Ethanol Extraction: Is It The Ideal Cannabis Extraction Process?

Ethanol forms an integral part of the solvent extraction industry. It’s used in food and essential oil extraction but is ethanol extraction the ideal cannabis extraction process? Also known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol is a volatile flammable liquid produced by naturally fermenting sugars.

Food-grade ethanol is generally safer and easier provided the process is properly handled and the primary extract subjected to distillation to remove solvent residues. However, ethanol is expensive in its pure form.

Thus, some manufacturers turn to denatured ethanol as an alternative method of cannabis extraction. This article aims to detail the ethanol extraction process and why it’s an ideal cannabis extraction process.

How Does Ethanol Extraction Work?

Ethanol extraction involves mixing ethanol with plant material.

In the process, ethanol separates useful hemp compounds such as cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant resulting in a concentrated mixture. In addition, the process is non-specific, meaning that fats, chlorophyll, and waxes may be extracted in the process.

The primary extract is then subjected to distillation to remove solvent residues and winterization to remove unwanted fats and waxes. Like any other solvent extraction process, ethanol extraction has its pros and cons;

Pros Of Ethanol Extraction

  • Its highly efficient
  • FDA regards ethanol extraction as generally safe
  • It’s effective in full-spectrum cannabis extraction
  • Ethanol is easy to use and store in large scale cannabis extraction
  • Ethanol extraction eliminates the need for winterization. if properly done

Cons Of Ethanol Extraction

  • Ethanol is a polar solvent. Thus, it may extract unwanted fats and oils in the process
  • Solvent removal is expensive and tedious
  • It does not create highly pure crystalline cannabis compounds (sauce)
  • Ethanol is volatile and highly flammable

Considerations Of Ethanol Extraction

Before embarking on ethanol extraction, its important to put the following factors into consideration;

Solvent Removal Requires Prolonged Heat Exposure

Removal of ethanol from the primary extract involves continuous exposure to heat, damaging natural terpenes. As a result, it may affect the color and the natural aroma of the extract. However, you can avoid this by capturing the natural terpenes during the carboxylation process before extraction.

Distillation Process May Remove Terpenes

In ethanol extraction, the distillation process may remove natural terpenes during solvent removal. So, if you intend to use the extract for manufacturing tinctures, you may need to re-introduce the natural terpenes you collected before extraction. Alternatively, you can introduce synthetically formed terpenes to the extract for tincture manufacturing.

Distillation Process Should Be Properly Done

The purity of ethanol cannabis extracts depends on the quality of the distillation process. Thus, it’s essential to distill the extract properly to remove solvent residues and other contaminants that may affect the purity of the final product, especially when using denatured ethanol.

Use Organic Hemp

It’s important to use organic hemp for ethanol extractions. The hemp plant absorbs chemicals and pesticides during growth, and some traces may be found in the mature plant. Thus, determine the hemp source before using it for extraction to achieve high purity levels.

Denatured Ethanol Extraction

Denatured ethanol is a mixture of pure ethanol and a denaturing solvent such as methanol, isopropyl alcohol, acetone, or heptane. Manufacturers prefer using denatured ethanol in cannabis extraction because it’s cheaper than pure ethanol.

Heptane is the most commonly used denaturant because it’s easy to separate from ethanol due to the difference in boiling point. It’s safe to use denatured ethanol in cannabis extraction, provided that the pure ethanol and denaturant are food grade and safe to use.

Denatured ethanol extraction may leave residue solvents and chemical contaminants in the final extract. However, the residues may be considered trace substances if they do not surpass 5000 ppm as recommended by the British Pharmacopeia and the FDA.

Other Considerations In Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol is a category 2 flammable substance. Thus, ensure that your extraction laboratory adheres to the National Fire Protection Associations’ guidelines on its storage.

In addition, ethanol is a polar solvent with a high throughput efficiency. However, it’s also selective, meaning that it allows unwanted waxes, oils, and chlorophyll into the primary extract.

Thus, the primary extract needs additional distillation and refining to achieve a pure final extract. If distillation is properly done, it eliminates the need for dewaxing and winterizing.


Ethanol extraction is common among various industries, including cannabis extraction. It is generally safe according to the FDA and efficient in full-spectrum cannabis extractions.

Additionally, it’s easy to store ethanol for large-scale extraction, and it eliminates winterization and dewaxing if properly done. Thus, ethanol extraction is an ideal cannabis extraction process.

About the author:Airmid Hemp Extracts bringing you quality high grade CBD products along with educating the world about CBD and its many benefits.

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