In today’s innovative and expanding cannabis industry, there are seemingly endless ways to consume the plant. Cannabis concentrates are among the most versatile forms yet, with various extraction and consumption methods living under this one umbrella of the plant.
From solvent-based cannabis concentrates to solventless extractions, there are enough concentrate variations and types of extracts on the market to make your head spin. However, each concentrate type speaks to a different type of consumer and the desired outcome, and it’s important to know the facts behind each before deciding which type will work best for your desired outcome or production goals.
“Concentrates don’t smell as potent as flower most of the time—they can be extremely discreet, which people really appreciate,” said Jordan Annalora, Professor of Extracts for the Cannabis Community College course “Production Essentials” and Lead Extraction Technician at Body and Mind. “Concentrates also don’t require as much product to get the psychoactive effect; they’re more potent which may be preferred for consumers with a high tolerance to THC.”
Consider this your own personal Cannabis Concentrates 101 crash course.
The difference between concentrate and extract
The terms “concentrate” and “extract” are often used interchangeably in cannabis retail spaces, but there is a slight difference between these two variations you should be aware of as a consumer.
So, what are cannabis concentrates? They’re essentially the product of distilling down the most desirable, full-spectrum parts of the cannabis plant, like terpene content, THC content, desired cannabinoids, and more.
When determining the difference between concentrate and extract, keep in mind that all extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts.
This distinction boils down to the cannabis extraction methods utilized for the product: while all types of cannabis extract are produced with a residual solvent to pull out the desired component (like alcohol, butane hash oil, or ethanol extract), types of concentrates are produced without solvent extraction equipment, instead utilizing solventless methods like high-pressure rosin press that uses heat and pressure or other mechanical methods for removing and collecting trichomes for products like bubble hash and live rosin.
Variations and types of concentrates
There are several different types of cannabis concentrates on the market, and can most easily be determined by texture: badder, crumble, sauce, and shatter. The way you consume these variations is up to you, but most can be consumed with a dab rig, smoked out of a vape pen, or even sprinkled atop a joint or blunt to change the terpene profile.
With a slightly oily and soft texture, badder is considered the cream of the concentrate crop by many dedicated consumers. This texture is malleable and easy to handle, and its consistency allows for badder to be dabbed via a dab rig or even spread atop blunts or joints for an added buzz.
Similar to badder, crumble has a slightly more brittle texture, resembling crystallized honey. Crumble isn’t as glossy as badder either; it has more of a matte finish to it that is easy to distinguish.
Sauce has more of a viscous, honey-like texture than other forms of concentrate, and is usually a deep amber color. It contains a blend of sturdy crystalline and liquid, mimicking its namesake.
Shatter is perhaps the easiest to identify, as its consistency looks exactly as it sounds: like shattered glass. Shatter is usually golden yellow or bright amber, and has a tight, brittle texture that is easy to break down.
Cannabis Extraction Methods
When it comes to cannabis extract, there are quite a few different ways to draw the cannabinoids and terpenes as well as other valuable plant material from the rest of the plant, depending on what you’re looking for. These are some of the most common extraction systems operators across the nation utilize.
“It’s a lot of learning and patience to understand extraction and processes completely,” explained Annalora. “It’s extremely important to care about your work and the product you’re releasing to the market. You have a brand and standard to uphold, and it’s imperative to take the time to learn your skill.”
Butane Honey Oil Extraction
Butane honey oil (BHO) extraction is popular beyond the cannabis industry, as it is used for both food and perfume. For cannabis, the BHO extraction system requires the plant to be placed in a container, followed by a butane spray that begins the process. Once separated, the cannabinoids and butane are collected in another container and left to evaporate.
CO2 Oil Extraction
This extraction system is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and is often used in the beer, coffee, fruit, and tea industries. For this process, CO2 is heated and passed through cannabis buds, eventually removing the CO2 gas from the terpenes and trichomes. The gas is then pushed through a condenser, allowing it to reliquify and recycle for future use.
For this extraction method, the cannabis plant is soaked in ethanol to extract cannabinoids. Once extracted, the plant is then refined to enhance the product’s purity – a.k.a., what every sophisticated consumer prioritizes. The ethanol will then remove any unwanted compounds from the results, offering one of the purest forms of extract on the market.
This increasingly-popular method requires you to submerge fresh-frozen plant material in freezing water. The plant is stirred in the water, causing an incredibly natural trichome separation over time. Fine screens are then used to remove the trichomes from the water, often in the form of “bubble bags.”
This method involves isopropyl alcohol, which the cannabis plant is submerged in and gently shaken as the alcohol strips the plant’s trichomes away. The mixture is then strained and vacuumed until the solvent has evaporated, leaving you with pure, cannabinoid-rich oil.
Regulations to Understand
The biggest risk cannabis concentrates pose is contaminants: if the products aren’t properly and thoroughly sourced, or even handled at the wrong boiling points, they can easily deliver a number of contaminants to the consumer, like pesticides, mold, bacteria, metals, or residual solvents.
Chemical solvents are particularly regulated, as they can easily pose danger to consumers if processed incorrectly. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) divides the 59 existing solvents that can be used to manufacture cannabis and other products into three different classes: ones that should be avoided, ones that should be limited, and those that are regarded as “less toxic” than others.
However, these classifications do not include butane or propane, which are becoming increasingly popular in legal markets. Because of this, state regulators are left to their own devices when dealing with these types of products, and the residue limits range widely throughout the nation.
If you’re at all concerned about the possibility of residue in your cannabis products – and you absolutely should be – it’s important to educate yourself on your region’s required limits before you embark on a purchase you might not be comfortable with in the long run.