It feels like every time you turn around, the cannabis industry is developing a new and improved method of extraction. From CO2 to butane to a refreshing glass of ice water, it almost seems like you can extract weed with anything these days.
While that theory may not be technically true, it does hold up when it comes to water – ice water, to be exact. Ice water extraction is tried and true to produce beautiful, pure, and all-around stellar cannabis extractions. But what is ice water extraction and, more importantly, how does it work? Lucky for all you extract enthusiasts out there looking to learn more about the cannabis you consume, this handy Leafbuyer guide to ice water extraction is here for you!
Ice water extraction is the process of removing trichomes (not to be confused with terpenes) from cannabis bud and sugar leaves using ice cold water. After the plant is trimmed, it is immediately frozen to prevent the plant matter from drying out, which can cause contamination during the extraction process. The frozen cannabis is then processed through an ice water extractor. By agitating the plant matter in the cold water, the cannabinoids in the trichomes (also known as resin) separate and fall to the bottom. This extraction method is considered very pure, especially in comparison to dangerous extraction methods like those used in butane hash oil (BHO) production.
Ice water extraction is simple in theory, though the actual practice of extracting trichomes with ice water takes more than just a passing understanding of the process. You shouldn't, for instance, shake weed with ice and water in just any old container and expect beautiful extracts as a result. Luckily, we’re focusing more on the science behind it:
You need a basic understanding of cannabis before you can understand the science behind ice water extraction. Specifically, you need to know what a trichome is. Trichomes, for the uninitiated, are the part of the cannabis plant that carry the most cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc...). The next time you have a chance to inspect a gorgeous nug of weed up close, hold it up and look for the sticky, sparkly bits dusting the bud. Those are the trichomes, responsible for all the great psychoactive effects of THC and the calming effects of CBD.
Ice water extraction works because trichomes are denser than water. This means that they don't just dissolve or float in water but instead sink, separating themselves from the plant matter and the water. This leaves you with nothing but the pure cannabinoids, if done correctly, that is! Ice water is used because hot water would encourage the cannabinoids to activate or, in the worst-case scenario, may actually contribute to the cannabinoids dissolving instead of separating. The cold water also keeps the frozen plant matter from steeping like tea leaves in hot water.
One big benefit of ice water extraction is the purity of the extraction tools. Unlike other methods, only water and weed are used! Even CO2 extraction utilizes gas, which, while not harmful, certainly isn't as pure as water! And unlike just smoking straight-up flower, extractions, in general, don't carry plant matter which can cause smoke damage. Stems, leaves, and bud, when burned and inhaled, carry more than just pure trichomes. The same cannot be said for well-made extract products!
The only tools needed filtration device, ice, and water. The most common device for this kind of extraction is called a bubble-bag, named such due to its product: bubble hash. Bubble hash is an old-school concentrate that, while not as powerful as some other concentrates on today's cannabis market, is definitely purer. This purity is a result of the extraction process in which only the trichomes are used in the concentrate and plant matter is sifted out. No chemical residue, no leaf and bud in the concentrate, and only the purest of trichomes remain. And no one can argue that pure trichomes are a bad thing in concentrates!
Whatever device is used to make ice water cannabis extract, there are some basic rules. The plant matter needs to be frozen before it’s put through the extraction process. If the weed is not frozen, it will dry out and inevitably contaminate the end-result of the ice water extraction. Frozen cannabis plant matter won't break and fracture as easily as dried plant matter, which would prohibit plant particles from joining the trichomes. When agitating the ice-water submerged weed, the process needs to be done gently as to avoid breaking apart the plant matter. And, when the weed is done agitating and all of the trichomes have been knocked off, the bag with the plant matter is removed and drained naturally – and whatever you do, do not squeeze the bag! Remember that the best ice water extract comes from the finest meshes while the first two bags may still contain plant matter.
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