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Concentrates 101

WHAT IS CONCENTRATED CANNABIS?

Concentrated cannabis takes many forms, but whether wax, shatter, or hash, there’s one thing in common: They’ve gone through a process to extract as much of the cannabis plant’s active ingredients as possible while removing as much of the plant material as possible.

It’s that process that makes the difference, though the quality, color, and smell of the end result also depend on the beginning material.

HOW DO YOU MAKE IT?

You start with the plant. Concentrates are generally made from trim or shake — what used to be waste. Some concentrates are advertised as “nug run,” meaning they may be made from flower that would otherwise be bagged and sold at dispensaries.

You then pick an extraction method. There as many extraction methods as there are end products.

Traditionally, plant material was run through a screen to separate the resinous trichomes from the plant. This is still how kief and pressed hash is made today.

Modern-day methods will call upon a solvent as well as a mechanical action to separate the resinous trichomes from the plant material.

Butane, alcohol, dry ice, and cold water are the most common solvents used in concentrate making. Mechanical processes can be as simple as a kief screen and as complicated as a multi-step process involving a closed-loop C02 device and a vacuum oven.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

The word “concentrate” is literal: There’s more power, both medical and psychoactive, in a concentrate than in a flower from your favorite eighth. Most medical-grade flower runs no higher than 20 to 25 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), whereas concentrates can be as strong as 80 percent THC or more.

It can take as much as an ounce of flowers to create a few grams of concentrate, so prices are similarly concentrated as well. This reflects both the raw material required as well as the processing involved.

OK, HOW DO I SMOKE IT?

Although oral oils and tinctures exist, concentrates are most often consumed through a method called “dabbing.”
The most basic form of dabbing consists of heating a metal nail with a butane torch and pressing — or “dabbing” — a small amount of your particular concentrate onto it with a metal pick.

WHAT ARE ALL THESE DIFFERENT THINGS AT THE DISPENSARY?

The main difference between the various dabbable concentrates is the extraction method. Here’s a little run down of the differences in end product by method.

BHO

BHO stands for “butane hash oil.” As the name suggests, butane is the solvent used here. BHO has gained much popularity among cannabis users due to two major factors: It’s fairly inexpensive to produce and is very, very potent.

This is one of the more common concentrates that you will run across in dispensaries and is great for dabbing.

Depending on the way it is produced, it may be called either “wax” or “shatter.”

Shatter is made by completely purging the butane out of the hash at once. Wax is made by whipping the hash while purging. This is why wax is usually somewhat sticky and looks like actual earwax — hence the name — or honeycomb, while shatter tends to be very firm and smooth.

Shatter can reach a higher THC percentage, but the process eliminates many of the terpenes — the organic compounds in plants that determine how something smells, and that in cannabis determine how a high feels — that wax still contains.

This means that, technically, your shatter may be stronger but your wax may be more flavorful and nuanced.

You may also encounter terms like “live resin” and “holy water.” These are both forms of BHO — the difference is in how the plant was harvested prior to the application of the solvent. These often resemble sap, but are notable for an extremely high terpene count, like Nectars 710’s “terp juice.”

COLD WATER HASH

Cold water hash has an eponymous extraction method. The method is exactly how it sounds. Plant matter is combined with ice water, and run through a sieve. This creates, ideally, a sort of sandy product once fully dried.

You’ll see a number along with many cold water concentrates. This is the micron system — the higher the number, the bigger the sieve that the hash was run through.

I generally use them as complements to a joint or an addition to a bowl.

CO2

This is the process used to create the medicine found in most vapor pen cartridges. This process involves creating CO2 in a liquid state and running it through the plant matter at high pressure to grab as many of the cannabinoids as possible. This requires an expensive, closed-loop system that is essentially high-tech lab equipment — and it creates a very, very pure extract.
Since this process is a bit more expensive due to the machinery required, the product is generally more expensive.
CO2 concentrates tend to resemble an oil of a molasses consistency.

Photo by Gabrielle Lurie