As of May 1st, a new regulation will be in effect for the state of Colorado requiring all concentrates to be tested. There are several dispensaries that might suffer if they don't change their methods. We interviewed Alex Cahoj, president of Evolab and John Kruse, Evolab's lead extractor here in Denver to find out some of the facts behind the CO2 concentrates, and debunk some myths circulating about the process.
What made you get into CO2?
John: It kind of happened by chance. I was working for another extraction company doing CO2 here in Denver. I learned how to run the machine and just kind of fell in love with the process.
Alex: The safety, and selectivity of the extraction is what I liked the most. You have a lot more control over it versus the hydrocarbon set ups. Plus, I’m not into poisoning people.
Can you briefly explain the process?
John: You take CO2 as a gas or a liquid and pressurize it to the "Super Critical" state -- anything above 1078 PSI -- but you don’t have to have super-high pressure. As you pass the gas through it will pull the oils, waxes and other materials out of the plant. Certain parameters will preserve more of your terpenes and others strip more material.
Where do you see the movement going due to the 100 PPM max rule?
Alex: A lot of people are getting into CO2 now because of regulations. That being said, we were there from the beginning. We had that standard internally, morally, ethically. It's the only thing we think about really. That was/is our challenge. It's not easy.
What's the minimum amount of cannabis flowers you would need to produce a batch, and what are the yields?
John: With CO2 cannabis extractions, your usually looking at around eight percent yield being pretty average, and 12 percent being pretty good. You can use CO2 and strip everything out. The problem begins when you start running higher pressure, you’re going to get everything else out too: undesirables such as chlorophylls, etc. All you want is your cannabinoids and terpenes. With great material we are getting 10 to 12 percent, with machine trim we’re getting about five or six percent. Machine trimmed material is darker because the chlorophyll in the plant cells are cut by the blades when wet trimmed.
Are there yield differences from trim and nugs? How about quality?
John: I see higher yields typically with the smaller buds and sweet leaf trim. The nug runs do have great material available there, but part of the percentage of that nug weight is going to be stem weight, plus some other things. When you’re dealing with sweet leaf trim and small buds you have material latent with crystals. Nug runs usually work better with butane and the hydrocarbon processing. With CO2 extraction we get a lot of terpenes naturally with any type of trim we run. For most dispensaries, the flower is still more valuable in its flower form, and the cost of the concentrates hasn't really caught up to that yet.
Can you de-wax CO2?
John: Yes, we can separate oils from waxes. CO2, is selective, you can set the parameters as much as you need. If you just want to pull the waxes, you can pull them out and leave your oils separate. With CO2, you don't have to winterize to get the wax out, which keeps our product cleaner and purer than the competition.
Will molds, mildews, residuals or contaminants show up in concentrated form? Does the CO2 process get rid of all that?
Alex: When you run Super Critical CO2, microbial bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed. The things you have to watch out and screen for, and what the State of Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division will be screening for, are pesticide concentrations, residuals and chemical additives. If somebody sprayed some pesticide right before harvest, it's going to be a problem.
Would the taste and color leech into the CO2 concentrate from using a lot of fan leaves?
John: Water leaves, big sun leaves, big hand-sized fan leaves are a no-no pretty much for anything but edibles. Fan leaves still have quality cannabinoid content, and they are also good for juicing. There might be a larger content of THCA and CBD in the fan leaves, it's just not as efficient. If we're going to get a three percent yield, and it takes the same amount of time to run it, it just doesn't make sense.
How has the process been refined since you started? How have you guys evolved since you started making CO2?
John: Huge, huge learning curve from where we started. In CO2 extractions, one worry is getting out your water concentrations. That's a huge challenge. The methodology in doing that is where we’ve evolved. We have always avoided using solvents. We don’t winterize our waxes because it involves using ethanol. For us, it has been an evolution of finding techniques that are used in similar industries, which we can apply to our product. There are other industries that separate oils and waters. For us, it was kind of stepping back, looking at these methodologies, and trying to figure out what fits our product and standards.
Alex: We recently started expanding our product line and we have amazing vape pens. Fundamentally, we wanted our vape pen quality to be the same as our dab oil. It was just a matter of waiting for the technology to catch up in the vape pen market. We're not going to sacrifice the purity of our product just so we can make a bunch of vape pens to increase sales. We decided to wait for some better products to come on the market, and we’ve found better cartridges that allow us to vape our oil as-is. It's a benefit to us, especially when testing starts and you see our cartridges aren’t cut with anything. Not only are our THC percentages higher because of that, but we are also meeting the new regulatory standards required by law.
CO2 in edibles? Anything going on in the edibles market with your company?
Alex: We are really excited to announce that we will be putting Evolab oil into the edible line we are creating this year: Evolife. We currently extract oil for a few edibles companies in town and they swear by our CO2 oil because it is raw, pure and without residual solvents. Our oil lacks the chemical aftertaste that some BHO, propane and ethanol extractions can give to edibles, so our clients prefer to infuse with CO2.
Has any CO2 product been used in topicals?
John: Not yet. We’ve seen salve products made with BHO, but not yet with CO2. The cool thing is that it can and will be with our future product lines. The same wax we get from the extractions can be used as the wax in topicals and balms. That de-waxed material is not garbage. You just need the right equipment, and know the right way to activate all the material left behind.
How is Evolab getting better?
Alex: The game is changing for us now because we will be testing every batch of trim, every run, all the wax content, all the terpene content. We have an onsite PhD chemist and have acquired equipment so that we can really start to dial in all the data. From how much moisture content, to how much wax content, how much of each cannabinoid, how many terpenes, flavonoids, paraffins and waxes, all of that we are actually going to be able to measure and give the consumer that information. We are also learning from the trim that we outsource, what to expect before the extraction has even started. That's huge.
CO2 Wax and Shatter?
John: It's just more processes. With CO2 Shatters, we are getting into the 80-90 percent THC range. You really purify it. You’re taking everything that's not THC out. The more things that you take out that block the crystallization process, the easier it is to crystallize it. The downside is that there's pretty much nothing else left except for THC. Everything else is removed so that the crystallization process can occur.
How CO2 compare to BHO in test results?
John: There's virtually no difference, it really just depends on what your secondary practices are. We can get up to 95 percent THC if we wanted to. Raw on average is going to come out at around 55-65 percent, fresh out the extractor. With other processes, we can bump it to 70-75 percent. It's basically removes the water. You’re getting waxes and other inert material out which make the potency go up. In BHO you have to winterize and other things. With anything, you have to do the secondary processes to get that concentration level up.
How do you keep your terpenes intact and preserve the best flavors while not getting the PSI too high? What would say would be the best range?
John: We will never tell. Terpenes are volatile, all the data can be found by anyone. You will always lose some. Just being in the environment you lose terpenes. With concentrates, you really wouldn't want to store them out in the open for very long.
Alex: By avoiding high heat, by avoiding winterization, fractionating with better means mainly by avoiding exposure. Try to keep it out of the light and definitely don't leave your concentrate exposed to air very long, and keeping it under constant temperatures preserves what you've extracted.
How is consuming CO2 internally such as eating it alone or infusing it into tinctures?
Alex: There is variability based on whether we activate the cannabinoids or not. For example, if you use THCA you won't feel any psychoactive effect, but you will reap the medicinal benefits. We can activate it and create a THC product for tinctures, and it will have a different effect. We've done them both. This type of product is definitely in demand.
How pure is your product using CO2?
Alex: We've been told we can just use food grade CO2, the same CO2 that is in a soda machine or beer tap. The tank costs about $40. We've taken the extra measure and get the same instrument grade CO2 used in dental hygiene, hospitals, that tank is about $120. The difference between food grade, and instrumental grade CO2, is that food grade claims to be 98 percent free of contaminants. It could be hydrocarbons, it could be water in the tank, it could be rust in the tank, it could be any number of things. The instrumental grade that we use for our CO2 extractions is 99.9999 percent clean. We've been told that the customer is not going to notice, taste or feel the difference, so why waste the money? Fundamentally, I would rather have 99.9999 percent of assurance for me and my customers. That philosophy runs through and through in every sector of our business. We're not trying to bullshit anyone. It's what we live by. For example, on our premises, we have 160 solar panels. We power 40 lights and our extractor with solar, being ecologically conscious and providing a safe clean product is very important to us.
John: When you dab CO2, that sizzle you hear is the sound of any latent water remaining from the extraction vaporizing on your dome/nail. It's what we call Bound Water. It's water attached to the THC or wax, or some molecule. It's still bound up. It hasn't come out. The heat unbinds it, and unbinding can be kind of violent depending on the amount of water. You'll see and hear the popping, but we work diligently developing new ways to remove the H20. There are no residuals, no additives, no solvents in evolab oil. It is raw, pure, and clean. I dab a lot. And the reason why I like CO2, why I stuck with it, is because I appreciate the cleanliness. The cleanliness and flavor of our CO2 definitely shines through compared to the other products on the dab market.
What do you need in order to make CO2?
John: The CO2 extractor itself and the equipment to do any of the secondary processes, if wanted. Some people have vacuum ovens, some have centrifuges, distillation columns and RotoVapes. BHO extractors are required to do the secondary processes for us its optional. You wouldn't want to dab BHO in the collection dish. Honestly, the product right out of our machine is an amazing raw smoke-able product.