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Extracting THC from Marijuana

Person harvesting cannabis plants to extract THC
THC is one of the primary active ingredients found in cannabis plants.

Recent years have seen medical cannabis begin to move from the black market to the legal market. The alternative medicine continues to grow in popularity, with a vast amount of medical marijuana products now available.

Medical marijuana consists of two main active ingredients; CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. CBD plays no role in the high associated with cannabis, as it is non-psychoactive and won’t intoxicate its users. THC is a psychoactive chemical compound and the reason behind the high.

Not all medical marijuana products contain both CBD and THC. Depending on the purpose of the treatment, some products may contain either one in isolation or as the dominant ingredient.

The products are subject to strict manufacturing requirements, and industry experts need to follow reliable methods to extract THC oil.

What is the best way to extract THC?

Cannabis laboratory extracting THC
There is more than one way to extract THC from cannabis.

As far as extraction goes, there are different methods that manufacturers will consider. A few of the most commonly applied extraction techniques are:

CO2 oil extraction

The environmentally-friendly and non-toxic nature of CO2 extraction makes it a popular way to separate the cannabinoids from the cannabis.

Supercritical carbon dioxide is heated and passed through the buds of the plant. A separator helps remove the CO2 gas from the trichomes and terpenes.


Butane honey oil extraction

The cannabis is placed in a container where butane is sprayed on it to start the extraction process. The cannabinoids and butane are gathered and collected in a separate container.

The combination is then left to evaporate, or a vacuum oven must be used to remove the butane. The substance is highly flammable, making it a fairly risky method of extraction. In recent years, closed-loop systems have made it a much safer process.


Ethanol extraction

Ethanol is a colourless flammable liquid that has a pungent taste. Produced by fermentation, it is the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages and used as a solvent.

The cannabis plant is soaked in ethanol to extract the THC. The product then goes through a refining process that improves its purity. Ethanol helps remove unwanted compounds from the plant, allowing for one of the purest concentrates available.

It is a safe and effective method of extraction that is steadily growing in popularity.


Isopropyl Oil Extraction

The dried cannabis flowers are soaked in isopropyl alcohol and given a gentle shake. The trichomes are stripped from the plant by the isopropyl and the mixture is strained into a dish.

The solvent is then removed using a vacuum oven that keeps temperatures under 181 degrees. After the solvent evaporates, the oil is rich in THC.


Water extraction

A method of extraction that does not involve a solvent. The cannabis plant is submerged in freezing water and stirred to separate the trichomes from the plant.

The trichomes pass through a series of screens after falling off the plant, resulting in THC levels of around 50-70%.

How does THC work?

Model of human body showing endocannabinoid system
THC binds to receptors found in the endocannabinoid system.

THC produces its effects by interacting with our endocannabinoid system, also known as the ECS. The ECS is comprised of densely packed receptors, and its role is to help regulate many of our day-to-day bodily functions.

Our body produces its own kind of cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. These compounds attach to the receptors as a signal for the ECS to act. Enzymes then break down the endocannabinoids once the ECS has performed its function.

THC works in a similar way to the endocannabinoids in our body, by attaching to the receptors. The psychoactive nature of THC overpowers the system and causes an intoxicating effect. The neurons in the reward system are stimulated to release a signalling chemical dopamine at levels higher than normally observed.

The effects of THC can be wide-ranging. It can heighten your senses, slow your motor function, increase your appetite, and more. As no treatment has one universal effect, it’s difficult to say with certainty exactly what THC will do to you.

Can you legally grow cannabis?

Cannabis plant growing in a garden
Decriminalisation of cannabis in certain regions means plants may be grown for personal use conditionally.

Growing cannabis for personal use is still illegal in most states across Australia. In the ACT, where the plant has been decriminalised, persons may grow up to two plants and four plants per household without legal penalty.

For the most part, those who wish to cultivate marijuana plants will need an official license. A federal licensing scheme exists for those looking to grow marijuana for medical or research purposes. Manufacturers will also need to hold additional licensing from the state or territory group.

Only those who meet the set eligibility requirements may apply for such a license. You must:

  • be a fit and proper person
  • prove that there is a producer or manufacturer who will buy any raw materials you produce
  • provide details of your business and proposed cultivation site
  • complete the required form
  • pay the prescribed fees

The fees for legal cultivation are set out by the Office of Drug Control, which is able to provide those interested with all the relevant details.


THC is the main biologically active ingredient found in medical cannabis. For the best quality products, reliable extraction methods should be followed. A few different techniques exist for those regularly extracting THC oil.

THC works by interacting with our endocannabinoid system, attaching to the receptors found throughout the body to produce an intoxicating effect.

Only those with an official manufacturing license may legally cultivate cannabis in Australia. Those wishing to get involved will need to meet the eligibility requirements

In the ACT, however, persons may grow up to two plants for personal use (with a max of four plants per household).

Take control of your health and well-being.

“Elevate your health, naturally”

Australia’s first national
online only plant-based healthcare centre.