Currently, around 2.5 percent of the global population (147 million people) consume cannabis, making it the most widely consumed substance worldwide. In North America, concentrated cannabis products are becoming increasingly popular for a host of reasons. Of particular interest is the lack of plant material present in extracts and concentrates which can lead to much lower exposure to CO2 and carbon monoxide during consumption. Products like shatter, hash, budder, kief, wax, and several others are making a bold name for themselves in the evolving cannabis market.
Recently, extracts and concentrates have started taking precedence over traditional cannabis flower, particularly for long-time users.
But what, exactly, are cannabis extracts and concentrates? Which forms offer which attributes? Why are these products quickly gaining a bold reputation in the cannabis space? What makes them special? Why are they so compelling to medical cannabis patients and recreational users, and how can they benefit you?
What should you know specifically about these beneficial concentrates and extracts?
Cannabis concentrates are created via a mechanical process to separate the chemical components from the plant material.
Concentrates are the most old-school cannabis products around and have been used for thousands of years. Recent technology has caused a resurgence of interest in concentrates, largely due to the accessibility of these methods for the average consumer. Like extracts, concentrates contain the most valuable chemical components of the plant separated from the bulk of the plant material.
Hash, kief, dry sift, bubble hash, and the golden boy, rosin, can all be made with a minimum amount of equipment, knowledge, or experience, while maintaining the full spectrum of cannabis’s chemical content.
Solvents, heat, and even the curing process itself can often destroy key monoterpenes and other trace components. Concentrates are often seen as superior to extracts because they maintain more of the full spectrum of the cannabis plant’s chemical makeup.
Some extracts are better than others in this area, but extract content rarely compares to the full-spectrum available from concentrate methods. Recent understanding of the entourage effect shows that full-spectrum concentrates and extracts may be more important and medically effective than previously thought.
The OG cannabis concentrate is hash. Kief and dry sift are similar forms of the same product. Heat, pressure, and source material give us the various physical forms of these concentrated trichomes. Rosin takes it a step further using technology.
Read also: Exploring the Cannabis Entourage Effect
THE CONCENTRATES FAMILY
Kief is a powdery, THC-rich material that’s often a shade of light green and is found on the surface of cannabis flowers. It consists of the trichome heads of the plant, containing the bulk of the chemical compounds present in cannabis flower. Kief can be added into joints, blunts, or sprinkled on top of fresh flower. It can be pressed into a pure rosin, further refining out the plant material. As an added benefit, kief often accumulates on the surfaces of grinders, so it is often highly accessible.
Hash is pressed kief or resin compressed into bars or slabs. Some more traditional forms such as Afghani, Charas, Netherlands, Nepalese, Moroccan, and Lebanese hash are made using ancient, hand techniques to separate the plant material from the kief. Bubble hash is the most common form of hash in the North American legal cannabis market, produced using ice water to separate the trichomes. Dry-ice hash is a very similar product produced in a similar manner. Hash can be used to create hash oil, a potent, sticky extract that can be applied to joints or consumed as an edible.
Finally, there’s rosin, which is a sticky concentrate produced by compressing cured cannabis flowers, freeze-dried flowers, or kief/hash under extreme pressure and gentle heat. The combination of heat and pressure results in trichomes melting away from the plant material, making it easier for producers to separate the rosin and produce a clean, full-spectrum, terpene-rich final product. Rosin is one of the hottest growing products due to two factors: it is clean and solventless, and secondly, it can be easily and safely produced by any consumer with minimal equipment and knowledge.
The extraction process uses a solvent to separate the target chemical components (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds) from the plant material, ideally (but not always) comprising the full spectrum of cannabis’s chemical content. There are many solvents that can be used; ideally, they are completely removed from the product before consumption. The most common method utilizes butane/propane/hexane to wash the chemical components out of the pant material. The butane is then evaporated out of the final product. Carbon dioxide and pure alcohol are also popular, creating subtly different end products.
But extracts don’t stop there. Once these chemical compounds are separated out from the plant material, we can take it a step further… and they can then be separated into their different constituent components. These components can be concentrated and consumed with reliable, known effects. This is how pure CBD isolate, pure THC-Acrystals, or concentration of terpenes is achieved.
Temperature is the key component in the separation process.
This dissection of the chemical make-up of cannabis allows for the creation of high terpene full-spectrum extract (HTFSE) and high cannabinoid full-spectrum extract (HCFSE). Quickly becoming very popular, these “sauces” are the finest blends of potency and flavor for the discerning consumer. These are often proprietary mixes of the extracted and concentrated components such as THC and terpenes. The best of both worlds, sauces are at the leading edge of cannabis extract technology.
Extracts include tinctures, crumble/honeycomb, budder/badder, shatter, oils, wax, distillate, crystalline, and pull and snap. These terms are used to describe an extract’s or concentrate’s outer appearance: its color, texture, malleability, and density. A lot of times a particular extract “type” is really just a different form of the same extract. For example, butane hash oil (BHO) can be made into oil, shatter, budder, wax, pull and snap, and crumble. These are simply different forms of the same chemical compounds. But these different forms can offer differing levels of convenience, taste, potency, and overall experience.
For example, a hard, clear shatter can be turned into a crumbly wax through temperature treatment. The resulting product releases more terpenes and smells and tastes more dynamic than the original shatter. In another example, cannabis oil can be made with alcohol, butane, or CO2 and the resulting products can be very similar. Each extract has its place and its devoted fans. Extracts can often contain high levels of THC and CBD depending on the method and desired results.
THE EXTRACT FAMILY
Butane Hash Oil Forms
Shatter is a vibrantly colored cannabis extract that’s popular and widely consumed. It’s often recognized for its uniquely solid texture as being brittle and glass-like. Shatter usually contains a high terpene content, giving it a pungent aroma and strong flavor. Shatter is typically dabbed or vaped depending on a user’s preference and the equipment they have.
Pull and snap is an extract with a similar appearance as shatter but with a softer and more taffy-like consistency. This extract can be tugged, pulled, and eventually snapped off. It is simply a slightly differing form of BHO which falls halfway between shatter and wax in terms of consistency.
Wax is a crumbly, gooey, sticky extract with a texture similar to candle wax. Wax, like other extracts, is dependent on the original cannabis material for its THC, CBD, and terpene levels. Ideally the extraction process preserves as much of the constituent chemicals as possible from the original plant. Wax is appealing due to ease of handling and consumption. Wax offers a broad, accessible terpene profile and pungent aroma.
Budder is an extract similar to wax but with a consistent, creamy texture which allows ease of use/storage and offers one of the most delicate flavor profiles available. Budder, like wax, is largely just a form of BHO but is generally recognized to be one of the more consumer-friendly options. Budder, like all extracts, is largely dependent on the source material for results, however, careful processing to maintain spectrum will always result in a superior product.
Crumble (often called honeycomb due to its bubble-filled texture when solid) has a more brittle texture than wax or budder. Crumble is often used to describe fragmented or crumbled pieces of wax. Ultimately, this extract’s name gives away its honeycomb-like and crumbly consistency. This is again largely a differing form of BHO.
Live resin is the new kid on the block, destined to rule the neighborhood. Invented within the last decade, live resin is made with freeze-dried, freshly harvested cannabis. This avoids the loss of monoterpenes and other important, delicate chemical compounds during the long curing process for cannabis flower. The resulting extract is highly potent and terpene rich, making it one of the most powerful and tasty choices. Live resin is unfortunately at the top of the price scale of concentrates, so its price point is the only downside.
Sauces (HTFSE and HCFSE)
HTFSE (terpene sauce) and the similar HCFSE are the result of skillful and proprietary recipes in which highly refined, extracted components, particularly THC and terpenes, are mixed back together to get a more potent, stronger flavored, and highly aromatic cannabis product. The flavor profile of these sauces is virtually unmatched.
Another popular cannabis extract is distillate, which is a refined product that undergoes multiple purification processes. Distillates are among the newer extracts on the market, and scientific equipment is needed to produce them. They are clearly different from other extracts on a consumer level as they come in little glass vials specifically designed to make convenient their honey-like texture.
The extraction process involves heating and distilling cannabinoids in a complex procedure. Then, certain steps are repeated to produce pure cannabinoids in liquid form without the presence of excess plant material or any residual solvents. Distillates are almost entirely THC and offer a very clean and potent product. Distillates are excellent for use in edibles as they are virtually flavorless and very strong.
Diamond is 95-99.9 per cent THC-A. It is a complete extraction of the THC-A from the plant material. It is the most concentrated form of THC available. It has no terpenes, so it’s almost completely flavorless and odorless. THC-A requires combustion or vaporization and is not suitable for using as an edible. However, when dabbed or vaped, diamond offers the most potent experience possible for the recreational consumer.
CBD isolate is just what it sounds like. It is 99 per cent CBD content and looks like fluffy white crystals. This is very popular as a cannabis treatment that avoids the THC and psychoactive aspects of full-spectrum extractions.
Tinctures are alcohol-based, liquid-form cannabis extracts. Tinctures are consumed sublingually for medicinal or therapeutic relief. Tinctures offer both quick absorption and longer lasting effects and are a very accessible extract.
Last, but not least, are one of the most well-known and commonly consumed cannabis extracts — oils. There are numerous cannabis oils, which are thicker in consistency than tinctures, but not as solid as shatter. Oils are where we see CO2 and alcohol extraction dominate the market. The popularity of oils can be attributed to both their accessibility and their unbeatable convenience for vaping.
The tidal wave of vape pens, portable vaporizers, and vaping devices on the market today has helped cannabis oils achieve a level of consumer acceptance which may soon see it take its place as the number one choice of medical consumers. Cannabis oils are often sold in pre-filled vape cartridges, pre-filled capsules, and separately to be manually added into chambers of handheld vaporizer devices. Oils are often popular forms of edible due to their reliably broad spectrum. Some examples of these increasingly popular oils include Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), BHO, CO2 extracted oil, and THC honey oil.
Each extract can be consumed in differing manners, but the three key methods are dabbing, vaping, and consuming orally. Shatter, wax, budder, crumble, live resin, and diamond are primarily dabbed. Oils and tinctures can be taken orally or vaped. Distillate can be dabbed, taken orally, or vaped depending on a user’s preference and the equipment they have.
Cannabis concentrates and extracts are increasing in popularity, availability, and usage, especially in locations where cannabis is legal. Despite cannabis flower being known for its aroma, color, and potency, concentrated or extracted cannabis products have pushed the bar higher. In just two years (2015-2016), Colorado medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries reported that retail sales of cannabis concentrates more than doubled.
Extracts and concentrates offer potency, immediacy, long-lasting effects, flavor, aroma, and an overall experience superior to traditionally smoking cannabis flower. The nearly immediate effects can serve a vital purpose in the lives of medical cannabis patients who need effective and long-lasting relief. The discreteness and safety of vaping concentrated/extracted cannabis products is appealing to medical patients and recreational consumers alike. The lack of combustion, CO2, and carbon monoxide associated with combustion of flower make these options clear winners for health and efficacy. These products offer the best options for consumers looking to take their consumption to the next level.