After medical marijuana was legalized in California over two decades ago, the technology behind cannabis consumption started taking off, and it’s truly exploded since 2014, when Colorado became the first state to legalize the plant for recreational purposes. The innovations took the industry from older, water-based extractions, like bubble hash, to advanced methods using solvents such as butane and CO2 to create wax and shatter.
But hash makers didn’t stop there. They soon figured out that freezing cannabis flower immediately after harvest preserves terpenes and plant oils before extraction, leading to the rise in “live” concentrates, like live resin. The newer, stankier product became the preferred dab for connoisseurs, further pushing back solventless and water-based extraction. But the progression of cannabis concentrates continues at a quick pace as newer extraction methods using rounds of ice-water extraction, heat and pressure produce concentrates that easily stack up with their solvent counterparts.
Cannabis extraction companies like Leiffa produce rosin and ice-water hash that looks, smells, tastes and lifts us to the moon like more traditional concentrates — and with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that no butane or ethanol stuck around. Although Leiffa’s Lakewood dispensary is only for medical marijuana patients, the brand’s wholesale concentrates are a growing and popular presence in recreational stores around Colorado.
To learn more about the advantages and science of solventless extraction, we caught up with Leiffa head extractor Ryan Boulanger.
Westword: Why did you get involved in legal cannabis?
Ryan Boulanger: Passion for the healing powers of this plant in its most natural form, with a goal of bringing a healthy, clean form of medicine to the Colorado cannabis community. Based on our early interactions with this plant, we developed a drive to break down the stereotypes associated with cannabis production and consumption.
How far has cannabis extraction come in recent years? How much has that progress increased since medical or recreational legalization?
From hash-makers being in isolated pockets around the world in years past to having full-blown, worldwide Internet communities since legalization, the advancements in extraction have increased exponentially. The ability to share information freely and see the progress made by others in the same community has totally changed the way that people think about hash and concentrates. Having the ability to do research and development in a legal setting makes a huge difference, as well. These new products and types of concentrates are part of what keeps this industry exciting for us, and for consumers. We are always learning and moving forward.
Leiffa’s preferred extraction methods stay clear of solvents, like butane, ethanol or CO2. Why did you decide to go that route?
With so many different methods and similar end results, we have always felt confident in choosing what we believe to be the most natural extraction process possible. If we can use water instead of a hydrocarbon, why not?
Leiffa uses heat and pressure to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis plant matter.
Courtesy of Leiffa/Hillary Rowe
What are the advantages of solventless concentrates? Can they still be as potent as butane hash oil, live resin or CO2 oil?
With the introduction of new technology on the solventless side, such as rosin and a refined water isolation technique, we can achieve consistencies, potency and terpene profiles similar to those of solvent-based products.
Without giving too much of your process away, how does solventless extraction work?
We use ice water and agitation as a mechanical separation and carrier to produce all of our water hash. From there, we use micon bags to collect and isolate different sizes of trichome heads, then grade them based on quality. The final step in our process involves minimal heat and pressure to extract the oils and terpenes from the trichomes. Throughout our entire process, terpene and cannabinoid preservation remains the driving factor in all of our decisions.
What are your favorite concentrates and ways to consume them?
While we love all forms of solventless concentrates, the one product that can always be found in our head stash is either our Rosin Jam or our newly released Premium Rosin Batter. These consistencies are extremely easy to work with. Our preferred method of consumption is on a low-temperature quartz nail.
Are some strains better for extraction than others?
Absolutely! One of our favorite things about this industry is having the freedom to try new strains from seed or clone. We have put in many hours hunting through phenotypes and have found that there are many genetic variations that lead certain strains to work well with our process. Legalization has opened multiple doors for us to be privileged enough to produce the products that we do.