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Cannabis Concentrates 101

Body and Mind
Body and Mind June 30, 2023

If you prefer a potent experience or have a high tolerance for THC, cannabis concentrates may be just the right addition to your regimen. The term “concentrates” covers a broad assortment of innovative products that appeal to diverse tastes and preferences. Each brings its own twist to your session, whether you consume at home or on the go, or like to roll or like to dab. This guide to cannabis concentrates introduces you to these products in their many forms, how to consume cannabis concentrates, and what to consider when selecting concentrated cannabis products on the dispensary menu.

What Are Cannabis Concentrates?

Cannabis concentrates are extracts from the cannabis plant that contain higher levels of THC than dried and cured flower. These products are typically vaporized, dabbed, or added to flower; some can be consumed orally. You’ll need a lot less concentrate to achieve the same effects as flower.

The term “concentrates” encompasses many different kinds of extracts, from viscous oil to dry crumble to glass-like shatter. Depending on the processes involved with making them, cannabis concentrates can turn out in a litany of shapes, sizes, textures, flavors, and potencies. Some consumers may prefer creamy badder consumed with a dab rig and torch, while others may prefer cannabis oil in no-fuss, pre-filled vape cartridges. 

How are Cannabis Concentrates Made?

At its most basic, cannabis concentrate manufacturing methods involve separating cannabinoids and terpenes from plant material to produce a potent cannabis oil or extract. How that’s achieved greatly depends.

Making cannabis extracts fits into two main buckets: mechanical separation and solvent-based extraction.

  • Mechanical separation: These techniques use physical methods like sifting and agitating cannabis flower buds to separate THC and terpene-packed trichomes from cannabis plants. Hash is an example of a mechanically separated concentrate.
  • Solvent-based extraction: These extraction methods include techniques to pull cannabinoids and terpenes out of the cannabis plant. These extracts are then purified and undergo post-processing techniques that create the mosaic of textures, flavors, consistencies, and colors you see in the cannabis extract market. Butane hash oil (BHO) is an example of a solvent-based extract, which is made through the hydrocarbon extraction method. Other methods include the use of ethanol or supercritical CO2.

Mechanical separation methods are responsible for early cannabis concentrates and are still used today. Solvent-based extraction methods have given rise to a new, broad class of cannabis concentrates, often called “dabs.”

The History of Cannabis Concentrates

Cannabis concentrates have been manufactured and consumed since at least the 10th century. One of the first recorded references to hash comes from physician Ibn Wahshiyah’s 10th-century book On Poisons. References to the consumption of intoxicating hashish were also plentiful in pop culture, such as in the fictional story One Thousand and One Nights.

Of course, hash is only one type of cannabis concentrate. The myriad cannabis oils and waxes on the market today trace their roots back to World War II, where early versions of these extracts were created to aid in the interrogation of prisoners of war. These early extracts would pave the way for today’s market and the many methods used to manufacture concentrates

Concentrates vs. Other Cannabis Products

In concentrates, the extracted cannabinoids and terpenes are densely packed to provide higher potency experience than cannabis flower. For example, flower can range anywhere from around 15% THC to 30% THC or higher, depending on the strain and how it was grown. Cannabis concentrates often clock in at 70% or higher, with some exceeding 90% THC content.

Depending on the extraction process used, the concentrate may retain terpenes for added flavor and effects. It’s worth noting that many extraction processes result in the destruction of a plant’s natural terpenes, so it’s common for manufacturers to add terpenes back into the extract in post-extraction processing. There are extraction methods, like ice water extraction, that preserve terpenes.

Why Choose Concentrates Over Other Cannabis Products?

Cannabis concentrates offer significant advantages for consumers with high tolerances to THC or other cannabinoids. For example, if you consume products containing THC and CBD for pain relief, you may find that cannabis flower is no longer effective. Concentrates, however, can deliver the THC necessary to manage pain.

Select cannabis concentrates may also offer a level of discretion some consumers prefer. Concentrate-filled vape pens are discreet, leaving no lingering odor behind and fitting easily into a pocket or bag.

Finally, you’ll need less product to achieve similar effects than with flower. Thanks to the elevated THC percentages, you won’t need to roll as many joints or pack as many bowls to get the same effect.

6 Types of Cannabis Concentrates

Cannabis concentrates vary in many ways, including cannabinoid and terpene content, what they look like and how you handle and consume them. While there’s an extensive range of cannabis concentrates available, you’ll see the following six types of concentrates quite often in most dispensaries.

Hash

Hash is the throwback to the early days of cannabis concentrates, but the classics are classics for a reason. This concentrate is significantly more potent than flower, ranging from 20% to 60% THC content. Hash may appear in various colors, including pale yellow, dark brown and light green.

  • How it’s made: Trichomes are mechanically separated from cannabis plants. They are then gathered, heat and pressure are applied to melt them into bricks.
  • How to consume it: Hash can be smoked or vaporized on its own or added to cannabis flower to elevate its potency. 

Bubble Hash

Bubble hash is a refined version of hash that’s produced with the use of cold water. It’s generally more potent than hash, reaching THC levels of 60% by weight. Bubble hash is also used in the production of rosin, a solventless extract.

How it’s made: Bubble hash is made through ice water extraction, a method of mechanical separation that uses near-freezing water circulated in a vortex to strip trichomes from plants. The trichomes are gathered in a series of fine mesh bags, which are then scraped. The resulting material is pressed into bricks and dried.

  • How to consume it: Much like hash, bubble hash can be smoked or vaporized on its own and added to cannabis flower for higher potency.

Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

BHO refers to the many extracts produced by using butane as a solvent. Examples of BHO-based extracts include:

 

  • Shatter, which is BHO poured onto a sheet to dry in a thin layer
  • Budder, which is BHO whipped to create a creamy texture
  • Wax, which is BHO agitated during the purging phase

Butane’s relatively low boiling point results in a relatively terpene-rich cannabis oil. It ranges in appearance from a dark amber to a bright yellow, often appearing as a golden yellow reminiscent of honey. BHO often ranges in potency from 80% THC content to more than 90%.

  • How it’s made: This concentrate is made through the hydrocarbon extraction process, which employs butane, propane, and other hydrocarbons to extract cannabinoids and terpenes. Once extracted, the oil is purged of any residual solvent. Most varieties of BHO mentioned above can be created through ethanol or supercritical CO2 extraction. This oil then undergoes various treatments to result in the familiar textures we know.
  • How to consume it:  BHO-based concentrates can be vaporized and inhaled with dab rigs, compatible portable vaporizers and electronic pens for dabbing. Many types of BHO can also be combined with flower in a bowl or joint and smoked as well.

Live Resin

Live resin could be considered a variety of BHO, although a critical detail separates it from other extracts — the flower used is freshly harvested or fresh frozen.

  • How it’s made: Live resin is generally made using hydrocarbon or cold ethanol extraction processes, which help retain terpenes thanks to the low temperatures required for purging residual solvents.
  • How to consume it: This concentrate can be consumed like other types of BHO, using a dab rig, portable vaporizer, dab pen or adding it to cannabis flower in a bowl or joint.

Rosin

Rosin is one of a few solventless concentrates; this type is made from bubble hash. Unlike BHO, rosin is not made using a solvent like butane, propane or ethanol. Instead, it simply involves the use of heat and pressure. Rosin (and live rosin) is a thick, dark, sticky liquid that generally contains about 75% to 85% THC.

  • How it’s made: Bubble hash is placed in a rosin press to squeeze out the material, which is then collected and put into vape carts or other products.
  • How to consume it: Rosin is typically vaporized with a dab rig, portable vaporizer or vape pen. It can also be added to flower and smoked, though it’s particularly thick and sticky consistency may clog your pipe or vaporizer.

Distillate

Not all concentrates contain cannabinoids and terpenes. Distillate is an extract with just one cannabinoid in a virtually pure formulation. Distillate may be up to 99% pure and most commonly contains THC or CBD, though any cannabinoid can be made into a distillate.

  • How it’s made: Extracts like BHO are put through a distillation process. A common method is short path distillation, which involves using various temperatures and pressures to separate individual compounds. During this process, the cannabinoids undergo decarboxylation, which converts the cannabinoid in question from its acidic forms to its active forms.
  • How to consume it: Unlike most other concentrates, distillate can be ingested because the cannabinoid it contains has already been decarboxylated. It’s a common ingredient in edibles and tinctures. Distillate can also be vaporized and is commonly found in pre-filled vape cartridges.

Understanding the Elevated THC Potency in Concentrates

THC is the primary psychoactive and intoxicating compound in cannabis. Since THC levels are so much higher in concentrates than in flower, it’s essential to be prepared for a more intense consumption experience.

Before you purchase cannabis concentrates, know how much THC is in the item you want to try. Hash, for example, will have lower (but still significant) levels of THC as compared to BHO. Always check the product labeling to determine the THC content before consuming. This is typically expressed as a percentage, in milligrams or both.

Once you have this information, you can better gauge how much concentrate to consume to achieve your desired experience. Remember, though, that you can always consume more if necessary. For that reason, it’s wise to start with a small amount and gradually increase until you’ve reached the minimal amount required to feel your desired effect.

Finally, THC tolerance increases over time with prolonged consumption. After a while, you may find that the same amount of concentrate doesn’t affect you in the same way it once did. You can either gradually increase the amount you consume until you achieve your desired experience once again or take a tolerance break to reduce the amount of THC required to produce that experience. 

What Tools and Techniques Do You Need to Consume Concentrates?

The most common cannabis concentrate consumption tools are:

  • Dab rig: This is a glass or silicone pipe used to vaporize concentrates and extracts. A blow torch heats the “nail,” or banger, of the dab rig. You’ll place a tiny amount of concentrate on the now-hot nail, where it instantly vaporizes.
  • E-nail: E-nails are electronic bangers that can be affixed to a dab rig. With an enail, you can choose your temperature, which is beneficial because some cannabinoids and terpenes boil off at too-high temps. Reach for an email if you want more flavor out of your dab.
    Portable vaporizer: Many portable vaporizers are compatible with cannabis concentrates. Before adding concentrates to your vaporizer, check your device owner’s manual to ensure it’s indeed designed for use with the type of concentrate you want to try.
  • Pre-filled cartridges: Vaping concentrates doesn’t have to require a lot of equipment. Vape cartridges are small containers filled with cannabis oil and affixed with a mouthpiece. They’re attached to a battery which activates a heating element inside the cart, turning it into vapor. The standard vape cart is outfitted with a 510mm thread, but proprietary systems like Pax Era or STIIIZY are designed to work with their own battery.
  • Dab mats and tools: Many cannabis concentrates are a bit messy, which is where dab mats and tools come in. Dab mats protect surfaces from spills and are made of materials that are easy to clean. Dab tools like scoops, flat tools, and picks simplify handling concentrates.

Which tools and accessories you choose will depend on the cannabis concentrate you like and your preferred consumption style. You might find one device or method and stick with it, or you may want to try a few types of concentrates and devices.

Health Considerations When Consuming Extracts

First and foremost, always purchase your concentrates from a licensed dispensary. The products carried at a licensed dispensary are lab-tested to certify they don’t contain dangerous levels of contaminants like pesticides and that all residual solvents have been purged (when applicable).

Even when consuming products that are certified safe by a cannabis testing laboratory, it’s important to remember concentrates contain significant amounts of THC. Consuming excessive amounts of THC can have a negative effect, especially if you’re new to cannabis. If your heart races, you feel anxious, or you have difficulty focusing, you may have consumed too much THC.

Generally, if you purchase safe, tested cannabis concentrates and mind your consumption habits to ensure you are consuming responsibly, you can mitigate any potential issues.

Ready to Try Cannabis Concentrates?

Whether you want to add an extra kick to your flower or prefer dabbing extracts on their own, the right cannabis concentrate (or concentrates!) can shake up your routine. To shop some of the best concentrates around, visit Body and Mind’s online store and find the best match for your needs!

Body and Mind
Body and Mind June 30, 2023

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