Extraction 101: Everything You Need To Know About Propane Hash Oil (PHO)
Regular cannabis flower, those same sticky green buds we all grew up enjoying, still remains the best-selling form of the plant. However, THC extracts and marijuana concentrates are quickly rising in popularity.
With enormous cannabinoid percentages that sometimes exceed 90% and the added convenience offered by disposable vape cartridges, hash oils and other potent extracts like wax dabs have grabbed a large percentage of the cannabis market share. This trend isn’t going anywhere, and as the industry continues to advance technologically, more consumers will likely begin to regularly incorporate concentrates into their cannabis consumption.
For brands and cultivators looking to break into the concentrate market, the first step is deciding which kinds of concentrates are the most compelling to produce. With so many options available, this critical decision can seem overwhelming. Today, we’ll take a look at one of the newer forms of extract, PHO (propane hash oil), and see how it stacks up to other common cannabis concentrates.
Types Of Cannabis Extracts And Cannabis Concentrates
Let’s start by defining some of our most basic terms—extract and concentrate. You’ll often see these two words used seemingly interchangeably, but there are clear distinctions between both terms. As you could likely guess from the name, concentrates are concentrated forms of cannabinoids, typically THC or CBD. The term includes the whole gamut of non-flower products. An extract is a specific type of concentrate in which a chemical solvent is used to separate the cannabinoids from the vegetal plant material. Think of it like squares and rectangles. For example, butane hash oil is an extract and a concentrate since it is made with the chemical solvent butane, whereas hash is only a concentrate since it’s made using only heat and pressure.
Generally, cannabis extracts derive their names from a combination of their consistency and the solvent used in the extraction process. For example, BHO (butane hash oil) wax is an extract slightly agitated into a waxy texture and made using butane as the primary solvent.
For our purposes, we’ll focus primarily on the potential solvents extractors could use and how they compare specifically to propane.
BHO Extraction Vs. PHO Extraction
The butane extraction method is one of the most common extraction methods around. It’s also the most similar process to propane THC extraction, but there are some possible advantages to choosing propane over butane.
Both propane and butane are hydrocarbons, meaning they’re both molecules composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen. Since both molecules are highly volatile and explosive, we highly recommend that extractors spend the extra cash on a closed-loop system to safely produce hydrocarbon extracts.
When considering overhead, it’s worth noting that propane is a cheaper gas than butane. It also requires less overall pressure during the manufacturing process, which can help preserve terpenes and flavonoids.
The most significant difference between PHO and BHO comes down to each solvent’s boiling point. PHO has the lower boiling point of the two, which can contribute beneficially to terpene retention. However, with butane extraction, it is easier to form a variety of consistencies like shatter or crumble, while PHO almost always ends up in a budder-like texture.
CO2 Extraction Vs. PHO Extraction
For years, other industries have used supercritical CO2 to create various extracts, so it seemed a natural fit for marijuana when extraction became popular in the cannabis industry.
Right off the bat, small to mid-sized operations may find the startup costs of investing in a CO2 extraction prohibitory. The main benefit of CO2 extraction is that it’s easier to purge the final product of residual solvents. However, the massive amount of pressure required to keep CO2 in a supercritical state can cause significant damage to terpenes.
In comparison, PHO will have a much richer and fuller taste than a CO2 extract. Plus, since PHO has a much lower boiling point than BHO, its purging process is safe and relatively simple.
Alcohol Extraction Vs. PHO Extraction
Ethanol, or alcohol, based extraction methods are extremely common in the industry primarily for one reason—affordability.
The actual equipment used to facilitate ethanol extraction is generally less than closed-loop PHO systems. Plus, the labor costs to run the equipment and the electricity required for the machines to operate are significantly lower than PHO.
However, unlike propane, ethanol has a positive molecular charge. This means that ethanol will bind to other active compounds in the cannabis plant like lipids and chlorophyll, contaminating the final product and dramatically reducing the flavor quality.
Solventless Concentrates Vs. PHO
Typically, solvent-based extracts are more potent than solventless concentrates like hash, rosin, or dry-sift kief. While these kinds of solventless concentrates have been popular in Europe for thousands of years, the American market skews more towards extracts due to their versatility and extreme potency.
While smaller artisanal brands may not have any issue manufacturing short runs of solventless products like hash, it’s difficult and expensive to replicate that production on a large scale.
When To Choose PHO
As far as cost, a PHO extraction is around the middle of the road and is feasible for both larger and smaller operations. Ultimately, PHO is the best way to preserve terpene content in a cannabis concentrate. If you’re looking to create an extract with an emphasis on robust flavor, PHO is likely the best choice for you. However, you may be sacrificing the textural versatility that comes with BHO.