Concentrates are substances in which the more desirable properties of cannabis, namely cannabinoids and terpenes, have been isolated. There are many cannabis concentrates in a variety of formats and textures. Non-active forms of concentrate need to be heated to experience their effects. Concentrates with active cannabinoids, usually distillate, are infused into edibles, tinctures, and topicals to provide effects without the application of heat.
More About Concentrates
You’ve probably noticed the tiny hairs that cover the cannabis plant, giving it a crystal-like sheen and sticky feel. These glandular hairs, or trichomes, produce and hold the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabis concentrates isolate and accumulate these compounds from the plant’s trichome glands. In other words, concentrates are packed with everything users love about cannabis. They’re guaranteed to be more potent than flower, thus accounting for their rapid rise in popularity.
You may have heard the terms concentrate and extract used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Extracts are a specific type of concentrate made using a solvent. All extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts.
The History of Concentrates
The oldest and arguably most prolific method of making concentrates is in the form of hashish, or hash. The exact origin of hashish is difficult to pin down, but we can safely say that the oldest recorded method of making concentrates, found in 8th and 6th century CE Assyrian texts, was hashish.
The exact route through which hashish spread from its origin point is unknown, but it’s most likely that it spread from Central to Southwest Asia through Persia or India. Hashish from this era would have started off as kief, or cannabis sifted through a sieve to remove trichome glands. Kief is turned into hashish by applying heat and pressure, and typically pressed into bricks or rolled into balls. Charas, which also spread from Southern Asia, is made by hand-rubbing hashish into small resin balls.
A tincture is a concentrated extract contained in a liquid, most commonly alcohol or glycerin. Cannabis tinctures came to prominence as a medicine in the mid-to-late 19th century, when western medicine adopted the use of medical cannabis. During the 1890s in particular, medical cannabis reached its peak in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S., largely in the form of extracts and tinctures.
Cannabis tinctures declined in the early 20th century, however, due to frequent inconsistencies in effect. We hadn’t yet discovered how to isolate active compounds, making it practically impossible to provide consistent potency or accurate dosage prescriptions. This setback, combined with the development of medicines such as injectable morphine and emerging legal restrictions throughout the 20th century, virtually wiped out the use of cannabis tinctures as medicine.
Tinctures are making a comeback following legalization in many parts of the world due to the ability of users to administer consistent doses — the same reason they were popular in the 19th century.
Today, cannabinoid and terpene isolation is not only possible, but it’s also the name of the game when it comes to using cannabis concentrates as a medicine. The first cannabinoid to be isolated was cannabinol (CBN), the cannabinoid into which tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) breaks down after prolonged periods of storage.
CBN was first isolated from a red oil cannabis extract at the end of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1932 that British chemist R.S. Cahn further clarified CBN’s chemical structure, paving the way for the cannabinoid chemical synthesis and official discovery by two separate research groups — Lord Todd in the U.K. and R. Adams in the U.S. — in 1940. Pharmacologists H.J. Wollner, John R. Matchett, Joseph Levine, and Peter Valaer made the first THC cannabis extraction two years later.
Extracts are concentrates made with the use of a solvent. The first public-facing explanation of how to make extracts is found in D. Gold‘s 1973 book, “Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking.” Gold entered the world of underground cannabis chemistry in San Francisco, at the height of the Haight-Ashbury drug scene. He became interested in developing extract techniques after learning about cannabis tinctures from the late-19th and early-20th centuries. A more detailed explanation of cannabis extraction came from Michael Starks’ “Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics Processing and Potency” in 1977.
The next major turning point in the history of concentrates would come two decades later. The Vaults of Erowid was the ultimate online gateway to psychedelic knowledge in the ’90s. On May 1, 1999, Indra Gurung (real name: John Henry Davis) added instructions for how to “turn trash leaf to honey oil in minutes” on the website using, what is now considered, an “open blasting” method. While this method is incredibly dangerous and should never be performed at home, this was the first time butane was mentioned as a solvent for various cannabis extraction methods. What Indra didn’t foresee was the onslaught of accidents to follow the contribution of his dangerous procedure. Indra eventually patented his Oil and Fat Extraction Apparatus which is considered to be one of the first “closed-loop systems” specifically designed for the extraction of cannabis oils.
Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. Aside from being illegal, it is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and should only be performed by trained, experienced professionals in the proper setting with adequate safety precautions (e.g. ventilation and fire suppression controls, etc.) in place.
As amateurs attempted to create butane hash oil (BHO) concentrates in their homes outside of a closed-loop system in a process called open blasting, they would expose butane fumes to the environment of their makeshift lab, often causing explosions and leading to serious or fatal injuries.
Budder — one of the many consistencies of marijuana concentrates, identified by its malleable texture that looks and feels like cake frosting — emerged onto the scene in the mid-’90s. Budder was created by a Canadian concentrate maker known as BudderKing. In 2003, BudderKing approached the founder of Vancouver’s Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop, Don Briere, with the budder extract and began distributing samples of budder from Da Kine called “Butter Hoots.” He shared his technique with Cannabis Culture in 2005.
Today, extracts such as budder, shatter, crumble, and sauce, as well as a massive variety of dab rigs, are available in all dispensaries. From 2010 onward, the concentrate industry has been in a state of constant change. From about 2010 to 2014, shatter became the dominant form of concentrate. “If it doesn’t shatter, it doesn’t matter” became the industry mantra. Distillate made its debut in 2013, and is now used in the majority of vape cartridges. From 2014 to 2015, badder became the most popular concentrate.
Present-day full spectrum extracts, sauce, distillate, and crystalline (also known as diamonds) have caught the attention of cannabis connoisseurs. Within the space of a few years, consumers have become more educated and more aware of the subtle differences in all concentrates.
What Are Concentrates Made Out Of?
Concentrates can be made from any part of the plant, which can be dried and cured or fresh. The three most common cannabis concentrate labels include trim-run, nug-run and live resin.
Trim is the excess leaves removed from cannabis buds to make the end product more attractive to consumers and create a less harsh smoke. This part of the plant generally contains fewer trichomes than cannabis buds, but accumulating the trichomes from trim makes use out of the cannabinoids and terpenes that were once discarded.
Nugs are high-quality cannabis buds that are also known as flowers. A nug run is a batch of concentrates extracted from dried and cured nugs. This type of concentrate uses the most trichome-rich part of the cannabis plant to produce one of the most flavorful and potent concentrates possible. The textures produced can range from shatter to sauce.
Live resin is a term used to describe a concentrate made from fresh cannabis plant material that was not dried or cured. This method is used to retain the most temperature sensitive terpenes that are lost during the drying and curing process. Products that have been extracted using live resin process — freezing freshly harvested cannabis plant material and extracting it — have been associated as high-grade and flavorful concentrates due to the high amounts of terpenes.
How Are Concentrates Made?
Concentrates are made in one of two ways: physically separating the trichome from the plant, also referred to as a mechanical separation, or using liquid solvents, which is sometimes referred to as a chemical extraction.
Physical separation, also known as mechanical separation, involves breaking and removing trichomes from plant material via a physical action such as shaking or pressing. Think of it like shaking a citrus tree to remove the fruit. Dry sift, for example, involves shaking cured cannabis through a series of screens in specific sizes to ensure nothing but trichome glands make it into the final product.
Physical separation methods use centrifugal action, gravity separation, and filtration to separate the trichome glands from the plants. The most common methods include:
- Sieving the ground plant by hand or in a mechanical tumbler composed of screens delicately removes the exposed trichomes resulting in a powder called kief.
- Water, in steam form, can be used to extract the polar terpenoid molecules.
- The Ice-water method, where ground plant material, ice, and water are combined in a vessel and agitated until the trichome glands break off the plant and sink to the bottom of the vessel.
- Cold and warm press methods, known as rosin, use heat and pressure to remove the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant. Very similar to an oil press, heat and pressure are applied (upwards of 40,000 pounds of force) to the plant material until the resin glands are excreted from the plant material.
Chemical extractions, also known as solvent-based extractions, utilize a chemical solvent to dissolve the trichomes from the plant. Solvent-based extractions are the most efficient methods in the removal of trichomes from the cannabis plant and are the preferred method for the commercial cannabis industry.
The main solvents employed are butane, propane, ethanol, and carbon dioxide.
These solvents are used in liquid form to essentially ‘wash’ the plant of its therapeutic compounds, after which the solvent must be removed from the solution before it is safe to consume. Processors seek solvents that have extremely low boiling points in order to maintain the full spectrum of compounds removed without denaturing or boiling them off during the process of removing the solvent from the solution.
What Products and Consistencies Are Made?
Once the cannabinoids and terpenes have been removed from the plant material, the resulting solution can take a variety of forms. These forms allow patients and consumers to pick and choose their preferred texture of the concentrate product; they aren’t necessarily an indicator of how the concentrate will taste or affect an individual but they do dictate the tools required to use them. Different textures are the result of deliberate steps taken before or after the initial extraction process which is referred to as “post-processing techniques.”
Non-solvent based forms include kief, live kief, dry sift, hashish, bubble hash, full-melt hash, and rosin. Solvent-based forms include shatter, snap-and-pull, badder, budder, crumble, sauce, RSO, sap, sugar, wax, distillate, and crystalline.
How to Consume
To consume a cannabis concentrate safely and effectively, you must have the appropriate equipment in order to properly activate the concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes. Consumers have options for consumption methods, but those options all require attention to detail, equipment, and mechanics on the user’s part.
Concentrates can help increase the potency and improve the flavor of your flower. The next time you pack a bowl with cannabis flower, try sprinkling kief on top or add drops of concentrate oil to cannabis flower before rolling your joint. Adding powdered kief to your bowl, or wrapping wax around a joint, are the most cost-effective methods for using cannabis concentrates. For experienced dry flower smokers who are new to concentrates, this may be the best method to start.
Concentrates can be vaporized using a dab rig. This activity is referred to as “dabbing.” Quickly becoming one of the most popular consumption methods in the market, dabbing offers a potent high and flavor packed experience that makes the most of a plant’s rich terpene profile. A dab rig is a glass pipe, similar to a bong, designed specifically for concentrates. Dab rigs typically include a titanium, quartz, or glass nail that can be thought of as the bowl in the dab rig. Consumers use a butane torch lighter to bring the nail to a temperature that, almost instantly, vaporizes the concentrates.
Concentrates can also be vaporized using a portable or handheld vaporizer. The market is currently full of dry-herb vaporizers that also offer a wax or dab feature. With a vaporizer, you manually fill a chamber with any type of concentrate and attach the chamber to a battery. The chamber typically contains a heating coil that turns the concentrate into a vapor when the user presses a button. Unlike dab rigs, vaporizers seldom require any additional equipment.
Pre-filled concentrate vape pens have arguably become the most popular form of vaping. A vape pen consists of a pre-filled cartridge that attaches to a battery. The cartridge contains a heating element that comes in contact with the battery and heats the concentrate when activated. This battery-and-cartridge combination is collectively referred to as a vape pen.
How to Properly Store
Depending on the consistency, concentrates are typically stored in either a glass jar, a silicone jar, or parchment paper. Glass jars usually hold softer concentrates like budder and sauce. They’re generally your best bet for long-term storage. Silicone jars provide easy access and removal for virtually any concentrate consistency, but they don’t usually offer an airtight seal that is good enough for long-term storage. Parchment paper is another short-term storage solution used for solvent-based extracts.
The key to proper concentrate storage is minimizing the outside elements — heat, humidity, and air — all of which will change the texture, potency and taste. Concentrates should be stored in a cool, dark place. Concentrate containers should always be as small as possible to minimize excess air. Short-term storage typically doesn’t require more than a room temperature setting. For long-term storage, make sure to use an airtight container, and consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Freezing concentrates has its risks. Most commonly, frozen concentrates, when not adequately sealed, may accumulate moisture and become harsh when dabbed. But with the proper container, you’ll be able to minimize the risk of moisture contamination.
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