High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction

The Magic of High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction

by | Jul 24, 2019

High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

At one time, there was little differentiation from one extraction to the next. Conventional concentrates were all solvent-based and high-potency, with little to no flavor. These products were, by today’s standards, crudely made distillates, focusing almost exclusively on THC content. They were potent but lacking in any remarkable flavor or aroma profile.

The industry is continuously evolving, with ever-changing tastes and technological advances. The latest pivot is towards high terpene and full-spectrum extractions which maintain the plants’ authentic cannabinoid content and flavor profile.

This rapidly unfolding segment of the industry is as volatile as the compounds it processes. The technologies are as fluid as the definitions, making it no easy task to navigate. Cannabis Tech spoke with Ben Michaels from Himalaya, a California company focused on making High Terpene Full Spectrum Extractions (HTFSE) to get a better understanding of this area of the industry, and where it’s headed.

Himalaya is a front-runner in the High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction sector. They work with cured and fresh products, preserve and protect the original terpene profile, yet still produce a highly potent product.

High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction

From Full Spectrum to Distillate – And Back Again

Michaels told us, “The terms are so poorly defined, that even within the industry, we have one customer calling something one thing, another customer who is using the same term for something completely different. Everyone is chasing their tail around in confusion.” Because extractions come in many shapes, flavors, and qualities – the first step is to understand the methodology.

There are two starting points for extractions, either cured flower or fresh. When done correctly, in an ideal climate, curing helps develop a delicate flavor profile in flower. Until recently, cured cannabis was the exclusive option for producing concentrates and extracts.

Fresh flower concentrates, also called live resin, are a relatively new development in concentrates. It’s in high demand with prices which reflect this. Technically fresh flower can go into any number of concentrates, but in most instances, the desired compounds would disappear during extraction. Today, it is almost exclusively used for live resin, as it is one of the few processes that protects the volatiles and terpenes from degradation.

Most high-temperature, solvent-based extracts, are highly potent but lack a complex compound profile. Many producers choose to reintroduce terpenes post-extraction, with flavors designed to mimic cannabis terpenes, although they are not cannabis derived themselves. Michaels differentiated these as botanical terpenes, pulled from lemons, pinecones, and other aromatic options.

High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction, a New Frontier of Extraction

The industry has struggled, up until recently, to produce any concentrate which maintained its terpene integrity. Terpenes are highly volatile compounds and degrade quickly, sometimes without even the addition of high heat. In some environments, aromatic compounds evaporate, disappear, or deteriorate, but especially so in high heat. If they are preserved through an extraction process, they often change so dramatically that they ruin the product.

Himalaya relies on BHO and CO2 for all of its extractions, both fresh and cured. When used carefully, these methods provide as a “full, rich, and well-rounded profile,” as Michaels explained. Butane, a long-used solvent within the industry, helps lock in the volatile compounds, and it’s “much easier to get a robust profile with BHO from fresh frozen cannabis.” They primarily stick with CO2 for cured cannabis.

Using a deep-vacuum thin film process, Himalaya carefully extracts the volatile compounds, including flavonoids, terpenes, and more. Michaels described this process as the evaporation from the surface of a lake on a hot summer day. Although the lake is not at boiling temperature, there is an invisible and constant evaporation happening across the surface. In the cannabis world, a low-temperature extraction process is essential for capturing these flavorful but sensitive compounds.

Himalaya is one of the few companies removing volatiles before cannabinoid refinement, as most extractors use high-temperature, harsh processes that degrade or damage all these exotic compounds. Michaels explains they focus on maintaining the integrity of the original strain, with no added botanicals. Once concentrated, Himalaya reintroduces the original strain’s terpenes to preserve the authentic full-spectrum profile.

These High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extractions, from the likes of Himalaya, are very different from flavored distillate products. Michaels compares the two as fresh-squeezed orange juice to a High C orange-flavored drink. In his words, “People don’t want a wine cooler that’s grape drink mixed with vodka. They want wine.”

The Future of Terpenes, Volatiles, and the High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction Market

With the industry now capable of protecting terpenes and other exciting compounds during extraction, it sets the stage for some very exciting advances. There is still a lack of scientific understanding about even some of the most prevalent compounds pulled from cannabis – namely CBD. With recent developments in extraction processes, in another five or ten years, we will be in a much better position to understand each compound’s role, as well as the entourage effects when combined.

Knowing how to add and subtract cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial compounds is like discovering basic building blocks. How does each of these compounds affect us medicinally? Experientially? How can we combine complementary extracts into complex profiles for specific therapeutic goals? The world of High Terpene Full-Spectrum Extraction is a fascinating place, and one worth paying attention to over the coming years.