WeEdu 205: What Are Concentrates

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.

In our last WeEdu lesson, we discussed vaping concentrates using cartridges, disposable vape pens, and fillable tanks. Some cannabis newcomers may be familiar with vaping, but others may be surprised to learn that vaping isn’t the only way to consume concentrates. For this week’s lesson, we decided to step back and offer a more in-depth look at what, exactly, cannabis concentrates are. We’ll also be talking about how to consume cannabis concentrates, as well as why this form of cannabis is so potent. Grab a dab and get comfortable, because this topic is one of our favorite subjects to discuss!

What Are Concentrates?

The word “concentrates” is a bit of an umbrella term when it comes to cannabis. Other terms for cannabis concentrates include “hash,” “oil,” and “extracts”. These terms are derived from what concentrates are: a potent, concentrated form of cannabis that’s been extracted from the plant. No matter what you call it, we’re talking about the good stuff that’s in your cannabis flower.

You may remember that the cannabis plant produces flower (also known as “bud”), which is the smokable form of cannabis you grind up into a joint or a bowl. This consumption method is a bit old school, as it relies on burning a lot of plant material just to activate the cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) inside your cannabis flower. But when you extract a more concentrated version of cannabis, you get all of the cannabinoids and terpenoids without any of the extraneous plant matter. For context, when you use a cannabis vape cartridge, you’re typically vaping cannabis oil that’s been extracted from the plant.

The extraction process gives you a very potent form of cannabis: it smells and tastes very much like the flower it was removed from, but whereas flower will typically have a THC concentration hovering between 15% and 30%, concentrates can be up to 90% THC (or higher)! Extracts also tend to have intense flavor profiles, because the terpenes are also more concentrated than they were in the cannabis flower.

What Types of Concentrates Are There?

In order to extract the cannabinoids found in cannabis flower, you need to break apart the structure of the plant material. There are a number of different methods for extracting cannabis concentrates, typically using either a solvent or heat and pressure, and the method used is often considered a categorization for that type of concentrate. Let’s start with the basics.

Kief (aka Dry Sift) - If you’ve ever used a grinder with a fine mesh screen at the bottom, congratulations - you’ve collected your own kief! Also known as “dry sift” concentrates, kief is essentially a collection of resinous trichomes from the cannabis plant. You may remember that trichomes are where much of the cannabinoids and terpenes are stored in the cannabis flower. Once the flower is dried, it’s easy to scrape off the trichomes through a collection screen (which is what you’re doing whenever you use a grinder with that fine mesh layer near the bottom). But using a grinder isn’t the only way to produce dry sift concentrates - industrial extraction operations often rub intact flower or trim from a harvest directly across a mesh screen to shake out the trichomes and their valuable contents. The trichomes can then be pressed together before being packaged for retail.

Charas - This extraction method is slightly similar to dry sift, but the process is typically done by hand and produces a stickier, more gummy product. The practice of collecting charas goes back centuries, and it’s considered one of the oldest methods of making cannabis concentrates. Instead of grinding dried, harvested flower and trimmings, charas producers use live plants, either just before harvest or during the actual harvesting process. To make charas, the buds of a mature cannabis plant are gently squeezed and rolled between two hands until a layer of dark, sticky resin builds on the skin. To collect the resin, charas producers then slowly rub their hands together, and the friction eventually causes the collected trichomes in that resin to congeal into a ball or into a thinly rolled shaft. Charas producers typically favor plant strains that are known for producing sticky, resinous flower. Because charas production originated in India, many concentrates purists prefer to make charas using indica strains that originated in that region, including a number of kush varieties.

Hash- Hash (or hashish) is another umbrella term. Historically, the term hash has been used in reference to the dark yellow or brown pressed resin and trichomes from a cannabis plant. But today it’s often used colloquially as a catch-all term for a variety of concentrates. There are a number of different types of hash, depending on how the resin and trichomes were extracted. For example, ice water hash consists of trichomes and cannabinoids that have been extracted with the use of ice and friction.

Rosin - This extraction method involves the combination of heat and intense pressure to produce concentrated cannabinoids. Rosin can be extracted at home using a hair straightener, but industrial cannabis producers use large, automated pressing machines. Rosin is easier to produce than kief, hash, or charas, and it’s safer to extract at home than solvent-based concentrates. Because of this, rosin may be a good entry point into concentrates for those who have tried kief or hash and are interested in exploring other cannabis extracts.

What About Solvents?

Up to this point, the concentrates we’ve discussed have been extracted using pressure, friction, ice, and/or heat. However, an increasingly popular method of extracting concentrates is by breaking down the plant matter using a solvent of some type. The solvent is then removed, leaving a more pure extracted form of cannabinoids and terpenoids.

Solvent-based extracts are safe to use when purchased through the legal market, as states like Nevada and California require strict testing and quality control on all cannabis products. However, in places where cannabis is not legal there is a risk of residual solvents and other hazards present in black-market extracts. If you’re buying extracts from a dispensary, you can feel safe knowing that the product you’ve purchased is safe to use, and it’s likely very potent. Below are the most common types of solvent extracted cannabis concentrates:

Oil - Cannabis oil can be extracted in a number of ways. Typically, a solvent of some type is used to soak or flush finely ground cannabis, extracting the terpenes and cannabinoids from the flower. Then, a follow-up extraction is performed to remove any residual solvent. There are several different methods of oil extraction, each with its own solvent.

  • Butane Hash Oil (BTO) - butane is used as a solvent.
  • CO2 Oil - supercritical (liquid state) carbon dioxide is used as a solvent.
  • Rick Simpson Oil (RSO, aka Phoenix Tears) - isopropyl alcohol is used to extract cannabinoids. The resulting oil is typically consumed orally or applied topically to the skin.

Shatter - Cannabis shatter is oil that’s been allowed to crystalize and solidify into a glass-like appearance. Shatter is translucent and looks similar to amber or to hardened honey. It maintains its firm, crystalline appearance because the oil was not stirred or otherwise disturbed while the solvents evaporated. Shatter that has a slightly fluid texture is often labeled as “sap”. “Snap-and-pull” is a concentrate that lies between the rigidity of shatter and the fluidity of sap.

Wax - Wax extracts are cannabis oil concentrates that have slightly crystalized without becoming rigid. The result is a gooey, sticky substance that looks like ear wax (which is why it’s sometimes labeled as such). It’s not clear like oil; rather, it retains a cloudy yellow appearance. Other varieties of wax include crumble, honeycomb, flake, and budder, with each type of wax having varying degrees of stickiness and structural texture, depending on how the wax was whipped during the production process. For example, budder (or “batter”) is a creamy concentrate that’s been heated and stirred to produce a moist, scoopable, batter-like texture.

Live/Cured Resin - Not to be confused with “rosin,” resin is a term that describes the wet, sticky trichomes of the cannabis plant that you find on fresh, mature plants. We mentioned these trichomes in their dry, cured form when we discussed kief earlier in the article. Essentially, kief is just dried, cured resin.
Live resin is produced very similarly to wax, but it’s made from freshly frozen cannabis flower instead of dried flower. Freezing cannabis flower preserves the terpenes better than the drying process permits, giving you more of that strain’s flavor and aroma. To make live resin, growers freeze their cannabis crop, then collect the terpene- and cannabinoid-rich trichomes by their chosen extraction method (often via bho extraction). Cured resin is the same but the plant is allowed to cure longer before being frozen, with the intent of capturing flavors that develop during the curing process. It’s worth noting that not all resin comes out smooth and batter-like. Resin with a more granular appearance is called “sugar”.

How Do You Smoke Concentrates?

There are a number of options when it comes to consuming your concentrates. You can smoke most types of concentrates with cannabis flower, either by rolling it in a joint or by adding it to a pipe or bong. The exception to smoking is shatter - it needs to be dabbed. You can dab most types of concentrates with a traditional dab rig or with a concentrates pen. You can also vape concentrates by collecting the oil into a fillable tank or cartridge. Some types of concentrates can be consumed orally, but this is usually limited to specific types of oil. Check with your budtender to determine the best consumption method for the concentrates you purchase. There’s no definitively “correct” way to consume concentrates, but each consumption method has its own advantages and disadvantages.

  • Smoking concentrates with flower is easy and does not require any additional equipment or gear. However, you’ll still end up having to burn a lot of plant material if you go this route, and avoiding the smoke of combustion is one of the main reasons people seek out concentrates. This method is also less effective than something like dabbing or vaping, since a burning joint is going to keep consuming flower and concentrates whether you’re inhaling it or not. Dabbing and vaping are considered much more efficient at ensuring that less of the extracts are wasted.
  • Dabbing is an efficient method of consumption, but it has its downsides. Some dab rigs require the use of a blowtorch, which can easily lead to unwanted burns to your body and your belongings. Newer dab rigs come with an electronic heating element, so there’s no need for a hot, dangerous, and unwieldy blow torch. You can also purchase electronic concentrates pens, which are sort of a halfway point between vaping and dabbing. Vaping is another very efficient method of consumption. It allows you to consume as much as you need without wasting any excess concentrates - you simply push a button or inhale directly through the mouthpiece, and the vape pen only heats the oil for as long as you activate the heating element. However, some studies suggest that high temperature vape pens with high voltage batteries could produce harmful byproducts. If you choose to vape, opt for a low-voltage battery that allows you to manually adjust the temperature of your vape pen.
  • Oil can be added to flower or vaped, but most forms of oil can also be consumed orally. That’s because unlike other types of concentrates, oil contains activated cannabinoids - in other words, the inactive THC-A in cannabis has been transformed into activated THC. Be careful with dosing, though - oral consumption can take upwards of one to two hours before the effects fully kick in, so start with a low dose and wait a sufficient period of time before taking any more.

Interested in learning more about the oral consumption of cannabis? We’ve got you covered! Our next lesson, WeEdu 206, will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about edibles!

Questions about cannabis? Comments or feedback? Just want to chat? Email us at [email protected] or [email protected].

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