It’s always a pleasure when I get an email from someone asking how to break into the industry. I can appreciate the feeling – I was once there. I had hustle, and always worked hard, but I didn’t have a clear vision of the end game.

Ultimately, building yourself up in any industry requires experience. You dig into the work and make a name for yourself. There are many ways to get there, but it’s usually a nonlinear process.

I got my start in the industry in an unlikely place – as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. I realized during my last tour in Iraq that the cannabis industry was in my future. I had my own personal reasons that drove me towards it, but I saw things lining up. I was honorably discharged in 2006, and I immediately got to work on my education in both cannabis and chemistry.

I hadn’t taken a math class in 5 years, and I had no real background in the sciences. Despite that, I started from the bottom and worked my way through all the liberal arts, math, chemistry, and biology courses. I hustled, and my work paid off with the rewards of leading chemistry study groups – I found that teaching is one of the most rewarding things I can do.

I attended the University of Michigan where I studied Biochemistry and spent my free time learning about the physiology of the endocannabinoid system. I wanted to learn everything about how cannabinoids affect the body and their therapeutic potential. I graduated with my B.S. in 2011 and tasted the accomplishment of my hard work. I planned on going through to a PhD program in Biomedical Sciences, but I first wanted to solid foundation in scientific research before jumping into it.

That’s where some luck comes into play. I landed a job in a biochemistry/genetics laboratory at the University of Michigan where I had the best mentors a young scientist could have. I had all the tools of the trade for HPLC, column chromatography, mass-spec, and a project that needed me to use all of them. I was a protein chemist. Every purification started with extractions, and moved on through multiple steps of column chromatography that ended with HPLC purification.

Andrew - Research day - 2014 poster - Final

I scaled up processes and thought of myself as the Henry Ford of protein purification… Perhaps it was grandiose to think that way. Nonetheless, it’s where I learned to apply the scientific method on a daily basis, and I where I got my basic understanding for extracting and purifying compounds.

I found that a career in academic science was not for me. It is a surprisingly political atmosphere, and I’m not one for bickering. I was accepted into a PhD program, but dropped out just days before the program started. I knew it wasn’t right for me, and, besides, I had an awesome job in the pharmaceutical industry as a Good Manufacturing Practices Quality Control Chemist. It was there, that I realized Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are the future of the cannabis industry – I finally had my clear vision of the end game.

I always kept myself busy moonlighting in the industry while working as a chemist by day. I put the two together, and found that my best bet was to share information and help other people. HempHacker has become my means of teaching people about different aspects of the industry that aren’t fully covered elsewhere.

Since my last job as a GMP QC Chemist, I’ve been doing GMP Consulting for the Cannabis industry. It aligns all my criteria for a job that’s good for me. I’m able to travel, meet new people, help them with their projects, and do a lot of networking in the industry. It’s also very satisfying to know that my work has a positive impact on the quality of products. It’s a very rewarding job for me.

I’m happy with the way it happened, but I know that I would have different advice for someone starting out now. In my next post, I’ll give my suggestions for people getting their start in the industry. I hope it’ll help people get an advanced start.

In 2007, a patent was filed for delta-9 THC processing. It covered a range of organic solvents with boiling points preferably below 0C – ie “low boiling point solvents.” This fits the description of several hydrocarbons – the author preferred isobutylene, propane, butane, and cyclobutane.

This patent was validated with very pure THC – from 95-99% – nearly reagent grade. So while it validates the situation in under perfect laboratory conditions, it does not reflect the true extraction conditions that happen every day for medical and recreational extractions.

The important points of this patent are the temperatures. The desired solvent exists as a gas at room temperature, but can be in the liquid phase when put under pressure and temperature constraints. Controlled temperatures not only dictate the phase of the hydrocarbons (i.e. gas or liquid), but also prevent degradation of cannabinoids, preserve terpenes, and reduce solubility of plant lipids.

Some side notes on the choice of solvents were low toxicity, low environmental impact, and generally recognized as safe for use in pharmaceutical applications. These factors combined are some of the reason for using propane and butane as the industry standard for cannabis extractions.

That covers the theory behind the process. Below you’ll find a few points on the methods that make this a very good process.

Assuming one has an understanding of the standard closed loop extraction process, you can imagine how this process goes. You’ve passed your butane/propane through the extraction column and the extract is sitting in the collection vessel.

It does not specifically say in the patent, but there are two ways this could go. The first option is that the butane is boiled off (reclaimed) to a certain percentage, and then transferred to a secondary container. The second is that the butane is allowed to boil off without care for reclaiming. I find the second option less likely, but it is a possibility.

Assuming the first option, the partially purged extract is transferred to a second collection chamber while it is still of high enough viscosity. This process is called a cannula transfer. The second collection vessel is where there are inert conditions, and the butane/propane is evaporated off.

Solvent is evaporated by increasing the temperature of the second collection vessel and passing inert gas over the surface of the extract – in this case, I’m almost sure the author used a side-arm round bottom flask. I’ve covered the value of inert gasses in a few of my posts at Hemphacker, but it is definitely a standard operating procedure in a chemistry laboratory. In this case, they use argon gas to assist the removal of butane from the extract.

Using inert gas helps remove the solvent by changing the dynamics of partial pressures at the surface of the solution – this is a long topic and out of the scope of this article. However, the change in partial pressure increases the rate of evaporation for butane and allows one to to reduce the temperature to 4C, from what would normally be done at much higher purging temperatures. Now we’re in terpene preservation territory.

The low temperatures are beneficial because it reduces the degradation of the cannabinoids, and also keeps the terpenes in a low-volatility condition. In addition, the author claims that these temperatures make it easier to handle the extract.

As a result of evaporating off propane/butane at a lower temperature, the author claims that the invention induces a more crystalline form of the extract rather than the formation of a homogenous solid. I would hypothesize that the slow cool temperatures allow crystal formation, in what is a more gentle process that does not disrupt the nucleation of seed crystals. They claim to have shown this by x-ray diffraction, but no data is given to supplement the claim. Still, the extract is not 100% crystalline, as claimed by the author; as an analogy, think of how some parts of an extract will auto-butter before others.

One point to keep in mind is that this is a pure starting material, for the sake of explaining the invention of the process. By experience, a chemist performing extractions knows that the results vary by strain to strain, because of the different distribution of cannabinoids and terpenes.

This is a fundamental patent to understand the origins of live resin extractions. This author has several more patents on the subject, but I chose to write about this one because it was the “first mover.” The cannabis community owes much thanks to pioneers in science, who laid the way for us to preserve the ultimate essence of the plant.
I hope that you all find this interesting. Please share your thoughts and comments!

I remember the first time I transferred oil from the collection chamber of a BHOGart onto a silicon mat. Suffice it to say, it was a sticky shit show. Years of laboratory experience dealing with proteins that took months to purify have surely equipped me with proper handling techniques of some BHO, I thought to myself. Nope. It was terrible. I’ve since changed up my methods and added winterization to my routine. This makes for an easier process since you’re going to dissolve your extract in ethanol.

Speaking of lab experience, I would like to share one of my biggest lessons in the practice of laboratory science: DO NOT RUSH! Every time I’ve rushed an experiment, something went wrong. This is especially true for pharmaceutical products that humans will consume. There can be no deviations from protocol – this is the future of the cannabis industry. Extracts are difficult to deal with so don’t rush.

One of the key lessons from the laboratory is to have everything in place before you attempt to perform any process. This also applies to cooking – there is a French culinary saying, “mise en place.” This translates to “putting in place,” or having everything you need set up and ready to be used. This helps to prevent mishaps in the process.

Step 1:  read the post about winterization.

In that post I describe the ratio of ethanol to extract to best dissolve into, how to freeze and precipitate waxes from your extract, filtration/removal of the waxes, and how to purge off the ethanol. Assuming you’ve finished the initial purge of ethanol, you now have a soft pliable extract/ethanol mixture in your pyrex dish with a consistency/viscosity that is between molasses and honey. You’re ready for the scrape.

Step 2: transfer small sections of the extract from pyrex to oil slick sheets.

Again, take your time and be patient. Divide your extract into 8-10 segments and focus on transferring one segment at a time. Scrape underneath and gather the extract onto the top side of your spatula (or razor blade). It’s more important to transfer it in globs than it is for it to peel back as a flat piece – that happens after the final purge. This is a messy process and it never looks pretty until you get to the end product.

Place your silicon mat underneath your oil slick pad so that you know how much space you have to work with. Equally space out the globs from one another on the oil slick sheet and try to make sure that when they’re flattened out, that they will not take up a larger space than your silicone mat.

Step 3: sandwich your extract between the oil slick sheet and silicone mat.

Now that your extract is on the oil slick sheet, take your silicone mat that was underneath it and place it on top of the extract. Now flip it like a pancake, leaving the silicone mat on the bottom and oil slick sheet on top. You’re now ready to roll out the globs into a flat sheet.

Hot and cold conditions will help you manipulate your extract, but since it’s still in a semi-liquid form, the extract can still be manipulated. Take your rolling pin (just like the one Grandma uses in the kitchen) and flatten out the globs. You can work the globs towards the center of the silicone/oil slick sandwich and then work them back out towards the sides until you have an even layer of oil.

Step 4: peel back the oil slick sheet to transfer the extract to the silicone mat.

This is a tricky step to get right, and I will typically chill the extract in the freezer for a few minutes to make the transfer easier. The tool that helps this process is a ruler or straightedge. The mechanism/trick here is that the silicone mat will have more adhesion to the extract than the oil slick sheet will.

Now take your ruler and place it at one corner of the oil slick sheet. Pick up the corner of the sheet with one hand and start pulling it back over the ruler. The goal is to pull the corner you start at towards the opposite corner of the oil slick sheet. If all goes well, you’ll have a clean sheet of oil slick and all the extract will be neatly transferred to the silicone mat.

Things seldom go as planned. You will certainly become frustrated, but you must practice patience until you’ve mastered this process. Take your clean spatula if you have trouble separating the oil slick sheet from the extract, and help it along. Use your left hand to hold the ruler and the peeled back oil slick sheet, and use your right hand to manipulate the extract with the spatula. Again – take your time. Use cold conditions to help reduce the adhesion to the oil slick sheet.

You’re now ready to start purging.

Conclusion – take your time to master the skill.

Transferring extracts is sticky business. You will need time to refine your skill with the tools you have on hand. Perhaps you’ll invent a process that can be monetized! Know that with practice, you will master it. The fortunate part of this process is that you can always redissolve your extract with ethanol and start over.


As always, if you have any questions please post them in the comments section. Your questions and time are valuable and we will make every attempt to help you through your process.