The Weed Issue 2018
Cannabis is often consumed in its unprocessed form—smoked or vaped as a bud, mostly—but that certainly isn’t the only way to partake. For a lot of medical cannabis patients, and for those adverse to smoking, something that contains a concentrated version of cannabis is preferable. Think tinctures, topicals, and concentrates, which in some cases can also offer greater potency.
You can make any of those at home fairly easily. (Insert obligatory disclaimer that making concentrates at home using butane is a great way to end up as an 11 o’clock news story called “Local Dipshit Making Hash Oil Blows Up Self, House.” Don’t use butane outside of a regulated, professionally overseen production facility, ever.)
But “fairly easily” is relative, and time, effort, and the quality of your final product are all considerations. Which is why many forgo making their own tinctures and edibles for the same reason many forgo brewing their own beer—it can be messy and time-consuming, you need lots of equipment, strong smells can ensue, and so on.
I’ve made cannabis tinctures and water-extracted concentrates with varying degrees of success for years. But stirring a pound of weed trimmings in a five-gallon bucket filled with ice water for 10 minutes straight loses its charm quickly, and the alcohol tinctures I’ve made resulted in a effective potion, yes, but one that blended the flavors of a garbage bin of lawn trimmings with a hint of burning feet.
On the flipside, cost is a big factor in purchasing premade cannabis tinctures and concentrates. Taxes and other high-cost regulations placed upon the cannabis industry lead to a much higher price for a finished product than what you would make at home. And hobby recreational growers, especially those with plants grown outdoors, often end up with Ziploc bags of surplus bud and trim that they can’t use.
I was intrigued by a new product by Colorado-based company ExtractCraft, who make the Source Turbo. What’s that? (Deep breath.) The Source Turbo is a first-of-its-kind, pro-sumer level, closed-loop vacuum, tabletop alcohol extractor machine, capable of safely producing highly concentrated ethanol-extracted oils from cannabis and other botanicals. Roses, hops, and herbs can all be quickly extracted, using alcohol, into an oil that you can use for a variety of products and purposes—edibles, perfumes, alternative medicines, tinctures, aromatherapy products, and more.
Closed-loop systems are preferred to traditional alcohol extraction methods that involve an open container, which slowly boils off the alcohol. Not only is your expensive hooch lost in boiling, but it produces highly explosive fumes next to a heat source, and is best performed outside under constant supervision. Standing next to a pot of boiling alcohol on a hot plate in your driveway is not a great look, but neither is blowing yourself up real good.
So I tried a Source Turbo to see what type of results I could get, even with my limited circus-bear-like abilities to properly follow directions. It wasn’t exactly not complicated, but thankfully, ExtractCraft has an active and engaged user’s group whose members share helpful tricks and tips, and post impressive pictures of their work. And I was able to reach someone at ExtractCraft by phone, even on the weekends, with my litany of stupid, stoned questions. “It won’t turn on. I think it’s broken.” “Is it plugged in?” (Pause.) “Uhhhhh, well, I mean, it is now.”
I started with some fragrant, trichrome-rich bud and trim of Mystery Haze grown and donated by Green Bodhi, an herb that, smoked on its own, was better than a number of pre-rolls I recently tried. I also used everyone’s favorite blindness-inducing alcohol, Everclear, clocking in at a terrifying 190 proof. One feature of the Source Turbo is the effort-free way it recaptures a vast majority of the alcohol used, so it can be used numerous times afterwards. I’ve used the machine eight times now, and am still using that initial fifth of Everclear.
An ounce of trim went into a quart-sized mason jar filled with 12 ounces of Everclear, and was placed into the freezer for an hour. I didn’t grind it up, which would have released more chlorophyll into the finished product. Here’s where things get a little chemistry-class, so bear with me: I poured it through a glass vacuum suction filter filtration kit—a 250 milliliter Buchner Funnel resting on a 1000-milliliter conical flask set that I got from Amazon for $40.52, which came highly recommended to ease the straining process. I also used paper filters to ensure an extra-clean starting product, which ran $7.12 for 50. The alcohol/trim mixture drip-filtered into the flask in about 15 to 20 minutes. I could have done the same using a coffee filter and mason jars, but this made the pouring easier.
The machine is 10 inches tall, and seven inches long by seven inches wide, about the size of a quality blender. A thick glass “cold trap” ring rests on the base, serving to form the vacuum seal and capture the reclaimed alcohol. A screw in the base attaches to a heavy metal “crucible,” which is a fancy way to say “cup,” and can be filled with up to 12 ounces of the filtered alcohol. Place the fitted glass cover on, and add a cooling tray, filled with ice cubes, on top.
Plug it in—that’s important—and gently turn a screw to seal the top to achieve a vacuum, and hit a green button once to select “normal” or “turbo” mode. There’s an app allowing you measure, monitor, and control various functions—you know, app stuff.
The 30-second buzzing sound of the vacuum seal being formed was noticeable, but then came a quiet clicking, like a muffled ticking clock. It sat in my kitchen and could not be heard from other rooms.
There was no smell, and the machine slowly and precisely boiled off the alcohol, which was recaptured in the base of the cold trap, at a consistent 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Four hours later, the alcohol in the crucible was reduced in volume by about 80 or 90 percent, leaving a thick, honeylike liquid.
That liquid can now be thinned with Everclear or MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides, an oil made from coconut or palm heart), and used as a tincture, or as an ingredient in edibles or topicals. People with more drive than me are known to fill their vape pen cartridges with it, but I opted out of this American Ninja-level filling challenge.
Instead, I decided to make a dabbable concentrate by pouring the reduced alcohol mixture onto a silicone mat, forming a thick puddle. A small computer fan blew on it, to speed up the evaporation of the remaining alcohol. Based on room temperature and optional fan use, the puddle size will begin to shrink, and develop a pudding-like skin. Take a clean dab tool and run it through the puddle for 10 to 15 seconds every few hours to speed along the process. After several days, my puddle had reduced by more than three-fourths, leaving behind a pliable, taffy-like concentrate that could be handled and consumed easily.
I vaped the finished concentrate at 410 degrees through my Herbalizer vaporizer, and clearly tasted the distinct, Mystery Haze notes of the specific trim I’d used. Products I later made with other strains gave the same results—a distinct blend of terpenes that made each one unique in taste. The amount of time I let the alcohol/cannabis mixture soak determined the finished color and taste of the final product.
I also got high AF—as much as I would have with dispensary-bought concentrates. That’s not a surprise, as the three samples that I got tested by Lightscale Labs came back at 62, 58, and 50.4 percent THC, and my tincture tested at 56 percent THC. As Justin Ouellette of Lightscale Labs informed me, “Your samples were high in cannabinoid potency for being ethanol based, and generally comparable in potency to similar products being made in Oregon right now. Our lab director made a note of its unique texture.”
Other users have reported that their yield on fully purged concentrate is 6 to 9 percent, based on the quality of the cannabis used. Top-shelf buds should produce exquisite results. My average was around 7.5 percent, meaning that for every ounce of trim I used, I got about 3.7 grams of dabbable concentrate. Those using full-bud flower can get a higher yield of 13 to 18 percent.
There are full-time, licensed artists of extraction who can produce higher THC content and products that are richer in terpenes, to be certain. Flash-frozen live resin subatomically extracted with Vibranium resulting in 127 percent THC fire dabs, brah, I know. But the Source Turbo has benefits those products don’t, such as the option to self-produce a wide range of products that’re infused with specific levels of THC and/or CBD along with other botanical oils. I could have extracted lavender or citrus oils, for example, and added those to the THC tinctures to gain those oils’ benefits and terpenes.
Those who grow at home and want to use the Source Turbo need only invest in Everclear and filters. Or, a pound of high-quality trim can be obtained on the medical market for around $250, meaning each ounce will cost about $15, and yield 3.5 grams or more of concentrate per ounce. Excluding the minimal cost of the Everclear and filters, that works out to be less than $5 a gram.
The Source Turbo’s price of $575 is surely a barrier, though. But for the right person, it could conceivably pay for itself before too long. Or, here’s an idea: Get two or more of your friends, and share—it only takes eight hours for the process to give you a pretty sizeable batch of extract.
Fun Facts and Tips!
I did a one-hour, freezer-based soak of Everclear and trim, resulting in a darker colored product more akin to commercially available Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) or full extract cannabis oil (FECO). For a less medicinal, lighter tasting and colored oil or dab, try a five- to 10-minute freezer-based soak.
If making tinctures, edibles, or topicals, decarboxylate your weed. (For smokable dabs, no need.) Google how—it’s fast, easy, and increases the potency.
If using buds, carefully break them up by hand into peanut-M&M-sized pieces. This increases surface area without releasing too much chlorophyll.
Don’t shake the jar of Everclear and weed in an effort to extract more THC. That releases more chlorophyll as well.
Alcohol has a saturation point, so don’t toss the used weed after your initial soak! Do a secondary soak with an eye toward making edibles, tinctures, or topicals. It won’t be as strong as your first run, but will be worth the effort.
The time between having the alcohol extract in the crucible go from a “warm honey” consistency to a more caramel-like thickness (which is a real hassle to extract and clean up) is quite short, so keep an eye on it at the end.