What are Cannabis Concentrates?
Cannabis concentrates are high-potency extracts taken from the cannabis plant. They are part of an ever evolving world of cannabis consumption, but they’re nothing new. Hashish—a semi-solid extract composed of resin and oil—has been extracted from the cannabis flower and consumed for centuries.
Cannabis concentrates offer purity, potency and versatility. While their origin may be ancient, the modern methods of extraction and consumption are on a completely different level from the extracts of old. This blog post will give you the rundown on cannabis concentrates and why you might want to give them a try.
A Brief History of Concentrates
Long before our era of advanced extraction methods, age-old civilisations had their hands deep in producing rudimentary concentrates. The Middle East, with its sun-baked desserts and ancient bazaars, echoed with tales of hashish. Prepared with care and consumed with reverence, these early concentrates provided a glimpse into the plant’s future potential.
Early methods included things such as walking through cannabis fields with hands outstretched, allowing the flowers to brush up against the outstretched palms. After enough time, the amount of sticky resin that built up on the hands would be enough to roll into balls or sticks. Aside from various ancient spiritual rituals, the hashish was used for the same reasons we use cannabis today; as a remedy for pain and other ailments, and for recreation and enjoyment.
What Exactly are Cannabis Concentrates?
Cannabis concentrates are products derived from the cannabis plant that have been processed to retain only the most desirable compounds. These are primarily cannabinoids and terpenes. By extracting these compounds you are able to remove excess plant material and other impurities.
The majority of cannabinoids and terpenes are found in trichomes, tiny, clear hairs that stick out from the flowers and leaves of the plant. Trichomes serve as the cannabis plant’s defence mechanism, but they are also the source of its potency. Trichomes resemble tiny crystals under magnification and are sometimes referred to as “kief” when collected.
Cannabis concentrates are made up of many different chemical compounds, but the primary compounds that play a role in the effects you feel are Cannabinoids and Terpenes.
Cannabinoids: These are chemical compounds that interact with the Endocannabinoid system in the human body. The most well-known cannabinoids are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol), but there are over 100 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. THC is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects or the “high” one experiences from consuming cannabis.
Terpenes: These are aromatic compounds found in many plants, not just cannabis. In cannabis, they contribute to the scent, flavour, and can also modify the effects of cannabinoids, a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.”
Are Cannabis Concentrates Better?
There isn’t really one single “best way” to consume your cannabis. All forms are going to come with their pros and cons. One major concern for cannabis concentrate users, especially newbies, is dosing. It’s far easier to consume too much at once using concentrates, due to the fact that they are so potent and it only takes a very small amount to achieve the desired effect.
That being said there are also many benefits to using cannabis concentrates.
Advantages of Cannabis Concentrates:
- Potency: Due to the concentration of cannabinoids, these products can offer a much more potent experience compared to traditional flower consumption.
- Flavour and Experience: Because terpenes are also concentrated, many users believe that the flavour and aromatic experience of concentrates is heightened.
- Cleaner Consumption: When you remove plant matter, you’re bypassing potential contaminants and also reducing the amount of non-cannabinoid combustion. This often results in a smoother, cleaner inhalation experience, especially when vaporised.
- Efficiency: Because of their potency, less product is needed to achieve the desired effect. This can make consumption more efficient and, in some cases, more cost-effective in the long run.
- Discretion: Many concentrates, especially when vaporised, produce a less pungent odour than traditional smoking, offering a more discreet method of consumption.
Bypassing the Bud
In addition to these benefits, when you extract cannabis concentrate from the plant material, you’re getting rid of a bunch of stuff that can take away from a pure experience.
For example, by isolating only the essential compounds, most of the plant’s cellulose and chlorophyll—which can impart a harsh taste and might introduce additional byproducts when combusted—are eliminated.
Also, properly produced concentrates should reduce or eliminate any contaminants, such as pesticides or fungicides, that might be present in the raw plant material.
The evolution of cannabis extraction techniques has led to the development of highly refined concentrates. Modern methods prioritise safety, efficiency, and the preservation of the plant’s myriad of beneficial compounds. Here’s a brief overview of the most prevalent extraction methods used today:
Butane Hash Oil (BHO) Extraction
- Process: Cannabis plant material is subjected to butane, a solvent that pulls out the essential oils from the plant.
- Result: The butane is then purged, usually using a vacuum chamber, leaving behind a highly potent concentrate known as BHO. It can further be processed to form shatter, wax, or budder.
- Pros: Efficient extraction method that captures a wide range of cannabinoids and terpenes.
- Cons: Residual butane is a concern if not properly purged, making it imperative to buy from reputable producers or test the final product for purity.
- Process: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used as a solvent under high pressure and temperature to extract the beneficial compounds from the cannabis.
- Result: This results in a thick, amber oil that can be further refined or left as-is.
- Pros: Considered a safer and environmentally friendly method. No risk of residual solvents. Often used for producing oils for vape cartridges and tinctures.
- Cons: The equipment is expensive, making the end product sometimes pricier.
- Process: Ethanol, a type of alcohol, is used to soak cannabis plant material, pulling out the cannabinoids and terpenes.
- Result: After extraction, the ethanol is evaporated, leaving behind a concentrated cannabis extract.
- Pros: Efficient and capable of large-scale production. Also, ethanol is generally recognised as safe for consumption.
- Cons: Can also extract unwanted compounds, like chlorophyll, leading to a less refined extract.
Rosin Press Extraction:
- Process: This solvent-less method involves using heat and pressure to squeeze the resinous sap directly from the cannabis material.
- Result: A translucent, sappy to solid substance that retains many of its original terpenes and cannabinoids.
- Pros: Pure and free from potential solvent contaminants. Maintains a robust terpene profile, resulting in a flavourful product.
- Cons: Typically yields less product compared to solvent-based methods.
Water Hash (Ice Water Extraction):
- Process: Cannabis plant material is mixed with cold water and agitated, causing the trichomes to separate. The mixture is then passed through a series of fine mesh bags, isolating the trichomes from the plant material.
- Result: A sandy, granular material known as bubble hash.
- Pros: Solvent-less and pure. Maintains a good cannabinoid and terpene profile.
- Cons: Less potent than other concentrates but still much more potent than regular flower.
The Spectrum of Concentrates
Cannabis concentrates come in a variety of different forms. Depending on how the material is extracted and then processed (or not) will determine how the final product turns out. Below is a list of different types of concentrate, their extraction method, characteristics and benefits.
- Extraction Method: Typically extracted using butane or CO2 as solvents. The resulting mixture is then purged in a vacuum oven to remove the solvent, leaving behind a clear, amber glass-like substance.
- Characteristics: As the name suggests, shatter is hard and glassy. It can “shatter” if dropped. It’s known for its purity and high potency.
- Benefits: Its translucent property is an indicator of its purity. It’s also long-lasting and can be stored without degrading for a long time if kept cool and dark.
- Extraction Method: Also extracted using butane or CO2. The difference is in the post-extraction process where it’s whipped during the purging process.
- Characteristics: The texture can range from a soft buttery consistency (budder) to a more crumbly texture (wax). Its name is derived from its resemblance to beeswax.
- Benefits: Easier to handle than shatter. It’s also versatile and can be used for dabbing, vaporizing, or sprinkling on top of flower in a joint or bowl.
- Extraction Method: Similar to wax but with a lower humidity extraction environment. It’s purged at a higher temperature and for a longer time.
- Characteristics: It’s drier and more crumbly than wax. It has a honeycomb texture.
- Benefits: Its dry nature makes it easy to crumble and mix with dry herb. However, its texture can make it a bit more challenging to handle with dab tools.
- Extraction Method: Mechanical extraction. It involves the use of heat and pressure to squeeze the resinous sap from the cannabis material. The mechanical extraction method does not use solvents.
- Characteristics: Depending on the starting material and the specific methods used, rosin can resemble shatter, wax, or budder in texture.
- Benefits: The solvent-less extraction method means no potential residual chemicals in the final product. It’s considered a more “natural” concentrate, preserving many of the terpenes and flavonoids from the original plant.
- Extraction Method: Extracted using freshly harvested cannabis that is flash-frozen immediately after harvest. Butane or CO2 are typically used as solvents.
- Characteristics: Bright golden in colour and very aromatic. It has a more liquid consistency compared to other concentrates.
- Benefits: It captures the terpene profile of the live plant, resulting in a more flavourful and aromatic product. It offers a more “full-spectrum” experience compared to other concentrates.
Each type of concentrate offers unique characteristics and benefits, catering to a wide range of preferences. Choosing between them often comes down to personal preference regarding consistency, potency, flavour, and the extraction method.
The Rise of Dab Culture
Dabbing, a method of vaporising and inhaling concentrates, has become a cultural phenomenon in the world of cannabis consumption. The potency of concentrates ensures a powerful experience, making it a go-to for seasoned users. Dabbing is possible through the use of a dab rig. We have a full blog post on dab rigs which you can find here. In it you’ll find an extensive look at dab rigs and dabbing. We even included a handy step-by-step guide so you can give dabbing a go yourself.
Safety and Precautions
As mentioned earlier, there are certainly some things you will need to consider before diving into the world of cannabis concentrates. First of all is the issue of dosing. If you have a low tolerance to cannabis—that is, it doesn’t take you much—then concentrates are going to be very intense.
Concentrates have a far greater potency than regular cannabis flower, so be careful Also, it pays to know where your concentrate has come from, ensuring it is free from impurities and/or contaminants.
Aside from this, oftentimes the methods for vaping concentrates involve things such as torch lighters which come with their own safety risks.
As long as you’re approaching cannabis concentrates with a bit of common sense, and a knowledge of your own limitations, you’ll be just fine. Cannabis concentrates are just like any other type of cannabis product, you have to know what you’re taking and how much you can take.
In the evolving world of cannabis consumption, concentrates stand out as a testament to both ancient tradition and modern innovation. Stemming from the sun-baked deserts of the Middle East, where early civilisations crafted rudimentary hashish, to today’s state-of-the-art extraction methods that yield purity, potency, and an enriched terpene profile, concentrates offer a distinctive journey for the cannabis enthusiast. Their intricate composition of cannabinoids and terpenes harnesses the essence of the cannabis plant, bringing forward a cleaner, heightened experience, minus the excess plant material.
Yet, as with any potent substance, caution and awareness are key. The very allure of concentrates—their enhanced potency—can also be a double-edged sword, especially for novices. Ensuring the product’s purity, being conscious of dosing, and understanding the tools involved are critical steps towards a safe and enjoyable experience.
The realm of cannabis concentrates is vast, varied, and full of potential. For those looking to explore beyond the traditional flower, it’s a world rich in flavour, intensity, and history, seamlessly blending the old with the new. As you delve deeper, remember to respect the plant, know your limits, and relish the journey of discovery.