In the world of cannabis, many extractors and extractresses use social media platforms to display their work. A few years ago, I met my peer Ashley Huber on Instagram. She works in Florida where the laws and rules for extraction are more unique regarding solvents that are permissible and a policy of vertical integration. I recently spoke with her to glean more insights on these challenges.
How did you get involved in cannabis extraction?
To be completely honest, after I finished my Master’s degree, I just wanted a job that allowed me to apply my scientific background and work in the lab the entire time. I started applying anywhere that fit those criteria. However, once I came across a position for an Assistant Lab Manager at a new cannabis company, I had to have it. It was like combining my two favorite things in the world: chemistry and cannabis. I applied, interviewed, and got the job within a few days. Ever since then, I’ve been so passionately involved in the industry and trying to absorb everything possible related to it.
Who taught you how to extract?
I gained a lot of extraction experience from college, but when it comes to cannabis, I had a mentor, if that’s what you want to call it, at the first company I worked at. He was a consultant that came with one of the companies we acquired. He was such a character, and most people found him hard to get along with, but I loved him. He taught me and one of my lab technicians the art of extraction, distillation, and my favorite thing ever: how to make concentrates. However, we only had access to carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethanol extraction in Florida. So, it took a lot of trial and error for us to start making crumble, shatter, rosin, and other products that were comparable to the rest of the market. I’ve had to reach out to some other industry resources and professionals, such as yourself for assistance. I have to say, it’s a task only being able to extract with CO2 and ethanol.
What methods do you use to extract?
The only cannabis extraction methods I’ve had access to are ethanol and CO2. I’d love to learn butane extraction. The Florida Department of Health just recently passed the rule that butane extraction is permitted, however medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) have to meet a series of super long requirements. There’s only one MMTC that I currently know of that’s able to do so right now.
Do you have a favorite consistency of concentrates?
I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. Each consistency is appealing in one way or another. It’s always satisfying flipping giant slabs of shatter, but one of my biggest accomplishments was building out a production-sized hash lab. Some of the rosin that came out of that lab was insane! That’s where my passion for the structure of the plant really started to develop.
What are some of the challenges working in Florida?
The two biggest challenges that immediately come to mind are the extraction and growing restrictions. As I mentioned, we were limited to extracting with only ethanol or CO2. On top of that, Florida requires all MMTCs to be vertically integrated. So, as a company we have to grow, track, and produce everything from seed to sale. Throwing together a bunch of scientists, business executives, and stoners who want to work with cannabis “because it’s cool” is a disaster waiting to happen. Especially when laws are changing overnight.
Growing conditions are a struggle to begin with unless you’re blessed with the means for indoor grow capabilities. The company I started with is where I learned to extract and make concentrates, but the material was grown in greenhouses. In Florida, that’s an absolute joke. The flower was garbage. They knew it. Everyone knew it. I’m sure you know the industry saying “fire in, fire out.” Well, same goes for “garbage in, garbage out”. So, the distillate and concentrates were trash and I quickly learned what buddering was when making shatter. Once I finally got to a company that had beautiful indoor growing facilities, wicked good genetics, and beyond educated growers, I could finally start producing fire material. And I did, even with ethanol extraction. The concentrate sales grew 900% within the first month of me running the department. It felt so great! But yeah, growing and extraction restrictions are really hard to work around here. It’s a challenge, and I’m here for it.
How do you see the future for cannabis extractions?
Well, hopefully Florida fully allows butane extraction at some point in the future. I’d love to pick up that skill set. I currently work with some pretty talented individuals that I’d jump at the opportunity to learn from. Other than that, I feel like minor cannabinoids are slowly making their way into the spotlight. I’m sure delta-9-THC will always be the front-runner, but there are so many other options out there yet to be discovered, and pairing them with delta 9 is super beneficial. I feel like eventually there will be specific cultivars for certain illnesses and ailments. Of course, there’s the legalization topic. I’m sure the stigma towards smoking and cannabis in general will continue to slowly die down as legalization continues. Personally, I want to continue to grow as much as possible in the field, and I dream about opening a cannabis bakery on the side of a mountain somewhere. I just have to learn to bake something first!
Do you change your procedures based on the cultivar or can you process them all the same?
You definitely can’t process everything the same. This goes back to the question about the challenges working in Florida. The plant material that was grown in a greenhouse took significantly more post-processing on the back end to get cleaner distillate than indoor plant material. To be completely honest, a majority of the greenhouse grow couldn’t even be salvaged into concentrates. Maybe crumble, if I was lucky. Most of our trim, waxier, and low-yielding flower was ran through CO2 extraction to keep distillate in stock. Anything that we knew had beautiful trichomes, or an amazing terp profile was saved for concentrates, especially fresh frozen.
Are there any misconceptions about CO2 and distillate?
Well, actually I just learned this about a year ago through one of my coworkers, Collin McClendon and his connections with Green Mill Supercritical. One of the biggest misconceptions with CO2 extracts is that there has to be all these post-processing steps resulting in product loss, diminished quality, loss of overall revenue, etc. They use an in-line winterization method where you can selectively remove waxes from cannabinoids and terpenes by changing the density of the CO2. It’s so sick. I highly recommend going that route if you’re interested in CO2 extraction. It’s pretty much the most genius way to run any sort of CO2 extraction business.
Do you see yourself doing anything else?
I definitely don’t see myself doing anything else. Right now, I’m working more in the R&D/formulation part of the industry, and I’d like to work my way back into the extraction lab pretty soon. R&D is super fun, and it’s been an awesome experience to work from the start of the process with extraction all the way to the end with formulations, but my heart will always lie at the start of the process with the fresh harvest and extracting it. Like I said though, one day I want to be baking it into some sweet goodies for all the good peoples in my life. Once I get that cabin in the mountains somewhere!