Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

Hardware and techniques: joints, pipes and vaporisers.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 5976
Joined: Fri 1st Jul 2011 07:05 pm
Location: S.E. USA

Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

Post by notsofasteddie »

Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

by Sean Black
March 16, 2017


Cannabis concentrates have been used throughout human history. Their current meteoric rise in popularity is due, in large part, to modern technology and the ingenuity of cannabis consumers, which have jointly ushered us into the golden age of concentrates. As one Michigan dispensary owner observes, “Concentrates have taken over the cannabis community.” According to Rhory Gould of the Arborside dispensary in Ann Arbor: “Concentrated cannabis can generate up to 40 percent of our sales in the form of wax, oil, hashish, kief, e-pens and edibles made with concentrates.”

Those are the facts. But exactly how and why this happened merits examination—and, most importantly, so does the question of what this means for the future of cannabis. Exploring the most popular types of concentrates, how they’re made, and the history of concentrating cannabis can provide a better understanding of the current market and where it’s headed.

A Brief History of Cannabis Concentrates

Concentrates have been around for thousands of years, in several different forms. Cannabis first appeared in China around 6000 BCE as a food and textile source. Its use as a concentrate made its first appearance around 1500 BCE as bhang: cannabis ground into a concentrated paste, then mixed with herbs and either ghee or milk, or left as a chewy ball and eaten. Somewhere around the 12th century CE in the Middle East, hashish—dark, malleable and resinous chunks of concentrated cannabis—became wildly popular. Hashish made its way along the trading routes through Asia and eventually Europe, becoming a highly coveted global commodity.

In the United States, concentrated cannabis appears in the mid- to late 19th century in the form of “marihuana” tinctures. These alcohol and ethanol extracts mixed with other herbs were sold as a cure-all for toothaches, impotency, typhoid fever, baldness and just about anything else you can imagine. Whether they made their way to the public via doctors or were peddled by hawkers and “snake-oil” salesmen, people knew that cannabis was a medicine, even if they didn’t understand the science behind it yet. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 20th century that cannabis began to be demonized through government propaganda and appeals to racism, becoming federally illegal in 1937 as a result of Harry Anslinger’s anti-pot campaign and the subsequent Marihuana Tax Act.

Hashish became popular in the US during the 1960s and ’70s, mostly due to the hippie counterculture. Jack Kerouac published On the Road in 1957, inspiring a generation to leave home and embark on a journey of self-discovery. This led, in turn, to what became known as the Hippie Trail: a popular route from Europe to Kathmandu through Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India and Nepal. Adventurous American tourists discovered a hashish mecca as they followed the trail through the different regions, each with its own distinctive strains developed over the ages. They brought back “new” landrace genetics in the form of seeds as well as high-quality import hash, creating a willing and eager marketplace in the United States. Combine this with the hippie culture of anti-establishment politics, free love and expanded consciousness, and the result was a love affair with cannabis. (Not coincidentally, High Times and its smuggler-founder, Tom Forçade, who started the magazine in 1974, played a role in fostering this interest in the concentrated herb.)

A Legal Cannabis Marketplace

The 1970s and ’80s saw vast amounts of cannabis grown stateside for the first time, as farmers and smaller growers switched over to a more popular cash crop. Western cultivators embraced these ancient genetics and began to develop the highest-quality cannabis ever seen. The dissemination of cultivation discoveries and techniques and new extraction methods was mainly relegated to underground newspapers and books until the 1990s, when online forums, grower groups and chat rooms emerged.

Then, in 1996, California passed Proposition 215, creating a safer, semi-legal framework under which cannabis could be grown. A newly legal marketplace gave concentrates a platform to be displayed and sold, albeit slowly at first. Growers with vast amounts of after-market material left over, such as trim and lower-branch buds not fit for sale, suddenly found great value in these for creating extracts. Better yet, with the amount of cannabis now being grown, there were also plenty of high-grade buds to extract with newer and more promising methods.

Non-Solvent vs. Solvent Extraction

Both dry-sieving and water extraction are non-solvent extraction processes. Extracting water hash is gentler and more selective, resulting in a more refined concentrate than the original hash from overseas. Import hash was made in places like Morocco and Lebanon by dry-sieving: beating the plants against a surface (such as a silkscreen), then collecting the trichome droppings and pressing them into slabs.

Both water extraction and dry-sieving collect the coveted resin glands, but the older method also collected pistils and other bits of plant matter and foreign material that diluted the potency (kief typically has from 35 to 50 percent THC, as compared to water hash, which usually ranges from 50 to 70 percent THC). As a result, water hash—once a concentrate that only growers or those higher in the food chain had access to—soon became a popular and sought-after product.

Up until 2009, mostly water hash (or bubble hash, as it came to be known) and various kief products could be found on dispensary shelves in the US. Some concentrates made with solvents were available, but most were subpar and stayed fairly unnoticed. It wasn’t until 2010, when the first US Cannabis Cup was held in San Francisco, that these newer types of concentrates first appeared in a Cup competition, thereby introducing “dab” culture to a broader audience.

Full-melt water hash

Butane honey oil (BHO) and alcohol-derived oils joined the more traditional forms of extracts and blew open the public’s perception of what concentrates could be (solvent-extracted hash generally hovers around 80 percent THC, but some highly refined oils can reach upwards of 98 percent). Previously, behind the scenes, some growers were making head-stash oil with solvents like butane or alcohol—but with lower yields and the lack of a convenient means to smoke it, it remained mainly the stuff of legend for the larger cannabis community.

In particular, the highly refined BHO and alcohol oils became popular due to their higher-THC content and strength. The only problem was how to smoke it: No matter what form BHO takes—oil, moonrock, wax or budder—it becomes a runny liquid when heated, clogging screens and pipes and rendering traditional smoking methods useless. Hot-knifing on a stove, dropping onto hookah coals, or just adulterating joints and bowls were inefficient means of consuming such a high-quality product.

Cue the Nail

Late in 2009, some ingenious tokers began rigging bongs with a small metallic plate affixed to an arm that, after being heated, swung down below an inverted, bell-shaped intake bowl. Oil was then applied to the hot plate and the vapor sucked in through a water pipe, giving the world its first semblance of an oil rig.

Still, few people had one. It wasn’t until the end of 2010 that swing arms had been replaced by glass and titanium nails that sat right in the existing stem of a bong. Driven by the popularity of oil, glass rigs were crafted specifically for dabbing, breathing new life into the world of glassblowing. Given this brand-new tool to smoke oil with, and the introduction of a more refined (and cleaner) product to the public, the love affair with concentrates began to boil over and change the cannabis community forever.

The Art of Extraction

The precipitous ascent in the popularity of concentrates has fueled the progress of cannabis extraction. Dabs are basically the extracted and collected cannabinoids of the plant (THC, CBD, etc.) as well as its terpenes, or essential oils. These concentrates are refined and purified enough that a small dab on a hot nail leaves little to no residual plant matter behind (i.e., no ash, as with a joint).

CO2 oil

The majority of cannabinoids and terpenes are found in the trichomes, the glandular stalks and bulbous heads that exist on the cannabis plant. Terpenes are the essential oils that give cannabis its different flavors and aromas and help to shape the experience of the high. The terpenes and cannabinoids have different boiling points (i.e., the point at which they turn into a gas). This is why, before processing, it’s very useful to keep the cannabis and its surrounding environment cold, as this will help retain the volatile terpenes, which can easily evaporate even at room temperature. For this reason, many growers immediately freeze their trim or buds right after harvest, giving rise to the term “fresh-frozen” among extract artists and growers.

“Live resin” is the term for another extraction method that involves harvesting the plant and immediately processing it while still “alive” in order to best retain the essential oils before degradation begins. As the rule of thumb for nearly all extraction methods states: Your final product will only be as good as your starting material.

Cannabinoid & Terpenoid Boiling Points

During the purging process, which removes the solvent from the extract, it’s important to remember that under vacuum, the boiling points of cannabis’s various compounds drop significantly. For example, carophyllene’s boiling point is 246°F at standard atmospheric pressure, but when put under full vacuum, it can drop to 109°F, creating a window for removing the solvent while retaining as much of the cannabinoids as possible. However, pesticides and other chemicals can’t be removed by purging, nor can they be eliminated by winterizing or distilling. Indeed, all elements and compounds present in the plant—good and bad alike—become concentrated during the extraction process, which is why it’s crucial that the source material never be exposed to harmful substances.

Compound Boiling Point (°F) Medicinal Properties

THC 315°F Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidepressant

THC-A 220°F Sedative, antitumor, anti-nausea, antidepressant, anti-epileptic

CBD 356°F Antipsychotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-seizure, pain relief

CBN 365°F Analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-insomnia, sedative

CBC 428°F Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, bone-growth stimulant

Caryophyllene 246°F Anti-inflammatory, antidepressant

Limonene 349°F Antidepressant, immunity booster

Myrcene 334°F Antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor

Linalool 388°F Insomnia and chronic-pain relief

Pinene 311°F Anti-asthmatic, anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, stimulant

Cineole 349°F Antibiotic, antiviral, stimulant, increases blood flow

Non-Solvent Extractions

Closer to the traditional methods of hash-making are non-solvent extractions. These techniques essentially harvest the trichomes via a manual separation process. While not as selective as some solvent extractions, these techniques can provide the least-adulterated end product and will appeal to those people who want to remain as “natural” to the plant as possible. This is because the use of solvents leaves behind residual amounts that need to be purged from the concentrate (more on this in a bit), whereas non-solvent extractions use dry-sieving—or only water—to extract the plant’s resin. Here’s a breakdown of the most common forms of non-solvent hash:


The easiest method of extraction, kief is made by working cannabis over a screen to filter out the trichomes. Dry ice can be used to freeze the trichome stalks, allowing them to break off more easily. A gentle working over the screen will produce a light-colored kief. Too much agitation will break down the plant matter enough to pass through the screen, darkening and lowering the quality of the final product. Different-size screens are used to separate full trichomes from broken stalks and gland heads.

Storage in a cold environment and sealed package can keep kief light in color with a sandy consistency. Improper packaging can cause oxidation and darken the kief, while warm temperatures will cause the resin to melt out of its casing and become a big clump. If extracted properly, lightly worked kief from fresh material stored in a cool environment can certainly rival the best concentrates in the world in terms of flavor, but less so in potency.

Kief in a jar

Water Hash/Bubble Hash/Full Melt

Water hash uses a screen and water as a carrier agent to separate the trichomes from the plant matter. Very cold water, full of ice, fills a bucket lined with different-size filter bags whose bottoms consist of various screens with holes measured in microns. The plant matter is submerged in the freezing liquid and carefully agitated to break off the now-brittle trichomes. These pass through the filter screens, with each bag allowing different-size pieces to pass through, resulting in a slurry at the bottom of each one containing full trichomes, broken stalks and gland heads. Hand-stirring the cannabis with a wooden spoon is gentler (and thus better) than using a mechanical mixer or automatic “washing machine,” resulting in a higher grade of concentrate. Even the shape of the ice cubes will affect how roughly the plant material is treated.

Carefully breaking up the collected mass of trichomes to remove the water without losing the coveted terpenoids and essential oils takes a sharp eye and can make all the difference. Microplaning and sifting are ways to gently separate and remove water using sieves, spoons and rasps without damaging the whole trichomes, thereby retaining as much of their essential oils as possible. “Water hash” refers to the process by which the concentrates are made, while “bubble hash” and “full melt” refer to the end product. Bubble hash is water hash that bubbles when smoked due to its high oil content; full melt is slightly more refined, melting away without any plant residuals left in the bowl (or on the nail) when smoked.


Rosin technology is the latest evolution in non-solvent hash-making. To extract “rosin” from cannabis, pressure and a slight amount of heat are used to expel resin from the trichome glands. Here, cannabis is put into a filter pouch and then placed onto a slightly warmed press that squeezes out the extract. Higher temperatures (180°F to 330°F) and more pressure can result in higher yields but can also degrade the final product. The more heat that’s applied, the more terpenes become gas and escape. The starting material also plays a huge role, as a good kief or water hash can result in higher-quality rosin than can be obtained from flowers, delivering a more potent, dabbable concentrate. Rosin can be produced quickly, safely and on demand, making it a viable alternative for people who want to enjoy dabs but don’t have access to the professionally produced product. Creating rosin can be as simple as placing buds between parchment paper and pressing it out with a hair straightener.

Solvent Extractions

Solvents are liquids in which another substance is dissolved, thus creating a solution. The various solvents have different polarities and water solubility, which can pull different combinations of compounds from the cannabis plant, affecting the extract’s color, consistency and flavor. Some solvents can be flammable and explosive and should be used only by professional extract artists in facilities with the proper equipment. Solvents can strip almost all of the cannabinoids from cannabis while pulling less plant matter than non-solvent methods, resulting in a very clean and pure flavor. Due to this selectivity, solvent extractions can have some of the highest THC and terpene levels. Highly skilled extract artists can further remove terpenes and other cannabinoids to create a nearly 100 percent THC product.

Creating safe, high-quality solvent extractions also depends on proper purging. There’s a wide range of solvents used for extraction, such as butane, pentane, hexane, ethanol and so on. Varying boiling points make some solvents easier to purge from the final product than others. The following list provides a closer look at the three most popular solvents in use today.

Isopropyl Oil/Quick-Wash ISO

Isopropyl alcohol has a high polarity and is water-soluble, making it one of the least-selective solvents. Using well-dried and well-cured cannabis can help decrease the amount of chlorophyll and moisture pulled from the material. “ISO oil,” as it’s commonly known, is created by filling a vessel with cannabis, which is then soaked in isopropyl alcohol and lightly shaken. The longer the mixture is shaken and steeped, the more cannabinoids are extracted—but so are chlorophyll, plant alkaloids and waxes. Depending on the starting material and the quality desired, the cannabis is soaked anywhere from a minute to a few hours, after which the solvent is strained into a dish. The remaining solvent is then evaporated from the extract in a vacuum oven by bringing it to its boiling point (just under 181°F) for several hours to a couple of days to ensure that all of it is removed, leaving behind a powerful oil rich in THC.

Butane Honey Oil (BHO)

Already common in the fragrance and food industries, butane extraction spread like wildfire because of the potency and terpene retention achieved, as well as its relative ease of use. N-butane’s polarity matches very well with the compounds that people enjoy in concentrates.

Stuffing a long column with cannabis, wrapping a filter on one end and spraying cans of butane to extract the cannabinoids doesn’t take much knowledge or skill, yet this method can produce tasty golden oil testing at nearly 80 percent THC. However, BHO extractions can be very dangerous, because all “-tane” solvents are highly flammable, and explosive compounds should not be used without the necessary lab facilities and tools.

Properly made BHO is extracted in closed-loop systems that are essentially two vessels with a column packed with cannabis in between. The solvent stays sealed (and under pressure to retain liquid form) as it passes from one vessel through the plant material into the “catch vessel.” Hoses return the solvent back to the first vessel, leaving behind a concentrated slurry awaiting its purge. This system not only captures the solvent for reuse, but also keeps the process safer by preventing it from encountering the open air.

N-butane has a low boiling point of 31°F. Using dry ice to keep the solvent cold and in its liquid form aids in a thorough stripping of the cannabinoids. Extract artists purge the resulting concentrate in a vacuum oven to eliminate the residual solvent, while keeping the temperature low enough to retain those terpenes with low evaporation points. Oftentimes, extractors will mix their butane with up to 20% propane, as the polarity of propane helps to pull a slightly different mix of compounds from the cannabis, leading to a more complete extraction.

Butane honey oil

CO2 Oil

In order to harness CO2 for extraction, it must be kept in a container under high pressure to create a supercritical fluid. This fluid keeps the chamber full like a gas, but with the density of a liquid as it washes over the cannabis. CO2 extraction units can be expensive, as they are enormous in size in order to deal with the high pressures required. Due to the water solubility of CO2 and the low temperature used, the wash will produce a cold slurry much like a frosty. Its extremely low boiling point of –56°F makes purging the solvent from the concentrate very easy. A low-heat purge to eliminate the water content results in an extract that frequently has a runnier consistency, sometimes with a slightly fruity tinge in taste. Due to this final consistency, CO2 oil is often used for prefilled e-pen cartridges.

The Purge

As mentioned earlier, different boiling points make some solvents easier to purge than others. Vacuum ovens adjust the temperature as needed while also raising the atmospheric pressure inside, flattening and stretching the concentrate to create more surface area. This allows for the easier off-gassing of the solvent.

The temperature settings not only help the solvent turn to gas, but also keep the material viscous enough for the solvent to escape. Ensuring the complete removal of solvents while retaining the terpenoids can be a delicate balance. Consistencies can also be controlled by different temperatures (anywhere from 80°F to 180°F), the length of the purge, and how much vacuum (suction) is applied. All of these factors control the ratio of cannabinoids and terpenes that remain in the concentrate. Higher temperatures and longer exposure times can create drier concentrates, but also lower terpene counts. Whipping the final product over a low heat can produce a creamy-looking budder or, if dried further, a waxy crumble. Bring that same crumble back up to a higher temperature and it will un-aerate, flatten out, and become a liquid or shatter, depending on the cannabinoid ratios. Many unstable concentrates will nucleate, with the oxidized terpenes (now called terpenoids) eventually separating from the resin.

Too many plant waxes and fats will also affect the final product’s consistency. Since they don’t add anything to the psychoactive effects and can make dabs harsher, these plant waxes and fats can be removed via a simple winterization process. This involves filling a sealable vessel with solvent (primarily isopropyl, methanol or denatured alcohol), to which the concentrate is added and stirred to fully incorporate it. The vessel is then sealed and placed in a freezer overnight. All of the heavier plant waxes, fats and lipids will settle to the bottom, leaving the oil suspended in the alcohol solvent. The liquid is carefully poured off so as to not disturb the wax at the bottom; the concentrate is then returned to the vacuum oven to remove the residual solvent, leaving behind absolutely pure cannabinoids for consumption. Based on the ratios, the final product is either a glasslike shatter or a viscous, honey-like oil.

Looking at how concentrates are made provides a better insight into their fundamental properties and differences. This knowledge will prove beneficial when selecting the types of concentrate you enjoy. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, in which we’ll further explore the subject, including non-cannabis additives, terpenes, the isolation of specific cannabinoids, and how best to consume your concentrates.


User avatar
Posts: 5976
Joined: Fri 1st Jul 2011 07:05 pm
Location: S.E. USA

Re: Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

Post by notsofasteddie »

Concentrated Cannabis Part III: Looking Beyond the Smoke

Want the benefits of cannabis concentrates but don’t want to smoke? Here are your options.

by Sean Black
May 26, 2018


Welcome to Part III of our “Concentrated Cannabis” series. In our first installment, we examined the history of concentrates as well as the different types of extracts and how they are produced. In Part II, we discussed the latest techniques for extraction and how concentrates affect the body and mind. Now, in the latest installment of the series, we examine the benefits of cannabis concentrates that are not smoked or vaped.

By now, most readers are aware of how cannabis concentrates are consumed—and are familiar with the ensuing sense of euphoria and well-being. Whether dabbed on a nail, sprinkled on top of a bowl of flowers or vaped in an e-pen, there’s nothing quite like exhaling the smoke from a tasty, terp-filled dab. Thanks to different combinations of terpenes (the essential oils lending cannabis its various aromas and flavors) and cannabinoids, extractions of different strains can be used to achieve an array of psychoactive results. Consumers find that certain strains bring about feelings of creativity, motivation, energy, relaxation, pain reduction and appetite stimulation.

The truth is that dabs and different types of hash are just the tip of the iceberg for concentrates. There’s a whole world of applications for cannabis extracts that don’t require smoking or dabbing. These concentrates are being used to treat a number of illnesses and have proven instrumental in improving quality of life for countless patients—and, in many cases, saving lives.



While concentrates have become a major part of the marijuana marketplace over the past few years, they have also been instrumental in the extraordinary evolution of edibles. As the edibles industry has made incredible strides, the days of pot brownies filled with chewy mouthfuls of flower and ripe with the strong taste of cannabis are long past. Previously, most edibles were relegated to the ranks of sugary, candylike products. But with today’s more refined consumers, the common medicated Rice Krispies treat no longer suffices. Consider progressive products like Om Edibles’ vegan, gluten-free and paleo-friendly cinnamon-maple Treehugger clusters, or the spiced apple cider from Ganja Grindz and the Clear, or Tahoe Herbal Company’s Kannabucha, a fermented probiotic tea. These are just a few examples of out-of-the-box creations entered in past Cannabis Cups that highlight how concentrated cannabis has elevated the edibles game. But how do these companies do it?

Traditionally, cannabutter was the most widely used base in edibles. Created by slowly simmering your flowers in butter to decarboxylate THC-A into its coveted, psychoactive form of THC, you get a potent batch of medicated butter that can be used to make almost anything. Unfortunately, this also results in a product that usually carries a strong aftertaste of cannabis flowers, making it less appealing to the palate for many.

However, by using distillate or crystalline—nearly pure THC-A devoid of any terpenes or chlorophyll found in flowers—edibles makers can achieve the psychoactive effect of our favorite plant without the unpleasant taste*. While terpenes are an important part of the experience when smoking or vaporizing, they play no real role in edibles. THC enters the stomach and then the liver, which converts the THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is also highly psychoactive. This is why the experience of eating cannabis is profoundly different than smoking it, as it literally becomes a different drug. Contrary to what some companies advertise, whether the edibles are made from sativa or indica makes no real difference in the experience of the high when consuming them.

The lack of terpenes and chlorophyll in distillate or crystalline allows the other ingredients in edibles to come to the forefront and eliminates the need to find ways to mask the cannabis aftertaste. Along with the use of such extracts, edibles makers are also moving away from butter, using healthier fats. Using an ingredient high in fat, like coconut oil or avocado oil, gives THC something to bind to and increases its bioavailability. This allows the consumer to get more from their medicine.

In addition to improving flavor, distillate and crystalline assist in the accuracy and potency of edibles dosing. Using extracts that are nearly 100 percent THC allows the maker to create edibles that have a more consistent dosage.


Capsules and Tinctures

For some people, THC-infused edibles are not a useful way to ingest their medicine, especially if they are following a regimen that requires them to consume throughout the day to maintain a specific dosage (who wants to be scarfing down Rice Krispies treats six times a day?). For these patients, capsules are a very effective alternative. By simply adding a teaspoon of soy/sunflower lecithin to your THC base and then using an oral syringe to fill gel caps once its cooled off, you have a powerful and portable medication that can be easily replicated.

Tinctures are also very valuable for those seeking ease of use with their concentrated cannabis. The medicinal effects of tinctures take less time to kick in than traditional edibles, and dosing can be very consistent. Having the option to decarb your material or not is also very helpful, as you can create something that is high in THC to help reduce pain or high in THC-A for its pure holistic and regenerative properties.

Decarbing your THC-A while it’s in the flower makes creating tinctures slightly easier and safer, especially when using a solvent such as alcohol as a base. Grind your dried flowers, spread them evenly on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 220°F for 90 minutes to convert your THC-A. Oftentimes, the flowers are then added to a jar of grain alcohol or grape spirits and left to steep for a few days or a couple of months. This allows the solvent to strip the cannabinoids from the plant material, resulting in a dark-green, THC-laden liquid that, when placed under the tongue, can enter the bloodstream in mere minutes. Adding some honey to the tincture can remove some of the bite that the alcohol adds. You can also avoid using alcohol by substituting vegetable glycerin to steep your flowers. While this makes for a healthier option, the steeping time can take much longer in the absence of a solvent. The longer the material steeps, the more potent the results. You can even choose to use a distillate or other form of concentrate in lieu of flowers, but keep in mind that consistent shaking and stirring to fully incorporate the oil into the body of the glycerin is required. Otherwise, the dosing can prove to be inconsistent within the body of the tincture.



Topicals are one of the oldest forms of cannabis consumption, with their use dating back thousands of years in the form of poultices—ground-up plant material combined with other herbs and applied directly to wounds. Poultices were used to reduce swelling, and they acted as an antibacterial agent to prevent infections and aided in overall healing. Now one can find a large selection of topical creams, gels and salves that use cannabis extracts to combat rheumatoid arthritis, swelling, burns, cuts, skin maladies and even cancer.

Using cannabis that is both high in THC and CBD is effective when creating any cannabis medicine, thanks to the entourage effect. This is the theory that the presence of THC enhances the effect of CBD, much in the same way that THC enhances the effects of terpenes. Starting with the same coconut- or avocado-based medicated oil detailed in the sidebar, melt the mixture in a double boiler over low heat. Add a quarter cup beeswax to give the topical more body and then choose essential oils and herbs based on the maladies you’re targeting. Lavender, chamomile, peppermint, eucalyptus, cramp bark and lemongrass are some of the more popular choices, with each herb lending its specific properties to the THC’s entourage effect. One can include almond oil, emu oil, jojoba oil or shea butter to affect the creaminess and texture of the topical.


Phoenix Tears, RSO and the True Medicine

RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), more commonly known as Phoenix Tears, has been the (somewhat controversial) measure of the magical healing properties of concentrated cannabis. Created by Rick Simpson, this concentrate is extremely simple to create and has a bounty of anecdotal evidence. Targeting MS, pain, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, infections, inflammations, high blood pressure, depression and sleeping problems, RSO has gained the bulk of its notoriety from its alleged ability to rid people of cancer via ingestion, topical application or suppositories, depending on the location and type of cancer. While there are no scientific studies confirming RSO’s effectiveness in treating cancer, we must admit there’s a great deal of positive testimonials.

Visionary healer and medicine maker Eddie Funxta explains the process as “trying to put the most amount of cannabis in the jar as fast as possible.” He’s also used shamanic cacti (San Pedro), mushrooms, peyote and ayahuasca for healing. Working with Simpson, he learned how quality cannabis concentrates can heal the body and mind. Funxta began his healing quest after his brother contracted HIV. Funxta was able to provide a better quality of life for his brother through his battle with AIDS thanks to cannabis-concentrate oil. After his brother’s death, Funxta found his calling in providing medicine for countless HIV/AIDS patients, and he soon found he could help cancer patients as well.

Through his work with thousands of patients, Funxta learned that using quality cannabis flowers as opposed to sugar trim and lower-quality material resulted in medicine that provided better results. Utilizing indicas high in both THC and CBD resulted in greater efficacy. He has continued to this day to bring this medicine, which he calls Native Healing Oil (NHO), to the sick and infirm.

The dosage and use is fairly scalable depending on need. As the concentrate is so potent, the starting dose is the size of a quarter grain of rice, slowly increasing to prevent the patient from getting too zonked-out. It can take a patient up to six weeks to be able to tolerate a gram of RSO/NHO, which is generally the max strength recommended. Depending on the potency of the starting flower material, there can be 600-700 milligrams of THC per gram of oil.

The versatility of RSO/NHO is quite broad as well. Simpson used it on his own skin cancer as a topical grease, applying it to the affected area. When treating other ailments, the oil can be directed to the more immediate area via oral consumption or suppository caps.

While many patients swear by RSO/NHO, Funxta emphasizes the shortage of the material for those in need. He urges “growers, breeders and dispensaries to join our medicinal community in healing our sick. Amazing genetics already exist; it all doesn’t have to go to the recreational side.”

Removing prohibition’s stranglehold on cannabis could reveal a staggering number of medicinal, industrial and environmental breakthroughs. Some of these advances currently seem too magnificent to believe. The plant has the ability to outgrow trees to produce paper products with a lower environmental impact. The ease of manufacture and the performance of hempcrete provide a low-cost alternative for housing that requires less energy to heat and cool. Cannabis can be used to make lightweight, biodegradable materials that can replace many fossil-fuel-based plastics, which carry an enormous environmental cost as evidenced by islands of plastic found choking our oceans. Industrially, the cannabis plant can replace nearly 90 percent of all fossil-fuel-energy use! During its growth, the plant even produces enough oxygen to offset the carbon dioxide it will release when burned as a fuel, leaving almost no carbon footprint. You can just imagine the implications!

These benefits are of course in addition to the medical and adult-use aspects of cannabis, which enriches and improves quality of life. Replacing society’s dependence on opioids as painkillers can give patients their lives back. Cannabis concentrates hold incredible potential for cancer patients. CBD-rich concentrates can help those afflicted with epilepsy and seizures. The potential of cannabis concentrates is unrivaled, and we haven’t even begun to study, poke and prod the plant in earnest due to its classification as a Schedule I drug. The impending ripple effect of descheduling cannabis that lies before us is enormous beyond imagining, perhaps only rivaled by the impact the computer has had on humankind. The singular thing that stands in the way of unlocking Mother Nature’s seemingly never-ending bounty is the greed of humanity itself.

*Methods for creating distillate and crystalline can be found in “Concentrated Cannabis” Parts I & II in the April and November 2017 issues of High Times.


Extract Edibles

Here’s a reliable and easy method for making a healthier and more effective concentrated base for edibles. It serves as a versatile foundation that can be used in many ways. Instead of using a cup of ground cannabis, use 2-3 grams of distillate. Place in the oven at 220°F for 60-90 minutes in a container (oven-safe silicone works perfectly), allowing the material to decarboxylate. Next, combine the distillate with one cup of organic coconut oil. Slowly heat over a double boiler or in a slow cooker, making sure to keep the temperature well below 245°F, as higher temps can cook off valuable cannabinoids and degrade potency. Let the mixture simmer slowly for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When cooled to room temperature, the coconut oil will solidify. You are now left with a potent, healthy base ready to accompany whatever dish you choose to create—from a medicated hollandaise sauce to a delicious shrimp scampi. To take things a step further, you can use crystalline THC, which will remove any trace of the taste of cannabis, allowing you to incorporate THC in the highest high cuisine.


User avatar
Posts: 5976
Joined: Fri 1st Jul 2011 07:05 pm
Location: S.E. USA

Re: Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

Post by notsofasteddie »

What The Future Holds For Concentrates

The tao of dab.

by Sean Black
November 6, 2017

Ry Prichard/High Times

Never before has there been such astonishing progress in the science of cannabis and our understanding of how it works in conjunction with our bodies and minds. The recent innovations in the hugely popular world of concentrates illuminate how effective and important a role they’ll play in the cannabis community.

Previously, we looked at the history of concentrates, the different types and how they’re made.

Now let’s take a look at how cannabis concentrates work, explore new and improved techniques to extract and consume them, and examine the overall promise that concentrates may hold for the future.

The Synergy Of Terps And THC

Cannabis oil that has been extracted from the plant material awaits its purge to remove solvents.
(Photo by Justin Cannabis/High Times)

As any reader of High Times likely already knows, cannabis is made up of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN and the essential oils known as terpenes.

One of those cannabinoids, an acidic carboxyl group known as THC-A, has many health benefits, including neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as helping to regulate the body’s endocannabinoid system. But the magic really begins when THC-A is heated to 220°F. The carboxyl group is removed from THC-A through a process known as decarboxylation, leaving behind THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that provides the euphoric feeling of being high. Yet THC by itself has no real direction: There is no specific guidance to the way it makes you feel—much like the erratic sounds of a piano with a cat strolling across the keys.

Terpenes play an integral role in managing the specific effects of cannabis. These are the essential oils that lend their distinctive tastes and aromas to the plant. When terpenes are applied to THC, the effect is greater than the sum of its parts (commonly known as the “entourage effect”), and the result is a mystical synergy that complements the human body and mind. Think of it as something like the way a car works: THC is the catalyst, the gasoline that powers the engine, but without something steering, the car drives around aimlessly. Terpenes are the steering wheel that guides the car in its journey and directs its particular path.

Myrcene, a terpene with an earthy smell much like a mixture of gasoline and cloves, provides a sedating, muscle-relaxing and appetite-stimulating effect when smoked with THC. Ever sink back into the couch after a toke and suddenly realize that three hours have gone by? You most likely have myrcene to thank for that. Conversely, the terpene known as limonene produces a pronounced citrusy scent. What happens when you smell a fresh lemon or orange early in the morning? It wakes you up and gets the blood going. Combined with the entourage effect of THC and other cannabinoids like CBD, CBN and CBG, limonene invigorates you: The mind opens up and soars, creativity flows, and the body becomes energized with increased motivation. Not only is this an enormously pleasant feeling, but it’s also very useful as a tool for mental enhancement. Figuring out how the terpene profiles of specific strains affect the individual can allow the cannabis consumer to select particular strains for their desired results, much like people use different pharmaceuticals—although cannabis doesn’t come with all of the negative side effects of pills. Want to stimulate the mind, stir the creative juices, and get yourself motivated? Dab some Haze or Jack Herer—sativas that contain limonene along with other uplifting terpenes like terpineol and linalool. It truly is a sort of scientific aromatherapy!

More On Terpenes

A hefty slab of stable concentrate that can be further processed to isolate its THC-A content.
(Photo by Justin Cannabis/High Times)

The term “terpenoid” is often used to describe a compound while it’s still present in a living flower. The difference between terpenes and terpenoids is that terpenes are hydrocarbons, whereas terpenoids contain additional functional groups. These groups are other atoms or bonds within molecules that are often lost during drying or curing, thus resulting in a compound known as a terpene. There are nearly 200 terpenoids that have been identified in cannabis, and most are found in other plants as well.

For example, limonene, which lends a citrus-like aroma to cannabis, is indeed the same terpene found in lemons. When isolated and put side by side, the limonene in cannabis and lemons have identical molecular structures. Moreover, monoterpenes like pinene will vaporize more rapidly at lower temps, while sesquiterpenes like caryophyllene and humulene vaporize only at higher ones. Preserving them all is one of the keys to providing full-spectrum, unadulterated flavor—precisely what the cannabis plant’s essential oils “map out.” It is also important to understand that the effects that each terpene produces are changed when combined with other cannabinoids or terps. THC combined with limonene might provide an uplifting effect, but may produce a completely different result when combined with myrcene.

A Look At Some Of The Major Terpenes, As Well As Their Effects And Boiling Point In Vaporizers


The Science Of Dabbing

Heating your nail red hot helps remove any burnt residue. Don’t forget to let it cool down!

Understanding the fundamentals of how THC-A is converted into THC, as well as how terpenes volatilize, will provide a crucial insight into how to consume concentrates in a more refined way, especially when dabbing. For the uninitiated, dabbing is the process of applying a small amount of concentrate (or “dab”) to a hot surface (“nail”) that’s affixed to a specialized bong (“rig”); the concentrate is then vaporized and inhaled without the nasty fumes of a lighter, the harsher smoke of plant material, or other unnecessary components of cannabis that don’t add to the high.

Knowing that THC turns from oil into vapor at 314.6°F, and that the most stable terpenes and cannabinoids vaporize at a maximum temperature of 428°F, tells us that temperatures much higher than that can scorch or even burn these components of the dab, leaving a burnt black tar on the nail. This essentially incinerates the dab’s terpenes as well as the “mapping” effect they create for the flavor and high.

In fact, when you light a joint, it’s the plant material just before the ember that gets you high, not the material burning in the ember. The heat emanating from the ember is enough to provide temperatures sufficient to convert the THC-A into THC and volatilize everything in the adjacent plant material. As mentioned, THC reaches its boiling point at 314.6°F, and all of the other cannabinoids and terpenes at no higher than 428°F, while the ember of a joint can reach 1,300F°! Thus, the greater portion of the cannabinoids and terpenes in the ember have already been incinerated.

Clean Dab Etiquette

Lower quality dry wax is ideal for further isolation techniques.

Gone are the days when nails were dabbed while still glowing red-hot from a torch. Growers and extractors are so meticulous in creating the best terpene-filled concentrates that it would be a shame to degrade the high-quality flavors in the process of enjoying them. There are a few new tools that have been added to the dabber’s arsenal in order to elevate the experience of smoking concentrates: These include a timer, cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, a “carb cap” and some patience.

While quartz nails and “bangers”—i.e., an elongated, curved stem with a bucket nail—aren’t particularly new, they provide the easiest kind of surface to keep clean, since the walls are smooth, leaving little purchase for the residue to cling to. Even so, any buildup of residue will quickly grow, as it provides a place for the next dab to seep into and smolder, lending a slightly burnt flavor to the experience. Remember, the goal is to enjoy a fresh dab without incinerating the terpenes and cannabinoids, which provides a cleaner, more specific high reflecting the natural properties of the strain being smoked.

Quartz nails and domeless bangers provide a cleaner and purer dab.

Wiping down the surface of the nail with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol will clean up most of the residue from a previous dab. Using the torch and getting the nail red-hot, you can focus your cleaning efforts on any dark spots until they burn away; this will ensure a clean surface and extend the life of the nail exponentially.

The key here is to wait for the nail to cool off to an appropriate temperature. Remember, THC vapes at 314.6°F, and the most volatile cannabinoid maxes out at 428°F. This is where you should cue the timer: Depending on the thickness of the nail, use the timer to figure out long it takes the nail to cool from red-hot to an appropriate temperature (laser thermometers work well here). The nail should be hot enough to bubble and boil the dab when applied, but not so hot as to throw off lots of smoke—just a tiny bit. It’s not until you cover the nail with the carb cap (which restricts the airflow and creates convection) that the oil should start to smoke heavily.

Nothing beats a single solvent run of high quality herb.

Depending on how thick of a smoke you want, you can adjust the time. The leftover residue on the nail should be just a shade or two darker than the dab in its raw form in the jar. If it’s turned black or gotten too dark, the terpenes and some cannabinoids have been scorched or burned away, changing your toking experience. One of the most important things here is finding that sweet temperature spot for the nail, since thinner nails cool off faster, while thicker ones retain their heat more steadily—but also need more time to warm up and cool off. Also, cleaning the nail while it’s still warm is infinitely easier than cleaning one that’s cooled off.

Advances For Concentrates

Near-white THC-A crystals that have been isolated from most other cannabinoids and terpenes.
(Photo by Ry Prichard/High Times)

Talking about the progress in concentrates could involve a new conversation every day, since that progress advances at such a rapid pace. More and better science has cultivated a scene that has revealed ways to further isolate what cannabis has to offer and use it in new and beneficial ways. Now that we’ve improved our understanding of how to consume concentrates, let’s discuss some of the newer extraction techniques and products.

Distillates account for a significant portion of the concentrates being consumed at present. Runny like maple syrup, distillates can be found in oral syringes in order to dispense easily. Most often, you’ll find them in pre-filled vape-pen cartridges, as the fluidity allows for a better contact to the heat source. But what exactly is a distillate? They’re often made using hydrocarbon solvents (butane, propane, pentane, hexane, etc.) in a wiped-film short-path distillation process—a method that uses a Roto-Vape, a concentrate-filled flask sitting in a bath that spins while the water is slowly heated.

As the heat rises, each component of the concentrate turns from a liquid into a gas. The gases travel up tubes and recondense at their components’ specific temperatures, collecting in different chambers. This allows the cannabinoids to be separated from the terpenes and other elements, leaving a sometimes golden-colored liquid. Even more advanced, some processors are able to perform this whole process under vacuum. This allows the heating of the material to occur at much lower temperatures, as the boiling points of the various components are reduced under lowered atmospheric pressure. This decreases the degradation of the material and keeps the end result as clear as possible. It is very important to note that this does not remove all remnants of pesticides or industrial chemicals—which is why there’s no substitute for growing organic, pesticide-free cannabis.

A jar of pure CBD isolate crystals.
(Photo by Ry Prichard/High Times)

CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD that can be extracted from high-CBD cannabis and hemp. Somewhat similar to the short-path distillation process, the procedure should be repeated several times to ensure a purer product before immersing the distillate into pentane or hexane. Heat is applied and then the distillate cooled several times. Some extractors drop in a few “seeds” (i.e., a few small CBD crystals) to help instigate growth and quicken the process. If left in a dark and undisturbed location, the crystals will start to bloom. When the crystal growth slows down, the remaining pentane is vacuum-purged and the beautifully formed crystals removed. If desired, one can further refine the crystals by a light washing to remove any impurities from their surface.

THC-A crystalline can look like a quartz crystal and is derived in an almost identical process as CBD isolates. The major differences start with the material that is being extracted. Strains high in THC-A but low in CBD will precipitate THC-A crystals, while low-THC/high-CBD strains and hemp (i.e., with less than 0.003% THC) will result in CBD crystal blooms. CBD has a lower boiling point, which can make it easier to isolate; THC-A can be a bit more finicky and requires more attention. Matt Van Benschoten of Beezle Extracts says that his company goes so far as to “place our resting material on thick mats, to keep any shaking or vibrations from disturbing the blooming process, as they can terminate crystallization.”

Tony Veruza, CEO of Blue River Extracts and the winner of several Cannabis Cups, says that his company has found that it can even “grow” crystals in a good amount of terpenes instead of using a second solvent (since terpenes are a solvent themselves). This eliminates the need to introduce solvents like hexane or pentane and then worry about purging them completely, since it can be difficult to fully purge some solvents from THC-A in crystal form and will sometimes require several washes to maintain purity.

High-terpene, full-spectrum extractions, or HTFSE, have become highly popular of late and generally provide a very potent smell when opened due to the high ratio of terpenes present. Usually, the plant material used for these extractions will be fresh, undried and uncured—i.e., material that’s been kept cool in order to preserve the maximum amount of terpenes. A live resin base is extracted using a solvent such as butane, pentane or the like. This extract then gets put in a large jar and set to rest and cure for a week or two. “THC-A wants to be in crystal form, and given enough time and the proper environment, it will eventually crash out and separate, with crystals on the bottom and the terpenes up top,” Van Benschoten of Beezle Extracts says. “This makes an apple-sauce-like end product that is high in terpenes, with ridiculous flavor.”

While extracting from fresh, undried material is popular these days, the folks at Blue River prefer a slightly different method. Using fresh material can sometimes result in a slight back note to the flavor of a dab that Veruza describes as “wet and tinny …. We prefer to cure our flowers for five to six days, but in a cool environment below 60°F to preserve those volatile terpenes. That allows moisture to escape from the plant material while ensuring minimum terpene loss and degradation.”

THC-A crystals with a thin film of mother liquor AKA “terp sauce.”
(Photo by Ry Prichard/High Times)

Terpene isolation is another process that has evolved to improve the yield and quality of the recovered terps. Traditionally, terpenes are isolated during the purging process, as the heat used to eliminate the solvent will also remove them. All of the gases removed are collected in a cold trap—a chamber brought to lower temperatures to force the gases to recondense as a liquid. This liquid is then winterized (chilled in a liquid solvent so that the heavier components settle and separate from the lighter ones), resulting in a capture of the precious terpenes.

Yields can vary greatly depending on the starting material and the temperatures reached in the extraction process. Blue River Extracts uses a newer and modified process to increase returns and result in what it believes is a higher-grade product. Using just nitrogen, alcohol and a vacuum oven, its process puts everything under a vacuum to lower the boiling point of all of the components. Next, Blue River introduces steam to pull out the terpenes, which are then cold-trapped and recovered separately. Cannabis terpenes can be very expensive to extract due to their low yields: Isolating 8 milliliters of terpenes from a pound of cannabis flowers is an average yield with good material.

The Future Of Dabs And The Industry

This Juicy Fruit live resin is high in terpenes and resembles apple sauce with its thick and chunky consistency.
(Photo by Ry Prichard/High Times)

What do these isolation methods mean? First off, isolating THC-A is a precursor of bigger things to come. In general, the cannabis community isn’t running to dispensaries to purchase isolated THC-A, which counts as more of a novelty item at present. But this is common when such a new and different product emerges, since it can take time to understand and realize the possibilities. To date, a handful of people have created a sort of “terp kit” containing a jar of THC-A and several jars of full-strain-profile terpenes. This lets you create flavors with the same base material and gives you the ability to have dozens of strain flavors at your fingertips—you simply need to add some THC-A crystalline to provide that extra kick.

Distillates are great for making extracts for vape cartridges, but they don’t retain the full flavor of the cannabis due to the process involved in creating them, and therefore terpenes need to be reintroduced. Quite often, food-grade terps are added to vape-pen cartridges, much like the juice in e-cigarette pens—but the health effects are still unknown, and most cannabis purists are against this kind of adulteration.

A great deal of concentrates’ future potential lies in the commercialization and industrialization of cannabis as a whole. Cannabis that may not be fit for consumption (because it was harvested too early, was overly dried or burned, or contains seeded buds or old or bad-quality flowers and trim, etc.) can now be broken down into its basic parts and utilized in reconstructing acceptable products. The THC-A extracted from Mexican “brick weed,” once isolated, is the same as the THC-A extracted from the best cannabis in the world. This allows cultivators to focus less on growing quality meds—a process that can be costly—and focus on quantity and THC-A production instead. Large fields of lower-grade cannabis can now find a market as well. Whether for better or worse, this model is exactly what industrialization and commercialization do to ensure the best returns on investment.

The market has proven that it will sustain mass-produced, inexpensive commercial extracts as well as hand-crafted, organically grown and responsibly cultivated small-batch boutique concentrates. This is why it’s enormously important that we understand these aspects of the extraction process and take an active part in deciding what we deem acceptable for the future of cannabis concentrates.


User avatar
Posts: 2231
Joined: Sat 21st May 2005 01:13 am
Location: Arizona

Re: Concentrated Cannabis, Pt. I: Extractions 101

Post by AzLaker »

Fantastic history lesson NSFE...thanks again for all your contributions to ACD. Keep them coming. :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

If you never do, you'll never know.

Post Reply

Return to “Headshops and Paraphernalia”