What Are Concentrates?

DID YOU KNOW?

Concentrates are cannabis-derived extracts that contain concentrated amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a multiplicity of other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Despite the fact that most concentrates today are produced using modern technologies and extraction methods, they have a very extensive and established history. The first known uses of concentrated cannabis can be dated back to 10,000 B.C. in the Steppe Mountains of China.

Popularity and demand for concentrates have increased dramatically with the legalization of marijuana in several states. This exponential growth in consumer interest has refined concentrate extraction methods to innovative heights, which is why so many new and exciting forms of concentrates are emerging. Concentrates are a great option for seasoned cannabis consumers looking to increase the intensity of their high, as well as flavor connoisseurs seeking to taste the most exquisite terpene profiles. Medical marijuana patients in need of relief also turn to concentrates for a direct, economical and fast-acting solution to their ailments.

History of Concentrates

  • Hashish/Kief

Some of the earliest concentrate processes originated in Eastern Asia. The oldest method of creating concentrates simply involves rubbing cannabis flowers between hands, scraping the collected trichomes and compressing them to form a moldable and dark amalgamation, known as Charas (the Hindi word for Hashish).

In the 12th Century, smoking hashish was highly popular in the Middle East. Arabic for grass, “Hashish,” or “Hash,” is the product created when marijuana flowers are sieved through a screen, also known as “dry sifting,” and processed with heat and pressure. Dry Sifting is a process used to separate the resin glands, called trichomes, from other plant matter. The extracted trichomes, with a powdery appearance, are commonly known as kief. Most take the process a step further and add heat and compression to the kief to form blocks of hashish.

Kief

Hashish is the oldest form of concentrate known to man and despite the illegality of cannabis in some of the Middle East, countries like Lebanon and India still produce black market hash for export.

There are many ways to collect the resin glands from cannabis flowers, but arguably the most common method of trichome collection over the years is facilitated through the use of a three-chamber grinder. During the grinding process, trichomes are sieved through a mesh screen and broken off of the cannabis flower through what is known as agitation. The collected trichomes can then be used for a variety of concentrate production methods, or simply smoked as kief.

Hashish

  • How Processes Have Evolved

Since hand-rolling Charas, extraction processes have come a long way. Through developments in technology and further scientific and chemical discovery, concentrate extraction has become a highly sophisticated and modernized practice. Lab-grade equipment is utilized for both solvent-based and non-solvent extraction methods, capable of producing a wide variety of different concentrate types and consistencies.

Most concentrates are named after their appearance. For example, the names shatter, wax, and budder all refer to the consistency of the concentrate, although it is the method in which they were created that determines the difference in melting points, appearances and price. While many concentrate products are similar in THC percentage, they all have different melting points, cannabinoid profiles and appearances.

  • Modern Day Techniques

Today, there are two main methods of creating cannabis concentrates, solvent-based extraction and non-solvent extraction.

Let’s go back to high school chemistry for a bit. A solvent is just a liquid in which something is dissolved to form a solution. In extraction, a solvent is just a liquid used to separate the psychoactive compound THC (as other cannabinoids and terpenes), from the cannabis flower.

The most popular solvents used today are butane, carbon dioxide (CO2), propane and alcohol. Even though water is technically a solvent, in the marijuana industry it’s considered a non-solvent extraction method. These processes are similar to creating essential oils and vitamin capsules.

Remember that although most concentrates are known by their appearance, the real difference between most products is how it’s made, not its final form.

  • Dabbing as a Concentrate Consumption Method

Dabbing is the most popular way to consume marijuana concentrates. Often called “doing a dab” or “taking a dab hit,” dabbing simply refers to the vaporization and consumption of a marijuana concentrate. On average, the concentrate a consumer might dab has between 60-80% THC, compared to smoking cannabis flower which averages 10-25% THC. For this reason, dabbing is much more economical for most users, as far less product needs to be consumed to reach optimal or desired effects. The effects of a dab usually come on stronger and quicker than smoking flower. Because of this, dabbing is often recommended for experienced or frequent smokers due to the high potency of the product.

While it is possible to use concentrates as a “bowl-topper” over flower, most consistencies other than bubble hash do not vaporize effectively with this method. The most effective way to consume cannabis concentrates is dabbing with what is known as an “oil rig” or “dab rig.” Rigs are essentially water pipes made for dabbing that are designed specifically to bring out the complete flavor profile and potency of the concentrate being consumed. In combination with a titanium or quartz nail, a dab rig is the most optimal and efficient way to vaporize and consume concentrates.

The method of dabbing is also more complicated than smoking flower. While flower can be relatively simple to pack into a pipe, bong, blunt or joint, a few more tools are necessary for dabs. In order to effectively consume concentrates, a torch, a rig with a titanium or quartz nail and dabbing tool are needed. The titanium or quartz nail is inserted in place of a traditional sliding bowl, and is heated by the torch. Optimal dabbing temperatures are regularly debated within the cannabis community, and “low-temp” dabs have taken the concentrate scene by storm in recent history for those seeking the purest of flavors.

For novice users, just be sure to wait until the nail is not red hot to ensure vaporization of the product and not combustion. To take a dab, consumers apply the desired amount of concentrate to the dabbing tool, heat the nail, wait until the nail reaches the perfect temperature, gently touch the concentrate to the nail and inhale. To achieve even vaporization and convection within the dish of the nail, most experienced dabbers will use what is called a “carb cap” to cover the nail and evenly distribute heat. Using a carb cap allows for better flavor and more economical and even vaporization of the concentrate.

Some consumers use electronic nails, or e-nails, which are heated to a specific temperature by a small machine. E-nailsare often high in price and not very portable, so be sure to research if they are right for you before making an investment. Another dabbing apparatus is a honey straw. A honey straw, or nectar collector, is essentially a portable nail that allows concentrate consumers to travel without lugging their rigs around. Some honeys straws have a middle chamber where water can be filled to induce percolation, similar to traditional rigs and water pipes.

Remember, portions aren’t just for food. Novice dabbers should only try a very small amount of concentrate initially until they fully understand how it will affect them. A good tip for starters is to take a dab of concentrate about 1/2 the size of a grain of rice or smaller.

  • Terpenes

Terpenes are chemical compounds found in cannabis that produce the distinct flavor and smell of the flower. That means the tangy, citrus scent of Lemon Haze or the blueberry, sour smell of Blue Cheese is created by different terpenes. In a more general sense, a terpene is any group of hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of a plant. In cannabis, terpenes are produced by secretory cells found within glandular trichomes. Terpenes are produced similarly in fruits as well. For example, the same tangy, citrus terpene found in Lemon Haze, called limonene, can be found within the oil glands in the skin of oranges as well.

There are over 100 different terpenes that have been identified in cannabis plants. Terpenes not only influence the smell and taste of a plant, but also influence the effects of each strain of cannabis.

In recent years, strains have been grown to produce the highest THC levels possible. Regardless of the goofy strain names, it is the combination of terpenes and THC that impact the psychoactive effects. Many experienced cannabis consumers even claim they can determine “good bud” by relying on smell alone.

Some of the most common terpenes include Limonene, Alpha-pinene, and Myrcene. Limonene, found in most citrus fruits, can promote weight loss and improve mood. Alpha-pinene is the terpene that gives pine trees their scent and has anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful for those with asthma. Myrcene smells musky with a hint of berry; it is great for pain-relief and has sedative properties as well.

Chart of Terpenes

  • Trichomes

Trichomes are the small hair-like structures found on cannabis flowers that contain terpenes. Biologists hypothesize that trichomes evolved to protect the plant from environmental dangers such as animals looking for food, insects and bacteria or fungus.

Trichomes under magnification

Trichomes under magnification

The word trichome comes from the Greek word meaning “hair.” There are three main types of trichomes: bulbous, capitate-sessile, and capitate-stalked. Right now we can think of them as small, medium and large respectively. Most bulbous trichomes are hard to see, even magnified, and protrude similarly to goosebumps on skin. Capitate-sessile trichomes are much more numerous and have a rounded head. It’s often difficult to see the stem and they appear to lie flat against leaves. Capitate-stalked trichomes are the most abundant and are raised from the leaves with elongated stalks. Capitate-stalked trichomes usually contain the most cannabinoids due to their larger size and are the main focal point of cannabis macro-photography.

In their unprocessed form, the stalk-like trichomes, when collected, are often referred to as kief, which is smoked frequently by cannabis consumers. While kief is technically considered a concentrated form of THC, it is important to note that it is an unprocessed concentrate. As discussed earlier, the final form of kief is comprised of many individual trichomes, meaning that it has not undergone an extraction process amalgamating it into a cohesive and unified final product. In order to process trichomes into a stable and concentrated product, a variety of processes may be used.

Kief

Despite the slightly technical nature of trichomes, they’re vital in the creation of concentrates. Because of the recent rise of concentrate popularity, most extraction methods are catered to preserving the healing powers and flavors developed within trichomes. Flavor, medicinal effects and strength of the effects continue to be the staples of concentrate efficacy. With all three aspects getting stronger every day, as well as technological advancements in scientific equipment, it’s not far-fetched to believe extraction artists will continue to innovate and progress concentrates to greater heights.

  • Why Consume Concentrates?

Let’s take a moment to recap and ask, why consume concentrates? Concentrates are rapidly growing in popularity for a plethora of reasons. They are much more potent than flower, providing a more economical way to consume cannabis. Because of the high potency, they also allow medical patients to achieve faster relief than flower or edibles. Concentrates are also more efficient than flower, allowing patients to remedy medical ailments efficiently with a quick, large dose of cannabinoids.

The difference in flavor between concentrates and flower is also pretty dramatic. Cannabis extracts not only concentrate cannabinoids, but also the tasty and beneficial terpenes. The flavor resulting from concentrate vaporization allows consumers to taste terpenes more clearly, instead of having the terpene flavor mixed with combustible plant matter (this occurs while smoking flower).

Dabbing also allows cannabis users to consume in a more discreet manner. Concentrate vapor does not stick on clothes or residually hang in the air like combusted cannabis flower might. In places like Colorado, where many residential properties might ban the use of marijuana inside, concentrates make it possible to consume cannabis tactfully.

The last thing any new dabber should do is smoke too much at once. Infrequent smokers can experience adverse reactions to concentrate consumption such as rapid heartbeat, paranoia or even hallucinations. For novice cannabis consumers seeking less intense concentrate highs, or those who still aren’t sure if concentrates are for them, vape pens are the perfect introduction. Most of the concentrated marijuana in vape pens are oils created with CO2 that can be smoked slowly, decreasing the chance of taking too large of a hit and feeling an intense or uncomfortable high.

As previously mentioned, there are two main methods of c
  • Solvent vs. Non-Solvent Extraction
reating cannabis concentrates, solvent-based extraction and non-solvent extraction. In solvent-based extraction, chemical solvents such as butane, propane, carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol are used to separate resin glands containing the psychoactive compound THC from the cannabis flower. In non-solvent extractions, water, temperature and pressure are the predominant factors.Again, it is important to note that even though most concentrates are known by their appearance, the real difference between products is how they are made. Different extraction methods alter the chemical and biological makeup of the final product form in ways that are not forthright to the naked eye, which is why it is always important as a consumer to understand the process behind the product.While many side in favor of non-solvent extracts, the argument for solvent-based extractions is strong too and has many devout supporters. Now that the perceived dangers of producing solvent-based extractions have been alleviated by certified extraction lab requirements, there is minimal risk for explosion or safety hazards. Many people believe solvent-based extractions to be more potent, containing what is called a “full-spectrum” of cannabinoids and terpenes that greatly influence the flavor, aroma, and effects of the concentrate. Because the flower is not physically agitated (like bubble hash or rosin) and cannabinoids are pulled from the plant by passing solvent, the structure of the bud is kept intact throughout the process. Not only does this reduce plant matter from being accidentally extracted, but also preserves terpenes remarkably well.Both solvent-based and non-solvent concentrates are superb methods of consuming cannabis, and by knowing the key differences consumers are able to make educated decisions based on their personal preferences. One thing is certain however, no matter which extraction method you choose, there are no shortages of effective, high-quality options to select from in either variety.