Cannabis Extract Clarity: A Closer Look
Extract color has often been deemed a way to determine the quality of a cannabis extract. Many associate clarity with extract quality, but that’s not the whole story as Kent Gruetzmacher found out.
In the years since adult-use cannabis was first legalized, extraction technology has grown both sophisticated and refined. Yet, as extraction methods have progressed, so has our understanding of what constitutes a quality extract.
In the industry today, there is a lot of talk about whether or not clarity is a good indicator of extract quality. To help us gain a better perspective on this topic, Maximum Yield reached out to Jacqueline McGrane, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Boulder Creek Technologies in Colorado. McGrane is an expert in the field of cannabis extracts and was very helpful in explaining the technical nuances of extraction and post-processing filtration. She also proved invaluable in demystifying common misconceptions about what exactly constitutes a quality extract.
Cannabis Extract Clarity
For many cannabis consumers, extract clarity has long been a key indicator of overall quality. While clarity is important for understanding the amount of residual plant material in an extract, increased clarity does not always represent increased quality.
“Extract clarity is something that a lot of consumers find really important, but personally, I don’t think it’s that important,” says McGrane, adding she feels extraction companies should seek to find a balance between removing harsh plant materials like chlorophyll, fats, and lipids, while also keeping beneficial compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes.
If you render a extract entirely clear in post-processing, you have removed many of the beneficial compounds naturally provided in cannabis flowers. When this occurs, the resultant extract can become almost pure cannabinoids with very few terpenes, flavonoids, and other synergistic compounds. In fact, with some levels of post-processing, you basically end up with a cannabinoid “isolate.”
Cannabis Extract Color
While the color of a extract is very important to the trained eye, consumers often assume any coloration is indicative of impurities. Like clarity, color is extremely helpful in knowing how much residual plant material is present in a extract. Yet, for many people like McGrane, it is important that extracts retain some coloration, as it represents the presence of beneficial compounds naturally found in cannabis.
McGrane puts it this way: “color is generally related to the quality of the compounds that are within the product, as well as the removal of things like tannins, lipids, and fats that create dark coloration.” The correct color in a extract shows that an extractor successfully removed harsh, excess materials while also keeping beneficial compounds.
THC and CBD extracts labeled as “full-spectrum” and “broad-spectrum” contain the targeted cannabinoids found in isolates, as well as other valuable chemicals. “Terpenes and minor cannabinoids have some level of yellow coloration — removing them doesn’t result in a higher quality product,” adds McGrane.
What is Extract Post-Processing?
The term post-processing refers to additional steps taken after extraction to achieve increased levels of clarity. Whether you are making extracts with hydrocarbons or carbon dioxide (CO2), you will need to further filter the extracts if you intend to sell them for products where aesthetic appeal is important. These products often include waxes for dabbing and vapes.
Generally, the clearer the cannabis extract, the more post-processing it has undergone. For ethanol and CO2 extracts, the filtration process is known as winterization, and it begins after a solvent has initially passed through the plant material. At this point, the extract is held at temperatures as low as -76°F (-60°C), where unwanted plant materials like fats and lipids freeze. These frozen impurities are then filtered out of the extract with membranes, or lenticular bags or plate filters.
A little-known fact is that CO2 extracts are often filtered through winterization with solvents like ethanol. “A significant amount of post-processing is generally required with CO2 extracts because they often have a lot of wax, fats, and lipids in the output product,” says McGrane. While many vape pen manufacturers market such CO2 extracts as “solventless” they often fail to mention the post-processing that occurred with ethanol.
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Matching Visual Indicators with Appropriate Usage
To return to the question of whether cannabis extract clarity is representative of quality, the answer is, well, sort of. For starters, certain levels of extract clarity are better suited for certain cannabis products than others. Also, it’s worth noting that people differ in their opinions of what exactly constitutes a quality cannabis extract.
Matching the Right Products
Ideations of extract quality related to clarity quickly shift when it comes to pragmatic processes such as product manufacturing. “Extracts that are made to be infused into edibles generally don’t require any post-processing,” explains McGrane. As these extracts are infused with food products, they are not as heavily scrutinized as those used for activities like dabbing. Therefore, extract manufacturers are often able to skip the extra step of filtration when making extracts specifically for edibles or infused drinks.
Identifying with End Users
It’s also worth noting different people prefer to consume cannabis extracts in their own ways. Some folks purchase extracts specifically to harness the benefits of a specific cannabinoid, while others enjoy the combined effect of several compounds.
Clear cannabis isolates are attractive to people who want complete control over the cannabinoids they consume. In other words, they are not interested in the synergistic effects that come with full-spectrum and broad-spectrum extracts.
Extracts with a yellow coloration are indicative of the presence of additional compounds beyond just THC or CBD. McGrane explains, with broad-spectrum and full-spectrum products, “terpenes and minor cannabinoids, as well as cannflavins and other compounds, enhance the efficacy of an extract from both a medicinal perspective as well as a recreational perspective.”
In recent years, extract manufacturing has developed its own good manufacturing practices (GMPs), safety protocols, and quality controls. While we have agreed on many of the best practices behind making extracts, there continues to be some disparity about the relationship between extract clarity, color, and quality.
According to McGrane, the highest-quality extracts achieve the ideal balance between clarity and color. In other words, these extracts offer the beneficial natural compounds found in cannabis flowers, while also being free of impurities like fats and lipids. For McGrane, cannabis extracts should be “a beautiful yellow color that can have a slight opacity, but should not be completely opaque.” She feels anything that is post-processed solely to maximize clarity for aesthetic purposes is missing the point.
“While it is important that a vape or dab product not be harsh and unpleasant to use, it is also important to have it be as broad-spectrum as possible because the interplay between cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds is what makes cannabis such an effective medicine and recreational product,” says McGrane.
For McGrane, sacrificing the natural benefits of cannabis flowers simply for aesthetic appeal is a mistake.
While McGrane’s views make sense for broad-spectrum and full-spectrum extracts, you should stick with whatever cannabis products offer the greatest relief. For some people, isolates are the way to go, while others prefer the synergistic benefits as Mother Nature intended.