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Substances from which the most desirable properties of cannabis, namely terpenes and cannabinoids, have been isolated are called concentrates. There are quite a few cannabis concentrates in a variety of textures and formats. Concentrates that are in their non-active form need to be heated to experience their effects. Distillate, one of the concentrates with active cannabinoids, is usually infused into topicals, tinctures and edibles to provide effects without heat.
More About Concentrates
A cannabis plant has a crystal-like sheen and sticky feel caused by the tiny hairs that cover it. The plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids are produced and held by these glandular hairs. These compounds from the plant’s trichome glands are isolated and accumulated by cannabis concentrates. Concentrates are more potent than flower and are packed with everything we love about cannabis, accounting for their rapid rise in popularity.
You may have heard the two terms, extract and concentrate used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. Extracts are a special type of concentrate made using a solvent. Therefore all extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts.
The History of Concentrates
Hashish, or hash is by far the oldest and most common method of making concentrates. It’s safe to say that the oldest recorded method of creating concentrates, as found in 6th and 8th century CE Assyrian texts, was hash.
Hashish most likely spread from Central to Southwest Asia through Persia or India, even though the exact route is unknown. Cannabis sifted through a sieve to remove trichome glands, or kief, would have been how hashish from this era started off. By applying heat and pressure, this kief is transformed into hash and typically pressed into bricks or rolled into balls. Charas, which also likely spread from Southern Asia, is made by hand-rubbing hash into small resin balls.
A concentrated cannabis extract contained in a liquid, most commonly glycerin or alcohol, is called a tincture. When western medicine adopted the use of medical cannabis in the mid-to-late 19th century cannabis tinctures came to prominence as a medicine. In Europe, the U.K. and the U.S., during the 1890s in particular, medical cannabis reached its peak largely in the form of extracts and tinctures.
Due mainly to frequent inconsistencies if effect, however, cannabis tinctures declined in the early 20th century. It was practically impossible to provide consistent potency or accurate dosage since we hadn’t yet discovered how to isolate active compounds. The use of cannabis tinctures as medicine was all but wiped out with the development of medicines such as injectable morphine and emerging cannabis legal restrictions throughout the 20th century.
Due to the ability of users to take consistent doses tinctures are making a comeback – the same reason they were popular in the 19th century.
Terpene and cannabinoid isolation is not only possible today, but it’s flourishing when it comes to using cannabis concentrates as a medicine. Cannabinol (CBN), the cannabinoid into which tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) breaks down after prolonged periods of storage, was the first cannabinoid to be isolated.
At the end of the 19th century CBN was first isolated from a red oil cannabis extract. British chemist R.S. Cahn further clarified CBN’s chemical structure in 1932, making way for the cannabinoid chemical synthesis and official discovery by two separate research groups – R. Adams in the U.S. and Lord Todd in the U.K. – in 1940. Pharmacologists Joseph Levine, H.J. Wollner, Peter Valaer and John R. Matchett made the first THC cannabis extraction two years later.
Concentrates made with the use of a solvent are called extracts. In D. Gold’s 1973 book, “Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking“, the first public explanation of how to make extracts is found. At the peak of the Haight-Ashbury drug scene, Gold entered the world of underground cannabis chemistry in San Francisco. After learning about cannabis tinctures from the late-19th and early-20th centuries he became interested in developing extract techniques. A much more detailed explanation of cannabis extraction came from Michael Starks’ “Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics Processing and Potency” in 1977.
Two decades later the next major turning point in the history of concentrates would come. In the ’90s The Vaults of Erowid was the ultimate online gateway to psychedelic knowledge. On May 1, 1999, Indra Gurung (real name: John Henry Davis) posted instructions for how to “turn trash leaf to honey oil in minutes” on the website using an “open blasting” method. This was the first time butane was mentioned as a solvent for various extraction methods. What Indra didn’t see coming was the onslaught of accidents that would follow the contribution of his dangerous procedure.
Note: DO NOT try this at home. It’s EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and should only be performed by experienced, trained professionals in the proper setting with proper safety precautions (e.g. fire suppression controls and ventilation, etc.) in place.
As amateurs attempted to create butane hash oil (BHO) concentrates in their homes outside of a closed-loop system in a process called open blasting, they would expose butane fumes to the environment of their makeshift lab, often causing explosions and leading to serious or fatal injuries.
Budder – Emerging onto the scene in the mid-’90s this is one of the many consistencies of cannabis concentrates as identified by its malleable texture that looks and feels like cake frosting. BudderKing, a Canadian concentrate maker, was the creator of budder. BudderKing teamed up with the founder of Vancouver’s Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop, Don Briere in 2003 with the budder extract and they began distributing samples of budder from Da Kine named “Butter Hoots.” He later shared his technique with Cannabis Culture in 2005 .
Many extracts such as budder, sauce, crumble and shatter, as well as a huge variety of dab rigs, are available online and in all dispensaries today. The concentrate industry has been is a state of constant change since 2010. Shatter became the most dominant form of concentrate from 2010 to 2014. The industry mantra became, “If it doesn’t shatter, it doesn’t matter”. In 2013 distillate made its debut and is now used on the vast majority of vape cartridges. The most popular concentrate between 2015 to 2015 was badder.
Current full spectrum extracts, distillate, sauce and crystalline (otherwise known as diamonds) have caught the eye of cannabis connoisseurs everywhere. Consumers have become more educated and much more aware of the subtle differences between concentrates.
What Are Concentrates Made From?
Any part of the cannabis plant, dried and cured or fresh, can be used to make concentrates. Trim-run, nug-run and live resin and the three most common cannabis concentrate labels.
Trim: To make the end product more attractive to consumers and create a less harsh smoke the excess leaves are removed from cannabis buds. This is called trim. Accumulating the trichomes from trim makes use out of the terpenes and cannabinoids that were once discarded even though this part of the plant typically contains few trichomes than buds.
Nugs: The high-quality cannabis buds known as flower are also known as nugs. A batch of concentrates extracted from dried and cured nugs is called a nug run. This creates one of the most flavourful and potent concentrates possible from the most trichome-rich part of the cannabis plant. The textures produced can range from sauce to shatter.
Live Resin: A concentrate made from fresh cannabis plant material that was not dried or cured is called live resin. The most temperature sensitive terpenes that are lost during the drying and curing process are preserved using this technique. By freezing freshly harvested cannabis plant material and extracting it the most flavourful and high-grade concentrates are produced due to the high amount of terpenes.
How Are Concentrates Made?
One of two ways is used to make concentrates: using liquid solvents, sometimes referred to as chemical extraction, or physically separating the trichome from the plant, also referred to as mechanical separation.
By using a physical action such as shaking or pressing, trichomes are removed from the plant material. Shaking cured cannabis through a series of screens in specific sizes to ensure nothing but trichome glands make it into the final product is known as dry sifting.
Physical separation methods use gravity separation, centrifugal action and filtration to separate the trichome glands from the plants. The most common methods are:
- Sieving the ground plant in a mechanical tumbler composed of screens or by hand removes the trichomes resulting in a powder called kief.
- In steam form, water can be used to extract the polar terpenoid molecules.
- The ice-water method, where ice, water and ground cannabis material are combined is a vessel and agitated until the trichomes break off the plant and sink to the bottom.
- Warm and cold press methods, known as rosin, use pressure and heat to remove the terpenes and cannabinoids from the plant.
Also known as solvent-based extractions, chemical extraction uses a chemical solvent to dissolve the trichomes from the plant. This is the most efficient method of removing trichomes from the cannabis plant and the preferred method for the commercial cannabis industry.
The main solvents used are carbon dioxide, propane, ethanol and butane.
This method allows the solvent to wash the plant of its therapeutic compounds, after which the solvent must be removed for safe consumption. This is why solvents with extremely low boiling points are used – to ensure that the full spectrum of compounds remain after removal of the solvent by boiling it off.
What Products and Consistencies Are Made?
The resulting solution can take a wide variety of forms once the terpenes and cannabinoids have been removed. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of how the concentrate will taste or affect an individual but they do dictate the tools required to use them.
Non-solvent based forms include hashish, kief, live kief, rosin, full-melt hash, dry sift and bubble hash. Solvent-based forms include badder, shatter, budder, snap-and-pull, sauce, crumble, sap, RSO, wax, sugar, distillate and crystalline.
How to Consume
You must have the proper equipment to consume a cannabis concentrate effectively and safely.
Concentrates can help improve the flavour and increase the potency of your flower. Try sprinkling kief on top of a bowl of cannabis flower or adding drops of concentrate oil to weed before rolling your joint.
You can use a dab rig to vape concentrates using a technique called “dabbing”. This makes for a potent high and a flavour packed experience. Similar to a bong, a dab rig is a glass pipe designed specifically for concentrates. They typically include a quartz, titanium or glass nail that is the bowl of the rig. By using a butane torch lighter to bring the nail to temperature you end up almost instantly vapourizing the concentrate.
By using a portable or handheld vapourizer concentrates can also be vapourized. You fill the chamber with any type of concentrate, attach it to a battery and by pressing a button you vapourize the concentrate using heat.
The most popular form of vaping has become pre-filled concentrate vape pens.
How to Properly Store
Concentrates are typically stored in either a glass or silicone jar or in parchment paper. Use glass jars for softer concentrates like budder and sauce and for long-term storage. Silicone jars are handy but don’t usually offer an airtight seal.
Minimizing the outside elements – humidity, heat and air – is the key to proper concentrate storage. They should be stored in a cool, dark place and the containers should be as small as possible to minimize excess air.
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