Edible Cannabis Extracts and Concentrates Explained
There is a vast array of extracts and concentrates that can be used to create a wide variety of cannabis-infused edible products. New advancements in extraction techniques have created an even broader assortment of available options than ever before.
In a world where one size does not fit all, understanding edible extracts and concentrates is the key to customizing the edible user experience.
From easy-to-make-at-home cannabutter, to distillates made in laboratories with complex machinery, edibles are made through infusing food with cannabis, and there is a vast array of extracts and concentrates that can be used to create a wide variety of cannabis-infused edible products. Cannabis-infused brownies, gummies, cookies, beverages, or any other food-type product that can be taken orally are all considered cannabis edibles. While cannabis concentrates, which have been used for thousands of years, are still a big part of the available edible options, new advancements in extraction techniques have created an even broader assortment of available options than ever before.
Edible Cannabis Extracts
Many of the key active cannabinoids found in cannabis are fat soluble. This means the cannabinoids can be extracted when a fat (such as butter, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) is combined with heat. These are ideal as stand-alone edibles but can be utilized in most recipes due to their consistency. You can make anything from a simple treat, to a complex meal.
This is the most common home-extraction product. To make cannabutter or canna oil, slowly and gently cook suitable cannabis flower material in melted butter or oil (such as olive oil) over the span of several hours. The butter or oil is then strained from the plant material and can be used for eating, cooking, baking, or simply buttering toast. (Read: How To Make Cannabis-Infused Butter)
Another commonly made edible extract is the cannabis-infused tincture. Cannabis tinctures are usually made with food-grade glycerin or alcohol. As with cannabutter or canna-oil, a tincture is an extract where the solvent is consumed along with the extracted cannabinoids. In other words, the glycerine or alcohol is used to extract the cannabinoids (via heat and time) and is then separated from the plant material. The result is a glycerine- or alcohol-infused product that can be taken as is or added to any edible.
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
Also known as cannabis oil, or often hemp oil, RSO can be smoked, ingested, or applied directly to the skin. RSO is made by slowly cooking cannabis flower material in ethanol until all the chemical compounds have been stripped away from the plant material. Then, once the ethanol has been evaporated away, the extractor is left with a highly concentrated, viscous oil. This method was touted by its creator Rick Simpson because “the only way to ensure patients have his proprietary blend of oil is for patients to produce it themselves.” However, the process is very dangerous and involves a highly flammable solvent. Don’t try this one at home folks!
Smokable and Edible Cannabis Extracts
Although canna oils, cannabutter, tinctures, or RSO are not made for combustion, they are activated and ready for consumption. most other cannabis extracts can be either smoked or vaped as well as administered orally. While the following forms of extract are generally produced for dabbing or vaping, they are also a great option for edibles for people who don’t like the distinctive “weed” taste to your brownies.
These forms are all produced under precise conditions in an industrial setting. They are only available as consumer products, but represent the newest and most potent extract forms, and are great to use for edibles.
Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
This type of cannabis extract uses N-Butane as the main solvent. Packed flower material is flushed with butane (or a butane and propane mix) until the active chemical compounds are separated from the plant material. The resulting butane liquid is evaporated off, leaving the active cannabinoids, terpenes and fats and lipids are left behind. Through different levels of dewax, temperature, and pressure, the consistency of the resulting product can have a wide variety of textures, from shatter, budder, honeycomb, crumble, diamonds, full spectrum extracts (FSE), or any other form of BHO.
CO2 Cannabis Oil or CO2 Hash Oil
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a supercritical fluid, which means it changes into a liquid when under extreme pressure. CO2 extraction allows key chemical compounds to be extracted with a high level of precision. Liquid CO2 is inserted into a vessel and pumped through a filter where it is separated from the plant matter once the pressure is released. This method produces the most controllable final product with a controllable spectrum but relies on very complex and costly equipment to produce. The results, like BHO, can come in a variety of forms from budder to liquid.
Cannabis distillate is an extraction method that relies on molecular separation. This method enables cannabis technicians to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material with minimal thermal degradation. The vacuum levels of this process allow the distillation of normally high-boiling-point products to occur at moderate temperatures. Cannabis distillate is one of the highest potency cannabis extracts currently available and is solvent-free. However, much like supercritical CO2 oil it requires precision equipment.
Specifically Targeted Compound Extracts
Perhaps the biggest advantage of edible extracts made from lab-derived extractions, besides the better taste, is the ability to isolate specific cannabinoids or terpenes, which improves the targeting of certain effects. Proponents of these extracts, often THC-specific or CBD-specific extractions, note the consistency of effects and the extreme potency of the products created. The extract’s potency and reliability of effect is consistent batch after batch, making a more reliable edible end-product, and by extension a safer, more marketable product.
With recent major advancements in extraction techniques, we are seeing some of the highest percentages of terpenes and cannabinoids, with companies like Kind Selections testing at 99.99 percent cannabinoids and terpenes. As more cannabis extract products are introduced commercially, consumers will be able to experiment and see for themselves which products work the best for them. A preference for a full-spectrum edible extract over a compound-specific edible extract is ultimately determined by experience and needs. Cannabis products are not one size fits all. Experimentation is necessary so each person can find the right medicinal and/or recreational fit.
Edible Cannabis Concentrates
Because no solvents are used and the equipment is inexpensive, concentrates are very popular for production by home growers and professionals alike. Concentrates have been in use as edibles for thousands of years and like cannabutter, tincture, and RSO, they are easy to add to food products. Concentrates are always full spectrum as no chemical separation of compounds takes place. Some of the more volatile terpenes may be lost due to the low heat used in the rosin pressing process but this is generally minimal.
Hash is the oldest, yet popular, form of smokable concentrate, that is also commonly used for edibles. The timeless ‘hash brownie’ was probably the first widely popularized edible in modern times. In a typical, modern setting, hash is made from an ice water extraction process or from kief/dry sieve pressed into a homogeneous brick.
Trichomes are separated from the leaf and flower material, usually via specialized filter screens. Kief is an edible concentrate and is commonly used to make oral gel caps. Often the line between kief and hash is very blurred.
A refined version of kief. The kief is run through a series of filter screens so that only the most-potent heads of the trichomes remain. Dry sieve is also a common concentrate used for making cannabis gel-caps. It is regarded as the most refined concentrate and the yield is often lower.
Rosin is obtained from applying pressure and heat to flower or hash/kief. This concentrate requires no solvent and can be used as an edible and to make edible products. Rosin presses are now common on the consumer market and come in a range of brands, types, and sizes for both the home concentrator and the professional. Rosin is becoming more widespread due to is accessibility and simplicity of production. Rosin presses can even be bought at Walmart in the USA.
Smoking Cannabis vs. Eating Cannabis
As previously stated, many cannabis extracts and concentrates can be eaten or smoked. As many already know, the effects experienced can differ greatly depending on the method of consumption. So, why are the effects so different between smoking cannabis and eating cannabis? (Read: Differences Between Smoking and Ingesting Cannabis)
When smoking cannabis, the active compounds, such as THC, are almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the lungs and quickly make their way to the brain. Once in the brain, THC binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which produce the euphoria typically associated with getting high. Since the THC reaches the brain so quickly, the effects after smoking cannabis have a rapid onset, often close to instantaneous.
Interestingly, by smoking cannabis, a higher number of cannabinoids are absorbed than when eating cannabis. Why, then, do most people experience a longer, more intense high when eating cannabis? It turns out that the difference lies in the way our bodies metabolize cannabinoids, particularly THC.
When eating cannabis, the THC (delta-9-THC) is converted by the liver into a different compound (11-hydroxy-THC). Although it takes longer for 11-hydroxy-THC to reach your brain (the delayed onset of edibles), when it does, it stays there longer (longer half-life than delta-9-THC). It is also believed that 11-hydroxy-THC creates a more intense high than delta-9-THC, which is why so many people report more intense highs from edibles than smoking. All in all, the method of consumption will determine the way cannabinoids are metabolized by the body, which, in turn produces different effects for the user.
Many cannabis enthusiasts have made their own edible extracts by using butter, oil, or alcohol to extract the active compounds from cannabis. Some consumers prefer the tried and tested use of hash/kief-type concentrates to ensure a solvent-free, full-spectrum edible experience. While still others are turning towards the more cutting-edge extract options that are becoming more and more widely available. As we continue to explore the secrets kept by the amazing cannabis plant, such as the intriguing, yet mysterious, synergistic relationships between cannabis specific compounds and how that synergy may or may not affect the user experience, we will proceed with the refinement of our cultivation and extraction methods. As we progress, consumer preferences for these products will continue to shape the industry and marketplace.