By Troy Ivan
ec·o·sys·tem /ˈēkōˌsistəm/ : (in general use) “a complex network or interconnected system.” From Oxford Languages and Google
Anyone getting as far as this post already has a positive relationship with cannabis and knows that the plant emanates positive vibes. The plant itself has brought people together throughout history and with recent advances in science has proven to be a quintessential center to our health and wellbeing. Cannabis has helped so many, it’s inclusive for all people and often offers healing where nothing else can. Despite cannabis’ beautiful example to us all, when it comes to extraction I continually see division, arguing, and an ocean of bad information working against the health of the community as a whole. It doesn’t have to be this way.
AN INCLUSIVE VISION
I’ve been looking forward to putting this project together to display how the most safe and effective cannabis home processing techniques overlap and work in a beneficial and complementary ecosystem allowing each technique to shine while also lending a hand to improve another.
We have many great ways to approach and use the cannabis plant so it’s important to look at the entirety of the big picture; all applications, all uses, and all processes are important to consider to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the precious and valuable cannabis resources we have.
HASH, ROSIN, AND ETHANOL EXTRACTION ECOSYSTEM
Let’s get down to the hash, rosin, and ethanol ecosystem. These methods can produce both very high or low quality concentrates depending on a few considerations they have in common. First, to create the very highest quality extractions the simple rule of “fire-in, fire-out,” meaning you can only make high-quality extracts with high-quality material, applies equally across the board. Second, yield is sacrificed for the highest quality extractions, leaving behind still valuable semi-spent material that can be processed a second time. Third, each of these methods require extra steps, efforts, time and equipment to take them to the epitome of quality. This is important to keep in mind because comparing different extracts, like an incredible concentrate that took weeks to create, with an incredibly small yield that required lots of extra equipment, to something made on a kitchen countertop in a few hours is not a fair.
The interconnectedness of hash and rosin is pretty simple to see. Top-grade bubble or dry sift is sometimes used to make incredible rosin. In other cases the very top grade kief will be smoked/dabed, squish the slightly lower quality tiers, then throw away or make low quality infusions of the rest not realizing that with the proper techniques what they’re leaving behind as waste can still be made into a nice extraction. Ethanol extraction when done properly can produce some of the cleanest and most potent concentrates around, but it can also play a key role in cleaning up and adding efficiency to rosin and hash making processes. What will follow are various process scenarios to show exactly what happens when these different processes come together in a complementary extraction ecosystem.
The singular point here is to showcase the overlap between complementary processes, especially for the average person crafting at home. I used average materials for the most part and tools easily accessible by the home cannabis concentrate enthusiast.
My ethanol extraction skills are pretty well developed, but my rosin and hash techniques are more in line with a typical home hobbyist which is who this post was created for. The goal isn’t to use the best material to make the best fire ever seen by man; it’s to show how normal people, using achievable processes, can use this ecosystem to maximize the quality of the material they have as well as achieve a very high degree of cannabinoid pickup efficiency. If I can achieve these results with average materials it just becomes better and more important with higher quality materials.
I worked with a variety of equipment here. Dry sift activities used a brandless 4-screen set (60-90-110-200) purchased from Amazon. Bubble hash kief collection was done using 5-gallon bubble bags with a “bubble machine” from Bubblebagdude. Rosin was pressed using a Nugsmasher XP. Ethanol extraction was performed using low temps under vacuum with equipment like in the DIY vacuum still posts. It was incredible fun using all of this equipment together and I made incredible messes day after day.
My focus was on general processes and how they relate to each other so I may mention yields in some instances and not bother in others. I wasn’t concerned with how well certain material kiefed or pressed, but how the different processes work together relationally. Don’t get hung up on the numbers as they will change with material, process efficiency, and end product goals.
1) ROSIN FLOWER WINTERIZED & CLEANUP WITH ETHANOL
Winterization is a simple process that uses ethanol and cold temperatures to remove wax and lipids from extractions. For detailed information on the process see the winterization post here. The main benefits of removing wax and lipids is twofold; it makes a cleaner extract so your lungs will be happier and potency increases dramatically since the undesirables and non-performing components are removed. The main downside is it can remove some of the extra terp profile people like about rosin. Rosin maintains the extra terp profile because, unlike other extraction methods that remove lipids and wax, extra terpenes are bound to the wax and lipids in rosin making it more fragrant. Removing those components lowers the terpene component a little. Sometimes you might want the extra terps and sometimes you might want to give your lungs a break from the lipids.
In addition to using ethanol for winterizing, I also ran an ethanol cleanup. Undisturbed pressed bags and ethanol are cooled at freezer temps for 24-hours, then combined to soak for 30 minutes to collect trapped oil and processed. After completing the bag cleanup it can be taken one step further by cutting the bags open and removing the contents and combining them with freezer temp ethanol again for 30 minutes and process.
PRESSED FLOWER (Lemon Creamsicle)
The material was a little larfy, dry, dark trichs, first time grower, and questionable storage; a great sample to see what’s in it and how it can be improved. Pressed 6.5g and put together into one chunk.
By melting the 6.5g of rosin in heated ethanol we can quickly see the impurities release and after being in the freezer for 2-days the separation is very clear.
Using a Buchner funnel to filter the wax and lipids out of the solution that was in the freezer, this is what came out of just 6.5g of pressed flower rosin. If this was fresher or moister starting material this undesirable content would be even more. The brown stuff above is what came off the filter paper after it dried. You can smell terps in it but I don’t want much of that in my lungs.
The winterized end product was much improved and FIRE!
ROSIN BAG ETHANOL CLEANUP (freezer temp)
By freezing the bags for a day and washing with freezer temp ethanol the cold temps help ethanol avoid picking up undesirables. After a 30-minute freezer temp soak the wash was processed and another 1.5g of clean oil similar above was collected.
ROSIN BAG CONTENTS CLEANUP (freezer temp)
This last effort to collect any remaining value suffered in beauty, but we picked up 1.5g of FECO which will still be close to 1,000 mg of medicine for oral ingestion. The 1.5g was combined 10:1 with MCT oil for easy consumption in a dropper bottle.
The total pickup increased by a whopping 46% from the original 6.5g to a total of 9.5g (6.5g+1.5g+1.5g). The value of this cleanup becomes more important with higher quality material because the pickup from the cleanup will be better quality and even more of it.
2) ROSIN FLOWER & ETHANOL BAG CLEANUP (dry ice temp)
Here we are going to do something similar to above (again with pretty average material that was old and not stored well) but using dry ice temps instead of freezer temps. Dry ice allows the cooling to reach -40°F and lower. The very low temps make it even more difficult for the ethanol to pick up chlorophyll, lipids, and wax resulting in a very clean and potent end product. For comparison sake, I also ran a straight ethanol extraction with the same Creamsicle flower using dry ice temps as well.
CREAMSICLE FLOWER PRESSED
Pulled off about 4g of rosin. It’s dark and low yielding because of its age and condition, but still worked pretty well. I really just wanted the bags anyway.
ROSIN BAGS DRY ICE CLEAN UP
With the dry ice and ethanol extraction what came off the bags was actually a cleaner concentrate than what was pressed. This stuff was really good and just imagine, this is a few grams of what people would just throw away or toss into coconut oil for edibles, quite a waste. It would be even better and more of it if better quality flower was used.
CREAMSICLE ETHANOL EXTRACTION
This came out incredibly well and you can see the clarity difference between the pressed flower and straight ethanol extraction. Only dry ice was used here to keep the comparison equal, but if I had used a light carbon scrub it would have come in quite a bit lighter. Neither is better than the other (because that is subjective preference) but they are different.
3) DIRTY KIEF DRY SIFT CLEAN UP
Kief with a lot of green plant material contamination (dirty kief), like what comes off a trimmer, isn’t great to work with and is renowned for being very difficult and nearly impossible to clean up well. To the naked eye the dirty kief actually looks pretty attractive, but under closer scrutiny you can see the green enemy in full force just waiting to ruin your extraction and your day.
By using a series of dry sift screen along with “carding” and “static tek” I was able to achieve a pretty good degree of cleaning and separation. Just doing this amount took me an entire day. It’s incredibly time consuming for relatively little return of the best quality. While being unparalleled in tedium it’s really interesting and enlightening at the same time.
The ecosystem can be fully utilized here. The static tech (#5 below) would usually be enjoyed on its own because it’s so clean and volume wise would be difficult to press. The #3 sample that was carded through the 110 and collected off the 200 after carding was a good quality for some squishing. The static tech was good on its own, #3 was good to press, and the rest can be turned from zero to hero nicely with ethanol extraction as we’ll see below. The symbiotic relationship of these processes creates a beautiful interconnected system that provides the crafter with real dividends.
4) DIRTY KIEF ETHANOL EXTRACTION
The tiny green plant matter commingled with the trichomes causes a big problem with ethanol because it’s so damaged it leaks green almost immediately on contact with the polar dominate characteristics of ethanol. We have three tools to avoid and remove the undesirables. One tool, as used with the rosin bags above, is the use of low temps. For the best results dry ice temps will be most effective. The second tool is using activated carbon to scrub the wash. More information on scrubbing can be found here in a previous post. The third tool is time. The amount of time that kief and ethanol are combined will control the ethanol’s ability to pick up undesirables. Shorter exposure reduce the ability to collect undesirables, and a longer exposure increases the risk of undesirables collection.
In the following examples I put all three tools to work. Keep in mind this is very dirty kief that’s predominately plant material. For the first example, dry ice and a short exposure time was used. Second example, dry ice, longer exposure, and scrubbing. Then on the third example, I used the dry sift bottoms in a side-by-side scrubbed and un-scrubbed comparison.
DIRTY KIEF STARTING MATERIAL EHO
Dry ice only, NO scrubbing. Short 8-min wash 25% yield of not so beautiful extract. This is in line with expectations. Not beautiful, but it still has many medicinal applications.
DIRTY KIEF STARTING MATERIAL ETHANOL EXTRACTION
By extending the soak time from 8-min to 30-min we increased the chances of picking up more of both desirable and undesirable which leads to a higher overall yield, much of which will be undesirables? Carbon scrubbing allowed me to remove the undesirables and still have a 20% clean yield with very dirty kief. The difference a simple light scrub makes is obvious.
DRY SIFT BOTTOM MATERIAL ETHANOL EXTRACTION
The “bottoms” are what’s found under the 200 dry sift screen after carding and static tek. It’s comprised of really ground up plant material and contaminates that were forced through the screen with only very small trichome heads in a smaller weighting.
The side-by-side comparison came from the same 30-min dry ice wash, split into equal portions, leaving one one sample as-is and giving the other a light carbon scrub. The difference in final purged concentrate weight was 5.43g from the as-is extraction and 4.86g from the scrubbed. The overall yield from the bottoms was just over 10%.
5) ROSIN PRESSED DIRTY & DRY SIFT CLEANED UP KIEF
Using kief to make rosin is nothing new or particularly insightful but I wanted to include it here just to show the difference in pressing the dirty starting material and the more cleaned up version like #3 in my kief cleaning photo above. While these are ok results, they just don’t compare to the squishing porn we often see. It shows that the really top quality kief pressed rosin comes from a much higher level, very small yielding, crazy high quality kief that’s almost a crime to squish it.
More importantly, what I want to illustrate here is that this is where hash, rosin, and ethanol extraction all feed directly into each other. Kief from hash making is used to make rosin that can then use ethanol to winterize and up the potency or clean up what was left behind in the chips, pucks and bags. Winterization and a light carbon scrub could turn any of this rosin into a much more clean, potent, and attractive concentrate.
STARTING MATERIAL KIEF PRESSED 160°F
CLEANED UP KIEF PRESSED 160°F
6) DRY SIFT FLOWER
I was really looking forward to running this section. Bouncing (cool guy term for dry sifting) the flower, getting nice kief, then running the bounced flower with ethanol to see how much of the goodies is left in it, what could me more fun than that?! The flower I used didn’t have a ton to give up which was perfect to demonstrate how this works with average flower, knowing it would only be more rewarding with higher quality. Also, I bounced this flower pretty hard, then ground it and bounced it more. That approach won’t produce the cleanest kief but it would ensure that the trichome content of the flower was reduced more than any reasonable person working dry sift with flower ever would. Meaning, normal dry sift flower processing should result in more oil remaining in the bounced flower than I ended up with here.
TWO SCOOPS FLOWER DRY SIFT KIEF
It’s very poor technique to bounce ground flower over cleaner sift from nug and you can see why. The lighter kief layer underneath is cleaner from the flower and the darker contaminate layer on top of it from the ground material. I wanted to do this as an example and to beat the flower up as much as possible to minimize what would be left in the bounced material. Dry sift results by screen: 90 – 5g, 110 – 16g, 200 – 10g, Bottom – 18g. Total of 49g (16% of 310).
TWO SCOOPS SIFTED FLOWER ETHANOL CLEANUP (310g bounced, 260g for ethanol extraction)
12.1g of pretty nice oil came out of that beaten up flower with a 1-hour dry ice wash. You can see the filtered wash was very clean but the oil is a little on the darker side. In addition to it being a pretty thick layer, it’s also due to the fact that this flower was harvested late and not stored optimally. A little carbon scrub would have clean up the looks a little, but it wasn’t necessary because the oil was still nice and super stoney.
7) BUBBLE HASH KIEF COLLECTION
I’m not sure which is more frustrating dry sift or bubble. When you put in so much work and the high-quality end product yield is so small. BUT, that little bit of gold is really fun to have. I have to admit, my bubble technique has a lot of room from improvement but I believe my results are consistent with average process execution. I was shooting for the highest quality possible for me to achieve without excessive efforts so I used high quality flower, left the nugs whole, and ran two separate runs of 5-minutes and 12-minutes in the Bubble Machine.
The biggest surprise of this exercise came from the ethanol extraction of the nugs that were ran through the Bubble Machine. After being completely waterlogged and tumbled around for two cycles I was certain that even if the nugs did dry properly and I would never get a nice ethanol extraction. I dried the ice and water laden nugs over a 300 lpi dry sift screen with a fan blowing over and under it and mixed it around every few hours. After a day and a half it had dried out well. One tip: breaking apart the larger nugs that seem to be drying slower for even drying. I don’t know if it was the quality of the flower or something to do with being run with the ice water but WOW this clean up extraction was incredible. It takes a lot to surprise me and this had me giggling. I ended up with some incredible hash and way more higher quality ethanol extraction than I imagined. Score!
BUBBLE BAG KIEF
BUBBLE BAG’d BYPRODUCT ETHANOL CLEANUP
Almost 20g of Lemon Fiz purged to glass, I’m still in shock. That material was completely waterlogged after two runs through the Bubble Machine but after drying I was still able to pull this!
I hope this was as enlightening and fun for you as it was for me. Tying these processes together for people to see how they fit together is important to see we are working together, not in competition. My hope is that this will encourage people to look closer at the bigger picture and have an appreciation for all extraction methods and realize that they all have their benefits, limitations, and place in the market. Keep a wider perspective and just make good medicine with safe tools
Lastly, I’d like to give a shoutout to a few folks that contributed to my process knowledge. First, Bubbleman from Bubbleman’s world has made a bunch of videos with great explanations for working with kief. Second, a couple Facebook groups; “Press It! (Rosin Extractions)” and “Team Dry Sift” provided some great feedback and the threads in those groups were very helpful. Then obviously, “Extractcraft Users Group” is the best group ever for small scale ethanol extraction. Now go get to crafting and making some shizzle!