History of Concentrates:
Some of the earliest concentrate processes originated in Eastern Asia. The oldest method of creating concentrates simply involves rubbing cannabis flowers between hands, scraping the collected trichomes and compressing them to form a moldable and dark amalgamation, known as Charas (the Hindi word for Hashish).
In the 12th Century, smoking hashish was highly popular in the Middle East. Arabic for grass, “Hashish,” or “Hash,” is the product created when marijuana flowers are sieved through a screen, also known as “dry sifting,” and processed with heat and pressure. Dry Sifting is a process used to separate the resin glands, called trichomes, from other plant matter. The extracted trichomes, with a powdery appearance, are commonly known as kief. Most take the process a step further and add heat and compression to the kief to form blocks of hashish.
Hashish is the oldest form of concentrate known to man and despite the illegality of cannabis in some of the Middle East, countries like Lebanon and India still produce black market hash for export.
There are many ways to collect the resin glands from cannabis flowers, but arguably the most common method of trichome collection over the years is facilitated through the use of a three-chamber grinder. During the grinding process, trichomes are sieved through a mesh screen and broken off of the cannabis flower through what is known as agitation. The collected trichomes can then be used for a variety of concentrate production methods, or simply smoked as kief.
How Processes Have Evolved
Since hand-rolling Charas, extraction processes have come a long way. Through developments in technology and further scientific and chemical discovery, concentrate extraction has become a highly sophisticated and modernized practice. Lab-grade equipment is utilized for both solvent-based and non-solvent extraction methods, capable of producing a wide variety of different concentrate types and consistencies.
Most concentrates are named after their appearance. For example, the names shatter, wax, and budder all refer to the consistency of the concentrate, although it is the method in which they were created that determines the difference in melting points, appearances and price. While many concentrate products are similar in THC percentage, they all have different melting points, cannabinoid profiles and appearances.
Modern Day Techniques
Today, there are two main methods of creating cannabis concentrates, solvent-based extraction and non-solvent extraction.
Let’s go back to high school chemistry for a bit. A solvent is just a liquid in which something is dissolved to form a solution. In extraction, a solvent is just a liquid used to separate the psychoactive compound THC (as other cannabinoids and terpenes), from the cannabis flower.
Solvent-based extractions utilize chemical solvents to strip cannabis flowers of their highly potent resin glands. Because chemical solvents are often highly flammable, professional extractors use what are called “closed-loop” systems to ensure that there is no airborne chemical exposure during the process, therefore eliminating any risk for fire, over-pressurization or explosion. This is why concentrate production should only be conducted by licensed professionals. It is extremely dangerous and illegal to perform solvent-based extractions at home, so leave the process to the professionals!
After a solvent has passed through the flower and collected its cannabinoids, the resulting product is referred to as slurry. Slurryis the mixture of cannabinoids and unpurged solvent, and can look a variety of ways depending on the solvent used. Mainly, slurry looks like either a runny liquid form, or an airy patty/loaf. Slurry contains high amounts of residual solvent and is not considered safe to consume. In order to turn slurry into a finished and compliant product, purging must be implemented.
In any solvent-based extraction, whether butane, CO2, propane, or alcohol, extensive purging is required in the post-extraction phase to rid the product of residual solvent. Purging is a broad term in the world of concentrates, as it can be achieved through evaporation, vacuuming or hand-whipping. Each method of purging has different variations and produces a different end product and consistency. While there are many different options for solvent purging, vacuuming is predominantly considered the most popular.
When a solvent is purged by vacuum oven, it is being deliberately pulled from the slurry and the air within the vacuum, leaving behind a low parts per million (ppm) of residual solvent. Vacuum purging duration varies depending on many different factors and can last up to 72 hours in some instances.
Little research has been done on the health effects of residual solvents contained within solvent-based concentrates, and ultimately it is up to the consumer to choose which concentrate is best for them.
Solvent Based Extracts:
Butane hash oil (or BHO for short) is a solvent-based extraction that utilizes butane as a solvent. BHO offers a variety of end products with high potency including budder, shatter, wax, sap and more. Typically speaking, flower or trim is placed in a receptacle tube while butane is forced through, essentially stripping the plant matter of its cannabinoids. The material is contained while the gas is released, hence the term “blasting,” which is commonly used when referencing the process. Butane was one of the first solvents used in concentrate extraction and is the common culprit of open-blasting induced explosions. Because of its low burning point butane is extremely volatile, which is why it is unsafe to use outside of a closed-loop system.
CO2 extractions use temperature and pressure to effectively extract elements of the flower or trim. Facilities with advanced technology and machinery can experiment with supercritical carbon dioxide methods, which keeps CO2 at high pressures. In other words, extractors can finely control the rate at which cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted. Many advancements have been made recently in the equipment used for CO2 extraction, with high-end models nearing one million dollars to own and operate. These machines use computer interfaces to calibrate diagnostics and fine tune the desired extraction parameters. Depending on the equipment used, CO2 extractions can have multiple receptacles for slurry, resulting in tiered grade products that can easily be separated and used for different purposes.
Similar to BHO, cannabis extractions using propane are called propane hash oil (or PHO). Although this method usually demands higher pressure, it also requires a lower boiling point, which means better terpene preservation and faster/more effective purging. PHO offers end products similar to BHO, such as wax, budder, shatter, live resin and more. Propane has risen in popularity for solvent-based extraction in recent years and is generally considered a cleaner final product than BHO. Propane is slightly more expensive than butane, but is worth the additional cost for extraction artists seeking to boost their concentrate flavor, consistency and overall value.
Typically speaking, cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis flower, trim or hash dissolve fairly easily in alcohol (specifically isopropyl alcohol or ethanol). This method of extraction is also considered one of the safer options, but requires exact temperature control for optimal results. Extraction using isopropyl alcohol is also known as “QWISO,” or quick-wash isopropyl alcohol. Conducive to its name, this process can be completed rather quickly and easily using minimal equipment. However, not many licensed facilities use isopropyl alcohol, as the more popular alcohol solvent is ethanol. Ethanol is a fairly expensive solvent to use for extractions, but it has an extremely high recovery rate. That means it can be used for extraction, and be recovered afterwards through rotary evaporation or another form of solvent reclamation.
Ranges from $40 – $80
CO2-extracted concentrates in the form of an oil have become increasingly popular over the years. This supercritical fluid extraction is created with large amounts of pressure and carbon dioxide and is seen as an incredibly effective method to separate plant material to produce an amber oil. CO2 extraction is gaining popularity in commercial extraction operations due to the fact that the equipment used is able to finely tune desired results and end products.
CO2 is often preferred to other extracted oils because it’s incredibly efficient and yields purer, cleaner product with limited processing and low residual solvent. Because CO2 is a naturally occurring substance and is produced by the human body, it is widely considered as a natural solvent with less health concerns than butane, propane or other hydrocarbons. The opportunity to tune the process is key, while its sterilizing component allows end products to last longer than most. Typically, CO2 oil is found most often in pre-filled oil cartridges (alongside a medical grade solvent, polypropylene glycol) for vaporizers as well as edibles.
CO2 Oil varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Ranges from $15 – $40
Arguably the most well-known type of dabbable concentrate, wax is made by blasting plant material with a solvent using a closed-loop extraction system. The resulting slurry is heated at low temperatures and whipped vigorously to remove all residual solvent. Because the product is whipped by hand, it gains airy peaks that are similar to whipped topping. Wax is generally drier and more crumbly than its counterpart budder.
As stated above, the finished product resembles a “whipped” consistency and ranges from a variety of amber shades complete with a milder aroma and flavor profile. Budder is essentially wax with higher moisture content. The consistency of budder is oily and malleable, while wax is crumbly and more solid. Budder contains a higher moisture content because it is whipped less than wax. Remember, many hydrocarbon extractions are similar in nature, but it is the finishing techniques that determine the appearance and consistency of the final product.
Wax/budder varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Live resin is made the same way as wax, however the starting product is fresh frozen plant material. By using cryogenically preserved plant material, the finished product has robust, exceptional terpene and cannabinoid profiles that resemble the qualities of the live plant.
Live resin is known for its excellent flavor and resemblance to the aroma and taste of the live plant. It ranges in color from light amber to yellow-gold and has a moist, shiny looking exterior with a strong, rich smell.
There are currently many “live” products on the market that exhibit high terpene and cannabinoid content and are extracted from fresh-frozen starting material. For example, live sugar is a form of live resin that looks like an amber sugar patty, while live budder is a smoother, more malleable consistency. No matter what the name is, live resin and its many variations offer the best flavor profiles and are frequently enjoyed by connoisseurs and novice cannabis consumers alike.
Live resin varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Shatter is made by blasting plant material with a solvent using a closed-loop system. The resulting slurry is collected onto parchment paper and placed in a vacuum oven for solvent purging. After “burping” the slurry (this helps release as much solvent as possible) a few times the shatter starts to take shape and slowly spreads across the paper. Times in the oven can vary anywhere from 45 mins to a full day to achieve optimal consistency.
Sometimes during the process (depending on the starting product), the shatter might not purge correctly resulting in a very “taffy-like” concentrate, reminiscent of salt-water taffy in texture. While shatter is typically stable and easy to handle and snap, taffy is closer to budder in its consistency and stability.
Shatter ranges in color from light to dark amber and is high with terpene content, resulting in superior aroma and flavor. Taffy exhibits similar attributes to shatter in regard to appearance, aroma and flavor.
Shatter/taffy varies on price depending on the dispensary. Be sure and shop around when you are looking for Shatter.
Ranges from $50 – $120
Distillates are newer concentrate products and utilize highly scientific equipment to heat and vaporize the THC and CBD within the flower, bringing the vapor into a cooling system for consolidation and eventual collection into beakers. This process is repeated over and over again to create pure cannabinoids without residual solvents or plant matter.
A method called “short path distillation” is used to separate and collect cannabinoids from contaminants to create a clean, clear final product. The process of short path distillation leaves little terpene content. They are generally lost in the extraction process due to the amount of heat used. However, extraction artists and companies are introducing terpenes into the post-extraction process to create specialized and sought after flavors.
Distillate varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Ranges from $20 – $40
Pie crust is made by blasting plant material with a solvent using a closed-loop extraction system. The resulting slurry is collected onto parchment paper and placed into a vacuum oven for solvent purging.
After the purging interval, the concentrate patty is pressed to promote faster nucleation, turning it from a shiny shatter looking substance to more of a cookie crumble, honeycomb look. The final product delivers an amber color with a strong aroma and overall flavor.
This concentrate is more or less a mix between crumble and wax. You can expect some super good taste with this kind.
Pie Crust varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Ranges from $30 – $60
Cannabis caviar sells for nearly four times the normal price of top shelf strains and is made by soaking cannabis flower in powerful hash oil.
Afterwards, the soaked flower is coated in kief and dried until ready for consumption. When dry, then final product will have a very pungent aroma with exceptional flavor.
It looks similar to regular flower, however the kief-coating hash oil gives off a vibe similar to that of a cocoon. Naturally, it’s extremely potent and lasts much longer than normal flower when burned.
Jelly hash is a very potent mix of kief and hash oil. Although it’s fairly uncommon to find, it has proven to be extremely effective for patients undergoing chemotherapy or individuals suffering from chronic pain, nausea and other illnesses. With its jelly-like consistency, jelly hash has a mild aroma with an earthy flavor.
Caviar and Jelly Hash varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Rick Simpson Oil
Rick Simpson Oil (or RSO) is a very popular and highly potent decarboxylated concentrate extract that is consumed orally. It utilizes pure light aliphatic naphtha to remove resin containing the cannabinoids, resulting in dark, viscous products with THC levels up to 90% and an earthy flavor.
This particular form is often used for medicinal purposes, as made famous by Rick Simpson who cured (or at least controlled) his cancer thanks to RSO. RSO is considered an early example of solvent-based concentrates, and its lack of availability in commercial dispensaries is indicative of its replacement by cleaner solvents and more efficient extraction methods. You can learn more about RSO from Rick’s official website, phoenixtears.ca
Rick Simpson Oil varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Non-solvent extraction processes typically involve using ice to chill cannabis flowers to sub-zero temperatures, agitating the resin glands to detach from the epidermis of the flowers. Heat and pressure extraction methods are sometimes implemented to make non-solvent concentrates as well.
Typically speaking, they’re smooth-hitting concentrates that highlight the product’s aroma, flavor and overall effects better as compared to other extraction methods.
Recently, non-solvent concentrates like rosin and full-melt bubble hash have risen to popularity since they are extracted without the use of chemical solvents, comparing similarly to the cannabinoid and terpene profiles of solvent-based extracts. Non-solvent concentrates are arguably considered a healthier form of concentrate due to the absence of any residual solvent on a parts per million (PPM) scale, although all medical and legal solvent-based concentrates produced are purged and tested extensively to ensure residual solvent ppm levels are in adherence with FDA regulations.
Contrary to belief, non-solvent extraction processes result in products that have equal to higher potency than those created with solvents. As a result, these traditional extractions remain popular with purists and new consumers who care about what chemicals they’re inhaling (or technically not inhaling) as well.
Attention to detail is critical in non-solvent extraction processes, as there are many factors that need to be considered to make a high-quality end product. The most important aspect of the entire process is understanding that the quality of the finished product is a direct result of the quality of the starting material. In other words, you get out what you put in, so using the best quality starting material is key to creating superior non-solvent extracts. For example, if the starting material does not have a high trichome content, the yield of the extraction and end product will be lesser quality than an extraction using product that is heavily frosted with trichomes.
Arguably the best non-solvent concentrates are created with fresh-frozen, high-quality cannabis flowers. Because there are no chemicals introduced to the process, the chemical structure of the plant remains unaltered, resulting in rich and complete terpene and cannabinoid profiles.
Kief & Live Kief
Ranges from $10 – $30
Kief is the simplest and most traditional type of concentrate available. The process used to extract it typically involves cannabis flower and specialized, fine filtering screens or tumblers. By rubbing the flower against the screen, trichomes are agitated and isolated, effectively producing product comprising of collected trichomes. Anyone can extract their own kief through a three-chamber grinder, which features a screen in the bottom level to help collect the trichomes. Depending on how coated with trichomes the flowers being used are, it may take a few weeks to get a decent amount to consume.
Kief is very fine in texture and often takes on a light brown or tan coloring and mimics the flavor of the flower it came from. It can be used on top of a bowl or consumed on its own. As mentioned earlier, this form of cannabis is more potent because the majority of cannabinoids and terpenes are found in trichomes.
Live kief is made from fresh-frozen flower, meaning the plant was cut at harvest and immediately frozen to keep all of the cannabinoids and terpenes of the live plant intact. After a quick liquid nitrogen bath, live kief is extracted similarly to regular kief through agitation. Live kief is often preferred because it yields more potent, flavorful, and aromatic product.
Live kief has similar aroma and texture properties as normal kief with a slightly lighter appearance. In particular, the aroma resembles the smell of the live plant and flavors are naturally stronger.
Kief varies on price depending on the dispensary.
Ranges from $25 – $50
Bubble hash (also known as water hash or ice water hash) is a non-solvent product made using ice, water, and fine micron bags (often referred to as “bubble bags”) to filter out plant material and other waste. Bubble hash is a popular concentrate (especially for those new to the concentrate space) that originally gained momentum around 10-12 years ago. Producing bubble hash is debatably the safest extraction technique known to man.
Ice water is used throughout the process to freeze the trichome glands, making it easier for them to become agitated, snap off and sink to the bottom (as trichomes are heavier than water), while unnecessary plant matter separates and rises to the surface. The resulting product is extremely rich with trichome heads and stalks, although additional sieving and drying is necessary to remove any residual plant matter and evaporate any additional water.
The process is rather simple. First you must decide on how many bubble bags to incorporate in the extraction. A six or seven bag operation is considered typical, and provides a good striation of micron sizes. Generally speaking, most bubble bag sets include 25, 45, 73, 90, 120, 190, and 220 micron bags. The bags are sequentially placed inside an appropriate-sized bucket, with the 220 micron bag placed last in the bucket. In a traditional bubble hash extraction, the 220 micron bag is considered the “work bag” and houses the starting flower material during the extraction process. Another method is sometimes used however (most commonly in commercial operations), which usually omits the work bag from the process.
When washing large quantities of flower, a piece of machinery known as a washing machine is often implemented. This handy equipment works in similar fashion to a traditional washing machine and gently agitates the product at set intervals (think automated spin cycle for flower). When using a washing machine to make bubble hash, the micron bags are still used, but not within the washing machine. Instead, water, ice and the starting flower material are mixed within the basin of the washing machine. Once the washing segment is complete. The resulting water containing the extracted trichomes is drained from the washing machine into the bucket containing the sequenced bubble bags. From there the process is the same as a hand-washed extraction.
The bubble bags holding the trichome-rich water are carefully lifted up and shaken to drain the water back into the bucket. What’s left in the bag is a patty of trichomes. This process is repeated for each bag throughout the process and the hash collected from each bag is separated, dried, and cured. In some instances, the patties are frozen and grated onto parchment paper to create a fine, sifted product that can be gently pressed into a single form, or pressed more firmly in a rosin extraction.