Use of live rosin in edibles removes the need for toxic chemicals, but more is needed to ensure proper manufacturing protocols
It’s not shocking that the term “clean cannabis” has grown in popularity during the past few years. After all, “clean eating” captured the zeitgeist in the 2010s, becoming so buzzy that it even hatched a magazine, Clean Eating, that remains in circulation today.
For people interested in wellness — and this describes many in the cannabis space — this engagement with the idea of clean ingredients resonates with increasing vigor. And for cannabis enthusiasts, their interest makes good sense: cannabis is an agricultural product, subject to the application of pesticides and herbicides, and to the development of molds and bacteria, among other things. None of us want to consume these substances.
The clean question becomes even more pressing in the realm of cannabis concentrates, like shatter and wax. For these and other cannabis extracts, many businesses use toxic solvents like butane and propane to extract THC and other key botanical compounds from the cannabis plants. Good extraction companies go to great lengths to strip the solvents out of the final products, and all states with legal cannabis regulatory regimes require at least some product testing. But still, consumers have legitimate concerns about ingesting products that at some point were saturated with dangerous solvents.
This context helps explain the sudden rise of edibles crafted from live rosin, which get widely touted as a “solventless” and “clean” alternative to edibles made using other styles of cannabis extracts that rely on solvents.
Crafting live rosin, in fact, does typically require the use of a chemical solvent: water. However, assuming the water is pure H20, of course, it is not a toxic solvent like butane. Either way, instead of using toxic solvents to separate desired botanicals like THC and CBD from plants, rosin makers turn to four simple factors — freezing, ice water, heat and pressure — to extract cannabis compounds. Generally, live rosin makers immediately freeze their cannabis crop after harvest, to preserve terpenes and other volatile botanical compounds. They then extract the desired compounds using ice water and agitation; at the conclusion of this process, they have created bubble hash, which they then freeze for at least 24 hours. The bubble hash gets placed in a press with heated pads designed for making rosin. When the machine compresses the cannabis with the hot pads, oil pours forth.
Initially, most cannabis enthusiasts used rosin for dabs. But in recent years, edibles brands began manufacturing gummies and other products out of live rosin, branding them as “clean” edibles. They generally cost more than other kinds of edibles, but based on the volume of product launches highlighting the use of live rosin, they must be popular. According to BDSA, five of the top 10 edibles introduced into the California market in 2021 featured live rosin.
I’m all for live rosin. Among other things, the method does a great job capturing the nuances of flavors in the thousands of strains of cannabis in the marketplace.
But I take issue with declaring rosin as a “clean” alternative to other extraction methods. If by “clean” we mean that toxic solvents weren’t used, then sure — rosin extracts do not use poisonous solvents and are clean. But I have devoted my career to food science and safety and can report that there’s much more to “clean” in food than an absence of substances like butane.
The biggest potential source of contamination with live rosin is the ice water — the solvent — that gets used to turn frozen cannabis into bubble hash. Most companies use reverse osmosis filters to ensure the ice water is pristine, but plenty of things could contaminate the water — everything from an employee accident to cleaning products to a leaky roof.
Both the post-extraction freezing and the heat from the rosin press will likely kill most unwanted substances, such as mold. But there’s not much rigorous research supporting cannabis edibles manufacturing protocols. It’s not like baking a cookie, where I always know that a certain amount of time and temperature will kill select pathogens. We just don’t have enough information now to clearly demonstrate safety protocols for edibles manufacturing processes that incorporate live rosin or other extracts.
In addition, a balance of the “clean eating” movement revolves around certifications like USDA Organic that demand, under federal government edict, the absence of toxic pesticides and herbicides in everything from the wheat used in the bread to the apples in the pie and the milk in the cheese.
The cannabis industry does not support an industry-wide, federally backed certification regime, one that not only oversees how cannabis is grown but also addresses ingredients, such as honey and lime flavors, that figure into final products. The certification landscape supporting the broad cannabis manufacturing industry remains fractured and lacks uniform standards similar to those that serve as the foundation for USDA Organic certification.
Again, I heartily endorse live rosin extracts; the manufacturing method, in my opinion, yields excellent products without the use of toxic chemicals. But I think the entire industry, including edibles and vape manufacturers, needs to consider stepping away from the “clean” designation just because, for example, one step in the manufacturing process rejects toxic solvents. Getting rid of solvents is a fine idea, but it doesn’t inexorably lead to clean products.
Tyler Williams is the chief technical officer of Cannabis Safety & Quality and creator of the first global cannabis safety and quality certification. He has a master’s degree in food safety and several professional development certificates. Before founding CSQ, Williams was the vice president of operations for ASI, one of the leading food safety auditing, training and consulting companies in the U.S. In this position, he was responsible for the certification process of more than 3,000 audits annually, and he’s trained and consulted several different major food and beverage companies around the world to help improve their food safety practices.