It’s commonly known that one of the benefits of cannabis is its ability to inspire creativity, and one doesn’t have to look further than the myriad ways the plant is enjoyed. Smoking dried and cured flower is the most common way to enjoy marijuana, but the herb’s benefits can also be delivered through vapes, edibles, tinctures and topicals. While the selection is wide, all of these other cannabis products have a similar start: Nearly all are created with a cannabis concentrate. Most concentrates are made with a solvent that extracts the desirable compounds from cannabis. But solventless concentrates, which are manufactured without the use of solvents such as hydrocarbons, ethanol or CO2, are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.
Data released by cannabis market analyst firm BDSA in June shows that solventless concentrates (the vape rosin product category) spiked by 1405% over the previous year. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the category grew by an average of 132% each month. In California, solventless products from Oakland-based Jetty Extracts command 55% of the state’s market. Ron Gershoni, Jetty co-founder and CEO, says that solventless concentrates are gaining popularity with enthusiasts because they preserve the flavor and potency of cannabis so well. But achieving the best quality isn’t just a matter of the process. With flavor such a priority, the cannabis used is just as important as the manufacturing method.
“To make solventless extracts, you really need a very high-quality starting plant material,” Gershoni says. “And so, on average, the plant material that you’re processing and extracting from in a solventless extraction is going to be some of the best quality fresh-frozen cannabis that you can find. What you put in is what you get out.”
Gershoni explains that most concentrates are made with flower that has been dried and cured, which results in a substantial loss of terpenes and other volatile compounds. But freezing the cannabis locks those compounds in, giving the final product “the truest form of what the plant was like, right when it’s cut down.”
Jetty works closely with the farmers that cultivate the cannabis the company uses, helping to coordinate factors such as strain selection and harvest time. Together, they plan the efficient use of the infrastructure designed to deliver top-quality frozen flower in prime condition for extraction.
“We’re starting with full-term, full-sun outdoor cannabis grown in California that’s flash frozen within an hour of being cut down,” Gershoni says of the herb used to create Jetty’s solventless products.
Once the cannabis has been frozen and delivered to Jetty, it’s agitated with ice and water in what are essentially large washing machines. The cold causes the plant matter’s trichomes—tiny glands that produce the essential compounds—to become brittle and separate from the flower, aided by the agitation. The trichomes are then collected from the water with filters to produce bubble hash, which has roots dating back to the centuries-old hash culture of Northern Africa and other cannabis-producing regions. Hydraulic presses are then used to apply heat and pressure to the bubble hash, which melts to produce live rosin, the most popular form of solventless concentrates.
Although the process sounds fairly straightforward, accomplishing it at scale was a challenge. Jetty began experimenting with the method in 2016 but only rolled out its solventless vape cartridge in September 2021. As one of California’s most popular concentrate manufacturers, Gershoni says that Jetty makes all types of extracts, including both solventless methods and hydrocarbon solvent processes.
“We’ve gone with a good, better, best type product selection,” he says. “We make distillate, which is more of an entry-level product.”
The next tier up is live resin, which is also made with fresh-frozen cannabis but uses a solvent, usually a hydrocarbon such as butane or propane, to extract the cannabinoids, terpenes and other active compounds.
“And then our solventless is our premium product,” says Gershoni. “And that’s what really seems to be resonating the most and is priced higher as well, given how difficult it is to make and how great of a product is.”
Jetty sells its live rosin in jars as its top-shelf line of cannabis concentrates. The company further processes the extract to produce other products, including standard 510 vape cartridges, as well as pods for Pax vaporizers. The company also offers solventless-infused pre-rolls, which are a growing product category.
Colorado’s Leiffa Specializes in Solventless Concentrates
Brandon Epley, CEO and founder of Denver-based Leiffa Brands, says that his company has been making solventless concentrates exclusively since it began operating half-a-decade ago.
“We’ve been doing solventless from inception,” he says. “We’ve never done a solvent-based extraction.”
Epley said when he was planning to launch Leiffa, he wasn’t impressed with the experience offered by most concentrates available from the regulated industry. But an innovation in extraction, which had its beginnings in the illicit market, was gaining popularity at the time. Early attempts at producing live rosin involved home growers squeezing flower with a hair straightener to produce the required heat and pressure. But new methods were making it possible to produce solventless concentrates at scale. Additionally, the extraction process is much safer than others because it requires no flammable or hazardous chemicals. After weighing the pros and cons, Epley decided Leiffa would be strictly solventless.
“The area where our lab used to be located was pretty strict with their regulations,” Epley says. “So, we decided that since it was the experience we enjoyed the most, as well as mitigating some of the potential hazards in extraction, that was going to be the direction that we would go.”
Leiffa controls the process tightly, owning it completely from cultivation to the manufacturing of its products, which are sold via its flagship dispensary in Lakewood and at more than 300 retailers across Colorado. Finished products made with the solventless extract feature dabbables including first and second press live rosin, cold cure, rosin jam and unprocessed full-melt bubble hash.
“Everything we do is made with whole plant fresh-frozen, and we’re entirely vertical,” Epley says. “We have about 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of flowering canopy, so all of our products are made with our own material. We have complete control input all the way through.”
Innovation in Edibles with Solventless
California’s Papa & Barkley has been using only solventless concentrates to produce its comprehensive line of cannabis topicals, tinctures, edibles and other wellness products since the company launched in 2016. Cassie Perlman, Papa & Barkley’s senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce, says that solventless allows the company to keep its commitment to creating its products exclusively with clean cannabis.
“By using solventless cannabis for our inputs, this lets us avoid harsh extraction processes and chemical solvents so that we’re able to maintain the integrity of the plant’s original compounds,” Perlman says. “We’re able to capture the full cannabinoid profile and all cannabis phytonutrients and terpenes. The result is the most potent, cleanest products possible and what we believe is the most true-to-the-plant edibles experience.”
In 2020, the company went even further with a commitment to clean cannabis, a set of principles that ensures pure production processes and ingredients from start to finish. Adding to its popular topicals, capsules and tinctures, in April 2022 the company launched Papa & Barkley Kitchen, a new line of solventless edibles including chocolate bars and gummies. Unlike the THC distillate commonly used to make edibles, solventless extracts present particular challenges and opportunities for the confectioners at Papa & Barkley.
“The solventless extracts we utilize are whole-plant, which means they have a stronger taste and can be harder to work with in edibles. We mitigate that by using the right form to pair with our edibles. For example, we pair our chocolates with rosin because the chocolate and rosin flavors complement each other well,” Perlman says. “In comparison, we use hash infused in coconut oil for our P&B Kitchen gummies, which improves the overall taste and diminishes any bitterness. We then pair the hash-infusion with strong natural flavor profiles such as lychee and pineapple ginger. For our Papa’s Select gummies we honor the plant by not adding any flavors at all. We put farm-specific, strain-specific ice water hash directly into the gummy formula and allow the terpene profile of the strain to speak for itself.”
With solventless cannabis extracts now claiming a growing share of a limited market, the method is gaining the attention of more and more processors, including newcomers that are attracted by the lower cost of entry to the industry. Epley says that while getting a butane extraction facility up and running can cost $500,000 or more, opening a solventless lab can cost hundreds of thousands less. And with new equipment simplifying the process, he fears that the special care taken to manufacture rosin by most processors until now may fall by the wayside.
“The technology for the extraction methods has grown substantially in the past couple of years. We used to do a lot of this by hand. It was a very niche process. It was made with love. And as we’ve started to get into some of the some of the larger machinery and some of the automation, I think that some of that love is starting to be overlooked,” Epley says. “I think that you see the companies that are really succeeding and doing it well—even though they’re using some of this automation—they’re still putting that love and that care into their extraction and into the products.”