Extraction Methods: BHO vs CO2 vs Ethanol

| July 29, 2020

Like wine, cannabis culture has evolved into a landscape that looks to provide for a myriad of consumers. There are options for full-spectrum oils, brands that promote safety-first cannabis use, and companies who push volume flower purchases as their calling card. Currently at the center of discussion for many seasoned dabbers, though, the debate around the best extraction method is happening in full swing.

If you’re wondering which extraction method is best, look no further than this blog. Shortly and sweetly, we’ll walk you through the differences between BHO, CO2, and Ethanol extraction. In this post, you’ll learn about what each one has to offer, and why seasoned smokers (and superior products) will always favor Ethanol extraction. Let’s start with the basics that don’t require re-taking your AP Chem course.

So, What Makes an Extract?

‘Extract’ is the board-smoked industry term used to describe cannabis products that are developed via direct trichome extraction. All popular on-the-go solutions like vape pen cartridges and concentrates are excellent product options that provide an excellent smoking experience as well as, usually, higher THC content.

You know that crystal-y goodness that shimmers on your favorite buds? Those crystals are the flower’s trichomes that give cannabis many of its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Extraction labs remove and isolate trichome molecules from the active part of the cannabis flower and turn them into a super-concentrated fusion of cannabinoids and terpenes. This is why extracts are so much more potent at around 90-100% THC content; when made correctly, they are the purest form of cannabis at its finest.

But Why Are There Different Types of Extracts, then?

In a way, extracts are like cake and the extraction process is a lot like baking. If you wanted to make a carrot cake, you’d probably want to use carrot cake ingredients and bake the cake differently than you would a red velvet cake. The same goes for extracts; the methods of extraction seriously impact the overall quality and health of the extract. The same cannabis strain put through two different extraction processes will produce intensely different extract products. If you know what to look for in your extracts and extraction methods, you can easily find a safer and better all-around smoking experience.

Common Cannabis Extraction Methods

Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

Hydrocarbon extracts – aka BHO – are excellent at maintaining their native cannabinoid profiles and terpenes. You’ll usually find these to have a potency that ranges from 70-90% of total cannabinoids. In order to make BHO extract, the flower gets washed with butane. As the solvent passes over the plant, it takes with it all of the most important chemical compounds of the flower, such as cannabinoids, lipids, and terpenes. At this point, the butane itself is ready to be removed from the final result. By using heat or a vacuum pump, the cannabis wax is then separated from the butane.

What makes BHO popular is primarily how quick and inexpensive it is. BHO extraction doesn’t require overly sophisticated materials to complete, so it’s not uncommon for dab-DIY-ers to try and make this extract at home.


In order to successfully create a CO2-based cannabis extract, specialized equipment is crucial. During this process, gas is converted into a liquid. Then, a solvent is pressurized and washed through the plant matter, grabbing all of the trichomes for the ride along the way. At this point, the CO2 works as a solvent in the same way as the butane does, but results in a few key differences. This extraction method is highly modifiable based on temperature and pressure settings, allowing for the extraction of less-desirable compounds (such as chlorophyll) as well. The biggest challenge to CO2 extraction is that it’s highly time-consuming, as well as expensive to do correctly. High upfront costs of equipment make this method difficult for many to achieve properly and safely.


Last, but not least, we have our favorite method of extraction – ethanol extraction. By practice, ethanol-based extraction gets more out of the cannabinoid terpene profiles and accentuates the greatest therapeutic benefits of the cannabis plant.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that ethanol is the safest extraction method around. Fancy name aside, Ethanol is alcohol. During extraction, ethanol is used as a solvent and unlike BHO, ethanol poses a minuscule risk of toxicity. Ethanol also is superb in dissolving a larger variety of compounds in the cannabis plant, therefore creating a much richer flavor profile. Today, industrial hemp producers utilize food-grade ethanol in their extraction methods.

‘Not being toxic’ should be a baseline expectation of any extract consumer and being so, this is why Spoil’d is proud to make all of our products via ethanol extraction. If you can’t tell, we’re big fans of innovative craftsmanship and we’re thrilled that we can create homemade extracts that provide a clean, toxin-free experience.