market. Twenty years from now you’ll smoke a joint for nostalgia’s sake.
Shatter, oils, waxes – what is the California market asking for currently and where do you see potential in the near future?
Trevar: Cartridges. They’re compact, discreet and super easy to use. You’re not going to see a soccer mom hit a dab rig. Cartridges are the future of cannabis, from ecig-like cartridges with creative flavor profiles and a low dose of THC to super high-end carts with compounded cannabinoid fractions paired with specific cannabis-derived terpene profiles designed to deliver a specific experience.
In the near future, I think we’ll really begin to unlock the role terpenes play in the entourage effect and individuals will begin to custom tailor cartridges designed to deliver a very specific experience based on their unique chemical makeup. Kind of like those soda fountains at the movie theater, but consumers will be able to pick a cannabinoid ratio and terpene profile to match whatever their intended use may be. Additionally, we believe CBD-rich product demand will continue to rise particularly as clinical data evolves to demonstrate its utility and safety.
Tell us a little bit more about the actual extraction process and your services…
Trevar: We’ve focused our startup portfolio on closed-loop liquid solvent extractions with associated refinement and purification steps, working with common solvents found in biopharmaceutical labs but not necessarily associated with the cannabis industry. So no butane or propane. We currently don’t offer CO2 extraction, but plan to in the near future.
Any of our methods can create products very similar to those from CO2 or compressed hydrocarbons with comparable or superior terpene retention and appearance — great for cartridges, crumble, shatter, sugar wax, full spectrum oil, you name it.