Solventless vs. Solvent-Free Cannabis Products — What’s the Difference?
If you're an avid cannabis patient, you may have heard the terms "solventless" and "solvent-free." Because the terms are similar, many assume that they mean the same thing - but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are important distinctions between solventless and solvent-free products, and understanding these differences can help you decide which is right for you.
Let’s first take a closer look at what exactly solvents are and how they are used to produce some cannabis concentrates.
What Are Solvents And What Do They Have To Do With Cannabis Concentrates?
To understand what solventless cannabis products are and how they’re made, it’s helpful to look at what solvents mean and how they are related to marijuana concentrates.
Every cannabis flower has tiny hairs referred to as trichomes, and these have little crystals on them where the THC and CBD can be found. In the process of creating concentrates, the flower material is filtered out so that just the CBD- and THC-rich extracts remain. These viscous oils are then turned into marijuana concentrate products, and they are much more potent than smoking or consuming the whole flower itself. In fact, a concentrate typically has 20mg more THC per dose than other methods of cannabis consumption.
Terpenes, which are also found in trichomes, are part of the plant that gives the plant its unique taste and aroma. Different strains of marijuana will have different terpenes, creating bouquets of scents and flavors like a fruity taste, while others may have a distinct herbal taste and smell to them. There have been more than 100 different terpenes identified in the marijuana plant, and this is why there is such a wide array of flavors available. Terpenes can be extracted from cannabis plants in both solvent and solventless processes, though solventless terpenes are harder to isolate compared to solvent extraction methods.
The process of getting the marijuana concentrates extracted from the biomass material of the plant itself can be done in many different ways. For a long time, using hydrocarbon solvents was the most common way to extract the good stuff from the plant. You may remember discussing solvents in Chemistry class, but for those who aren’t sure or need a refresher, a solvent is something that dissolves something else. In the case of marijuana concentrates, a hydrocarbon solvent dissolves the plant material, leaving only the cannabinoids and terpenes behind.
The most common solvents to do this are ethanol, butane and propane. Because both propane and butane have low boiling points, they can extract the terpenes and THC from the flower without the use of high pressure or high temperatures, both of which will destroy the cannabinoids and the terpenes. Butane and propane extraction methods require extra steps in order to ensure no residual solvents are present, known as purging, risking the loss of volatile terpenes. Ethanol, on the other hand, is more selective when cold, and requires far less purging. Each solvent has its pros and cons, and overall, are an efficient way to get what is desired out of the flower without destroying cannabinoid content in the process. Interestingly, too, cannabis connoisseurs can often taste the difference between the different solvents.
What Is Solvent-Free Cannabis?
Now that we’ve looked at how the solvent process is used to make cannabis concentrates, let’s take a look at the phrase “solvent-free.”
Solvent-free cannabis products are those that have had all the solvents removed from them before they are sold to the consumer. It is important to note that during the process of extraction, solvents are still used if the label states it is “solvent-free.” However, the solvent is thoroughly removed before it makes its way to a dispensary shelf. This is different from solventless cannabis products, where a solvent is never used in any part of the extraction process.
A Closer Look at Solventless Cannabis Concentrates
Solventless cannabis products are marijuana concentrates where the cannabinoids and terpenes have been pulled out of the cannabis flower but done so without the use of chemical solvents such as ethanol, propane, or butane. While legal cannabis products undergo thorough testing to ensure no residual solvent is left behind, some patients prefer to stick with solventless concentrates instead, as it can be said for certain no solvent has touched the product.
The exciting news is that, with technology advancing in the cannabis industry, new and innovative ways to create concentrates through solventless processes are being created all the time. While it may seem like solventless concentrates are a new thing, there are in fact, a few solventless cannabinoid extraction methods that have been around for a very long time — centuries even.
Hash: The First Solventless Concentrate
A solventless marijuana concentrate that has been around for centuries is hashish. Hashish is thought to have originated in India and the Middle East hundreds of years ago. This is often considered the original cannabis concentrate and was (and still is) highly sought-after for its potency and true-to-flower flavor profile.
Hash is produced by first isolating the trichomes from the cannabis plant. When first created, this was done by hand by merely rubbing the bud between fingers. Now, the craft has been refined to include screens to more quickly separate the trichomes from the flower. After the trichomes have been collected, they can be pressed together to create hash bricks which can be smoked, added to edibles, or even pressed using heat and pressure to create rosin.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is! This is probably why hash has become more popular with the opening of medical and recreational markets, which has allowed for innovation of isolation methods to produce at scale.
Solventless Live Rosin
Water is another way to make solventless cannabis extracts, and ice water, in particular is excellent for separating trichomes from plant material. In the case of live rosin, cannabis is harvested and immediately frozen to retain the plant’s living terpene profile. Trichomes are isolated from the flash-frozen whole flower using ice water extraction, which gently removes the resinous trichomes without bringing unwanted plant material, creating what’s referred to as a hash slurry.
The hash slurry is then dried and pressed using only heat and pressure to extract the desired cannabinoids and terpenes. The result is a full-spectrum concentrate that is solventless and true to the original plant. At MÜV we produce one solventless product, our Live Ice Water Extraction Rosin.
Learn more here: MÜV Live Ice Water Extraction Rosin
Solvent-free Cannabis Products
In addition to solventless Live Rosin, MÜV produces solvent-free products including our distillate, shatter and crumble. Keep reading to learn more about each product.
Cannabis Distillate is generally made using a combination of extraction processes, some are commonly known while others are proprietary or still in research and development. One of the more well known methods includes CO2 extraction. During this process the supercooled carbon dioxide removes the cannabinoids and terpenes from the dried cannabis flower. Cold ethanol is another preferred extraction method, as it requires far less purging of the solvent, which helps in retaining cannabinoids and terpenes. After extraction, the crude extract oil is purged of residual ethanol using distillation processes.
The MÜV Distillate Oil is a premium, highly-concentrated cannabis extract that can be taken orally with the syringe or vaporized. Because cannabis distillate contains little to no marijuana taste, it is often used to infuse butters and oils, then used as the base for cooking. Regardless of delivery method, it is a potent option that provides systemic relief. Our oil is distilled through an ethanol extraction process to separate cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, to create a pure, more refined product.
MÜV Plus Distillate, too, is a highly-concentrated cannabis concentrate, created using MÜV Strains - and includes the strain’s terpene profile. Plus is quite literally Distillate with a plus, providing strain-specific benefits in the same oil format, also housed in a measured syringe.
The production process of shatter is different from that of the distillate syringes. Instead of distillation methods, shatter is poured onto slabs and placed into a vacuum oven. The vacuum oven purges the residual ethanol from the extract and stabilizes the product into a translucent, glass-like material.
The MÜV strain-specific cannabis shatter uses cold ethanol for the extraction process. This allows the beneficial parts of the plant (major and minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids) to be extracted, while leaving the undesirable plant materials (chlorophyll, lipids, waxes) behind.
Learn more here: MÜV Cannabis Shatter
Crumble is made through a chemical extraction process similar to shatter, with a few extra steps. After shatter is produced, the concentrate is melted back down and whipped up. This whipping agitates the extract and adds air bubbles. This whipped extract is then placed in a vacuum oven for ethanol purging and concentrate stabilization. The resulting product is a drier, more delicate concentrate that resembles a honeycomb.
MÜV Crumble is a highly potent ethanol extract with a light and airy texture, ideal for vaporizing. Crumble can be vaped using a concentrate pen like the Puffco Plus or Terp Pen, or it can be added to a smokable flower to combust.
Learn more here: MÜV Cannabis Crumble
Not sure which device is right for your needs? Take our quiz: What Cannabis Smoking Equipment is Right for Me?
CBD And THC
The difference between solventless and solvent-free cannabis, as described by Dr. Brian Szabo, DO, DocMJ:
MÜV Florida Offers High-Quality Cannabis Concentrates
MÜV Florida offers both solvent-free and solventless cannabis products. Our concentrates are derived from the extracts of marijuana plants and manipulated to take a variety of forms. At MÜV, cannabis concentrates are produced with cold ethanol extraction methods, which enables us to produce a product with a high quantity of naturally occurring cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
Because of the potent nature of cannabis extracts, they are often the solution for a cannabis user’s needs. If you are looking for these potency benefits, cannabis concentrates might be the right fit for you. Just remember, every extract is only as good as, or high in cannabinoids and terpenes as, the original plant material.
*This post was originally published on September 15, 2021, and updated on July 6, 2023, with new images.
Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.