Your Guide to Cannabis Concentrates

Written by BlackbirdGo January 16, 2018
The Product

Cannabis concentrates may raise a lot of questions for novices, and rightfully so! These products are intended to pack a punch. You may know some basic information about hash, but what are dabs? How are dabs different from using a vape pen? Wait, there’s blow torches involved sometimes? Some novices even wonder whether concentrates are safe to consume (hot tip, they are). Learning about concentrates can help put your mind at ease and make you a more informed patient or recreational customer when you place your next cannabis order.

As the name implies, concentrates are potent extractions of the cannabis plant. Extracting concentrates from marijuana can be approached in a multitude of ways, thus creating different categories of marijuana concentrates. Concentrates yield an exceptionally high percentage of THC or CBD, depending on the strain of marijuana used in the extraction process. Extractions of every variety generally deliver the same intense, fast-acting effects, but when you’re in a dispensary or ordering cannabis online, you’ll see concentrates categorized by the processing method as well as the consistency of the final product.

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  • Hash - No matter how new you are to the cannabis world, you’ve probably heard the term “hash.” Hash (short for hashish) has traditionally referred to the collected resin and trichomes of the cannabis plant, even though it’s often used as a generic term for concentrates of all varieties. Traditional hash displays varying shades of brown or dark yellowy green, with the resinous concentrates collected into gooey bricks. Most dispensaries sell hash in a small container made of glass or silicone to help keep it fresh.
  • Kief - Kief is a light, powdery “dust” that is yellow or light sage in color. It can be sprinkled into a joint or pipe filled with cannabis flower. You can collect kief at home by using a weed grinder with a mesh-screened catch basin at the bottom. Larger kief quantities can also be gathered directly from the cannabis plant. Store kief in the bottom of your grinder or in a small glass jar.
  • Oil - Cannabis oil is derived from the buds of the plant, typically using some type of solvent (more on this below). Common forms of oil include butane hash oil (BTO), CO2 oil, and Rick Simpson oil (also known as “Phoenix Tears”). Depending on the consistency of your oil, you may want to store it in the container your dispensary gives you when you purchase it - typically a syringe for more liquid forms or a small glass or silicone jar for more viscous oils.
  • Wax - Cannabis wax is sticky, pliable, and resinous. Typically a gooey yellow mass, wax comes in a variety of forms, depending on its moisture content, concentrated texture, and overall consistency. Common forms of wax include “budder” (also called “batter”) and crumble. Most types of wax can be stored in a sealed container to keep it from drying out or collecting excessive moisture.
  • Shatter - Shatter looks like a thin pane of fossilized amber or sugar glass. It’s hard and brittle, and much like glass it will fracture and break if dropped (hence the name). When you’re not heating and consuming shatter, it should be kept wrapped in wax paper or parchment paper to prevent it from sticking to other materials or breaking apart.

Solvent-Derived Concentrates

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Hash mechanically collected from the marijuana flower and kief is the easiest and historically most popular method of production, but there are other ways to make concentrates. Cannabis growers and processors can distill concentrates by bathing finely ground plant matter in different solvents to extract the most desirable compounds from cannabis flower: the flavorful terpenes and THC or CBD. Pressure is applied to the solution, forcing the solvent (and the desirable extracts) out of the plant pulp. The final extracts are then put through a type of refining process to ensure that all (or most) of the solvent has been removed. Because of the risk associated with potentially consuming or igniting residual solvents, it’s important to only use solvent-derived concentrates that have been professionally prepared and tested for purity.

Types of Solvents Used

There are a lot of chemicals that fall under the umbrella term ‘solvents’, including water, but some solvents are more effective and safer to work with than others. High-grade, professionally-extracted cannabis concentrates should have no remaining solvent, though extracts made at home can be less predictable. The most common solvents used in the extraction process are:

  • Butane - also called BHO, butane hash oil is a popular form of solvent-derived concentrates. BHO extraction operations are considered particularly dangerous and should only be left to professionals who know what they’re doing.
  • Alcohol - considered a safer alternative to butane, alcohol tends to burn off easily, making it easier to produce quality concentrates without having to worry about toxic residue.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) - CO2 extraction is generally considered a safe, environmentally-friendly option that will not significantly alter the flavor profile of your terpenes. CO2 extraction is also used in food additives and supplements, so it’s widely considered a safe, viable extraction method.

Many solvents are flammable. A sloppy home-extracted solvent production has led to explosions due to unsafe work environments and misused equipment, so do not try to extract your own solvent hash at home.

Solvent-free Concentrates

Many cannabis consumers are weary of solvents. For this reason, solvent-free extraction methods have become increasingly popular over the last few years. These methods of extraction are considered just as effective at isolating the right cannabis compounds, yet there’s no additional safety risk thanks to the lack of chemical solvents.

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  • Heat extraction - many concentrate producers use heat and thousands of pounds of pressure to press high-THC oil from the plant matter, allowing them to produce high-potency, solvent-free concentrates in the form of rosin, budder/batter, and shatter.
  • Ice water hash - uses fine-mesh screens and, as the name implies, ice water to separate out the trichomes and cannabinoids from the plant material.

Consumption Methods

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Now that you know about the numerous ways concentrates are made, you may be wondering how you’ll consume this potent distillate. While traditional hash is considered a predominantly smokable form of cannabis, other concentrates can be heated by non-combustion heat sources to produce a myriad of effects. If the concentrate was to catch fire, say with a lighter, this open flame would disintegrate some of the THC that was extracted, greatly affecting potency. This is why many concentrates are super heated with hot plates or electric coils. The advantage of concentrates over other forms of marijuana is that they offer high potency medication with nearly instant onset of effects when smoked, dabbed, or vaped. They’re also considered to have a purer, more terpene-infused flavor than smokable cannabis flower, making them a favorite among connoisseurs with a refined taste as well as those who need a fast-acting medication.

  • Smoking - most soft, resinous types of hash (other than shatter) can be smoked.
  • Dabbing - dabbing involves the use of a blowtorch to heat a ceramic “nail” on a dab rig. Once the nail is hot, concentrates are applied to that superheated surface, and the ensuing vapor is inhaled. There’s no combustion, which is why many advocates argue that dabbing is easier on the lungs than smoking flower. Not all concentrates can be dabbed, though - it depends on the rating of that particular batch (please refer to the “Concentrate Rating System” below).
  • Vaping - many cannabis manufacturers offer preloaded vape cartridges. These products can then be used with an e-cigarette battery, though some vape pens include a built-in battery for one self-contained, disposable unit.
  • Oral ingestion - it’s not advisable to eat raw kief, wax, hash, or shatter, but oil can usually be consumed orally. You can measure out a small amount into a gel cap and swallow it like a pill, or dole out a small quantity into your food, drink, or directly into your mouth. Other types of concentrates can be cooked into food, though it’s easiest to work with oil when it comes to oral consumption.

Concentrate Rating System

Because hash varies so much from one batch to the next, cannabis consumers developed a rating system to grade the quality of hash based on how much of that product will melt and turn into oil (which is where the phrase “full-melt hash” comes from). It’s a five-star system, with high-ranking hash suitable for dabbing and lower-ranking hash ideal for use in edibles or for smoking with flower.
One star hash - will not produce any oil when heated. Instead, this hash will burn completely and therefore cannot be dabbed.

  • Two star hash - though two-star hash yields approximately 25% melt (oil), there is still too much plant matter for this hash to be dabbable.
  • Three star hash - yields 50% melt oil, though still not enough oil to make this a dabbable hash.
  • Four star hash - can be dabbed. When heated, it yields a 75% oil melt.
  • Five star hash - when heated, five-star hash produces a 100% oil melt yield. It is considered the highest-grade hash due to its purity and clean, terpene-heavy taste.

No matter what your experience with concentrates has been, there’s no need to feel intimidated when you order from your favorite dispensary. Concentrates will deliver immediate results and offer an alluring terpene profile, making them a great form of medication. Choose the concentrates that best meet your needs, and if you’re new to concentrates altogether make sure you start with a very low dose until you learn to gauge your tolerance and comfort level.