Cannabis concentrates and extracts come in several forms. All use different technology in their manufacturing processes that, over time, has improved extraction quality and helped create new types of concentrate products.
For example, until recently, the cannabis industry focused almost exclusively on producing concentrated oils that contain high levels of THC. But new technology has shifted the market toward high-terpene, full-spectrum extracts and other terpene-rich products that also offer unique flavor profiles.
A typical cannabis concentrate has THC levels ranging from 40-90% compared to 30% in the strongest flower. However, beyond THC potency, there are many differences between the various types of concentrates, including texture, taste, color and extraction method.
There are many ways to extract cannabinoids, terpenes and other natural compounds from cannabis. Each method can separate individual cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other therapeutic compounds from the plant. And as chemical and clinical research continues to advance, we learn more about the benefits and uses of these psychoactive and therapeutic compounds.
So, the more you know about the differences between various extraction methods, the easier it becomes to find the cannabis concentrates and extracts that best meet your medical and recreational needs and preferences. This is especially important if you are inexperienced with using concentrates.
High Terpene Full Spectrum Extracts (HTFSE)
Evolving consumer tastes have created a growing demand for concentrates rich in flavors and aromas. But since the harsh, high-temperature environments common in conventional extraction methods can destroy delicate terpenes, HTFSE rely on new extraction technology that preserves both terpenes and THC potency. This uses fresh or flash-frozen plant material, light solvents and super low temperatures. Live resin and terp sauce are two examples of HTFSE.
Ethanol, butane, propane and hexane are evaporative solvents used to extract and isolate various compounds found in cannabis. Solvent extraction methods better separate and purify individual compounds. This allows cannabis processors to create custom compound profiles.
Isolate concentrates contain nearly 100% pure CBD, THC or other cannabinoids. Also called crystalline, diamonds and wizard stones, isolates are extracted using heat and pressure, ice and agitation, or sifting methods, which allow the almost complete separation and removal of all other compounds and unwanted impurities.
Once a cannabinoid is isolated and purified using butane, propane or ethanol solvents, it is processed using heat and agitation. This causes the extract to crystallize. These crystals can range in color from clear to cloudy yellow.
Rosin and Hash Rosin
Cannabis rosin, prized for its purity, potency and flavor, uses one of the simplest and cleanest extraction methods available. Unlike many other concentrates, rosin is not extracted using butane or other solvents, which can adversely affect flavors and aromas.
Instead, plant material, such as dried flower, kief and trim, is placed in a special rosin press that uses nothing but heat and intense pressure to squeeze out a warm, gooey, golden liquid. Any impurities are filtered out during the pressing process. This terpene-rich concentrate tastes and smells like the strain it was made from. It also delivers a deeper flavor, higher potency and more powerful high.
The most sophisticated method of rosin making is to press bubble hash, which further refines the rosin into what many cannabis aficionados believe is the ultimate cannabis concentrate. Rosin can be vaporized using a dab rig or vape pen, or added to flower in a joint or bowl.
Because no solvents are involved, rosin tends to retain more of the natural terpenes and flavonoids found in the cannabis plant. Therefore, it is more flavorful than other concentrates and many people find it more enjoyable to dab. If purity and flavor are priorities, rosin is considered the best choice. Just remember to keep your dabs between 500 and 600 degrees.
Rosin presses for personal use are widely available and surprisingly affordable. However, all you really need to make homemade rosin is some flower, kief or hash, parchment paper, a flat iron and a sturdy, heat-resistant table top.
Hash and Bubble Hash
Hash is made from the external resin produced by trichomes, which are the resin-producing glands of the cannabis plant. These trichomes and their resin give the plant (especially the flower) its sugar-dusted appearance. The trichomes and resin can be collected dry and smoked as a powder known as “kief.”
However, processing with low heat and lots of pressure turns kief to a hash. There are several different methods of extracting trichomes and resin to produce hash. Each produces a distinctive type of hash with varying levels of potency. Many extractors use a rosin press to apply the heat and pressure that creates hash.
Bubble hash also is known as “ice hash.” The first step of bubble hash production is to combine cannabis buds and ice water inside a layered filtration bag. The vigorous stirring of this mixture separates the trichomes and resin from the buds. After multiple levels of filtration, the trichomes and resin are collected, dried and pressed into blocks or disks of hash. With the right equipment and a bit of finesse, the production of bubble hash can be easily replicated at home.
Dry Ice Hash
Dry ice hash and ice hash have a similar production method, except the dry ice method skips the use of water altogether. As dry ice “melts,” it turns to carbon dioxide and evaporates. This effectively separates trichomes and resin from the plant material and eliminates the need to dry the trichomes and resin prior to pressing. In fact, hash consumers report dry ice produces even purer and more potent results than ice hash.
Dry Sift Hash
Unlike most trichrome and resin extraction techniques, the dry sift method requires no water or ice. It starts by collecting the cannabis buds and the trim, which is then chopped finely and sifted through a series of filters, each varying in filtration level. After multiple sifts, the trichomes and resin are processed using low heat and pressure to press them into a hash. This method is the easiest to recreate at home.
CO2 oils are produced by an extraction process that uses carbon dioxide gas. Essentially, extractors shoot supercritical CO2 into a tube filled with cannabis flower. The CO2 separates cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant matter. After the CO2 is purged away, a concentrated, golden-hued oil remains.
CO2 oils are commonly found in the pre-filled vape cartridges and vape pens sold in dispensaries across the country. Because the CO2 extraction process takes place at a lower temperature, more of the plant’s natural terpenes and flavors are preserved. Like rosin, some cannabis connoisseurs consider CO2 oils to be purer and more flavorful than most other concentrates.
Live resin concentrates are more about the original plant material than the extraction process. Typically, cannabis concentrates are made from dried and cured plant material. Live resins, on the other hand, come from fresh plant material harvested at its peak potency.
The production of live resin starts by flash-freezing cannabis instead of drying and curing it before its natural compounds are extracted. This locks in volatile terpenes and cannabinoids that may be lost in the curing process and allows them to be extracted gently, using a blend of butane and propane hydrocarbon solvents.
Another difference between live resins and other cannabinoid-focused concentrates is the extraction temperature. Lightweight hydrocarbons make it possible to extract at super cold temperatures that preserve the most delicate terpenes in the final product.
An optional approach to extracting live resin is to skip flash-freezing and process the fresh plants within 24 hours after harvest. The resulting oil is then triple distilled to preserve its terpenes.
A special chemical analysis can be used to examine each live resin strain on the molecular level and create its unique “fingerprint”. This fingerprint can be used to recreate the strain over and over again, resulting in a product that is almost identical to the original strain and consistently delivers the same effects and experience with every batch.
Terp sauce, also known as “sauce” or “diamonds,” is a wet concentrate with a high terpene potency. It’s often added to isolate crystals to improve their taste, aroma and effects. When a product contains both crystalline and terp sauce extracts, it is called “sauce on the rocks.”
Sauce extraction is all about preserving the terpenes. The consistency, as the name suggests, is saucy. It ranges in color from crystal clear to translucent brown. And depending on the cannabinoid profile and stage of extraction, it may also contain crystalline structures (THCa), which give it the nickname, “diamonds.”
Sauce uses a live resin, solvent-based extraction method designed to carefully maintain each strain’s original terpene profile. Even brief exposure to normal temperatures and environmental conditions can quickly degrade terpenes. This is why it’s best to start with fresh or flash-frozen plant material.
Sauce extraction requires a lighter solvent, lower temperatures and a centrifuge to separate pure terpene “sauce” from cannabinoid diamonds. But whether it’s separated or sold as a full-spectrum concentrate, there are dozens of variations on terp sauce.
Rick Simpson Oil
RSO is a “full spectrum” THC extract. The term full spectrum means that it contains terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids, lipids, chlorophyll and other natural components found in the cannabis plant. All of these work together to deliver the optimal benefits from medicinal marijuana. This synergistic action is referred to as the “entourage effect.”
You can find RSO in a liquid or capsule form. A full gram of liquid RSO typically comes in a 1,000 mg syringe. You can place the recommended amount directly in your mouth or mix it with a beverage or food. However, the concentrated oil has a strong taste.
It takes 15 to 45 minutes to feel the effects of RSO. Since it’s ingested orally rather than by smoking it, the THC effects last longer. For some, RSO creates an intense sedative effect, making it nearly impossible to stay awake. Others report feeling uplifted and euphoric after using RSO.
Distillate extraction is similar to isolate extraction. However, distillation doesn’t result in the total isolation and purification of cannabinoids. This means that a distillate product may be less potent than isolates. However, distillates contain a broader spectrum of cannabinoids and provide a more well-rounded high than isolates.
Extractors can manipulate temperature and pressure to produce a desired “profile” of the cannabinoids and other phytochemicals in the product. The result is a potent extract that has been systematically distilled to include only the compounds the extractor wants to include in the final product.
A distillate can take many forms, including oils and crystalline products. On the other hand, a product can be distillated down to a single cannabinoid to reach nearly 100% purity. These single-component concentrates are often referred to as isolates. THC is the most common target of isolate makers, although CBD isolate products are becoming increasingly popular.
Because distillate has a thick and syrupy consistency, it’s often supplied in a syringe. It can be smoked by itself or added to a bowl of flower, which intensifies the experience. Another popular delivery method is via pre-filled vape cartridges.
THC and CBD aren’t the only compounds in cannabis that determine how a concentrate makes you feel. When using distillates or isolates, the body doesn’t benefit from the entourage effect. Regular users can sometimes feel underwhelmed by the experience. Still, distillates and isolates have their place in delivering targeted effects for specific symptom relief or preferred recreational experiences.
Butane Hash Oil
Any cannabis concentrate using butane as the sole extraction solvent is considered a BHO. It’s made using the butane extraction method that requires a thorough filtration process to strip it of any remaining impurities. This process, known as “purging,” usually results in an extract completely free of any solvent, making it safe to consume.
However, inexperienced extractors may leave some traces of butane in their final product. Since butane is potentially harmful when ingested, it’s important to buy BHO products only from trusted brands. Generally, if you’re getting BHO from a dispensary, you can trust the extractors know what they’re doing.
There are probably about a dozen different types of dabs made from BHO extracts on dispensary shelves today. These include shatter, wax, oil, budder, badder and more. The only real difference between them is their consistency.
Shatter gets its name from its thin, brittle consistency that often results in it shattering into lots of little pieces. Shatter is a thin sheet of extract that’s usually clear or amber in color. Darker shatter is considered to be of lower quality and might contain impurities, such as chlorophyll, leftover from the extraction process.
Wax concentrates are less oily but waxier in texture. Like shatter, wax concentrates are made using a BHO extraction. And like shatter, wax concentrates contain a high THC content that can produce a powerful, long-lasting high. Apart from their look, texture, and consistency, these two concentrates are actually very similar.
If you have questions or concerns about the therapeutic and psychoactive effects of consuming marijuana extract, as well as their possible health risks, speak with a medical health professional.
Practice safe consumption by learning about different cannabis products before smoking them. And consider incorporating a filtration device into your cannabis regimen. A mouthpiece filter lets you experience the medical and recreational effects of marijuana, while reducing the risk of lung damage caused by smoke.
Let’s Concentrate on Concentrates -Part 2
In Part 2 of “Let’s Concentrate on Concentrates” we’ll cover additional popular concentrates. Again, knowing what works best for you and your medical and recreational needs and preferences is important as there are many different types of cannabis concentrates and extracts to consider.