Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis Concentrates
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
The world of cannabis concentrates is wide with many different product types and variations to explore. If dabbing is new to you, you may be wondering how it all works. How are concentrates made? Are they safe to consume? How many different ways can they be enjoyed? In this lengthy but educational article, we'll be covering everything you need to know about cannabis extracts. We'll also be diving further into each specific product in later posts. Without further ado, cannabis concentrates: 101.
A quick look at concentrates
First off, it's important to note that all concentrates are made when a processor separates the THC-rich trichomes from the cannabis plant material and flowers in a process called "extraction". There are two primary extraction methods, solvent-based and solventless, each one named for how the THC is extracted from the plant materials. We'll touch more on that on a second. Regardless of which method is used to make the concentrates, the product left behind will be more potent in THC than flower alone and contain concentrated terpenes, which improve flavors and make the THC stronger in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
Concentrates contain between 75-95% THC on average and 2-10% terpenes. They are highly sought out among medical marijuana patients since they usually offer a cleaner high, better flavors, longer-lasting effects, and an easier way to dose. Flower on the other hand only contains about 10-25% THC. When you smoke flower, you'll inhale a huge variety of terpenes and cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, CBN, and any other combination of some 100+ cannabinoids in addition to the THC. Flower is powerful medicine this way since it offers a full-spectrum of cannabinoids, though the combustion process destroys many terpenes. You'll still get a great mix of effects, but the high will feel foggier and won't last as long.
Another thing to note is how many products that are extracted the same way may be labeled differently from processor to processor. If you frequent dispensaries in Colorado Springs, you've probably seen a huge variety of processing companies making a bunch of different concentrates with a bunch of different names. This can be a little confusing since many processors will rename these products to segment their own brand (marketing, baby!). For example, live resin is an umbrella term for concentrates made from flash-frozen cannabis in a solvent-based extraction method, though some processors will call their version of the live resin they make something along the lines of live sauce, live batter, or live jam.
Regardless of what extractors call concentrates, you'll be able to tell what you're looking at by sight and smell alone. In our live resin / live batter example, the batter is still fundamentally live resin since it's made the same, but it is named for its stickier, less saucy consistency that comes from technique and the condition of the starting plant material. Many concentrates are like this. Wax can also go by names like budder or crumble, and rosin can go by SHO or fresh frozen.
Below, we'll touch base on how the umbrella-term concentrates are made, including shatter, wax, rosin, live, diamonds, distillate, and more. But first, we have to cover the major differences in the way the THC is extracted from the plant material.
How Concentrates Are Made
All cannabis concentrates are made by separating the THC from the plant material. This can be accomplished in two ways: by using solvents, or by not using solvents.
Solvent-based extracts are made by blasting plant materials with chemical solvents such as CO2, butane, propane, or ethanol to strip away all the plant materials, leaving only the THC and a few terpenes behind. This is the primary method used by commercial processors who need to produce a lot of product but only have a few materials to run. Once the extraction is complete, the product must be laid out so all of the chemical solvents can evaporate out of the final product. Many solvent-based extracts are purged in a vacuum to expedite this process. Before solvent-based extracts hit the shelves, they are purged to ensure that all traces of the chemical solvents have been removed, leaving behind a solvent-free solvent-based concentrate. Keep in mind that solvent-free does not mean solventless. Solvent-free extracts are made in a solvent-based extraction method and have been tested to ensure that all traces of the chemical solvents have been removed from the final product.
Examples of Solvent-Based Extractions:
Most solvent-based extracts are made using the following solvents and methods. The final products come in a variety of different consistencies, shapes, smells, and flavors. The variety is caused by the different solvents used as well as the purging method alongside starting material and the technique of the extraction specialist. Here are a few solvent-based extractions and some examples of each. We'll cover each concentrate example more in-depth later in the article.
Hydrocarbons: Concentrates made with the hydrocarbon extraction method are some of the most common concentrates found in dispensaries intended for dabbing. The concentrates made with this method are highly variable and exist at just about every price point and consistency, containing around 60-90% THC on average. Some examples include live resin, shatter, wax, and diamonds. To make them, processors will take a pressurized chemical solvent in a closed-loop system (usually butane, but sometimes ethanol, propane, or others) to blast away all the plant material from the cannabinoids and terpenes. This method is unique since it retains the chemical structure of any specific cannabis-strain and preserves the cannabinoids and terpenes. The products are then allowed to rest, evaporating all of the chemicals out of the final concentrates, or they're purged completely in a vacuum.
CO2: Instead of chemicals like butane and ethanol, some concentrates can be made using carbon dioxide (CO2) as the primary solvent. This method is considered one of the safest solvent-based extraction methods since the gas is stable and non-combustible, being found in the air we breathe. The CO2 extraction method is also used to remove caffeine from coffee to make decaf and for extracting pharmaceuticals. In a CO2 extraction, the processor will put carbon dioxide under extreme heat and pressure to separate THC and terpenes from the rest of the plant material. This puts it in a "supercritical" state that allows it to take on the form of both a liquid and a gas, blasting away plant materials and evaporating out of the final product. You can find CO2 extracts in the form of vape cartridges and hash oils at many Colorado Springs dispensaries.
Distillate: The distillation extraction method also uses CO2, but it takes the process a step further. In a CO2 extraction, most of the cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved in the final product, along with a few other plant materials such as fats, lipids, and flavonoids. Some labs use this CO2 extraction method, but we do not. Distillate can also be made using hydrocarbons, as we do, and utilize ethanol to remove the fats and lipids before the distillation process. Quality distillate is usually yellow in color and contains between 70%-95% THC (or other cannabinoids. CBD can be extracted this way too, leaving behind pure cannabinoids and some terpenes. While distillate concentrates aren't the best choice for dabbing, they usually find their way into edibles and topicals. Sometimes distillate is made into vape cartridges too, though these are usually enhanced with re-introduced terpenes that help improve the flavor and the effects of the cannabinoids. We do not add outside terpenes to our distillate, but we keep the distilled terpenes from the cannabis within the distillate, making for more flavorful and potent products.
Now, on the other hand, we have solventless extractions. Solventless extractions do not use chemical solvents to isolate THC from the plant materials. Typically, concentrates made using these methods are made using mechanical techniques that combine a combination of heat, pressure, water filtration, or physical separation to separate THC from plant materials. You may be wondering how some concentrates are still considered solventless when they're filtered with water. Just remember that solventless means no chemicals. Most solventless concentrates are standard and can even be made at home safely. They just require a little more work to make than solvent-based concentrates do.
Examples of Solventless Extractions:
Similar to solvent-based concentrates, solventless concentrates also come in a ton of different flavors, aromas, textures, and potencty levels. They don't use any chemicals, so derriving them usually takes a little elbow grease and filtering. Here are a few examples of solventless extraction methods as well as some of the products they make.
Mechanical grinding: Using a grinder or other large device, cannabis flowers can be separated from their THC-rich trichome heads by passing through a fine mesh screen in a three-chamber grinder. This physical agitation usually requires a lot of product for a small amount of finished concentrate. The final concentrate using this method is known as kief which can be used to top bowls for added potency. Kief collected this way is also often made into moon rocks or caviar alongside CO2 extracted hash oil.
Dry sifting: The dry-sift extraction method utilizes a fine mesh screen or sieve. The screen is so small that only trichome heads are able to get through the filter. This technique is similar to mechanical grinding since extractors roll, sift, and rub dry flowers over the screen to collect the trichomes. However, the dry sift technique may also utilize static electricity to help separate the trichomes from the plant material even further. The final product is also technically kief, though it's more concentrates and can be pressed into hash or rosin with more heat and pressure.
Washing: Trichomes can also be separated from plant materials by using dry ice, ice water, or water-filtration. Dried cannabis flowers or trim are first agitated in an ice water bath and then filtered through fine mesh bags. After the dip, the flowers are then agitated again in mesh micron bags with dry ice. Each cannabis strain produces trichomes in various sizes, so this process requires sifting, more sifting, and then sifting again until the final product left behind is pure cannabis resin glands. Some strains will go through several bags until the trichomes are fully separated from the rest of the plant material. The final product is then left to dry, leaving behind a variety of textures from dusty like kief to oily like a concentrate. Products made via washing include bubble hash, ice water hash, ice wax, and full melt. They can then be pressed into rosin or smoked, dabbed, or made into topicals or edibles.
Heat and pressure: A combination of heat and pressure applied to dry flowers or other trichome-laden materials including the varieties mentioned above forces plant materials out while preserving cannabinoids and terpenes. This extraction method uses a variety of temperatures and levels of pressure to create concentrates of many different consistencies. Some heat and pressure extracts include rosin, sap, budder, jam, and SHO. Rosin for example can be made at home using dry flower, parchment paper, and applying the right amount of pressure and heat with a flat iron.
Types of Cannabis Concentrates
Now that you know all of the different extraction methods for cannabis concentrates, we can touch base on some of the most common concentrates you can find at dispensaries in Colorado Springs. Each one is made using either a solventless or a solvent-based extraction method. As we touched upon in the first section, slight differences in heat, pressure, solvents, and purging methods can create concentrates with a variety of different consistencies, colors, potencies, textures, flavors, and odors. Many processors name their final products based on how they turn out. Here's how your favorite concentrates are made, the types of consistencies you'll find, and what they're made out of.
Shatter - Shatter is made in a solvent-based extraction by pressurizing butane in a closed-loop system to strip THC from cannabis materials like trim or flower, though usually trim. The butane evaporates out of the final product when the shatter is poured on a tray. As it hardens, the butane evaporates away leaving behind a translucent amber to yellow-colored product that can be broken like glass. Some shatter has a pull-and-snap or taffy-like texture due to technique and starting material. Regardless of consistency, most processers still call these products shatter.
Wax - Wax is made using a solvent-based extraction method using butane, similar to shatter in a closed-loop system. It's also usually made with trim instead of flower as the starting material, and it's made when pre-formed shatter is agitated, whipped, or aerated before being fully purged of butane. The final product is a soft, opaque concentrate that comes in a variety of different textures and colors that are determined by how the strain will hold up to heat and moisture during the purging process. If it gets whipped, it'll turn smooth and go by names like budder, batter or icing. If it's aerated, it'll harden and become crumble, sugar wax, or honeycomb. Regardless of the final consistency, if it's made in a BHO extraction, it's wax.
Nug run - Nug Run refers to concentrates like shatter and wax made using a solvent-based extraction method that uses dried cannabis flowers instead of trim. Nug run is a variation of these products that tends to offer more terpene content, tasting and smelling a little better than the standard stuff.
Distillate - Distillate is made using a solvent-based CO2 extraction method which strips all plant materials and terpenes away, leaving behind pure cannabinoids like THC or CBD only. Distilled concentrates are almost perfectly clear in color and usually make it into edibles, tinctures, and topicals since they don't offer any flavor but still pack a punch at 90-99% THC. Some processors take distillate and turn it into vape cartridges after reintroducing terpenes to help enhance the flavors.
Live Resin - Live resin is made using a solvent-based hydrocarbon extract that also utilizes heat and pressure to evaporate the final solvents out. It leaves behind a terpene sauce and allows a few small THCa diamonds to form. The final products can be called live resin, live crystals, live diamonds, live sugar, live batter, and more, depending on the final product's consistency. The term "live" refers to the plant materials used for the extraction. In other concentrates, the THC is derived from trim or small dry flowers. Live concentrates on the other hand are made by extracting the trichomes from still-living plants. To accomplish this, the material must be harvested and flash-frozen to preserve the terpenes and cannabinoids. These materials are then processed from the freezer, allowing for a more flavorful product that preserves undamaged and unaltered terpenes and cannabinoids.
Cured Resin - Cured resin is the same thing as live resin, with the exception being that the starting product was cured or dried cannabis flowers. It's made the same way using these materials.
Diamonds - Diamonds form in a closed-loop, solvent-based extraction method. Much like other solvent-based products, diamonds are extracted the same way, but the difference in the final product involves how the solvent is purged at the end. Under heat and pressure, diamonds form in a crystalline structure. They can be formed as THCa isolates or in a terpene-rich sauce. They are made from THCa, which is completely non-psychoactive until they're dabbed and the heat transforms the THCa into THC. Diamonds are one of the most potent forms of concentrates made in a solvent-based extraction, checking in at 90-99% THCa.
Sauce - Sauce is formed the same way as diamonds, in a closed-loop hydrocarbon extraction method. It gets its name for its sauce-like appearance, which is thin and runny with a little stickiness, like honey or marmalade. Unlike the other concentrates on this list, Sauce is made for terpenes and not cannabinoids. While it does offer some potency and is often sold on its own for its ability to produce small diamonds of its own, sauce is usually sold with THCa diamonds to help improve flavors and the potency of the larger diamonds. Sauce sold on its own with small diamonds can range in texture from thin and runny to thick and gritty depending on how long it was able to form diamonds. It also goes by names like terp sauce.
Hash Oil / Rick Simpson Oil - Cannabis oils are thin and runny, and they contain terpenes and cannabinoids separated from plant materials using a hydrocarbon, CO2, or distillate extraction method. Oils can come in a variety of flavors, but the consistency is always very viscous. You can add thickening agents to make cannabis oils thick enough to vape, though. Rick Simpson Oil is a version of hash oil made with grain alcohol. It offers a thick, syrupy consistency that is frequently used in tinctures and topicals. However, some hash oils (once fully purged and tested in a lab) are used to make other things. Kief cones for example utilize hash oil to create a sticky surface for kief to stick to and add potency.
Kief / Dry Sift - Kief is the first solventless extract on this list. Kief is the term given to the trichome heads mechanically separated from cannabis flowers using a grinder or with the dry sift method. Once kief is extracted, it can be used as a bowl topper to add more potency or added to other products. It can be pressed into hash with heat and pressure, too.
Rosin - Rosin is made with a solventless extraction method that involves pressing cannabis material with heat and pressure to remove plant materials and retain cannabinoids and terpenes. It comes in 3 major varieties, including fresh frozen rosin which uses fresh-frozen cannabis flowers. It can also be made with trim and dried flowers. The second variety is made by adding heat and pressure to bubble or ice hash, and the final version is dry-sift rosin which applies heat and pressure to kief to make rosin. It offers a variety of colors ranging from milky white to orange and many consistencies, including wet, creamy, and sticky. It also goes by many names, including SHO, rosin sap, rosin jam, rosin budder, and more.
Bubble Hash - Bubble hash, also known as full melt, ice wax, and ice hash, is made using a solventless water or ice-based extraction method. The cannabis materials are agitated in ice and then mechanically separated from the trichomes using fine mesh bags. It can be extracted from both trim and buds and is best when the final product is light. As the trichomes are separated with the bags, plant materials get through, contaminating the final product. The more the concentrate is filtered, the fewer contaminants get through. Quality ice hash is never dark in color.
Caviar - Caviar, sometimes referred to as Moonrocks (due to patenting), are made by taking ordinary cannabis flowers, dipping them in solvent-based CO2-extracted hash oil, and then rolling them in solventless kief. The final product can reach up to 50% THC and makes for an elevated, more potent, longer-lasting experience.
How To Consume Cannabis Concentrates
There are a ton of different concentrates out there, and each one can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. While dabbing and vaporizing concentrates are the biggest one that comes to mind, many concentrates can also be ingested and used in other ways. Here's a quick rundown on all the different methods, their pros and cons, and how they work.
Dabbing them Dabbing is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about concentrates. It involves heating up a quartz or ceramic nail using a dab rig and a butane torch until it gets hot enough to activate the THC in the concentrates. You can dab most concentrates, including shatter, wax, sauce, live resin, diamonds, sauce, and rosin. Simply take a scoop of your favorite one and drop it into the warm nail. Cap the banger with a carb cap and inhale the vapor.
Vaping them Most dabbable concentrates can also be vaped using portable vaporizers and dab pens. However, you can also by pre-made distillate or CO2 oil vape cartridges at most Colorado Springs dispensaries. To use a vaporizer, you'll use a battery to heat up a coil in the vaporizer that warms the concentrate and puff on it, allowing you to vape on the go.
Topping joints, blunts, and bowls and smoking them Many concentrates are reintroduced to cannabis flowers to add more flavors and increase the potency. You can roll bubble hash, shatter, and wax into blunts and joints to make your products burn longer. You can also dip them in hash oil and roll them in kief. If you've ever topped a bowl with kief from your grinder, you've smoked a concentrate topper. Some processors make "moonrocks" which are cannabis flowers dipped in hash oil and rolled in kief. These products are all sparked and smoked like normal cannabis flower.
Eating them or applying them to the skin The rest of the concentrates on this list, including distillate and hash oil, are usually used to make things like edibles, capsules, tinctures, and topicals. Edibles from dispensaries are usually made with solvent-based distillate or CO2, so you can't taste the cannabis they came from. Eating concentrates in this way is a great way to get cannabinoids into your system without physically smoking it. They can also be applied topically when made into lotions, balms, and salves, allowing them to be absorbed through the skin.
All in all, there are so many different kinds of extracts out there to keep track of. If you've ever wondered what concentrates are, how they're made, or all of the different names for each one, we hope this outline covers all of your burning questions. Be sure to share this handy guide with others if you found it helpful. Be on the lookout for later posts where we'll dive deeper into your favorite concentrates, too.
Concentrates by The Epic Remedy
The Epic Remedy processes all of our own concentrates using our 50+ unique strains of house-grown flower. We make everything from shatter and wax to live resin and diamonds using a variety of techniques and starting materials. In fact, you may have seen our extracts in other dispensaries all over Colorado Springs, as we create concentrates using their materials in addition to our own.
If you come into our stores, you'll find only our extensive concentrate product lines on the shelves. This is to ensure that we know exactly how your medicine was made. Your medicine starts as a healthy plant grown in one of our state of the art growing facilities, and once it's harvested, we transform it into award-winning concentrates.
The variety of our concentrates and 50+ strains of unique and exciting strains makes The Epic Remedy the best dispensaries in Colorado Springs.