What are Cannabis Concentrates?
Cannabis oils, concentrates, and extracts include hash, dabs, vape oil, CBD oil, tinctures, badder, budder, shatter, live resin, live rosin, and more. Although each is unique, a concentrate, oil, or extract is any cannabis flower derived product that is processed into a more concentrated form. Typically, these concentrates are classified based on how they are made, their consistencies, or both.
Given how well-loved cannabis is in bud form, why bother with concentrates? There may be no reason at all to use anything but flower, but there are many benefits to cannabis concentrates:
- No need to smoke. Most concentrate consumers vaporize or ingest concentrates.
- More efficient. Concentrates achieve the desired result with less product.
- Cleaner, more refined—potentially. The best concentrates are cannabinoids and essential oils refined and separated from plant material to create a cleaner, smoother inhale when vaporized. This is only true for high-quality products, however, so beware of poorly-crafted, unreliable, untested concentrates.)
Concentrates: Usage and Meaning
- “This concentrate is so terpy—full of flavor!”
- “I’m looking for a concentrate that’s tasty, a live rosin or sauce maybe, not so much like shatter, and not distillate.”
- “She used to swear by flower, and then she switched to all concentrates, and now she sort of mixes it up with both.”
Concentrates: How They Are Made and Consistencies
Since cannabis concentrates are classified and described based on these two factors, they are both important to understand.
How Cannabis Concentrates Are Made
There are two basic techniques for concentrating cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis: solvent-based extraction and solventless extraction.
Commercial extractors typically use solvent-based techniques to produce large volumes of extract. They use chemical solvents such as butane, carbon dioxide, ethanol, propane, and others to strip plant material of essential oils such as cannabinoids and terpenes.
A purging process is required in most solvent-based extraction methods. Remaining chemical solvents evaporate from the extract during purging, and when solvent is completely removed, products may be labeled solvent-free. (This is not the same as solventless extraction, because chemical solvents are still used during production.)
Solventless extraction techniques, relatively accessible and safe to use at home, deploy mechanical methods such as filtration, pressure, and temperature control to concentrate essential plant compounds from the cannabis. Concentrate enthusiasts often prefer these solventless techniques because they are safe, handmade, and natural—even though they are generally more labor-intensive than solvent-based extraction, and therefore cost more, as you’d expect from an artisanal craft concentrate.
All solventless really means is that no chemical solvents were used at any stage of the production of the cannabis concentrate. Some form of solvent, such as water, still may be used.
Common Solvent-based Concentrates
The differences in the ways common solvent-based concentrates look, feel, taste, and smell are in part down to purging methods used in extraction as well as variations between the solvents themselves. Here are some of the most common solvent-based concentrates available at dispensaries today.
Hydrocarbon extracts, sometimes just called butane hash oil or BHO, are made by stripping the essential oils of cannabis from plant matter using pressurized chemical solvents like butane and propane.
Hydrocarbon extracts are great because they are excellent at preserving terpenes and cannabinoids that naturally occur in whatever your select strains are. Other extraction methods can destroy whatever unique chemical profile differentiates a strain, defeating the purpose, really. They are also usually between 70-90% total cannabinoids in potency.
Usually, people use hydrocarbon extracts or BHO by vaping them, which is itself called dabbing. Just a dab of great concentrate will do!
CO2 Extracts/CO2 Oils
CO2 extracts, sometimes called CO2 oils, strip the essential oils from cannabis using carbon dioxide (CO2) under extreme pressure and temperature. CO2 extraction is the gold standard for safety, in part because CO2 itself is noncombustible.
CO2 extracts are often packaged and sold as vape cartridges or refill applicators for cartridges.
Crude or raw cannabis concentrates may still contain many fats, terpenes, and lipids. It may then be further distilled or refined to contain only essential compounds such as THC and CBD. High-quality, clean distillates typically test at 90% total cannabinoids or more.
On the other hand, because pure distillate is flavorless, it is not as pleasant to vape on its own and sometimes is enhanced with terpenes for flavor and effects in vape cartridges. Most commonly, distillate is a base ingredient for other cannabis products such as topicals and edibles.
Dry sift or dry sieve, a refined form of kief, is the refined, mechanically separated resin glands of the cannabis flower. Made with a series of fine mesh screens, only the trichome heads which are the smallest particles become part of the resinous final product which can be smoked atop flower or pressed for more traditional use.
Ice Water Hash/Bubble Hash
Producers make ice water hash, also known as bubble hash, by agitating cannabis buds in ice water and filtering them through fine mesh screened bags. A process that is sometimes called washing, the result after filtration, collection, and drying is a resin that can range from chalky and dry to oily or greasy. You can dab high-end ice wax or full melt ice water hash, but lower-quality grades can be used in infusions, smoked like hash, or pressed into rosin.
Speaking of DIYing at home, dry sift rosins, flower rosins, and hash rosins are all made using gentle heat and pressure to squeeze cannabis flowers for resinous sap.
Cannabis concentrates are often labeled, classified, or sold based on consistency. These consistencies are most frequently associated with dabs, or hydrocarbon extracts, but they can also come from other extraction methods.
Shatter is a translucent, hard concentrate that is easy to handle but “shatters” easily like hard candy. Shatter concentrates are most often produced using hydrocarbon extraction, the result of an undisturbed pool of concentrate left to purge. This is why shatter is often less costly than other hydrocarbon extracts; it does not demand additional processing.
Cannabis wax concentrates are more refined versions of shatter with more opaque, soft appearances, colors, and textures. The major differences between types of wax are determined by chemical composition, moisture, heat, and the purging process.
Many waxes are created by agitating or whipping raw extract until it is aerated. When vigorously whipped smooth and moist, cannabis wax might be called badder, budder, icing, or frosting. More well-purged, drier waxes might be called crumble or honeycomb based on their chunky crumbs and porous texture.