By Troy Ivan
To avoid the mystery hotdog water that makes up a good portion of the retail vape cartridge market people are increasingly very interested in making their own clean carts to control exactly what’s in them for their health and safety and make the best use of the cannabis they have. The process has been hard to decipher, leading to poor results in most cases and people giving. I’m here to change that. This post will provide a very easy path forward to make clean, very potent, and the highest-quality pure full spectrum oil vape carts using straight Ethanol Honey Oil (EHO) made with ethanol extraction.
PROBLEMS NO MORE
Two primary factors that have made making high-quality carts illusive for the home crafter. First, old style wicked carts require the EHO to be thin enough to soak into the wick so excessive cutting additives must be added. Ceramic coil “CCell” carts have changed that and now straight EHO concentrate or distillate can be used with no problem, and no need for adjusting viscosity. Terpenes can still be added for flavor or effect but it’s no longer a requirement. The second problem comes from the tendency of THC-A from high quality material “crashing” or crystallizing once loaded. There are two ways to stop crashing; the concentrate can be substantially diluted with additives and/or the EHO can be partially decarbed. Unfortunately, for the home user both solutions have not really led to quality cart making. Dilution makes the carts less potent and increases harshness while traditional decarb techniques completely ruin the EHO’s flavor and substantially oxidize the end product. Come to find out, we have been over complicating this for a long time. By using a simple jar tech for partial decarb we can make incredible, pure, full spec EHO carts with potency up to +/- 85% quite easily. I’m going to show you how right now!
HIGH-QUALITY EHO CARTS
STEP 1: MAKE CLEAN EHO
For this demonstration I used very high-quality flower that was nicely cured, broke the nugs a little causing as little damage as possible and put the cannabis and ethanol separately on dry ice in a cooler overnight. When temps at -50°F I performed a 1-hour wash, agitating every 15-minutes, filtered well with a Buchner funnel, processed under vacuum at low temps around 100°F and stopped the process while the contents were still very loose.
NOTE: I always use only food-grade, non-denatured ethanol and recommend everyone else working with extraction in a home environment does as well.
If you are unfamiliar with the ethanol extraction process shown above there are very good resources to help get you started on this website (extractcrafter.com). The post explain how to make a low cost DIY system and how to do the primary ethanol extraction from beginning to end. Here are some of the links:
(Due to many problems with the equipment and company health I am no longer able to recommend ExtractCraft equipment in good faith. I believe the DIY systems are much better value for money and better performance at this point.)
STEP 2: PURGE
I stopped the process a little early for maximum control so it required a little added purging attention. The thin oil set over night to thicken a little before going into my vacuum oven for further post process purging. A vacuum oven works really well but you can also use other methods like a regular vac chamber (included in a DIY system) with a heating pad, or just take more time to allow natural evaporation and purging.
Many people get obsessively focused on the amount of residual ethanol in the end product. The funny part is they never know why they are worried in meaningful terms, or what concentration they would consider to be ok. The facts are pretty simple, there are no known adverse health effects I can find published anywhere for residual ethanol in the minute concentrations we’re dealing with when consumed orally or by vaping. If you are concerned, this is what I suggest; do some research to find what level of residual ethanol you are comfortable with, purge accordingly, and have the extraction lab tested before proceeding. Personally, I’m frankly not worried about minute food grade ethanol residuals at all and purge using an experienced eye to get it low enough to establish stability and eliminate an ethanol flavor but not heavy enough to over purge and negatively affect terpenes.
STEP 3: JAR TECH PARTIAL DECARB
This is where my game completely changed. Traditional decarb destroys flavor and terpenes and CWD (Closed Wash Decarb link) is a bit beyond most people’s abilities, leaving no viable high-quality path forward for the home crafter…….until now. Jar tech has been used with hydrocarbon extractions for crashing and making diamonds for a while and more recently with rosin as well. I was getting frustrated trying unsuccessfully to apply the process to ethanol extraction when it hit me. Just use jar tech for partial decarb to make great carts! I’m really excited because this just really opened the door for us and the quality is far better than any cart I’ve ever made. For more detailed info on the Jar Tech Decarb please read the post Jar Tech Decarb to Keep The Terpenes: Real FECO, Carts, and Terpy Deliciousness.
JAR TECH PARTIAL DECARB PROCESS:
1) Fill a small 2oz canning jar with 10g-20g of EHO.
2) Place jar in pre-heated oven, souse vide, Instant Pot, or whatever works best that can maintain semi-even heat. I believe a heating pad can work as well with a longer ramp time added but I haven’t tested it yet.
3) Heat for the prescribed time. (Please see the Jar Tech Decarb post for recommended temps and times)
4) Allow it to cool.
5) Load into warmed glass syringe when at a temp that can be handled safely.
(Excessive ethanol heated in a jar can become dangerous so a safe degree of purging of the extraction in necessary before doing jar tech)
JAR TECH ADDITIONAL NOTES:
A trick used in rosin jar tech to create positive pressure in the jar is to cool the jar and contents without being sealed, then seal it and add heat. As heating builds, the pressure in the jar will increase, helping achieve separation when trying to get THC-A to crash. I believe this may also aid in our quest to maintain as many terps as possible during decarb. The closed environment with positive pressure hopefully restricts the terps from trying to evaporate. Obviously, exercise reasonable caution when dealing with drastic temp differences and glass jars.
There was an unexpected surprise after letting this jar cool to 100°F and getting it ready to load into the glass syringe. It appears the positive pressure in the jar restricted the CO2 bubbles breaking off during decarb and only released once the positive pressure was removed and was stirred.
This bubble release didn’t happen the other three times I worked with this process so I’m not sure why it happened here. As surprising and cool as it was, it wasn’t a problem at all. After allowing it to settle for a couple hours at 90°F it returned from foam to normal EHO. The reason I gave it a stir is because you may see some separation with a terpene layer on top, so to evenly distribute you may need to gently stir before loading.
STEP 4: FILL CARTS
A 10 ml glass syringe with 14 gauge Luer-Lock blunt tips works well for small batches. The 14 gauge tip barely fits into the CCells I’m using but the flow is so good it’s worth wrestling with a little. Make sure to confirm the tips you’re using fit into the carts before starting. Filling a slightly warmed syringe from the top with warmed EHO and moving quickly allows you to manhandle the EHO through the syringe without much trouble. I used to try to suck oil up through the needle then fill a cart or two at a time and it never worked well, filling from the top and doing all at once works much better for me. If you have trouble with the syringe flow you can always hit very lightly with a little heat.
STEP 5: CAP AND START PUFFING
STEP 6: RECOVER WHAT YOU LOST
The two downsides to making your own high-quality carts are transfer loss and low yields. Luckily, both of these are completely recoverable getting very close to 100% efficiency of material use.
When making carts the EHO moves around a lot. It comes out of the EtOH PRO or Source Turbo, onto a mat, into a jar, into a glass syringe and into carts. With so many large contact surfaces and utensils used along the way, there’s a good amount of oil that gets left behind in transfer. Oil on easy to reach surfaces like mats and such can be collected with dab tools once it dries a bit, but jars and syringes make it more difficult. Use a little ethanol to break down the oil stuck on the jar and soak the syringe parts in a Ziplock bag with as little ethanol as possible to cover surfaces. The ethanol used to break down and collect the oil can be run through the Source Turbo, air dried, or saved to run in the next batch. There should be no loss in the end.
Quality and yield end up representing opposing forces in every type of extraction. If you aren’t familiar with why that is I’m not going to get into it here, but if you are interested you can find the information in the post EXTRACTION AND YIELD: IT’S A BALANCE. Any yield left behind in the starting material can be picked up by running it a second time and bringing the total pick-up efficiency to nearly 100%.
APENDIX: ADDING TERPENES
This post was specifically about making pure EHO carts so I excluded guidance on the addition of terpenes. Even though they aren’t “necessary,” I do like to add terps to my carts and encourage people to experiment with them because it’s fun and can add new dimensions to carts always made with the same material and become boring. You can either mix terps into the jar just before loading the syringe, or you can just put a drop or two in a cart after filling and before capping.
Adding to the top of the cart isn’t really the best approach, but it works pretty well. What it lacks in proper process it makes up for in flexibility of testing and playing with many profiles in small sample size.