What It Takes To Be A Cannabis Extraction Technician

The cannabis industry is growing quickly, so much so that it accounted for almost half a million full-time jobs in 2021. Many of those jobs include skills that overlap in mainstream industries, offering opportunities for people to break into cannabis. This is also true for extraction technicians, who may be familiar with extraction in the food and beverage space or even the oil and gas industry. However, while much of the equipment may be the same the processes can vary quite a bit. Cannabis is a unique plant that requires some careful considerations. That’s why it’s ideal if your extraction technicians already have experience with cannabis.

This blog breaks down what it takes to be a cannabis extraction technician and the industry-specific knowledge you need to succeed in the role.

What is an extraction technician?

In the cannabis industry, an extraction technician is responsible for separating compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes from the biomass and refining it into extracts and concentrates. Typically, cannabis extraction technicians use the same types of extraction equipment used in other industries. However, the configurations, solvents, and processes may be very different for cannabis, as it’s quite sensitive to temperature changes, contaminants, and other outside influences. Cannabis extraction technicians are generally highly-precise, detail-oriented individuals for a reason!

How to become an extraction technician

The pathway to becoming an extraction technician looks slightly different for everyone. Some technicians transitioned from the legacy market into the regulated market, while others are studying specifically for this role as a career. Further, because the cannabis industry is evolving so rapidly, it’s important to remember that each company will have its own requirements for employment. However, because the job requires precision and close contact with flammable and often dangerous chemicals and substances, there are some core standards that cannabis extractors should meet.

Some steps you should consider taking to become a cannabis extraction technician include:

  • Get experience: Working in a lab of any kind during your studies is a great way to build your resume and gain the necessary experience to succeed. However, extraction technicians who also have experience with cannabis are most valuable in the industry. In addition to lab work, seek out opportunities to work or volunteer with cultivators, dispensaries, or manufacturing facilities. Any plant-touching role could be immensely valuable in your cannabis education.

  • Establish a network: Like in any other industry, networking is a critical tool for extraction technicians entering the cannabis industry. Doing your best to put yourself out there and staying connected with other industry professionals is a great way to get opportunities you may not have otherwise known of. Join a trade organization and any cannabis-specific networking groups you can find. Making these connections can also help you get experience, if you’re struggling to find opportunities there.

  • Earn a college degree or certification: While a college degree is not necessarily essential to becoming an extraction technician, most employers will opt for candidates who have completed some form of higher education or certification program. Degrees in fields such as biology and chemical engineering are common among extraction technicians and offer excellent start-up knowledge. Those studying to become cannabis extraction technicians would also benefit from programs offering hands-on laboratory experience.

  • Obtain licensing: Depending on the state you wish to work in, you may need to obtain specific licensing and registrations to become an extraction technician. Typically, professional laboratories will require their employees to undergo background checks as a part of their licensing and onboarding process.

Remember, no two career journeys look the same. Take advantage of all the above tips and other opportunities when developing your skills and experience.

Benefits of cannabis specific knowledge for extraction technicians

While someone with the proper degree and extensive laboratory experience may be able to jump into a cannabis extraction position, knowing the plant is critical to successfully produce high quality extracts and concentrates. From the science behind terpene preservation to properly configuring equipment, there is some common knowledge that all cannabis extractors should understand before entering the industry.

Some of the benefits of cannabis-specific knowledge include:

  • Proper storage of biomass: Knowing how to store cannabis biomass properly is essential to preserving flower quality, which directly relates to overall extract quality. Methods like freeze-drying and vacuum sealing cannabis biomass before extraction will help prevent the degradation of cannabinoids and terpenes and present mold and mildew, ensuring biomass is at its freshest when it’s ready for processing.

  • Cannabinoid and terpene preservation: When extraction processes are not conducted using the right equipment and temperatures, there is a significantly higher risk of cannabinoid degradation, and especially of terpene degradation. Cannabis extractors must have sufficient knowledge of the risks and causes of degradation during extraction to protect their products. Understanding the effects of varying solvents and temperatures will play a role in the success of any cannabis manufacturer.

  • Verifiable equipment identification: Extractors in the cannabis industry should have a good understanding of what equipment to use and not to use. Devices like rotary evaporators and freeze-dryers are among the standard equipment used in cannabis extraction procedures. Those with complete extraction setups also utilize extractors, reactors and vacuum ovens to safely and efficiently extract cannabis oil. In addition to their own knowledge, cannabis extraction technicians rely on third-party certification to ensure their equipment meets safety standards for both consumers and personnel. Third-party lab testing ensures that the final product meets general standards in relation to potency, efficacy, and safety. Due to the risk that comes with extraction, it is imperative that technicians know that the equipment they are utilizing is electrically safe, meets GMP standards, and has fire preventatives to minimize risk of explosion or injury to the user(s).

  • Cannabis-optimized configurations: Experienced extraction technicians understand how to set up and fine-tune systems specifically for cannabis extraction, such as using a falling film evaporator to avoid exposing the extract to unnecessary heat. While heat is not a necessarily damaging factor in other extraction procedures, extended exposure to high temperatures can degrade and even destroy compounds in cannabis quite easily. For this reason (and others), optimal system configuration is an important step in developing top quality extracts.

  • Proper locations based on zoning: Because cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, zoning laws make it difficult for cannabis manufacturers to find the right real estate. Those with prior experience in the cannabis industry will better understand what they can do and where they can do it.

  • Proper facility designs: In addition to location, cannabis extraction technicians should understand the basics of facility design. From a birds-eye view, facility design can be used to optimize the safety, workflow, space needs, and functionality of an extraction facility. This includes the establishment of C1D1 and C1D2 zones in accordance with regulatory requirements and safety best practices.

Becoming a cannabis extraction technician requires education, knowledge, and precision. And as the cannabis industry continues to grow and expand, it’s important to remember that the qualifications and expertise necessary for cannabis extraction technicians may change over time. No matter what the current standards, though, extraction technicians should focus on learning as much about cannabis as possible. That knowledge will only result in the development of better extracts and more efficient processes.

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