closeup of a cannabis flower

What are cannabis concentrates?

Many people take medical marijuana as a relief for their symptoms.

But the raw cannabis plant contains various impurities – and it can have a number of negative side-effects when taken, especially when smoked.

Cannabis concentrates are designed to reduce or even potentially eliminate those side-effects.

They do this by first distilling or isolating the beneficial compounds found in cannabis. Then they make it possible to consume a far smaller dose of cannabis-derived substances and get the same or greater positive effects.

This is because the amounts of beneficial compounds are far more concentrated in them than they are in the plant itself. These days, this concentration can reach as high as 99-100%.

What Are Cannabis Concentrates by Definition?

Cannabis concentrates are chemicals or compounds which have been extracted from the cannabis plant.

Cannabis contains chemicals called cannabinoids which, when taken into the body, can result in the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. The effects of several of these cannabinoids – notably CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – have been shown to have beneficial medical effects.

What are the different types of cannabis concentrates?

There are broadly two different types of cannabis concentrates:

1. Solvent-based extractions: the kind of solvents used to create cannabis concentrates usually include butane, propane, CO2 and alcohol. But a solvent is any substance that dissolves a solid to produce a liquid solution.

2. Solventless concentrates: solventless extractions don’t require any substances other than water in order to be produced.

There are a huge number of different cannabis concentrates. More are being created all the time.

Most people tend to refer to concentrates by slang-like terms which refer to their appearance. However, it’s much more useful – and scientific – to refer to:

1. The method of extraction used to isolate the compounds from the raw cannabis plant material.

2. The specific raw cannabis plant material from which the compounds are being extracted.

This is because these are the two factors which govern the efficacy of the final concentrate.

The concentrate’s final appearance, on the other hand, can usually be altered by the methods used in order to produce the preferred consistency.

For example, the well-known concentrate often referred to as “badder” or “budder” is named for its thick, waxy nature. But badder can actually be created via several of the techniques listed below. This makes it difficult to know what you’re getting if that’s the only description you have to go on.

As another example, the concentrate commonly called “shatter” is glass-like and shatters when touched.

Not everyone knows that badder can be created from shatter.

Calling a concentrate one thing or the other doesn’t necessarily tell you much about how they were created or how good the starting materials were. That’s what you need to pay attention to.

cannabis on a blue background

The Best-Known Types of Cannabis Concentrates

Solvent-based extractions

The concentrates produced via solvent-based extraction methods are generally referred to as oils. The purer the oil – usually purity is listed as a percentage – the fewer contaminants are present.

The strain of cannabis – Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa – which forms the raw material plays a role in the efficacy of the resulting oil. But the way the plant has been grown, cured, the type of solvent used and, perhaps most importantly, the extraction technique and equipment used are all vital.

Some of the most common extraction processes of this type include:

1) Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

BHO is the most popular type of concentrate currently on the market. When created using the right equipment, it’s very safe to produce. A critical part of BHO production is the purging process, which removes any traces of butane from the final product.

2) Propane Hash Oil (PHO)

PHO relies on essentially the same production method as BHO, except that – as you might expect – propane is used as the solvent instead of butane.

This technique can sometimes result in more of the beneficial organic compounds like terpenes (the sometimes aromatic essential plant oils) being retained in the final product.

3) CO2 Oil

CO2 oil is generally said to be safer than BHO or PHO because there is no risk of any butane or propane being left in the final product. The process also kills bacteria and mold in the raw plant material. But it is sometimes said to produce a slightly less flavorful final result.

There are also several advanced types of CO2 extractions available. These give the creator a large degree of control over the finished product but require special equipment.

4) Alcohol-based concentrates

Generally thought to be safe and easy to make and consume, alcohol-based concentrates actually require incredibly careful temperature control in order to properly purge the alcohol.

You also need to stringently control the amount of time which the cannabis is allowed to soak in the alcohol.

Solventless extractions

Solventless extractions – as the name suggests – don’t require solvents in order to produce. More “natural” approaches to extracting the compounds from the raw plant are used, resulting in a product which is often said to be of a higher quality than solvent-based extracts.

The results of solventless extractions are usually called:

1) Dry Sift

This effort-intensive process uses silk screens to separate the trichome heads (the parts of the cannabis plant which contain the cannabinoids and terpenes) from the rest of the plant.

Dry sift is available in several different grades of fineness. This includes “full melt”, which is often said to be the highest quality concentrate available as it contains terpene and cannabinoids almost exclusively.

2) Ice Water Hash

Instead of using silk screens like the dry sift method, ice water hash is produced using ice and water. Again, the goal is to extract the part of the plant which contains the cannabinoids and terpenes.

As these tend to be more brittle than the rest of the plant when frozen, they can be separated and then used…

3) Rosin or Solventless Hash Oil (SHO)

The Rosin tech method allows you to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis buds with relative ease.

You can even use it to further refine ice water hash or dry sift which is not up to the quality standard which you require.

cannabis in a small jar

Distillates or Isolates

The process known as distillation or isolation is sometimes thought to be the last word in cannabis concentrates. It’s performed on a “standard” cannabis concentrate after it has been produced.

When you distill your concentrate, you can select – or isolate – the specific cannabinoids and terpenes which you want to keep in your final product.

This results in a very specific, potent and refined version of oil. If you want a pure CBD oil, for example, you can reach a purity level of more than 99% using this method.

What to do with cannabis concentrates now you’ve got them

How to use cannabis concentrates deserves an entire article in and of itself.

But without getting into the medical benefits or the various ways in which people prefer to take them – cooking with cannabis concentrates is surprisingly popular – this article should tell you everything you need to know about what cannabis concentrates are and what different types are available.

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