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Everything You Need To Know About Cannabis Extracts And Concentrates

What Are Cannabis Concentrates?

With a concentrate, you’re getting the therapeutic compounds in cannabis, the cannabinoids, and sometimes the terpenes, without any excess plant material. There are myriad different ways to isolate these compounds, which we will cover in the sections below, but regardless of extraction method, the end result is a final product with a significantly higher cannabinoid content per dry weight compared to regular cannabis flower. Even the most potent strains of flower tend to top off at around 30% THC. However, with a THC extract, that number can be over 90%. 

Among industry insiders, the terms concentrates and extracts often get used interchangeably, though some people only use “extract” to refer to concentrates made with solvents. It’s a bit like squares and rectangles—all extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts. 

While many of the techniques we use today to create concentrates come from advancements in modern science, concentrates themselves aren’t a new phenomenon. Both hash and charas are forms of concentrates that people have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

How Are Concentrates Made?  

The exact process of how a concentrate is formed will depend on the concentrate itself. Generally speaking, the goal is to remove and collect the plant’s trichomes without losing or damaging them. 

Trichomes, the tiny crystalline structures on the outside of cannabis flower that gives the buds their frosty appearance, contain the vast majority of the terpenes and cannabinoids in a particular cannabis plant. However, they are extremely fragile. Improper exposure to heat and light, or even an unfortunate brush-up with a shirt sleeve, can disastrously impact the plant’s cannabinoid content. 

There are numerous ways to isolate the trichomes from the rest of the plant material—each technique having its own set of pros and cons. To better understand how master extractors practically apply these techniques, let’s take a look at some different types of cannabis concentrates and what goes into making them. 

Solventless Concentrates 

We first break concentrates down into one of two categories, solvent-based extracts or solventless concentrates, depending on if chemicals are used to separate the trichomes from the rest of the plant. Common solventless concentrates include:

  • Kief: This is perhaps the simplest of all cannabis concentrates. It’s just an accumulation of cannabis trichomes without any further processing required. As stated earlier, trichomes are extremely fragile and will literally fall off of the cannabis plant if handled roughly. You can place dried cannabis on a mesh sifting screen and simply shake the trichomes off the buds, allowing them to collect beneath the screen. If you use a  grinder to break down your cannabis, there’s a good chance you already have a collection of kief since most three-chamber grinders include a bottom kief catching implement to cumulate the trichomes that fall off of the flower during the grinding process. Kief is difficult to consume on its own, but it can be added to ground cannabis in a pipe or paper to create a more intense experience.

  • Hash: Here, we have one of the earliest forms of concentrates ever produced. Hash is kief that’s been compressed under substantial heat pressure until formed into a solid brick. The quality of the hash will heavily depend on how much plant matter ended up in the kief. Bubble hash, generally considered the premier form of the concentrate, is made by separating the trichomes with ice water and a series of vinyl bags called bubble bags. Using dry or mechanical sifting techniques will allow more plant material to contaminate the kief, resulting in a less pure product overall.

  • Charas: People have been making charas on the Indian subcontinent for centuries. While charas appear very similar in appearance to hash, there’s a key difference between the two. Unlike hash, which is made from the compressed trichomes of dried cannabis, charas are made with live cannabis plants rubbed by hand until the plant’s resin collects in balls.

Solvent-based Extracts   

Next, we have solvent-based extracts, which are broken down further based on the exact solvent used, and the consistency of the final product. 

When making extracts, the cannabis plant material is first soaked in the solvent, which will separate the trichomes from the rest of the plant material. The most common solvents used in this process are butane (BHO), propane (PHO), c02, and alcohol. Once the solvent’s done its job, the next step involves purging the solvent from the cannabis trichomes. Typically, this step is performed using expensive equipment like a cannabis vacuum pump.   

Depending on how much agitation occurs during the extraction process, the concentrate will form a particular consistency. 

  • Shatter: This has a glass-like consistency, achieved through minimal agitation.

  • Wax: Wax is made with a significant amount of agitation that results in irregular molecular densities in the final product. Wax concentrates are very viscous and somewhat transparent.

  • Budder: When wax is whipped over heat, it takes on a creamier consistency known as budder.

  • Crumble: By processing the extract at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time, extractors can achieve a concentrate with a dry consistency known as crumble.

The Difference Between Resin And Rosin 

Perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of concentrates is the difference between rosin and resin. Not only are the two terms only one letter apart, but resin actually has several different meanings. 

Resin can refer to the leftover goop that accumulates on the inside of pipes. It’s also the term used to describe the cannabinoid-rich sticky substance produced by cannabis trichomes. There’s also live-resin—a solvent-based extract made from flash-frozen cannabis plants to maintain terpene integrity. 

None of these are the same as rosin, which is a solventless extract made by applying heat and pressure directly to uncured cannabis flower. Often, home extractors achieve this by wrapping the buds in parchment paper, then applying pressure with a hair straightener. 

Cannabis extracts and concentrates can be complex as there’s a multitude of strains, compounds, extraction methods and growing techniques which present a variety of products. Now that you’re more familiar with the different types, selecting one that’s right for you just got a little bit easier.