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August 01, 2022
Does "Solventless" Actually Mean "Solvent-Free" in Cannabis Extracts and Concentrates?

BY RACHELLE GORDON | Illustration by Simon Diago

There’s a hot debate raging inside the cannabis community. Some see it as a harmless issue of semantics while others see it as a damaging example of false advertising, leading everyone to question whether we can say solventless extracts and concentrates are truly free from solvents.

The firestorm centers around two unique issues. The first has to do with the use of water in the manufacturing process of certain types of rosin. The second involves a wider issue of regulatory loopholes that a number of bad actors are abusing. Arguments have been pouring in from all sides of the industry, and while the high-level details may seem complicated, Ember is here to provide a full breakdown.

Solventless Concentrates 101

It is important to begin with a brief explanation of the term solventless as it relates to cannabis. As anyone can clearly see by the vast quantities of dabbable products available at your local dispensary, there are several ways to create concentrates.

The vast majority of shatters, badders, and diamonds on retail shelves today are created using large machines that separate cannabis bud from its active ingredients through the use of solvents including butane and supercritical CO2. Residual solvents can be eliminated, leaving behind oil that’s safe for consumption.

Solventless concentrates are known as such because they are not put in contact with any substances that could be considered dangerous during the manufacturing process. Instead, solventless products such as rosin are created using more natural processes, such as ice water baths (more on that later) or extreme heat and pressure to capture the trichomes from the cannabis flower.

“Solventless is a term used in the cannabis industry with a very specific meaning. That meaning is clean processing that uses no chemicals,” explained Guy Rocourt, the Co-founder, President, and Chief Product Officer at Papa & Barkley, whose Papa’s Select solventless concentrate line is among the most popular across California.

“Most cannabis processing uses toxic solvents that cannot be consumed by humans and often fundamentally change the oil product,” Rocourt added. “The term solventless was coined to indicate products that were not produced using solvents that cannot be consumed by humans.”

For Rocourt and others in the solvent-free category, the main debate has come down to the use of water in the hash-making process. But what exactly is the issue, anyway?

Ice Water: The Surprising Controversy

As explained above, many rosin and hash products on the market are made using ice water as the means for trichome removal. Water is referred to as “the universal solvent” by the scientific community due to its innate ability to dissolve more substances than any other compound on Earth. Because of this, some question whether this fact discounts the term “solventless” in the cannabis industry.

Elise McRoberts, a cannabis industry consultant and former chief marketing officer of Doc Green’s (makers of solvent-free rosins and infused prerolls), says the semantics being argued do not add up, pointing the finger at other types of extractors whose sole aim is to discredit their solventless competitors.

“Extractors who use solvents seem to be obsessed with proving that ‘solventless’ is not actually solventless, which really doesn’t matter,” she told Ember via email.

“Yes, water is a solvent, but it’s not acting as one in the solventless process. Water is acting as a carrier in this method. Solvent means to dissolve. Water is not dissolving anything, the water (and ice) is separating the trichomes, and carrying the hash away from the plant matter.”

Rocourt agrees, stating that while water is technically a solvent, it’s not harmful to those who consume it.

“I need to agree that water is a solvent — that's a fact,” he said. “We could go down the rabbit hole and call water a chemical, but that is not the spirit of the term solventless. The spirit of our unique cannabis term is to denote clean, non-toxic products crafted in a chemical-free way.”

McRoberts had strong words for those seemingly driving the water debate, instead advocating for unity on bigger problems facing the cannabis industry as a whole.

“The cannabis community needs to stick together and quit with pointless arguments. We have work to do, like full rescheduling, fixing our broken system, and getting people out of jail.”

The Flip Side of the Solventless Coin

Another component of the so-called “solvent-free debate” is the fact that technically, all cannabis products on the market are required to be solventless. This is due to mandatory testing that ensures all flower, dabs, and other finished goods are free from a wide variety of chemical compounds. Therefore, companies creating concentrates using butane could actually say their sauce is solvent-free, even though the extraction process did indeed use this well-known gas.

“Since the law requires zero residual solvents, some people try to trick consumers by saying their products are solvent-free,” explained Luna Stower, VP of Business Development for Ispire, makers of portable concentrate vaporizers. “However, this is misleading since the word solventless is synonymous with all-natural. Newcomers to the cannabis marketplace may not understand the difference.”

Rocourt echoed Stower’s sentiment.

“Yes, it is true that solvents can be recovered from a product rendering it solvent-free,” Rocourt said. “Solventless was a term created by real cannabis folks to differentiate products that are created using chemicals.”

Is Solvent-free The Only Way to Be? Not Necessarily

It’s important to note that while all regulated cannabis products have been deemed safe for consumption, it’s up to the individual to decide which ones are right for them. Solventless products, while developed in all-natural, artisan environments, tend to fetch a higher price tag. Butane hash oils and distillates are manufactured at scale, with the savings passed on to the customer.

Fortunately, friendly neighborhood budtenders are always available at the local dispensary to offer expert recommendations for those who are new to the dabbing world. And regardless of whether you decide on solventless ice water hash or live resin made with supercritical CO2, you’ll be sure to take home the perfect product for your unique needs.

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis and psychedelics writer with a particular interest in the use of plant medicine for neurological conditions. She has been featured in publications such as High Times, CannabisNow, DoubleBlind, Cannabis & Tech Today, and MG Retailer. Her favorite cultivars include Tangie and GMO.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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