As the global cannabis industry approaches $15 billion in sales, cannabis businesses continue to sprout up across North America.1 Whether producing CBD products, hemp, recreational or medical marijuana, there’s a lot the “green,” or amateur, entrepreneur must learn about the extraction process.

In this environment of accelerated industry growth, it’s easy to get sloppy or not fully understand the safety hazards common to extraction. Used to separate cannabinoids & terpenes from plant material; solvents, like alcohol, propane, butane, and CO2, are easy to misuse, resulting in a fire or explosion hazard.

The following are common cannabis extraction processes and methods:

CO2 extraction: High heat and pressure turns the gas supercritical (between those of a gas and a liquid) where it extracts the oil from the plant material.

Butane/Propane extraction: Solvent is pressurized and heated, transforming it from liquid to vapor and making it easier to remove the final product.

Ethanol/Butane extraction: Ethanol passes through plant material and the resultant solution is placed in a vacuum oven. Evaporation purges ethanol and any other foreign contaminants.

Know your extraction risks

Extraction processes involving flammable liquids and gasses can produce harmful vapors. Because some extraction equipment employs pressures as high as 10,000 psi. Improper design, installation, modifications and maintenance of equipment can easily result in an explosion. Therefore, proper ventilation is critical. Cannabis dust accumulations are common in confined spaces without ventilation and can cause respiratory issues.

Because there’s currently no standard for cannabis extraction equipment, your process must be approved by the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), which can be a challenge in a constantly changing environment.

Best practices for extraction and mitigation

Extraction risks can lead to significant liability for cannabis businesses, should the process result in a fire or explosion. Extraction operators will want to make sure they have thorough training on the safe operation of the equipment and emergency procedures. Businesses involved in cannabis extraction will want to develop and regularly update standard operating procedures to ensure compliance with local city and fire codes. Consider the following best practices for extraction:

  1. Permit only closed-loop systems.
  2. Changes in the extraction medium, solvent or equipment should be approved by the AHJ.
  3. Extraction rooms should be dedicated solely to extraction.
  4. Electrical components used for equipment must meet appropriate standards.
  5. Ground all conductive equipment.
  6. Automatic emergency power should be provided for lighting, ventilation and solvent gas detection.
  7. Vacuum ovens that process volatile gases must be listed by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory.
  8. Detectors for flammable gas and or CO2 must be installed and tested regularly.
  9. An LPG extraction room, booth or hood is required with automatic fire suppression.
  10. In a CO2 extraction room, equipment must have releases of CO2 piped to the exterior. Secure cylinders to prevent falling.

These are just a sampling of some of the precautions that should be considered and is dependent on the extraction process. For more information on safe cannabis extraction and off-loading your risk to cannabis insurance coverage, contact your HUB Cannabis Risk expert.