What exactly are concentrates, and what are they made of?
Cannabis plants are covered in microscopic, mushroom-shaped structures called trichomes. These hair-like outgrowths surround the flower and produce the plant’s cannabinoids. These trichomes can be extracted, and the end result—what we call cannabis concentrates—contain very high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in marijuana. Concentrates is a broad term used to describe any byproduct that’s been extracted from the cannabis plant. Extracts and concentrates are often used interchangeably, though some cannaisseurs define extracts as products manufactured using solvents, but not those pulled from the plant with solventless methods. Some extraction methods focus solely on high THC percentage, whereas other processes focus more on the whole plant, preserving and amplifying as many subsequent cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
(source: National Institute of Health)
What types of extraction processes are used to create concentrates?
While there are many types of extraction processes, it all really boils down to solvent-based extraction vs. solventless extraction. Here’s a deepdive into solventless extraction, butane extraction, and a couple additional extraction methods:
Solventless Extraction - (also known as Solventless Hash Oil, or SHO):
Solventless extraction does not utilize any chemicals during the extraction process. Instead, other forms of mechanical separation are used to strip the plant of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other essential oils. These methods may include sifting, ice water extraction, and heat pressing. Water Hash, Dry Sift, Hash Rosin, and Flower Rosin are all common forms of solventless concentrates. While water can dissolve trace amounts of terpenes, no other process can preserve nearly as much of the plant’s medicinal qualities and flavor profile as solventless extraction. Here’s a simplified process of how Hash Rosin is extracted:
- Take fresh or flash frozen bud and put into an ice water bath
- Gently agitate the plant matter around to separate the trichomes from the plant matter
- Drain the trichome-rich water from the container through a series of filters
- Place mixture on trays, and then leave to freeze-dry
- Once freeze-dried, you’re left with what is called Bubble Hash
- The bubble hash is then placed into micron bags and pressed at low temperatures and high pressure inside a rosin press
- The extracted oil is then whipped together and left to cool to room temperature
Butane-based Extraction - (also known as Butane Hash Oil, or BHO):
Butane-based extraction uses butane in a lengthy process to extract THC from any kind of cannabis plant material, whether that’s shake and trim, or whole buds. Butane extraction carries some risks, as does any solvent-based extraction. Risks include residual butane not being burned off which can lead to you as the consumer ingesting trace amounts of butane, and of course the fact you’re dealing with a highly flammable material as your solvent. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! There are typically two means of butane extraction: the open blasting system, and closed-loop system. The closed-loop system is usually the go-to of commercialized concentrate makers, as it carries significantly less risk than open blasting extraction. Here’s the basics of how BHO is extracted via closed-loop system:
- Butane is loaded into a pressurized tank
- Plant material (trim, bud, etc) is put into a separate tank
- Butane is then passed through the plant material multiple times
- The extracted oil is then collected into a vacuum oven and refined by purging the butane from the oil. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary to extract as much solvents, water, and terpenes from the plant material as possible
- The remaining concentrate is then cooled and can be made into Shatter, Wax, or Sugar Wax depending on the consistency and final processes
(source: Precision Extraction)
Other solvents used in extraction:
Ethanol and CO2 are among the most popular extraction solvents to replace butane extraction. CO2 is a common solvent due to its cost-effectiveness, and that it can be safely released into the atmosphere without negative impact, making it safer and more environmentally-conscious than butane extraction. Ethanol is also a go-to substitute, since it also carries significantly less risk than butane, and does not require high pressures the way other solvents commonly do.
What are the differences between the concentrate types, and should I consume them differently?
RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) is a full-spectrum concentrate, meaning cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved as much as possible. It’s extracted using BHO methods, and typically intended for topical or oral ingestion. While RSO distributors market their concentrates as “dabbable”, many users prefer oral ingestion instead due to the bitter taste. Because of its high potency, the recommended “dose” is a mere ½ to 1 grain of rice worth of oil!
- Apply topically to a bruise or scab
- Ingest orally (I recommend on top of a peach ring!)
Shatter is considered to be one of the most shelf-stable extracts you can achieve using solvents, and tends to have the highest percentages of THC compared to other BHO’s. Shatter, while visually uniform, can vary widely when it comes to consistency. Some are sticky like taffy, while others shatter (hence the name) like peanut brittle. While CO2 can be used to produce shatter, it’s more often extracted via butane. It’s important to note that shatter has been completely purged of all plant matter, including terpenes, so unless terpenes are reintroduced, shatter is almost completely THC.
Wax or Crumble is extracted in a similar way to other BHO’s, like shatter. The main difference that sets crumble apart as an end product, is the texture. It reaches the recognisably dry, crumbly consistency by sitting in a vacuum oven at very low temperatures, for a considerably longer time than shatter. Longer cooking time means a beautiful crumbly wax, and a much lower risk of developing mold during production.
Sugar Wax is created when wax is left to sit in the vacuum oven over a long period of time, with a slow amp up in temperature. This slow rise in heat will cause the wax to bubble and boil, evaporating away any excess moisture and solvents left in the process. Once left to sit the wax will start to “sugar”, so the THC will start to solidify into the desired sugary, coarse texture.
Consumption methods: With shatter, wax, and sugar wax, it’s recommended to inhale, ie. dabbing. Since these are solvent extracted concentrates, they lose most if not all of their terpenes and other cannabinoids, leaving behind a high concentration of THC. While dabbing BHO isn't the tastiest option, you can twax by adding the sugar on top of your flower bowl!
Live Diamonds maintain the full-spectrum properties of the plant, including cannabinoids and terpenes. Live diamonds are made from flash frozen or fresh bud, extracted into cannabis oil via BHO or SHO processes, and separated into sauce and diamonds. Sauce is very high in terpenes, whereas the THCA and subsequent cannabinoids crystalize into diamonds. Once separated and purging processes are finished, the diamonds and sauce are reintroduced. Once combined, live diamonds can contain nearly 5 times as many terpenes than flower alone, with THC percentages regularly testing at or above 80%!
- Dabbing out of a rig
- Pair with The Wand for perfect dabs, especially for those high temperature jumps!*
*A note of advice: Because diamonds consist almost completely of THCA, diamonds vaporize at a much higher temperature than a badder or sauce alone. Many users find 480-500F optimal to evaporate the terpenes in the sauce that typically accompany diamonds, and crank it up to 550-570F for the final hit to vaporize those yummy THCA crystals.
Live Resin is extracted the same way Diamonds are, just without the flash purging and separation. Live Resin typically has a batter-like consistency, and some cleaner processes extract the cannabis oil via CO2 instead of butane. You can think of Resin as a solvent-extracted full-spectrum wax, meaning it’s more flavorful and terpene-rich than typical wax, but still not 100% pure like live rosin.
Fresh Press Rosin is what seasoned dabbers call the freshly pressed rosin extracted via heat press in a solventless extraction. Fresh press is considered the base for all subsequent variants of Rosin, i.e. Cold Cure Rosin, Live Rosin, etc. Because fresh press isn’t left to cure, the compounds vaporize at a much lower temperature compared to a cured rosin or BHO. The tricky part about dabbing fresh press, is that it needs to be at the right consistency before using it. It’s recommended that you store any type of rosin in the fridge or freezer to preserve terpenes and potency; however, fresh press straight out of the fridge is far too solid to dab right away. I recommend taking it out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before your planned dab so the concentrate has time to soften and come down to room temperature.
Cold Cure Rosin is fresh press that’s been whipped into a badder-like texture and left to sit in a jar in room temperature conditions. Whipping the concentrate can improve stability, make the badder more aesthetically pleasing, and maintain consistency! Cold cure rosin is my personal favorite way to dab, and in terms of flavor and terpene profiles, I've yet to be disappointed.
Hashish or Afghani Hash is typically dry sifted kief pulled from dried and cured plants. The kief is then hand-pressed along with a small amount of tea or water, and worked until it becomes highly elastic. Hashish doesn’t involve any solvents, therefore most of the plant matter remains intact, making this a poor option for dabbing in terms of flavor and effects.
- Add to your herb blend to grind, so it’s spread evenly
- Put on top of your flower for a heady boost
- Pair it with a Vapman Pure