Concentrated Cannabis – Extract Evolution
The Cannabis industry is at an interesting time in it's evolution. Technology and curiosity keep driving the limits of what is possible and creating a variety of new cannabis extracts. Hash, Shatter, wax, budder, BHO, cherry oil, distillates, live resin and pressed rosin are a few examples of cannabis extracts that have distinct differences.
Cannabis has been used as a medicine throughout history by almost every culture. The Chinese documented cannabis as a medicine thousands of years ago so there is definitely something “special” about this plant. People have been trying to concentrate all of that “special” down to its purest form and when done correctly the results are impressive.
Hashish is probably easiest to make and the most common cannabis extract. Hash is a collection of trichomes (resin glands) pressed together. Solvents are not needed create hash. One can use ice cold water and micron filter bags to create an even higher quality product called full melt bubble hash. Some of the best hash I have ever smoked was made from high quality trim material and ice cold water.
Another solvent free extraction method is to use pressure and heat. A recent trend is to use a hair straightener for pressing rosin however it is not a very effective technique. To do it right you need a hydraulic press and quality plant material. High pressure produces heat which seperates the essential oils from the plant matter creating a fine goo that is delicious for dabbing. Rosin is popular because it is all natural and includes most of the cannabinoids and terpenes.
Clear Oils and Opaque Budder
Cherry or Honey oil is the most common form of cannabis oil. Some oils are produced for powerful psychoactive effects while others are strictly for food infusion or topical applications.
Old-school cherry oil made with 99.9% isopropanol or acetone is very well known before people started making BHO. Cherry oil comes out with a golden / reddish tint giving it the signature cherry name. This oil averages between 50-70% THC and contains a high amount of cannabinoids and terpenes giving it a strong flavour with high medicinal value. Cherry oil is also known as RSO or Rick Simpson Oil but there is a wide range of different “cherry” oils one can produce depending on the filtration and starting material. Honey oil is a more refined version of cherry oil with THC of 75-85%. It can also be produced from isopropanol with a winterization process and more filtration. These cannabis oils can be smoked, dabbed or consumed orally. They can also be diluted with a carrier oil and be used directly on the skin as a topical ointment, applied onto foods, or put in gel caps.
BHO or butane hash oil is very popular even with its bad reputation for explosions and fires. Instead of isopropanol as the solvent butane is pressurized through glass or steel tubing filled with the plant material. It comes out golden, looking like honey and usually ends up with a higher THC percentage ranging from 80-90%. Whipped budder is produced the same way using butane but the only difference is how its finished or cooked off. Budder is produced with a special whipping technique that disturbs the crystals as they harden. This creates a more cookie dough like material. It's then formed into pucks, balls or wafers to be dabbed or sprinkled into a joint.
Anyone who has experienced cooking down isopropanol or butane has probably lost an eyebrow or more! Do not try making concentrates at home without the proper ventilation, equipment and experience.
Shatter is the first thing many people think of when extracts are mentioned. Shatter is golden goodness which comes in a range of colours, flavours and qualities depending on the plant material, the solvent and the chef cooking it down. You want to use a high quality starting material like sugar leaf trim or small buds. Some people only use quad tops of the best strains. The main difference to create shatter instead of oil is in the final cook down process. Shatter is high grade oil that has been purged in a vacuum oven to further pull out any remaining solvent. This process creates a solid material that resembles golden, translucent Swiss cheese. Shatter is stable it can be picked up and handled before it becomes sticky or soft. Shatter will snap like a brittle glass or sometimes it comes out gooey like taffy. Usually it is the terpene content in the shatter that determines if its a soft (soft shatter = higher terpenes) or hard shatter.
Waxes and Resins
The consistency or texture of the final product determines if its a wax, resin or shatter extract. Some factors that come into play are: physical agitation, changes in temperature, terpene content and moisture. They can affect the change from clear oil to opaque wax. I am talking about science when it comes to what is actually happening on a microscopic level. The final product has to do with how crystals form up and create glass or if they get smashed together to form a waxy budder substance.
When you have a big budget combined with good education the finer arts of cannabis extraction can be explored. CO2 oil usually doesn't have higher cannabinoids then other oils. What is attractive about this method is that it's non-flammable. Using carbon dioxide and high pressure (around 2000 PSI) the essential oils are removed and separated. The equipment required for this method of extraction is very expensive so usually its only high end labs or commercial operations that create C02 oil.
Short path distillation also requires more equipment and technical expertise. This is the newest trend in cannabis concentrates and can produce almost 99% pure THC separating out all the other cannabinoids, molecules and contaminants. This final oil is so refined and pure that its called “The Clear” because it has almost no colour and is totally transparent. This also means there almost no terpene content which means zero taste. This is good for infusion into other products that you do not want a strong smell or flavor transferring over. To get the taste back, people are re-introducing custom terpenes and creating new flavours to enjoy, making distillate very popular for dabbing and vaping.
Most of the concentrates and extraction methods I have discussed are made from dry trim material. The fine sugar leaves and any unused plant material from cured cannabis can be made into extracts but what if you used the flowers while the plant was still alive? Using dry ice to quickly freeze the plant can eliminate the entire harvesting process. This keeps more of the trichomes intact when you run it with butane or isopropanol making more advanced cannabinoid and terpene profiles. When there is more diversity in the terpenes and cannabinoids there are different interactions that can enhance the psychoactive feelings. This enhancement is why live resin is so popular driving prices upwards of 100$ per gram for some brands depending on the strain and who the cook is.
All of these extracts I have mentioned have there own unique characteristics and techniques for creation. Terpenes of cannabis and cannabinoid content drive the evolution of cannabis. Some extracts have more flavor or higher THC content, others are specialized for purposes like edible infusion or dabbing. Some require expensive equipment and years of education to create. While others can be made in your backyard with simple gear and common sense.
As politics change and a new generation comes into power the stigma towards cannabis starts to crumble.. New opportunities are created allowing the evolution of extracts to propel exponentially.