Updated on January 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Both the popularity and demand for cannabis concentrates have increased as restrictive state laws have relaxed, and not surprisingly, so have options available to consumers. Basically, cannabis concentrates are made by separating resin from the flowers, to obtain concentrated amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinoids and terpenes. The resin contains the most desirable plant compounds without excess plant material and other impurities.
The THC range in concentrates is about 50-80%, sometimes as high as 90%, as compared to 15% to 25% for high-THC flower strains.
There are several reasons why concentrates are rapidly growing in popularity. They are far more potent than flowers, and a much more economical method of using cannabis. The effect from concentrates is almost instant and can last for 1 to 3 hours. Concentrates are also more flavorful, because they contain a higher percentage of terpenes, the chemical compounds that give the flower its distinct smell and taste. “Dabbing,” or vaporization, a popular method of consuming concentrates, allows users to better experience the flavor of terpenes without it being mixed with combustible plant matter, as happens when smoking flower.
Another bonus is that cannabis users can consume concentrates more discreetly as compared to smoking flower, as the vapor does not remain on clothing and does not leave residue in the air. Finally, because of the high potency, medical users can achieve effects more quickly than either smoking flower or edibles.
Concentrates can be used in many different ways. Some types of concentrates can be used the same way as flower, by smoking or vaporizing. Dabbing, in which the extract is applied to a hot nail, producing a vapor the user inhales through an adapted water pipe or dab rig, is one popular method of vaporization. Ingestible oils that act like edibles, and tinctures, which are sublingual concentrates, are also available.
Types of Concentrates
A cannabis concentrate is any product that is created via an extraction process, which can be either solvent or non-solvent based. Solvent-based extraction, as the name suggests, uses chemical solvents including butane, propane, carbon dioxide and alcohol to separate resin glands, which contain THC, from the cannabis flower. In non-solvent extractions, water, temperature and pressure are typically the most common methods.
Keif: Also known as dry sift or pollen, this perhaps the simplest and most traditional type of concentrate available. Keif is made of the resin glands located on trichomes, hair-like outgrowths covering cannabis flowers. It is also commonly used to make hashish or hash.
Hashish: This concentrate is made from pressed kief or compressed resin, and its use dates back centuries and possibly even millennia. The word “hashish” is derived from Arabic, and loosely translates as “grass.”
Rosin: Cannabis resin in a solid form, which is made by extracting resin from flowers by applying pressure and heat.
An extensive array of concentrates are produced with solvents, and the names can be confusing, such as shatter, wax, crumble, sugar, honeycomb, sap, and oil. Names often refer to a concentrate’s texture, and while some consumers may prefer one texture over another, others are more interested in the type of solvent that was used and what will work best with their preferred method of consumption.
Shatter: This is one of the purest cannabis concentrates available, and is made by using butane to extract THC from flowers. Resembling a piece of colored glass, shatter ranges in color light to dark amber and has a high terpene content. It can be very potent, with 80% or higher THC.
Butane hash oil (BHO): This concentrate is also extremely potent and popular among users who like dabbing and other methods of vaporization. Cannabinoids are drawn from flower using butane extraction, which leaves a wax that either stays “sticky” or becomes harder, giving it a crumbly or brittle appearance.
CO2 oil: As the name suggests, this concentrate is made by using high pressure and carbon dioxide. Known as supercritical fluid extraction, this method is growing in popularity as it is one of the most effective means of reducing cannabis down to its essential compounds. The oil is often vaporized, with one method being portable vaporizer pens.
Wax and budder: These concentrates are popular for dabbing, and are made by butane extraction. Wax is sticky and crumbly while budder is softer with a more “whipped” appearance. Essentially, budder is wax with a higher moisture content that makes it oily and malleable, while wax has a more solid consistency.
About the author
Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse who has written for a wide range of publications for healthcare professionals and consumers, including Medscape, The Lancet, Prevention, Scientific American, WebMD, American Journal of Nursing, Frontline, National Geographic, Hematology Adviser, American Journal of Medical Genetics and the Washington Post, among others.