Cartridges and vaporizer pens have risen in popularity over the past couple of years due to their convenience, flavor, and discretion. In order to produce cannabis oil, distillate is required and must be extracted from the flower. If you only have flower and do not have distillate, I would recommend using the ethanol extraction method. If you have distillate feel free to skip the following ethanol extraction instructions.
Of the methods which produce distillate, the ethanol method is the safest and cleanest. Butane is a dangerous chemical to both work with and consume. There are many cases of (and YouTube videos of) cannabis laboratories catching fire or exploding. Ethanol is the slowest and most time-consuming method, but it is the safest and cleanest. Ethanol extraction requires a freezing ethanol to at least 20 degrees below zero, equipment without this capability, this method will not work for you.
Ethanol Extraction Method
Ethanol, C2H5OH, is a colorless but volatile flammable liquid that is an intoxicating agent in many liquors and is also used as a solvent and in fuel. Also referred to as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol (moonshine), ethanol can be fermented from many different sources including corn, wheat, grain, soghum, barley, sugar cane, and potatoes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies ethanol as a Class 3 solvent with low risk for acute or chronic toxicity in pharmaceutical manufacturing processes where the residual is less than 5,000 ppm or 0.5 percent.
Ethanol extraction is a single-stream process that can be conducted under warm or cold conditions. One example of a warm ethanol extraction processes is the Soxhlet technique. There are many other techniques available, some of which may be easier, however I find the Soxhlet technique to be the simplest. This technique essentially boils ethanol in a flask or pot, then condenses the alcohol on a cooled-coil, which then drips through the packed flower material, stripping the cannabinoids and terpenes during the process. The advantage to this approach is that the extraction is time efficient and of relatively low solvent-to-feed ratio. However, the warm-ethanol technique is generally a small-batch approach that extracts chlorophyll/waxes and thus decarboxylates the cannabinoids due to the heat involved. (Decarboxylation is the conversion of THCA, for example, to THC through heating and agitation that yields carbon dioxide during the process.)
Making cartridges from home can seem like a daunting task, as there are many steps and supplies required. But with the right equipment it is a doable and with repeated attempts and practice, the process will become second nature. A good amount of supplies is required in order to make the optimal, best tasting, and best hitting cartridge. Prep time is roughly three hours. To make a DIY cartridge, you will need:
- Cannabis distillate (a.k.a. wax)
- Empty cartridges (available online)
- Large pan / saucepan
- Stirring hotplate & stir bars
- Multiple 1000 mL beakers
10 mL syringes (needleless & removable tips needed) (Syringes without removable tips are useless.)
- Preferred terpenes
- Isopropyl alcohol (for cleaning)
- Flavoring (optional)
Step one is ensuring the cleanliness of your beakers and the rest of your supplies. Dirty, unwashed beakers can contaminate a mixture and affect the product’s potency and taste. Next, using the following equation, determine how much terpene and distillate you will use in your mixture for 1-gram cartridges.
92% distillate + 8% terpenes = 100% cartridge oil. It is best to use no more than 8% terpenes in plastic cartridges, as going higher than 8% may cause leaking and render the cartridge useless. Terpenes act as a diluent which thins the oil causing it to leak. So, multiply 0.08 by the amount of distillate you have. If you have 50 grams of distillate, you will need 4 grams of terpenes. If you have 1761.7 grams of distillate, you will need 141 grams of terpenes.
(amount of distillate in grams) x (% of terpenes (≤0.08)) = grams of terpene needed
Add these two numbers together, distillate and terpenes, and that is how many 1-gram cartridges you’ll need. So 50 grams of distillate and 4 grams of terpenes will fill 54 one-gram cartridges. If you are using flavoring, make sure it is oil soluble. Add 1%-2% of the total mixture, a little goes a long way. Flavoring is a diluent, so adding too much will cause the cartridge to leak. Some terpenes are naturally flavorful and do not need anything added to smell and taste enticing and mouthwatering, while others could benefit from a flavor enhancement. The flavoring company CARMI produces FDA approved, all-natural flavoring, with no vegetable glycerin (VG) or propylene glycol (PG) added. Their flavorings are expensive but very high-quality and effective and never make the oil murky. CARMI offers 10 mL free samples which can produce up to 1000 cartridges, for free.
As most cannabis distillate is rigid, fixed, and extremely viscous, heating it will loosen it up. Next, fill your pan halfway with water and place it onto the hot plate on low heat. If you let the oil get too hot (specifically above 120 degrees Fahrenheit), it will turn out brown. Currently, there is a demand for lighter, golden-colored cannabis oil. Golden oil often has fewer impurities and is considered by many to be more aesthetically pleasing. Cover the jar of oil and leave it in the low-temperature heated water for roughly an hour. Once it loosens, you can mix it with the terpenes.
Using your scale, place a 1000 mL beaker and tare it (or zero it). First, pour the amount in grams of terpenes you’ve calculated into the beaker, tare it, then add the distillate. Add the magnetic stir bar and cover the mixture with a lid or with a rubber glove and rubber band. A lid keeps the oil from oxidizing and from spilling out. Place it on the stirring hot plate and turn both settings to low, so that the stir bar is stirring evenly, and the temperature remains below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Time on the mixing hot plate depends on the amount of mixture in the beaker, less than 250 mL should be roughly two hours, above 250 should be roughly two and a half to three hours.
After two to three hours, the oil should be ready. Using your needle-less syringe fill one of the empty cartridges. Test the flavor and determine whether or not more flavoring should be added. If it should, add a few drops, or 0.5% of the original mixture and stir for another 5-10 minutes. When filling the cartridges, fill to the very brim without spilling over.
This oil product can be used in other ways as well. It can be poured on top of a rolled cannabis joint for added THC effect. Some producers roll joints in the oil then roll it in kief to create a mega-THC infused product. Not for those with low tolerances.
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