While some concentrates have been around since ancient times, the great wide world of extractions is changing the cannabis scene. But, what exactly are cannabis concentrates and what do they do? To help you learn, this handy guide to cannabis concentrates breaks down the basics.
What are cannabis concentrates?
Cannabis concentrates are taking the world by storm. While the classic joint has remained an iconic cannabis symbol over the past several decades, new technologies have given the herb a whole new look and feel. But what exactly are cannabis concentrates?
Simply stated, cannabis concentrates are concentrated preparations of cannabis oil. The plant’s essential oil is stripped from cannabis flowers and leaves using some type of solvent. This allows for very potent preparations of the herb.
Just as lavender oil is made from extracting plant-based oils from lavender flowers, cannabis concentrates are made by pulling sticky resin glands off of the plants surface and getting rid of the leftover plant material.
While complex technologies are available for making cannabis concentrates, some extractions are simple enough to make in your own home. Tinctures, for example, can be made through a process of soaking ground cannabis material in alcohol.
Cannabis is a unique plant for many reasons. Potent resin glands sit directly on the surface of flowers and leaves. These resin glands (trichomes) contain both the psychoactive and medicinal phytochemicals found in the plant. The essential oils in trichome resin glands also give cannabis its unique scent and flavor.
What types of cannabis concentrates are available?
Cannabis today is a major departure from the stuff in the 60s and 70s. The cannabis industry is a high-tech world and uses extraction techniques similar to those used for making cooking oils and isolating other plant extracts.
Concentrates are now offered in all sorts of consistencies and have been designed for different uses. Here are the top eight types of cannabis concentrates available today:
1. Vapor pens
Vapor pens are some of the most popular cannabis concentrates around. Easy to use and portable, vapor pens contain concentrate-filled cartridges. These cartridges can either be refilled or disposable.
Vapor pens are typically filled with cannabis concentrate that is extracted using either ethanol or CO2. Some vapor pens are flavored, making the cannabis product a little more manageable for those who haven’t acquired a taste.
Vapor pen cartridges contain cannabis concentrates that have liquid consistency and are amber in color.
2. Butane hash oil (BHO)
Wax, butter, shatter. All of these are examples of butane hash oil (BHO). BHO is also one of the most popular cannabis concentrates on the market. Terms like “wax” and “shatter” refer to the consistency and texture of the BHO.
Shatter is the most popular type, which looks similar to an amber colored sugar glass. Wax is similar to shatter, only wax contains more of the lipids (fats) found in the cannabis plant.
Butter is similar to wax, only it tends to have a softer texture.
These concentrates are made using butane as a solvent. The majority of the butane is purged during a heating process after extracting. It’s during this heating process that the BHO develops its final texture and consistency.
3. CO2 extractions
CO2 extractions are commonly used in vapor pens, though they are also sold on their own for use in other smoking devices. While BHO tends to have a harder, candy-like consistency, CO2 extractions are often liquid and syrup-like in nature.
The CO2 method uses expensive extraction machinery to separate cannabis resin from plant material. While crude butane extractions are possible, CO2 extractions would not be possible without extensive equipment.
4. Full-extract cannabis oil
Full-extract cannabis oil (FECO) is perhaps one of the most valuable medical cannabis tools around. Also known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), FECO is often made using ethanol or alcohol as solvents.
FECO is special because it retains the highest content of cannabis phytochemicals. Other forms of extraction, like CO2 and BHO, can strip out some of the chemical elements in cannabis oil. Some of these elements include terpenes, the aroma molecules found in plants.
Terpenes are what give individual cannabis strains their unique scents and tastes. Research suggests that these terpenes may also have beneficial health effects, especially when combined with compounds unique to the cannabis plant.
Isolates are up and coming products in the cannabis space. Isolates are purified forms of cannabis compounds. Using special technology, extractors have been able to separate pure tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) into a concentrated form.
THC is the primary psychoactive in cannabis, and it’s the compound responsible for the famous cannabis “high”. These isolates contain at least 99 percent pure THC. Cannabidiol (CBD) isolates are also available, which do not cause a high and are often made from select varieties of hemp.
Cannabis isolates are now used in vapor pen products, tinctures, edibles, skincare products, and other forms of cannabis oil.
Unlike FECO and all other cannabis concentrates, isolates do not contain beneficial terpenes and other nutritious phytochemicals. Instead, these are purified cannabinoids (cannabis compounds) and only that.
Tinctures are some of the easiest cannabis concentrates to make. Many medical cannabis patients choose to make tinctures right in their own home, often using ground cannabis and an alcohol such as vodka or another grain-based selection.
The cannabis material is first baked at low temperatures to “activate” the cannabis compounds. Then, it is soaked in alcohol and stored in a cool and dark place for up to a few weeks. Afterward, the cannabis material can be strained from the tincture using a nylon stocking, coffee filter, or fine-mesh cheesecloth.
On a global scale, hash has been the most popular cannabis concentrate of all time. Hash is a very old cannabis preparation, dating back to ancient times. Stemming from central asia, hash is made by sheeving trichomes off of plant material using one or a series of screens.
The resulting material, often called kief, is then pressed or rolled into bricks. Traditionally, the product is also heated on a hot plate to improve consistency. Sometimes, dry ice and ice water are used make special subtypes of hash.
Hash is a solventless cannabis concentrate.
Rosin is another solventless extraction. It is made by melting trichomes off of the plant material using pressure and heat. While professional rosins are available for purchase, simple rosins are easy to make at home.
Have a hair straightener? Many people make rosin by placing a cannabis bud into the fold of some wax paper. A hair straightener is then used to apply heat and press down on the bud, squishing it. The plant resin melts onto the wax paper, where it is easy to scoop up for use.
What are the benefits of cannabis concentrates?
There are many reasons to love cannabis concentrates. For one, they are a connoisseur item similar to a fine wine or whiskey. Making excellent cannabis concentrates takes practice, care, and craftsmanship.
Concentrates are an easy way to experience the flavors and unique effects of cannabis without smoking cannabis flowers. While some concentrates are less flavorful by nature, a well-made BHO, hash, rosin, or FECO will have a wonderful flavor and provide a very pleasant cannabis experience.
Cannabis concentrates are also beneficial for medical purposes. Some medical cannabis patients require high doses of concentrated cannabis medicines, and extracts like FECO and tinctures are an excellent way to get a large dose without smoking.
Concentrates like THC and CBD isolates also make dosing much easier for medical, wellness, and recreational consumers. Since isolates contain at least 99 percent of a given compound, it is easy to know precisely how much you consumed by measuring the weight of isolate used.
Are cannabis concentrates dangerous?
Though concentrates are rapidly growing in popularity, high-potency extracts bring up a few points of concern. Some common questions about concentrate safety include:
- Is regular consumption high-potency cannabis safe?
- How does inhaling oil affect lung health?
- Are concentrates made with safe extraction techniques?
Unfortunately, the answers to the first two questions are in science limbo. Yet, it is known that cannabis is non-toxic and has yet to cause even a single death. Medical cannabis patients also often require very high doses of cannabis medicines to manage symptoms and recover from illness, and the herb is generally considered well-tolerated.
Further, research still needs to be done regarding whether or not inhaling hot oils like BHO is damaging to the lungs in the long term. Since the prevalence of cannabis concentrates is so recent, more studies are needed on this topic.
There are a few additional safety concerns when it comes to concentrates. Concentrates using dangerous solvents like butane should not be made inside the home, as butane is highly flammable and can cause explosions.
There is also concern about levels of residual solvents left inside extractions that are then sold to a consumer. Fortunately, laboratory testing can solve this problem. When possible, always opt for concentrates that have been tested for residual solvents, pesticides, and mold.
Another major concern are additives used to stabilize vapor pens. Some companies add propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG) into vapor pen cartridges. Recent research suggests that these products may release carcinogenic gases when heated to over 446˚F (230˚C).
For optimal health, it is best to avoid cannabis products that contain PG and PEG. Cartridges that contain vegetable glycerin or no stabilizers at all are thought to be safer options.
Tips for staying safe with cannabis concentrates
Fortunately, many of the safety concerns associated with concentrates can be reduced or avoided altogether. To stay safe with extractions, here are a few simple tips:
- Avoid products that contain harmful additives (PG and PEG).
- Opt for concentrates that have been laboratory tested.
- Stick to low and moderate doses when possible.
- Heat concentrates to lower temperatures when smoking or consuming (below 446˚F/230˚C).
- Opt for a vaporizer.
How do you find high-quality concentrates?
Each type of concentrate has its own mark of quality. For the most part, however, quality comes down to color and consistency. Here are some very general recommendations for finding high-quality concentrates:
- BHO: amber colored to golden, pliable
- CO2: deep to light amber coloration, liquid
- Hash: golden coloration, pliable
- FECO: deep green/ black coloration, liquid
- Isolates: white or clear coloration, crystals
- Rosin: dark amber coloration, gooey or pliable
How do you smoke or consume concentrates?
There are a variety of ways to consume cannabis concentrates. Some concentrates, like hash, can be crumbled and sprinkled into a joint or placed in another smoking device. FECO can be used to fill gel caps or placed directly under the tongue, but is usually unheated.
Tinctures are also unheated, and can be placed in droplets into foods or directly into the mouth. Other concentrates require a vaporizer or special equipment to consume effectively. Here’s the scoop on how to smoke or consume concentrates:
Dabbing is one of the most popular ways to smoke cannabis concentrates. Unfortunately, dabbing can look a little intense to cannabis novices.
This smoking method involves heating a metal, glass, or ceramic “nail” that is attached to a “rig” that looks similar to a water pipe.
Nails can be heated electronically or with a torch. Once heated, BHO, CO2 oil, or rosin is touched onto the nail while the consumer inhales.
Concentrates are oily, waxy substances. This means that they require more heat to melt and consume. Using a regular lighter on an extract will not effectively melt the concentrate.
When dabbing, many consumers often use temperatures over 500℉ (260℃).
Vaporization is considered one of the safest way to inhale cannabis. However, the health effects of inhaling concentrated oils are not fully known. Unlike dabbing or smoking, which combust cannabis materials, vaporization heats concentrates at lower temperatures.
These lower temperatures melt the oil, creating a steam. However, they will not combust the material unless the vaporizer is set to temperatures above 446˚F (230˚C).
Research suggests that combusting cannabis products releases known carcinogens such as benzene. However, the levels of these carcinogens in cannabis oils have yet to be fully tested.
Inhaling not your thing? Cannabis concentrates can also be mixed into foods for quick edibles. This has several advantages, including taste. Some concentrates, like CO2 oils, do not have as much flavor as dried cannabis flower.
When you mix concentrates into baked goods, they can provide a psychoactive or medicinal punch without the need to mix up cannabutter or fuss over flavor. However, it’s important to keep in mind that cannabis concentrates can still be quite flavorful.
Bake below 320˚F (160˚C) degrees and be sure to add extra chocolate!