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Extractions Explained- Alcohol

Extractions Explained- Alcohol

What can it make: Crude Oil, Distillate, Isolate

Alcohol extraction is one of the oldest and safest methods to extract cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds from raw plant material. It involves soaking the cannabis plant in high-proof alcohol, such as ethanol, to dissolve the active compounds. Once the plant material has been removed, the alcohol can then be left in or evaporated: either way, leaving behind a potent cannabis concentrate.

The advantages of alcohol extraction are that it's relatively safe, can be done without no specialized equipment, and can produce a high-quality extract with a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes.

History of Alcohol And Cannabis

The use of alcohol to extract the active compounds from cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes is a relatively recent development in the history of cannabis. While cannabis and alcohol have been used separately for thousands of years, the practice of using alcohol to extract cannabis is believed to have originated in the early 20th century.

The use of alcohol to extract the active compounds from cannabis for medicinal purposes can be traced back to the 19th century. One of the earliest recorded instances of cannabis tinctures being used in medicine was in the 1840s, when Irish physician William Brooke O'Shaughnessy introduced the use of cannabis tinctures to the Western medical community.

O'Shaughnessy was working in India at the time, and had observed the local use of cannabis tinctures for medicinal purposes. He began conducting experiments with the tinctures and found that they were effective in treating a range of ailments, including muscle spasms, pain, and seizures.

By the late 1800s, cannabis tinctures had become a popular treatment in the United States, and were widely available in pharmacies. In fact, cannabis tinctures were listed in the United States Pharmacopeia until 1942, when they were removed due to the federal prohibition of cannabis.

The Extraction Process

Raw cannabis flower is submerged in alcohol, which acts as a solvent, After dissolving the cannabinoids and terpenes, the alcohol can then be separated from the plant material and concentrated into a potent liquid, which can be used as is as a tincture known as “phoenix tears”. The alcohol can also be reclaimed, leaving behind a potent, viscous, tar-like substance with many names, such as Rick Simpsons Oil (RSO), crude oil, “phoenix tears.” This can be eaten directly, put into edibles, or further refined into distillate or isolate

Commercial Alcohol Extraction

In a commercial setting, the process is typically done using large-scale stainless steel and glass equipment, with proper ventilation. It generally involves the following steps:

  1. Grinding the cannabis: The plant material is ground into a fine and even consistency, which increases the surface area and allows for more efficient extraction. It is important not to go to fine, however, or more of the plant material may bypass the filters. This material can be removed later, however, the more that has to be filtered out, the more resource and time intensive it gets.
  2. Decarboxylation: (This step can also be done after extraction) The ground cannabis is heated to activate the cannabinoids and remove any residual moisture. This is the process that initiates the conversion of THCA to THC and CBDA to CBD.
    1. This process brings out the psychoactive properties (for THC)
    2. Activates medicinal and other desired benefits (for CBD and THC)
  3. Soaking in alcohol: The decarboxylated cannabis is soaked in high-proof alcohol for a period of time, typically several hours to several days. The amount of time soaked and temperature of the extraction can be altered to change what compounds are extracted. (Pro Tip: You can avoid Step 5 if you do this process below -20 degrees celsius)
  4. Filtering: The alcohol and plant material mixture is filtered to remove any solids. The method used to filter is dependent on what type of container the material was soaked in: 
    1. Some labs do both the soaking and filtering in one machine, typically a centrifuge. After the soaking process, the extractor simply has to flip a switch, which will remove the alcohol from the plant material
  5. Winterize/ Dewax: (Only necessary if the extraction happened at above -20 degrees celsius)
    1. Winterization is the process of removing unwanted impurities such as waxes, fats, and lipids from the extracted oil. This is done by dissolving the oil in a solvent and cooling it down to below freezing point, causing the unwanted impurities to solidify and separate from the oil. 
    2. Dewaxing is a similar process that focuses specifically on removing waxes from the extract. It involves the use of filters or other separation techniques to remove waxes that may have not been removed during the winterization process. These processes are important because waxes and other impurities can affect the taste, color, and purity of the final product.
  6. Evaporation:The remaining alcohol from the solution leftover from step 4 is then evaporated, leaving behind a concentrated compound that many refer to as RSO, Crude oil, hash oil, etc.
    1. Smaller labs will use a rotary evaporator
    2. Larger laboratories will use wiped film or falling film evaporators
  7. Purification: The concentrated liquid may go through additional purification steps to remove any remaining impurities, and be made into a wider range of finished products, including:
    1. Distillate
    2. Isolate

How to Use Alcohol to Extract Cannabis at Home

It is possible to make small batch cannabis alcohol extract at home using a similar process, but on a smaller scale. However, the average person will not have the equipment needed to go beyond the RSO/ crude oil stage in terms of processing, which typically removes distillate and isolate from the table. There are many ways to do this at home with very simple equipment.


  • 1 to 2 Mason Jars 
    • For a few grams of flower, just use a small mason jar. For more, use both a large and small mason jar
  • Cannabis Flower
  •  High-Proof Alcohol
  • Cheesecloth
  • Non-flame heating source.


  1. Grind up the desired amount of cannabis flower: remember, the better the product, the better the result!
  2. Place the cannabis in the largest mason jar that is sized closest to the amount of flower you are using and cover it with high-proof alcohol, such as Everclear. Make sure the flower is completely submerged.
  3. Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place for at least a week, shaking it daily. The freezer is not a bad idea.
  4. After a week, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth (or coffee filter, in a pinch) to remove any plant material. You may have to pour the solution through once or twice to remove all of the particulates
    1. At this point, you could store the tincture in a dropper bottle for easy use. However, if you’d like a better tasting product, I suggest going to step 5!
  5. Leave the solution out, without a lid, for as long as possible, allowing the alcohol to evaporate. When most of it has evaporated, pour the remaining solution into the smallest jar possible. 
  6. Put this on a heating source, such as a hotplate (MAKE SURE THERE IS NO OPEN FLAME), on the lowest temperature setting for 7-24 hours, or until the solution becomes a tar like consistency. This step should be done outside
  7. Set the temperature to Low- Medium for 5-10 minutes. Afterwards, remove the crude oil/ RSO, put some on a pin/ knife, and try to light it on fire. If it lights, the crude needs to heat for longer.
  8. Once finished, you can:
    1. Mix with a carrier oil (such as MCT coconut oil) to make a tincture
    2. directly into gel capsules
    3. Mix Directly into your favorite recipe

Physical Dangers of Alcohol Extraction

While cannabis alcohol extraction can be a safe and effective way to produce potent extracts, there are some physical dangers associated with the process. One of the main risks is the potential for fire or explosion when working with high-proof alcohol, which is highly flammable. It is important to take proper precautions when working with alcohol, such as using a well-ventilated area, avoiding open flames, and using proper storage containers.

Another risk is the potential for alcohol poisoning if the extract is not properly purged of alcohol. Consuming alcohol-based extracts can be dangerous if the alcohol content is too high, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant symptoms. It is important to ensure that any alcohol-based extracts are properly purged of alcohol before consumption.