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 HTFSE sector. They work with cured and fresh product, preserve and protect the original terpene profile, yet still produce a highly potent product.
From Full Spectrum and 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, is 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 which 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 the other aromatic options.
HTFSE, 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 they ruin the product.
Himalaya relies on BHO and CO2 for all of their 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 like 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 of 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 HTFSEs, from the likes of Himalaya, are very different from flavored distillate products. Michaels' compares the two as fresh-squeezed orange juice to 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 HTFSE Sector
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 HTFSE is a fascinating place, and one worth paying attention to over the coming years.