For many novice cannabis consumers, the dispensary can be an intimidating place full of unfamiliar products. Concentrates are becoming an increasingly popular consumption method and have created an entire subculture within the cannabis community. Cannabis concentrates or extracts are refined products that contain high amounts of cannabis oil with little to no plant matter. Unfortunately, […]
For many novice cannabis consumers, the dispensary can be an intimidating place full of unfamiliar products. Concentrates are becoming an increasingly popular consumption method and have created an entire subculture within the cannabis community. Cannabis concentrates or extracts are refined products that contain high amounts of cannabis oil with little to no plant matter. Unfortunately, concentrated cannabis products have received some negative attention from people unfamiliar with how they are used or produced. Furthermore, concentrates made from butane extractions have been vilified in part due to YouTube videos of explosions and house fires caused by amateur extractors who do not have the proper equipment or training to work with hydrocarbon solvents. While concentrates do contain high levels of cannabinoids including THC and terpenes, they are sold and consumed in much smaller quantities than cannabis flowers or edibles.
Concentrates come in a variety of consistencies and can serve many purposes. Products such as butters, shatters, rosins, crumbles, saps, and sugars are known for their unique textures and exceptional taste profiles. Disposable vaporizer cartridges and vape oil syringes also contain extracted oils and distillates. They may contain synthetic ‘candy’ flavors, natural or synthetic terpenes, or may not have a flavor at all (raw distillate). Most of these products can be consumed quite discreetly.
Concentrates and high potency oils are extracted from cannabis buds, trim, and sugar leaves using physical and/or chemical techniques. These products can range in color from yellow to golden to brown or amber. The highest purity concentrates (full melt) can be vaporized in a pen or dabbed, while less pure forms (half-melt) can be smoked on a screen, added to a bowl of flower, or mixed with tobacco to create a spliff. When consumed, full melts leave behind virtually no residue whereas half-melts leave behind some ash or plant matter residue.
The following is a guide to introduce consumers to the various types of products available and how they are made. It is important to note that the terms solvent free, non-solvent, and solventless can carry a wide variety of meanings since there is no industry standard for this terminology. Understanding the products and how they are made can help consumers understand what is available so they can make the appropriate choice.
NATURAL EXTRACTIONS: Natural extracts use tools like sieves, screens, and temperature to isolate the resins within the plant. No solvents are used in the processing of these concentrates. Kief, dry sift, rosin, water/ice hash, and hashish are forms of natural extracts.
Hashish – The oldest form of cannabis extract and is referenced in texts that are over 1,000 years old. This extraction method uses hand agitation to break open trichomes and collect the resin inside. There are multiple techniques to achieve this. One method calls for breaking the buds by hand and rubbing them between the fingers. The resins will accumulate on the hash makers hands. Once enough has accumulated, the hashish is scraped together and pressed into bricks or balls. Hashish is a half melt product with potency ranging from 30-70% THC.
Kief – The accumulation of small particles and trichomes that fall off a bud. Kief can be collected using screens like that on the bottom of a multi-chamber grinder. Kief is considered a half-melt and potency typically ranges from 20-60% THC.
Dry Sift – An extremely pure form of kief obtained by sieving the plant material through a series of screens until only the trichome heads remain. Dry sift is a full melt product that can produce a potency over 90% THC, if well-made.
Rosin – Oils are removed from plant material using only heat and pressure. Rosin has become one of the most popular forms of concentrate as it can be made at home with certain hair straighteners. The major draw towards rosin is that it is made without any solvents, the process is easy to understand, and the flavor profile is preserved quite well. Rosin is a full melt product with potency ranging from 60-90%
Water/Bubble Hash – This form of extraction utilizes cold water and agitation to remove the resin glands from plant material. In many cases, whole plants are submerged into an ice bath and stirred. After the trichomes have been removed from the plant, the water and trichomes are poured through a series of screens. The water passes through and the bubble hash is left behind. Bubble hash can come in many varieties and qualities. Bubble hash can be full melt or half melt depending on screen size and technique. THC levels can range from 25-85%.
SOLVENT BASED EXTRACTIONS: A solvent is a liquid that has the ability to dissolve another substance. Solvent-based extractions are a highly efficient way to separate cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis. Solvent-based extractions dissolve cannabinoids and terpenes, and post-extraction refinement steps such as straining and purging are used to further remove plant material and extraction solvents. Potency and terpene content can widely vary for these products, although they are all full melt concentrates. Potency can range from 40-99% while total terpenes can be concentrated to levels as high as 30%.
Hydrocarbon Solvent Based Extracts – Hydrocarbons are molecules made of hydrogen and carbon. They are the base for most fossil fuels. Butane, propane, and ethanol are the most commonly used hydrocarbon solvents in cannabis extraction. Many people worry about the dangers of ingesting these solvents, but testing regulations in Nevada ensure that no product is released for sale if it does not pass stringent safety testing. A properly purged hydrocarbon extract should not worry consumers as it contains little to no solvent residue. Hydrocarbon extracts are also being used to isolate highly pure THC-a crystals.
Non-hydrocarbon Solvent Based Extracts – In this form of extraction, carbon dioxide is used as the solvent. By using a highly sophisticated instrument, with precise heat and pressure, CO2 can dissolve the oils and remove them from the plant material. Some prefer this method over hydrocarbon based extracts because CO2 will purge itself from the product easily. CO2 oils are often put into vape cartridges or added to edibles.
DISTILLATES: Molecular distillation is the process used to produce distillate. Distillation is one of the newer extraction methods on the market and is becoming increasingly popular in vape cartridges and for infusing edibles. This process is a way to refine concentrates such as BHO, CO2 oil, or rosin to isolate a single compound. THC is most often the desired distillate product, but CBD is also isolated from hemp extract using this technique. Heat is applied to the starting material until it is hot enough to vaporize the THC (or CBD). As the THC vaporizes, it rises and is then cooled. The cooled THC can then be caught in a separate flask. This recaptured THC is fully activated and can be exceptionally pure. Raw distillate has almost no detectable flavors or smells since all terpenes are removed during this process. Natural and artificial flavors can be reintroduced to the distillate. Distillates normally look like a thick, yellow honey and are packaged in a vape cartridge, syringe, or into a dish. They can be eaten, vaporized, dabbed, or applied topically. Distillate is a full melt concentrate with potencies ranging from 75% to over 95%.
It is clear that the world of concentrates is complicated and full of a wide variety of products. Each form of extraction has its pros and cons so understanding how they are made can make it easier to assess which is best for you. If you are unsure, vape pens are a great starter concentrate because the cartridges regulate the amount inhaled during each pull and they do not require buying any additional paraphernalia. When used properly, extracts can deliver a powerful dose of medicine or bring you into a state of euphoria. These products are very potent and a small amount goes a long way. Extracts can be a fun new product to explore but be sure to enjoy cannabis concentrate products responsibly.