Inside Look at Leading AZ Extraction Company


Inside Look at Leading AZ Extraction Company

In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Tasia Mercadente, who runs Santiago and Dunbar Extracts. Tasia performs many extractions for her company, producing a wide variety of concentrates, from waxes to crumbles, shatters, oils, and more.

Growers Network is committed in spreading knowledge about all aspects of the commercial cannabis industry, including growing, dispensaries, extractions, and more. Extract sales, like Tasia’s, are one of the fastest growing segments of the cannabis industry.

Since she first learned about cannabis in her teenage years, Tasia has formed a company and made a career out of making extractions for both recreational and medicinal users. The medicinal products were inspired by one of Tasia’s best friends, who has suffered from cancer for most of his life. Tasia produces CBD capsules and tinctures to ease the symptoms of cancer, both for her friend, and for other cancer patients.

The following is an interview with an industry leader. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


Extracts and Concentrates

In the cannabis industry, both extracts and concentrates refer to a substance or group of substances that has been physically or chemically extracted from the flower buds of the cannabis plant. One of the oldest known recreational forms of cannabis, hash, is an extract.

There are many means of extracting and concentrating cannabis derivatives, as discussed below.

Cannabis extracts have been made and used for centuries, the most famous of which is known as Hash, or Hashish, an Arabic word for the substance which literally means “grass.”

Image Courtesy of WoahStork.

There are many high-quality publications on the varieties of concentrates currently made. We find WoahStork’s visual guide to types of cannabis particularly useful.

This Growers Spotlight focuses primarily on four kinds of concentrates: Live Resin, Shatter, Crumble, and Oils.



Let’s Talk Concentrates

I try to avoid blowing myself up.Tasia Mercadente
I got into making cannabis extracts to help cancer patients, which started because of my best friend. Back in 6th grade he got cancer, and it was pretty sad, but since we were little kids, the concept of death didn’t really resonate at the time. The Make-A-Wish people got him a guitar and a puppy. Ironically, the dog died of cancer. My friend managed to survive and went into remission.

Then last year, my friend relapsed. He had to get a testicle removed and a hernia out of the same region. This year he’s experiencing the same symptoms and doesn’t want to go through radiation again. He doesn’t want the medication anymore.

One of Tasia’s tinctures.

His plan is to take a year off in order to travel, have fun, live his life, and choose his own path. I started giving him CBD and high potency THC capsules. He’s taking them every day now, and they’re really helping him with the pain and some other symptoms.

I make live resin, oil, shatter, and crumble extracts.


Live Resin

Live resin is better than wax, hash, crumble, or shatter. Live resin starts by freezing flower. When you take a cannabis plant down, instead of trimming it immediately, you put it in a cryogenic freezer. After it’s frozen, you blast it with butane. You can open-blast it, you can close-loop it, or anything like that.

Live resin should be a little bit gooey. It should be stable, but moldable, like pottery before it’s fired. The clay is semi-solid. Live resin has that consistency, kind of like bread dough.

Whenever you see someone making shapes or objects or art pieces out of their wax or hash, it’s usually a live resin. You can shape it with your hands and make a little heart out of it. Generally speaking, however, you want to stay away from goo unless it’s a live resin.

An example of a live resin sculpture.

Editor’s Note: The rapid freezing of fresh flower prevents volatile organic compounds from escaping the flower before extraction, resulting in a higher concentration of terpenes, the compounds responsible for many flavors found in foods, drinks, and cannabis products.


Juice and Oil

There are several kinds of juices. When people used to talk about juice, they were referring to the oil for vape pens, but “juice” nowadays is actual juice, almost like a cough syrup. It can actually be called a syrup or a juice.

I would call vape pen juice an oil or an oil-based product.

An oil made by Santiago and Dunbar Extracts

Editor’s Note: Oil refers to BHO, or Butane Hash Oil, and there are a variety of different types. To learn more about the different kinds, take a look at this informative article from WoahStork.


Shatter

Shatter has the consistency of glass. It’ll break and crack off easily. That’s why they call it shatter, because if you dropped it, it would shatter. A lot of people prefer it to be a transparent blonde/gold color because that shows how clean it is.

A shatter made by Santiago and Dunbar Extracts

Some of the darker kinds can have more THC, but don’t look quite as good. For example, my Bubba Skywalker always turns into a really blonde shatter, without fail. Then I’ll run my God’s Gift, a straight indica, and it produces a dark, amber color shatter. The dark amber color is seen as less desirable, despite the fact that my dark God’s Gift extract has 77.92% THC, while my blonde Bubba Skywalker extract only has 72.63% THC. Obviously the Skywalker looks better, but it tests lower. It’s like when you buy a car: the car may not run, but you buy it anyway because it looks good.


Crumble

Crumble is like a cookie crumble. It breaks apart really easily into a dust. It’s stable, but crumbly and not gooey at all.

A crumble made by Santiago and Dunbar Extracts
Whenever you put something new in, you don’t know what you’re going to get out. You need to have extracted and purified that particular strain and breed beforehand to know what you’re going to get. My Bubba Skywalker, a hybrid dominant indica, for example, turns into a shatter every time, without fail unless I do something wrong, like waiting too long to run it. If I wait too long to run it, it’ll turn into a crumble. Then I’ll run my God’s Gift, a straight indica, and it produces a dark, amber color shatter.

You have to be familiar with everything you put in. If I run trim from some place I don’t know, I wouldn’t know what kind of product I would get, nor the amount of product. I wouldn’t know whether it would be a crumble or a black gooey mess.

The troubling part about it is I usually don’t find out until the next day, because I run a 12 hour purge in the vacuum oven. It could take me a whole day before I know what I’ll be getting out.

Vacuum ovens used in purification.

Luckily, I know how to take that product a step further. I can take something I don’t like, throw it in a rotary evaporator, distill it, make tinctures with it, or something else. It may not look pretty, but it still has a high THC percentage. It’s like a vegetable that never makes it to the store because it looks flawed.

I try to avoid blowing myself up. The butane used in the extraction process will create a plume of gas, and it’s dangerous.

When you’re blasting (extracting via butane), you’re taking butane and injecting it into a tube with flower. In the process of blasting, you are unleashing a ton of highly-flammable butane into the air. It’s dangerous, and it can blow up if you do it in a non-ventilated area.

A walk-in fume hood is perfect for these kinds of extractions. It sucks the gas right up the hood and out of the building.

A custom-made, walk-in fume hood.

Generally speaking, closed-loop systems are safer than open-air blasting, because they cycle the butane via tubes into another tank, preventing significant oxygen exposure. I only open-blast outside. I would never open-blast inside.



The Process of Making Concentrates

The fewer distractions there are, the safer the process is.Tasia Mercadente
Extraction Equipment

Closed-loop systems are generally pretty safe for extraction, because they prevent butane from being exposed to a lot of air.

A closed-loop system.

I also use Everclear alcohol to make my tinctures and edibles, because it is an edible product already. I use standard laboratory flasks and equipment when I’m extracting with alcohol.

Editor’s Note: Extraction via butane and alcohol are just two of many means of extraction. Another common extraction method makes use of Rosin Presses, which use heat and pressure to squeeze out the desired products from flower. As with any chemical process, there are many ways to achieve the same end, and it is likely more extraction methods for cannabis will emerge in the future.


Purification Equipment

I use a couple of things to purify and isolate the final compounds. I’ve already mentioned rotary evaporators to remove solvents. I also use vacuum ovens as one of my key components in purification. I’ve got several different ovens here and my favorites come from Across International. Those are the ones I like the best.

Vacuum Ovens in action.

We also have a custom distillation apparatus set up. I don’t mess with it too much because one of my employees, Eric, set that up himself. He bought some beautiful glassware. I don’t know the exact size of the beakers we use, but we can run a smaller batch and a larger batch. I can do 5 pounds of material at once.

The rest is just standard laboratory equipment — beakers, flasks, test tubes, racks, the works. There are no particular brands, unless you count Pyrex.

I don’t always use a closed-loop system. I can also use alcohol/ethanol. I typically use Everclear, but you can use anything that will bleed the flower of its product. I prefer alcohol extraction when making extracts for people with severe medical problems. My personal policy is to make my edible extracts solely with edible solvents. I don’t make butane products for ingestion. Butane products are intended only for smoking or dabbing.

Editor’s Note: In theory, a wide variety of solvents and physical methods can be used to perform extractions. Do not use a method you are unfamiliar with unless you have the prerequisite chemistry background or knowledge to do so.

If I were to hire someone specifically for extractions, I would probably hire someone who has experience of their own in the field. Maybe they would have performed extractions illegally for years, but now want to move into legal extractions. I would never hire someone for extractions who didn’t have a degree or experience proving they are capable and smart enough to follow directions without hurting themselves or others.

In all likelihood, I would probably move someone up. If I’m moving someone up, I would start them off trimming with me. If they did a good job trimming, they’d be moved to an hourly wage. If they kept doing well, I would see how they could manage the group. After that, I would let them watch me perform extractions, and see how well they could remember what I did. If they understood it and could explain it to me, I might go through the process with them. I’ve done this with a few of my employees.

Either way, I wouldn’t hire some random person off the street. You either come to me with prior experience or work your way up.

  1. Safety check
  2. First, I would check my valves. We want to start with all valves closed. I would then make sure the area is clear of everything that could be a flammable or physical hazard. When we’re open blasting, I try to keep all flammable materials away.I try to keep my environment as safe as possible.

    When we first started doing extractions, it was a two-person thing. One person did the extraction while the other person watched to keep them focused and prevent issues. Now we have one person perform the extractions if they know what they’re doing.

  3. Blasting
  4. Now, I open the valve for the butane tank to get my flower tube between 20 and 30% of the air in the tube. After that, I shut the valve to the first tank and open the valve to a second tank, so that the gas going through is recaptured. Then I repeat the process until nothing is coming out of the flower tube.

    This process requires a lot of focus. The fewer distractions there are, the safer the process. You have to know which valves to open, which valves to close, what PSI to bring the tube up to, and when to turn it off. You have to know how much butane you’re putting into the tube. If you’re not paying attention, you could put too much in the tube and cause an explosion.

    And then you’re done. It takes me about 45 minutes to go through the extraction process. The collected butane-flower mixture will be purified into the final products next.

  5. Purification
  6. I start by boiling water. While the water is coming to a boil, I’ll make a little bowl-like boat out of parchment paper. When the water is boiling, I pour it into a Pyrex dish and set the boat afloat. I’ll put the butane-flower extract into the boat for the air purge. All liquid butane in the mixture evaporates immediately, leaving just parchment and product. The process is similar to fonduing chocolate.

    Then I put the boat in a vacuum oven for about 12 hours. When I set my vacuum oven temperature, I refer to a useful chart I found a long time ago. Pretty much every degree of temperature gives a different quality and product. If anything else needs to be done, I can use alcohol and the rotary evaporator to clean up the product.

The chart that Tasia uses to determine the oven temperature and the final product.

You can kind of see how the final product is going to turn out beforehand, but you have to wait until the next day to be sure. I aim to get as much final product out of the starting product as I can, but realistically I usually only see about 20% as much mass in the final product compared to what I started with.

Editor’s Note: Steep Hill Labs has put out some useful articles explaining the chemistry and pharmacology of these chemicals. Their article on cannabinoids can be found here, and their article on terpenes can be found here.



Experience in the Extraction Business



Explosive Decompression

You don’t want your extraction to blow up. It’s happened to me before. I have video somewhere in the depths of my computer showing us pulling out a tube with so much pressure, it shot off, flying into the air as if it was ejected by a volcano. We freaked out. After, we watched the video nearly 100 times and couldn’t stop laughing. It was great. And terrible.

You definitely need patience. Wait before you open the tube. People think when they’re done with the extraction, they can just quickly move onto the next step, and they don’t wait for the pressure to equalize. Trust me, you don’t want a cannabis volcano.


Fire Hazards

It’s kind of dangerous. You’re working with chemicals and combining pressure and temperature. You have to keep a close eye on things. I create a plume of butane when I drop the mixture in the boat floating on hot water. You can literally see and smell the butane coming off. Ventilation is absolutely important.
My biggest success has probably been my company. I expected to be like everybody else, just another hash company. I did not expect dispensaries to want exclusive deals or a stake in the company. Some even wanted exclusive rights to products. I was not prepared for the level of success we had. I bit off a little more than I could chew — I was trying to fill orders that I couldn’t meet.

This industry is all about networking and building relationships. You don’t want people calling, asking where their order is. My biggest success is also my biggest problem — keeping up with the demand is tricky. It’s a problem, but it’s a problem born of success.

Research Everything

Do your research. Do as much research as you can. Watch YouTube videos, engage in the community. Bret Maverick is my favorite YouTuber. I’ve watched his YouTube videos from start to finish. He explains things to you in layman’s terms, and doesn’t make you feel stupid. Do as much research as you possibly can beforehand. That’s the best advice I can give.


Ask Questions

There are a lot of questions still being asked and a lot that’s unknown. When I’m in an unfamiliar situation, I try to ask a ton of questions about everything. There are a lot of people in different parts of the industry to question who have credibility when it comes to extractions.

Editor’s Note: Our private, vetted community is a great place to ask questions of professionals in the commercial cannabis industry!

Recreational

I see extracted products going nearly everywhere. All the way up. I see them in every rap video. I think they’ll be served with sandwiches at Starbucks. Extractions and related products will be everywhere when the country goes fully recreational.


Regulatory

Right now in Arizona, you can carry 2.5 oz of product with you as a patient. But that rule doesn’t differentiate between concentrates and flower. 2.5 oz is a lot of concentrate, but not a lot of flower. As soon as the police catch on to the difference between concentrate and flower, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.


Automation

I also expect automation of a large part of the butane extraction process. Since it requires careful monitoring, computer control would be ideal. Mostly it would be nice to have Tony Stark’s robot hands to open and close the valves.

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Want to get in touch with Tasia Mercadente, or Santiago and Dunbar Extracts?

You can find Tasia in the Growers Network community under the username tasiakelle. You can also visit the Santiago and Dunbar Instagram page, and if you want more information, you can contact them at [email protected].



Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.

  • Ryan Elizondo

    I’m having a hard time finding sources for high quality whitelabel cartridges & pens… do you have any direction on that matter?

    • Hi Ryan!

      It would largely depend on the state you’re in! Try talking to your local budtenders and see if they have any recommendations.

      • Ryan Elizondo

        Cool! I’m based in CA- I tried importing a bunch of samples from Alibaba (China) but qualities were less than acceptable… I’ll check with the locals and keep searching online. Thanks!