Solvent-Free Solutions

Innovation, simplicity in Humboldt’s extract industry

By Colleen Ferguson 

We can’t say for certain how long humans have been using cannabis extracts, but we do know the practice of mechanically extracting resin from the cannabis plant is many centuries old. The first use of the term hasish occurs in print in the 10th century, but the history of mechanical (aka solvent-free) extracts likely dates back much farther.

Today’s landscape of cannabis extracts is a broad one, and can be daunting to those unfamiliar with the terminology of this ever-expanding area of innovation. For our purposes here, we’ll group extracts into two primary categories: those produced using chemical solvents, and those produced without.  

A variety of chemical solvents (i.e. butane, alcohol, propane) and processes (i.e. CO₂, supercritical fluid extraction, BHO closed-loop blasting, etc.) are used to extract cannabis resin. The end products of these processes can find their way into everything from tinctures to edibles to vape pens and better shops will typically feature a large variety of extract options. The popularity and innovation in chemical extraction processes and products have been staggering over the last decade — scientific know-how has fueled research and innovation and the production of safe, tested, solvent extracts by reputable, permitted operators is widespread. However, they aren’t the only game in town. Solvent-free extracts have been going through their own innovative processes and offer great options for those who wish to keep things a little simpler.  

For the vast majority of cannabis extraction history, the practice of separating resin from cannabis plants was accomplished without the use of chemical solvents. Today, solvent-free continues to be a great way to make high-quality, tasty extracts. There are some fine options out there, but for our purposes we’ll look at three solvent-free options available at better dispensaries in your neighborhood. And yes, you can still use your dab rig.

The three kings of solvent-free

Kief. Kief is, simply put, the dried trichomes (resin glands) of cannabis plants, separated from the plant using friction in a process called dry sifting. Dry sifting yields a golden powder (kief) which can then be pressed into hashish, used in tinctures, used to make edibles or smoked as is. This is about as simple as extracts get, and the extract that many cannabis users encounter first. You’ve likely collected kief from your flower grinders for years. Kief offers a euphoric and relaxing experience for most users, and is widely available in its raw powder form.

Bubble hash. Bubble hash, or water hash, is the trichomes of cannabis plants separated from the plants using ice-cold water and agitation. This is accomplished by using a progression of filter bags, or bubble bags, made of differently sized mesh fabrics that separate solids according to size. Basically, the theory is that only the good stuff filters through the mesh of each filter bag until the end product contains only trichomes. The quality of bubble hash can vary widely, and the best bubble is known as full-melt because — well, it melts fully when heated. Bubble hash is an easily accessible extract and can be used in a variety of ways, very similar to kief with similar effects.

Press rosin. The newest and most exciting innovation in solvent-free extracts is press rosin or simply rosin. Produced using precise ratios of heat, pressure and time, this process is the future of mechanical extracts and offers solvent-free extracts that are highly concentrated while also preserving terpenes (molecules generally associated with flavor and aroma) along with cannabinoids. This is a big deal — not only does this preserve each strain’s specific flavor profile, but terpenes are directly responsible for the entourage effect — a kind of synergy of molecules that yields many positive results for medical cannabis users, especially those who choose CBDs as their primary medicines. There exists a growing body of evidence that this entourage effect increases blood flow, enhances cortical activity, and kills respiratory pathogens like MRSA — an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that claims thousands of lives every year in the U.S. Also, as promised, rosin works great in your dab rig.

The Humboldt approach 

Pure Source products. / Courtesy of Pure Source.

To get a better understanding of press rosin and the process used to produce it, I went over to Pure Source — a Humboldt County rosin-only extract company on a mission to spread the good word about solvent-free extracts and the unique benefits of keeping things simple. I met with Bryan and Kyle (two of the three owners of Pure Source) and quickly came to understand that ethics is squarely atop their list of priorities. To put it in their own words — quality in, quality out. They use only high-quality flowers to make their extracts (no floor sweepings!), and all raw plant material is tested for purity prior to extraction.

Pure Source is a family-owned business with deep roots in Humboldt County. The proprietors are all born and raised in Humboldt, and committed to producing the cleanest, highest quality extracts possible by partnering with local farms known for quality and purity. They stand by their sources, and put them right on the label so there’s no need to wonder or worry. They currently feature a variety of CBD extract products, including a tincture for your pets, and will soon be releasing a line of high-quality vape pens featuring their fantastic THC rosins. All wine lovers, they were quick to draw a parallel between fine wines and their artisan-quality rosins. In Kyle’s words, “When you smell a Napa Cabernet, you know it.” They want to grow that kind of recognition for our area. They believe Humboldt is rightly at the center of the cannabis universe, and are among the large number of Humboldt County producers dedicated to ensuring that only the best products available wear the Humboldt brand.

Now that you have the skinny on some great solvent-free extract options, get down to your favorite shop and keep it simple. No matter what your extract needs may be, there’s a solvent-free solution that fits your life. And as always, ask for Humboldt by name — you won’t be disappointed.