The THC Problem

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most well-known cannabinoids. Part of the reason why cannabis is an ancient remedy lies in the health benefits of both. This is where the similarity ends.

While CBD is non-psychoactive i.e. it does not lead the user into an excited or intoxicated state, THC is. Which is why the law classifies cannabis with 0.3% or more THC by dry weight as marijuana, a narcotic. Cannabis with less than this amount of THC is hemp, a substance that is not a narcotic and is increasingly legal over the world.

Producers, therefore, look to maximize CBD in the extract while minimizing or even eliminating THC because some jurisdictions allow cannabis products only with 0% THC. Consumers also demand full spectrum products that include all ingredients in cannabis.

That apart, the extraction as well as the pre- and post- extraction procedures are geared towards retaining some amount of terpenes and flavonoids which impart a distinctive aroma and flavour respectively to the final product.

Among the methods used for cannabis extraction, Cryogenic Ethanol Extraction stands out (along with Supercritical Fluid Extraction) because of its capacity to extract the required products in relatively pure form.



Cryogenic Ethanol Extraction

Temperatures between -150 to -273 deg-C [1] are cryogenic temperatures. Such super-low temperatures transform a material’s thermal cum electrical conductivity, strength, and ductility [2]. Materials are, therefore, in a highly ordered state at cryogenic temperatures [2].

This is how cryo ethanol extraction of cannabis proceeds:

  • Chilling ethanol to -40 deg-C makes it cryogenic or cryo ethanol.
  • Extraction of the required product (cannabinoids) by circulating cryo ethanol repeatedly through finely milled raw material (cannabis plant material).
  • Centrifugation segregates the ethanol from solid biomass of raw material.
  • Filtration removes the minute raw material particles from ethanol.
  • Distillation evaporates ethanol away leaving the cannabinoids behind.


Following are the advantages of cryo ethanol extraction:

  • Scalable: Available in multiple capacities, cryo ethanol extraction equipment enables manufacturers to rapidly upscale their operations.
    With the UN removing cannabis from the list of most dangerous substances less than a year ago, cannabis extraction is bound to boom in the near future. This is where scalability becomes important.
  • Fast: Cryo ethanol freezes chlorophyll, waxes, fats, and lipids, which are then easily and quickly filtered out [3]. Winterization is normally conducted after extraction to remove these impurities. Elimination of one post-extraction procedure speeds up the process.
    Ethanol is polar by nature. Therefore, cryogenic ethanol dissolves only traces of the unwanted chlorophyll and polar waxes from cannabis plant material [4].
  • Safe: Ethanol’s boiling point is higher than that of butane, making it operationally safer. That apart, cryo ethanol extraction does not involve high pressures.
    These features not only improve safety, but cut the costs too.
  • Economical: Ethanol is less costly than butane as a material.
    Its higher boiling point means that it requires less demanding storage and safety setups vis-a-vis butane. This also lowers the licensing costs.
  • Extracted Products: Cryogenic ethanol extraction provides cannabinoids and terpenes, the desired products from cannabis raw material.
    However, it does also extract pigments and unknown compounds which may not be required.
  • Standardizable: Cryogenic cooling is fast and yet controlled. This allows manufacturers to standardize the process, which is an important qualification to make it GMP compliant. GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practice.



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  1. AZO Nano, “What is Cryogenics?”, Benedette Cuffari, 2018.
  2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Cryogenics.
  3. Maratek, Cryogenic Ethanol Extraction Equipment for Extracting Cannabis Oil, 2020.
  4. Process Cooling, BNP Media, Cryogenic Solutions for Compliant Industrial Hemp Processing, 2020.