Getting to the Good Stuff: Cannabis Concentrates and Extracts
If you need a more concentrated dose, prefer to vaporize oils, or like to cook with cannabis, concentrates and extracts should probably be on your radar. Here is a general overview of what exactly each are and how they're made.
Cannabis concentrates have been prepared for hundreds of years. In fact, the use of cannabis resins in India and China may go back many thousands of years. No matter when it started, however, the basic processes behind making any concentrate relies on the fact that marijuana’s active chemical compounds are only present in the trichome resin glands.
The glandular trichomes appear most abundantly on the surface of the female flower buds. They grow a microscopic globe of oil at their peak and are the only location of cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The plant is thought to use these chemicals to prevent herbivores from foraging on them and to protect the genetic material in seeds from UV rays.
Once a female flower is pollinated, however, it will divert energy away from trichome production and move it toward seed formation and maturity. This is why cannabis is grown without the presence of male plants. If pollinated, cannabis buds will contain only about one to five percent cannabinoids.
Without pollination, cannabinoids can reach almost 30 percent of the bud by weight. Steep Hill Labs in California states that the concentration of cannabinoids in the trichomes can be as high as 50 percent.
Concentrating cannabis physically removes the trichomes from the plant. The active chemical components of cannabis can also be separated from the plant material by extraction. Extraction of cannabinoids and terpenes can be achieved through chemical processes involving a solvent such as oil, alcohol, butane, or propane (among others).
The science behind these methods has become a broad subject, so for now we will focus on just a few of the safest and least labor-intensive approaches to making your own extracts and concentrates at home.
For a more in depth look at cannabis extracts and concentrates, read Concentrates & Extracts: The Types, Benefits, and Reasons to Consume
Two Types of Cannabis Concentrates
This is a method that involves heat to liquefy the oils and pressure to flow them away from the plant material. This process is known as the rosin pressing, and it can be done at home using cannabis, parchment paper, and a rosin press.
Buds or hash are folded in a piece of parchment and squeezed in the hot press to push the hot oils from the cannabis. The rosin that collects around the pressed plant matter is a solvent-free resin that can be vaporized in oil pens or shatter rigs without the fear of ingesting solvents, such as butane, that can theoretically be left in products like butane hash oil (BHO).
Traditional hash is produced from dried and cured cannabis buds. When the buds are dried, the stalks of the trichomes become brittle and snap off, making them easier to be collected through a screen in a process known as kiefing.
Buds can be rubbed against a tight, fine-mesh screens or rolled in a tumbler known as a pollen collector to yield high-quality, extremely potent hash. This powder, known as kief, can then be left as is or pressed into a puck, like the traditional hash from Morocco. When pressed together, the resin heads break open, exposing the oil inside to air. This causes a brown color and changes in smell and effect.
Trichomes can also be removed in a process known as bubble hash, sometimes known as icewater hash, which involves using water and ice mixed with dried buds. The water is then filtered through fine-mesh screens that collect the resin heads. The wet resin is then dried to produce a brown hash of pure quality. There are also methods that involve using dry ice to make the trichomes cold and brittle, which can yield a higher purity as it doesn’t accumulate as much fibrous impurities as the water method.
Read also: The Hashashin’s Guide to Homemade Hash
Maybe the earliest form of concentrate is known as traditional Indian charas or finger hash. You know that sticky brown buildup on your hands after an afternoon of trimming? Well, that’s what I’m talking about. It is one of the most potent forms of cannabis.
A common technique for finger hash is to trim with latex gloves on and let the resin from fresh plants collect on them instead of your hands. After trimming is complete, freeze the gloves inside out for 15 minutes. The hardened resin will easily collect and form a lump.
Of course, the process of making charas like you’ll find in India is a real art handed down through hundreds of years of experience. Don’t expect this level of quality at home, but your own finger hash will still be a high-quality product with the most exquisite smells and tastes.
Two Types of Cannabis Extracts
Cannabis extraction relies on chemical processes that solubilize or otherwise liquefy the oils to remove them from the buds.
An easy way to remove the oils is to use an organic solvent like alcohol to remove the oil from the plant matter. Soaking cannabis in high-proof ethanol creates a tincture of the medicinal compounds that can then be used to dose in small amounts under the tongue.
This mixture could also be evaporated slowly, which would leave a residue of cannabis resin on the container. The tincture can also be warmed to increase the rate of evaporation, but care must be taken that alcohol fumes do not build up because they can be flammable or explosive.
Cannabis-Infused Coconut Oil
One of the simplest forms of the chemical extraction process is making cannabis-infused coconut oil. Coconut oil, as opposed to butter, is better at attaching cannabinoids to its lipid structure and thus making a more potent extraction.
Read also: Coconut Oil and Cannabis: A Perfect Pairing
How to Make Cannabis-Infused Coconut Oil
The extraction of THC into coconut oil is said to be the healthiest and most bio-available in comparison to other oils. Both coconut oil and cannabis provide numerous benefits for well-being, and edibles are a long-lasting effective method of medication.
- 8 grams of dried decarboxylated cannabis buds for every cup of organic virgin coconut oil. (If using bud trim or shake, measure at ½ cup for every cup of coconut oil.)
- Slow cooker
- Cheese cloth
- Metal-mesh strainer
- Bowl with spout
- Melt coconut oil in the slow cooker, add cannabis. Cook covered on low for two to four hours.
- Place the strainer over the bowl and line with a double layer of cheese cloth.
- Strain oil through cheese cloth to remove the dried matter. Squeeze the leftover matter to extract as much oil as possible. Discard the spent matter.
- The coconut oil is ready to use. Store in a cool, dry place or the fridge. Consume the oil as is, rub on skin as a lotion, or use it in recipes like the one below!
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to consume your medical cannabis is by extracting the cannabinoids from the dried flowers (bud) into oil and making something edible with that oil. Making chocolate is easy, healthy, and very tasty. Here’s how to do it:
- ½ cup cannabis-infused coconut oil
- ½ cup organic honey or maple syrup
- 1 ½ cups raw organic cacao power
- Combine all three ingredients. Mix until thick, but still runs.
- Spread the mixture into a small container, such as a sandwiched-sized Tupperware, or form a small bar on parchment paper. It will be about half an inch thick. Put into the freezer until it is set.
- Cut into half inch pieces and keep refrigerated. The chocolate is ready to enjoy. Just remember to go low and slow with your first dose of each batch to determine its effects.
Read next: Baking A Fool Of Myself: Three Steps to Making Edibles
Written by Alex Rea
Alex Rea is the VP of Homegrown Hydroponics in Toronto, Ontario, and the co-founder of Phytomedical, a cannabis consulting clinic. As a patient, advocate, and business person in the cannabis industry, Alex has a keen understanding of the political, economic, and social hurdles that underpin cannabis as medicine in North America.