What Are Cannabis Concentrates or Extracts?

When you’re new to the world of cannabis, you have a whole world of jargon to get to grips with understanding. Not only are there lots of different varieties or “strains” of cannabis, but also different types of products as well. One of these types of products are cannabis concentrates, which, as the name implies, are essentially cannabinoids extracted from the raw plant material and stuck together to form a highly concentrated form of cannabis product. The term “extract” is also used, as concentrates are extractions of the cannabis plant’s trichomes (the little “hairs” on buds and leaves of plants)

There are a number of names that people use for cannabis concentrates or extracts, such as “hash/hashish”, “wax” or “oil” (usually meaning Rick Simpson oil or butane hash oil). These terms usually refer to the purity of the final product and/or the method of extraction. But essentially, all cannabis concentrates are where the trichomes of the cannabis plant – which contain the most cannabinoids and terpenes – are stripped from the plant and put together using heat and/or pressure.

Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of concentrates and extracts available on the market, and a simple explanation as to what they are.

What is Hash or Hashish?

Hash is where the trichomes of the cannabis plant are collected and pressed together. Some people use machines to mechanically shake as many trichomes off the cannabis plant as they can, then collect the resulting dust (known as “kief” or “dry sift”) and press it together using heat and/or pressure. This results in a gooey, pliable form of hash that, although not necessarily the purest form of extraction, many find pleasing.

Others use ice water and filtration bags to extract the trichomes. This method can create hard, brittle types of hash at the lower grades of filtration, and more pliable “full melt” varieties of hash at the higher filtration grades. Again, this does not necessarily result in the purest end product, but the lack of solvents and the tried-and-tested methodology make them approachable for many. Some people also enjoy concentrates that are powerful but not necessarily overly-potent.

Hash that is made just from the resin of a live cannabis plant alone is called “charas”. Traditionally this was done, and still is in some parts of the world, by pressing or rubbing the flowering plant between two hands and then forming the sticky resins into a small ball of hashish.

Bubble hash. Trichomes extracted from Green Candy using Bubble Bags.
One gram American bubble hash; isolated, purified, and cured cannabis Sativa trichomes produced with the Bubble Bag method. Green Candy strain. Author: Mjpresson. From Wikimedia Common.

Hash Oil, Butane Hash Oil (BHO) and Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), Shatter and Wax – What Are They All?

These are all terms used for oily, viscous cannabinoid products extracted using a solvent, which results in an extremely potent cannabis concentrate with very little plant matter in it. They are usually different consistencies because of the slightly different methodologies or solvents used to make them (e.g. RSO uses ethanol, BHO butane) and differences in consistency at room temperature, but they all usually result in very similar products. The types of products that come from BHO include:

  • Cannabis Shatter – Shatter looks like a colored piece of glass and has a hard candy-like consistency. It’s glass-like at room temperature because of the amount of THCA in it.
  • Sugar Wax – Cannabis strains that contain terpenes which are particularly prone to retaining water tend to make sugar wax.
  • Cannabis Budder – Aerated cannabis concentrate that has been whipped up to aerate it and produce a peanut butter-like consistency.
  • Crumble – After the initial solvent extraction, the rest of the product is left on low heat so the solvent can evaporate gradually. All the water will evaporate, leaving behind a crumbly wax that becomes harder and dustier the more moisture it loses.

At room temperature, THC concentrate is a sappy oil, giving shatter with a high THC content a more viscous consistency. This is usually known as “cannabis oil” or “honey”. Sometimes it is a taffy- or wax-like consistency, hence the terms “wax” or “pull-n-snap”. RSO results in an oily, browny-black substance that is already decarboxylated and ready-to-use, simply by eating it or infusing it into another oil to make a “canna oil”.

THCA, meanwhile, is solid at room temperature, yielding a fragile concentrate that’s easier to break apart. This is known as “shatter”, and will need to be decarboxylated before use. Some people use dab rigs to consume shatters, although waxes and other concentrates may be used this way as well. Some vaporizers have special chambers made especially for concentrates.

cannabis oil, wax, concentrate
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) – cannabis oil extract.

Cannabis Rosin, aka Solventless Dabs

Cannabis rosin is where heat and pressure are applied to squeeze all the resinous sap out of your cannabis plant. Rosin is made of marijuana flower, hash, or kief and transformed into a full-melt hash oil. The result is a translucent, sappy, and sometimes shatter-like product that can be consumed as rosin dabs. Although very similar to hash in many ways, it could be said to be “hash plus”, as it uses even more heat and pressure to remove even more of the plant matter. Rosin could therefore also be called “purified resin”.

Rosin making has become something of an art form in recent years, as people have their own preferred “recipes”, extracting at specific pressures and temperatures for different types of product and cannabinoid-terpene profiles. Some have achieved results similar to extraction methods utilizing solvents, and many prefer rosin-making as it is safer and avoids the need for harsh chemicals entirely.

Check out how to make solvent-free dabs here.

Rosin. Image by Jibi44 Modified by historicair. From Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.

CO2 Extraction Cannabis Oils

This is basically hash oil where, instead of using solvent to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes, CO2 is used. This results in a solventless end product. Supercritical CO2 extraction is also a far safer and more environmentally sound method of cannabinoid extraction. The only problem is that you cannot easily do it at home without lab-grade equipment and a good amount of know-how.

For those looking to make their own concentrates at home, we recommend one of the solventless methods above. However, when buying products from different manufacturers, CO2 cannabis extracts may be the better choice.

Disposable Vape Pens

There are many companies out there, like Dosist, Wildflower and Ionic, who make pre-filled vape pens filled with cannabis concentrate (mixed with a vapable e-oil) that makes consuming precise doses of cannabis concentrate over the course of a day a lot simpler. Although you need to ensure that you are getting the highest-quality vape pens – most of the health and safety concerns surround black market products made using inferior quality materials and vitamin E acetate – it is one of the most convenient and hassle-free ways of consuming cannabis. They can be very discreet, too.

E-cigarette; vape pen; vape pens; disposable vapes; vapor; vaporizer; vaping; vaporizing; cannabis vaporizers; vaping marijuana.
Image from E Cigarette Review and Pixabay.

Moon Rocks

Moon rocks are essentially cannabis flower dipped in cannabis oil, then covered in kief. You can then break up the flower (don’t grind it) and use it as you would raw flower.

Moon Rocks - cannabis flower/bud dipped in hash oil and covered in kief.
Moon Rocks – cannabis flower dipped in oil then covered in Kief. From Reddit.

Live Resin

Usually what happens once a plant has been fully matured and harvested is that the buds are dried and cured. This allows for the chlorophyll to break down and get rid of the moisture, meaning that your final buds are flavorful and won’t be so prone to mold or other types of infection. It also gives the cannabis more time to convert cannabinoids into THCA – the acidic precursor to THC. Most of the extraction methods above utilize “dead” resin.

Get Free Guide To Cannabis Expiration

With live resin, the drying and curing process is avoided entirely. Instead, freshly harvested cannabis is frozen to a subcritical temperature prior to and throughout the extraction process. During drying and curing, trichomes are also subjected to adverse conditions such as increased exposure to heat, oxygen, and light, and physical agitation, which all can degrade terpenes. Freezing the plant immediately after harvest retains the plant’s terpene profile.

Live resin is typically sticky and a dark yellow color. It is a more malleable concentrate, sitting somewhere between a sauce and a wax—not too wet and not quite like taffy. Some live resins may have a runny consistency and some may be more solid or waxy. Live resin is noted for its particularly high terpene content.

Are Drinks, Edibles and Tinctures/Canna Oils Types of Cannabis Concentrate?

Not really, no. It would be more accurate to call these types of product “infusions”, as they use raw cannabis flower or concentrate to be dispersed into a product. A lot of people get confused, and as these methods of ingestion also produce potent effects, many think of them as concentrates as well. Concentrates may also be used to make edibles. However, as the cannabinoids are meant to be evenly dispersed throughout a product rather than concentrating it into a smaller product, edibles and canna oils/tinctures cannot be said to be cannabis concentrates.

Canna oil.

Making Cannabis Concentrates Simple

Essentially, concentrates are named according to: the amount of plant matter they contain; the methodology used to make them; and what they look & feel like at room temperature. If we were to break it down into broad, basic types, there’s hash, hash oil and rosin. All other terms are basically just variations of one of these three! Which you prefer is simply a matter of personal preference.

Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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