There are many types of cannabis concentrates on the market today, and nearly as many different ways to consume them. But with so many concentrates and methods available, how can you know how to make the best choices for your situation?
We laid out everything you need to know about marijuana concentrates to help you decide if they’re right for your routine: what concentrates are, how they’re made, and the different forms they take.
What Is a Cannabis Concentrate?
A cannabis concentrate refers to any cannabis-derived product where plant matter has been discarded so that the resulting substance has a high potency of a medicinally useful chemical compound, called a cannabinoid.
The two most important and prominent cannabinoids sought for extraction are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Each of these compounds produces different effects:
- THC – Responsible for marijuana’s signature euphoric “high,” THC also has many therapeutic applications for physical and mental health.
- CBD – CBD offers some of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, namely as an anti-epileptic and anti-inflammatory, without the psychoactive high produced by THC.
Other, less prevalent, compounds called terpenes are often desired during processes of extraction and isolation.
What Are Terpenes?
These substances have wide-ranging potential therapeutic uses and are responsible for the distinctive aromatic and flavor profiles of many flowers, fruits, and plants, including cannabis. It’s believed that cannabis has more than 200 possible terpenes.
Why Do People Choose Cannabis Concentrates?
Some cannabis users prefer concentrates over traditional flower for reasons of discretion and convenience. Others enjoy concentrates for the simple fact that they’re more potent and can deliver a more intense cannabis experience than other forms.
Concentrated cannabis products, by their nature, take up a lot less space than the same amount of THC in flower form, and many concentrates also lack (or at least reduce) the pungent, tattle-tale smell of cannabis flower.
Concentrates that can be vaporized, discreetly dabbed with a dab pen, or eaten have the edge over smoking flower when it comes to convenient, efficient consumption.
A Quick History of Cannabis Concentrates
The first cannabis concentrates were produced over a thousand years ago. Hash (or hashish) was mentioned in the text of the story 1,001 Arabian Nights, where the extraction process was described as rolling cannabis flower between your fingers until you had created a sticky little ball that could be eaten. Middle Eastern religious and cultural customs helped spread hashish use throughout the region and eventually into India and Europe.
It was there where its medicinal potential was first documented by Irish medical marijuana innovator William B. O’Shaughnessy. He successfully used cannabis (in hashish form) as an anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and anti-nausea supplement.
How Cannabis Concentrates Are Made
A cannabis concentrate is any marijuana product processed to extract its medicinal and/or psychoactive compounds, used for either medicinal or recreational purposes.
Producing Cannabis Concentrates
The cannabinoid concentration journey begins just as that of flower. A cultivar is grown to flower, then harvested, dried and cured. Some of this flower is set aside to be packaged as whole bud, while a fraction is destined for additional processing.
There are many different possible methods of processing cannabis flowers and extracting cannabinoids, but all methods fall into the category solvent-free or solventless.
Solvent-free concentrates are crafted using a solvent. A solvent, typically butane, ethanol, or CO2, is used to extract the beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. After the crude extract is created, the solvent is purged, deeming the end-product solvent-free as it is now free of solvents.
Solventless concentrates are those created without a solvent. These are considered some of the most pure, as they use no external compounds to create the concentrate.
Let’s look at a few prominent solvent-free and solventless concentrates:
- Solventless dry sift extraction. In a dry sift process, dried and cured cannabis flower is first processed through screens or sieves to produce kief. Heat and pressure can then be used to form the kief into a sort of hash with a soft, dough-like consistency. Dry sift extraction is merely a technical name for a fairly simple physical process. If you’ve ever collected kief (the potent cannabis dust sometimes called “pollen”) through the screen in your grinder after processing fresh flower, you’ve already performed a rudimentary sort of dry sift extraction.
- Solventless ice water extraction. This process involves submerging and soaking the freshly picked flower into an ice water bath. The theory behind this seemingly odd act is that the THC-rich trichome structures are easily broken away from the rest of the plant matter when they’re frozen. The resulting substance is dried into a product called bubble hash, which is considered one of the finest possible forms of hash and is usually a light cream or golden color.
- Solvent-free extractions. After cannabis flower is dried and cured, it is soaked in a solvent bath – be it ethanol, butane, or CO2. The resulting thick, crude extracts are manipulated to create certain textures, with purging an essential step in the creation process. Purging is the burning off of excess solvent to provide a clean, solvent-free concentrate for consumption.
Types of Cannabis Concentrates
Here are some of the most popular types of cannabis concentrate, along with basic information about the processes used to create them:
- Kief – In this non-chemical process, vibration and friction are used to physically separate the THC-rich trichome particles from the rest of the less-potent plant matter. The resulting solventless product is a sticky, green “pollen” that can be smoked, vaporized, or further processed.
- Hash – Another common solventless concentrate. When kief is compressed into a solid or semi-solid form, the resulting product is hash or hashish.
- Butane Hash Oil (BHO) or Hydrocarbon Extracts – A method of producing concentrated oil that is favored for its ability to maintain terpenes and other cannabinoids. Butane is pulled through the cannabis flower, taking the THC-rich trichomes with it. After this extraction process is completed, the product is heated to remove the butane. BHO extracts come in several consistencies and are commonly consumed via dabbing.
- Distillate oil – Solvent-free cannabis distillate is created through a distillation process. After the desired cannabinoids and terpenes have been removed via a solvent, the crude extract is then heated to the lowest possible boiling point of the cannabinoid – the vapor is then funneled to a separate apparatus to recondense to a pure liquid; the residual solvent remains behind. The distillation process can be performed repeatedly until a product has been refined to the point that all flavors and terpenes have been removed, and the product that remains essentially contains only flavorless THC or CBD. A distilled oil can be combined with cannabis-derived and/or all-natural terpenes for use in vape cartridges or can be used to create high-potency edibles, without adding a strong marijuana flavor to the product.
- Shatter – A solvent-free cannabis concentrate that has the appearance of near-opaque amber. The concentrate can be “shattered” into small doses for dabbing, hence the name.
- Wax – A term used to describe cannabis concentrates.
- Crumble – A dry, solvent-free concentrate that resembles a honeycomb. Crafted by melting down shatter, the extract is then whipped intensely to add air pockets, then placed in a vacuum oven to stabilize into its final form. Due to its dry texture, crumble crumbles when manipulated.
- Live resin (or live rosin) – A cannabis concentrate derived from flash-frozen plant material, or flower that is frozen immediately after harvest. This is where the “live” part of the name comes from, as the terpenes and cannabinoids present in flash-frozen flower (and, as a result, its flavors and smells) remain very close to that of the live plant.
- Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) – Named for its original creator, solvent-free RSO is an edible oil with a high potency. The concentrate is considered a full-extract cannabis oil as it does contain the fats, lipids, and chlorophylls of the plant. Because these compounds are present, RSO should never be inhaled.
- Budder (or batter) – Solvent-free budder, like crumble, is created using shatter. Shatter is melted down and whipped intensely to create a creamy texture. The extract is then set aside to allow terpenes to rise to the surface for an amber, wet final appearance.
How to Use Cannabis Concentrates
With the many different extractions and sub-types available, it’s no wonder cannabis concentrates can be used in a variety of different ways. Here are some of the most popular.
Add Concentrates to Your Flower
A little pinch of kief or crumble of hash atop a freshly packed bowl of flower has long been considered a special treat for cannabis connoisseurs. Adding concentrated cannabis to your flower increases the potency of your dose while still allowing you to appreciate the natural smell and flavor of the flower and use it in your favorite pipe or another smoking device.
Non-chemical concentrates like the aforementioned kief or hash are probably the most popular concentrate options for adding to flower for smoking purposes, but any form of cannabis extract that can be vaped or dabbed could be tried.
Using a concentrate to boost your usual smoking is a good option when you’re first experimenting with concentrates because it doesn’t require a dab rig or any other special equipment.
Did you know the vape you carry is a concentrate?
The widespread availability of high-quality cannabis extracts has had a lot to do with the rise of vape pens and pods, which most often utilize distillate.
The beauty of vapes is they are a way to microdose concentrates, as most vapes have a max output of ~5 mg per 5-second draw. Cartridges post often come pre-filled with distillate and terpenes to create strain-specific effects and flavors.
Many discreet users favor portable vaping devices like pens and pods because they are easy to transport, efficient to use, and can be carried around in a pocket without giving off a noticeable odor.
Vape pens are extremely simple to use and maintain. They mostly consist of a long, pen-shaped battery, which is usually rechargeable, and then a cartridge unit that screws on. The cartridges are usually disposable or recyclable, but some can be refilled by the user. There are also fully disposable units where the battery and all can be tossed after use.
Vaping can look somewhat intimidating to new users, but entry-level equipment like vape pens are usually quite user-friendly with just one button (or sometimes none at all) and the single interchangeable part being the cartridge that holds the concentrate.
You could make the argument that all edibles are a form of cannabis concentrate because even a classic preparation like cannabutter is technically a form of concentrated cannabis.
High-potency edible extracts like distillate allow for edibles to be made to exacting doses without adding any noticeable marijuana flavor to the product.
A major difference between eating edibles and consuming concentrates through smoking, vaping, or dabbing is the onset time. Orally consumed cannabis can take up to two hours to really kick in, so if it’s your first time experimenting with edible concentrates, give the effects ample time to manifest before deciding to re-dose, and don’t overdo it.
Dabbing is perhaps the most popular method of consuming cannabis concentrates currently. It’s somewhere between vaping and hitting a bong, and it results in an intense high that comes on almost instantly.
A dab rig consists of several elements. The most crucial, the nail (which looks like a small, glass bucket), is pre-heated with a torch or electric nail (a device that applies a steady temperature). The concentrate is then placed directly onto this hot surface, which vaporizes it for use as an inhalant. The vapor is inhaled by the user through an apparatus somewhat similar to that of a bong, and usually made of glass. The nail itself may be made from quartz, ceramic, or a variety of other heat-conducting materials.
Some modern dab rigs are fully electronic, and don’t require the nail to be manually heated with a torch. These approach the convenience of a vape rig while still offering the intense experience of doing dabs. Dab pens, too, are an easy-to-use solution when compared to traditional rigs. With dab pens, you simply load the desired dose to the chamber of the pen for pack-and-go varieties and heat when you’re ready; nectar collector devices work as a straw, allowing you to gently run the hot coils over the concentrate to achieve your desired dose.
While dabbing is typically associated with using potent, high-THC extracts to achieve an intense, instantaneous high, dab rigs and pens can also be used for CBD extracts.
Where to Get Quality Concentrates
Here at Zen Leaf dispensaries we only carry high quality concentrates, flower, edibles and other cannabis based products. We partner with the top-rated cannabis cultivators and processors in each market to ensure that customers get only the best products on the market to address their medical and recreational needs.
If you’re ready to begin your journey experimenting with cannabis concentrates, locate the Zen Leaf dispensary nearest you. Zen Leaf operates state-of-the-art cannabis facilities in several states, and our knowledgeable, friendly staff can help you choose the cannabis extract that matches your goals and preferences.