Cannabis Cartridge Extracts Overview

Different concentrates use different extraction methods

There are many different types of cartridges and extracts on the market, and each one produces a slightly different product that produces different effects. Some are solventless-extracts, but this resource covers the three different levels of extracts produced used solvents.

See CO2 extraction in action

This video from 420 Science Club will take you through a full CO2 extraction to produce concentrates that can be used in cartridges or a dab rig. This overview is a good primer on how these products are made and a great peek behind the scenes of modern cannabis extraction and processing operation.

There are solvents besides CO2

Some patients may be concerned to know that butane, ethyl alcohol, and ethanol are used as solvents in many medical cannabis products. This video shows how those solvents are removed before sending samples to the lab for purity testing before packaging and shipping to the dispensary.

Common Extracts Found in Cartridges

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Distalates

Distillates may use any number of solvents ranging from butane to CO2 as a means of extracting and concentrating a single cannabinoid into the oil. Most often, extractors produce THC distillates that are almost pure THC or CBD oil. Cartridges with distillate extracts will contain a translucent oil with a yellow or amber tint to the oil.

While these products are often potent, they lack the broad terpene and cannabinoid profile that tends to generate more therapeutic effects. In many cases, processors will add plant-based terpenes or other natural flavors to their distillates. Patients that do not respond well to distillates may report effects such as:

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling “on edge” or “racey”
  •  Difficulty focusing
  • Agitation

For an in-depth description of how processors make distillates, read Leafly’s article on the topic.

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CO2 Extracts

CO2 extraction uses heavy-duty industrial machinery that cools CO2 into a supercritical liquid. Machinery forces liquid CO2 through the flower, similar to how an espresso machine works. After the extraction is complete, the CO2 is allowed to evaporate, leaving concentrated cannabis oil. Cartridges with CO2 extracts will often be darker in color than distillates, but still translucent.

Often, products labeled as a CO2 extraction will have the natural terpenes incorporated back into the oil if they are separated. Patients tend to report more therapeutic effects when using products that contain a more diverse set of cannabinoids and terpenes. Some CO2 extractors are better than others, and the different grades in quality for CO2 cartridge extracts are often reflected in the price. Despite the higher price point, the effects of CO2 extracts mean that patients typical consume less to achieve better effects. The quality of CO2 extracts makes the cartridge last longer and thus can save patients money in the long run while delivering better benefits.

For an in-depth description of CO2 extraction, read Leafly’s article on the topic.

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Liquid Live Resins

Liquid Live Resins (LLRs) are a higher grade of extract where the plant is flash frozen upon harvest and keep at supercritical temperatures throughout the extraction process. This preserves the cannabinoid and terpene profile which is often degraded as cannabis cures awaiting extraction processes. The preservation of the terpenes and cannabinoid profiles make LLRs popular among patients and often command a higher price point.

Another distinguishing feature of these extracts is that they are made using hydrocarbon extraction which may include the use of butane or ethanol. Most states test for residual hydrocarbon solvents as a final safety measure and block the sale of products with unsafe levels of hydrocarbons. If you wish to avoid hydrocarbon-based extraction methods, patients are advised to stick to CO2 extracted cartridges.

For an in-depth description of LLRs, read Leafly’s article on the topic.