Cannabis concentrates offer users high potency, flavor, and aroma in a concentrated form, but how are they made? How is cannabis plant material made into concentrated resin that can be used to produce vape cartridges, edibles, topicals, and other infused products?
Cannabis concentrates can be made using various extraction methods, each with its pros and cons, but all produce a potent concentrate product that can be more cost-effective, easy to use, and discreet than traditional flower products.
What Are Cannabis Concentrates?
Cannabis concentrates are concentrated forms of the cannabis plant resin. Cannabis resin is a collection of trichomes, the mushroom-like glands found primarily on the plant’s flowers, but can also be found on its leaves and stems. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds are found in the trichomes.
In cannabis flower, potency levels can range between below 1 and up to 30+ percent, while cannabis concentrate potency levels start at about 50 percent and can reach up to 99.9 percent in some cases. In short, concentrates offer greater and long-lasting relief for users, although they come with a higher risk of adverse effects from overconsumption due to the higher potency.
Different Types of Cannabis Concentrates
In the cannabis extract market, consumers have a wide range of product types to choose from, each with its own consistency, color, potency, and chemical profile. Concentrates also differ in their production method (solventless or solvent-based).
Some concentrates even have higher-than-average concentrations of terpenes. High-terpene full-spectrum extracts (HTFSEs) are pure forms of cannabis resin that contain between 13 to 40 percent terpene levels, significantly higher than other cannabis extracts.
One thing to keep note of, there are no official or legal classifications for all these terms. These terms are loosely used in the industry to generally describe a product but there are no uniform standards that have been officially put in place.
Cannabis shatter is an extract with a brittle and hard consistency due to its high levels of cannabinoids and low levels of terpenes. It also has a translucent amber color. Shatter is usually made with hydrocarbon extraction.
Crumble is known for its dry and crumbly consistency. Crumble has a similar production process to shatter but undergoes a vacuum purge under lower temperatures, which leads to its dry and honeycomb-like appearance.
Budder has a creamy and buttery consistency and a light golden hue. Budder can be made with chemical solvents or in a rosin press. budder undergoes a whipping process before being purged for residual solvents in a vacuum oven.
Pull ‘n’ Snap
Pull ‘n’ snap is a cannabis extract made using hydrocarbon solvents. It’s a type of shatter which contains a bit more terpenes, allowing it to be a little more malleable than classic shatter.
Rick Simpson Oil
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is an unrefined cannabis extract made using ethanol. Cannabis plants are submerged in ethanol and agitated to remove the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other essential compounds.
Live resin is made from fresh-frozen cannabis flowers. Fresh-frozen cannabis can preserve the plant’s live/uncured terpenes better than dried cannabis. Hydrocarbons are used to preserve the most amount of terpenes possible. Live resin products can contain 4-12+ percent terpenes.
For those who want the highest terpene content, terp sauce consists of liquid terpenes and THCa crystals. Terp sauce and terpsolate are made using fresh-frozen cannabis flower and hydrocarbons. After extraction, the extract goes through a low heat purge to preserve its terpenes. Then, the cannabinoid crystals naturally separate from the terpene “sauce” to create a terpsolate.
Cannabis distillate is a mostly odorless and tasteless cannabis oil featuring high levels of one cannabinoid, typically THC or CBD. Distillate is an oil made using a distillation process to remove the impurities and produce an oil with over 80 percent cannabinoids. Distillates may also have re-introduced terpenes in the end product.
Cannabinoid isolates are pure versions of CBD or THCA. CBD isolate is made using supercritical CO2, ethanol extraction processes, or other processes. Then, the crude oil is winterized to remove the fats, lipids, and waxes.
The winterized oil is distilled in a short path or wiped film unit to remove terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds. Crystallization methods use solvents to turn the CBD distillate into a CBD isolate. The isolate is then purged to remove everything but the cannabinoid.
THCA isolates are made using cannabis and hydrocarbon solvents. After extraction, the extract undergoes a light purging process to remove the residual solvent from the end product. Over time, the crystalline “diamonds” form and separate from the liquid terpenes. Solvents can be used to speed up the crystallization process.
Kief are trichomes collected from dried cannabis plant material. Kief can be made using a dry sifting process that involves rubbing cannabis plant material over various mesh screens.
Hash is compressed kief made using dry sifting techniques or ice water extraction. Hash can be compressed into a slab or ball.
Bubble hash is made using an ice water extraction technique. Cannabis flower is agitated in an ice-cold bath to separate the trichomes/kief. The separated trichomes fall through the bubble bags, are collected, and compressed into hash.
Rosin is made using a rosin press that compresses the material and squeezes the resinous oils from the plant. Live rosin compresses bubble hash made from fresh-frozen material.
Solvent-Based Extraction Methods
Solvent extraction methods use solvents like hydrocarbons, ethanol, or supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) to dissolve resin from the plant material (biomass). In a closed-loop extraction system, solvent is pumped through a vessel packed with biomass (frozen or dried), and the solvent strips various compounds from the plant, mainly cannabinoids and terpenes, which are then pumped into a collection vessel.
Solvent recovery and recycling systems enable cannabis processors to recover and reuse most of the solvent again. Solvents used in the run pass through a condenser, which converts the solvent back into a liquid, so it can be moved into the solvent vessel.
Crude oil from the extraction run can undergo a purging process to remove residual solvents from the end product. In a vacuum chamber, the reduced atmospheric pressure reduces the temperature needed to reach the boiling point of solvents. Working at lower temperatures removes the solvent but not the cannabinoids and terpenes.
One of the most effective cannabis extraction methods uses hydrocarbons like butane or propane alone or as a solvent blend, usually a 70/30 butane and propane blend. Hydrocarbon extraction, known as butane hash oil (BHO) extraction, operates at higher pressures and lower temperatures due to the solvents’ relatively low boiling points.
Butane’s boiling point is 31.1º F, and propane’s boiling point is -46.3º F.. This results in high-terpene full-spectrum extracts such as terp sauce, featuring a high concentration of liquid terpenes and “diamond” cannabinoids.
While the butane extraction process poses some safety hazards due to the flammable and explosive chemicals, commercial facilities follow strict safety protocols and use technologies such as gas detection systems, ventilation, and automated extractors to reduce the risk of an explosion and remove workers out of the extraction room.
Hydrocarbon extraction is the gold standard in full-spectrum cannabis oil production. Butane and propane can better preserve the plant’s terpenes and other volatile compounds that can get lost in other extraction processes. BHO extraction can produce shatter, crumble, wax, live resin, terp sauce, distillate, and so much more.
Ethanol is a volatile, colorless, and flammable liquid commonly used in alcoholic beverages and as a solvent in high-volume hemp extraction. Ethanol extraction systems pass room-temperature or chilled ethanol through a biomass vessel to dissolve the organic compounds from the plant. After extraction, the solvent is removed using an evaporator system and recycled for reuse.
Ethanol may be able to produce hemp-derived CBD extracts at a high volume at a fast rate but can also end up pulling out a higher-than-normal chlorophyll and other undesirable compounds. Ethanol’s polarity means it binds well to water-soluble compounds in cannabis plants. This can produce a product requiring additional filtration of its impurities.
At home, users can even make their own cannabis extracts using a quick wash ethanol technique (QWET). In this technique, decarbed cannabis buds are completely submerged in ethanol in a jar and shaken to separate the trichomes from the cannabis flower. After a few hours or several weeks, users can filter the oil from the plant material and evaporate the alcohol to create a tincture.
Cannabis distillates and isolates produced from ethanol extraction are the base for many of the industry’s most popular edible, tincture, capsule, and topical products.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
This extraction method is considered a non-toxic and environmentally-friendly technique compared to hydrocarbon extraction since it does not leave residue in the end product and does not require fossil fuels.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is heated above 87.8º F at pressures above 1071 psi. The gas then converts into a supercritical fluid with the properties of a liquid and a gas. Its gaseous trait allows it to diffuse throughout the vessel, while the liquid characteristics help the solvent saturate the plant and dissolve the cannabinoids and terpenes.
After separating the compounds from the marijuana plant material, the solvent is removed from the mixture. A condenser converts the solvent into a liquid and recycles it for later use. The crude oil requires winterization and distillation for refinement and removal of undesirable compounds.
Subcritical CO2 extraction is a similar technique requiring lower temperatures and pressures than the supercritical extraction process. In this environment, the more volatile terpene compounds can be preserved.
Concentrates made with supercritical CO2 extraction may be preferred by some consumers who still want the convenience and potency of solvent-based extracts without the risk of consuming residual solvents.
Solventless Extraction Methods
Cannabis extraction does not always require the use of solvents to strip the compounds from the biomass. Solventless extraction methods do not require chemical solvents. They use agitation and high temperatures and pressures to remove the resin from the plant.
Dry sift, also known as kief, is a concentrate made from dried trichomes. Dry sifting cannabis buds involves rubbing the flowers against a fine mesh screen. The friction involved separates the trichomes from the plant material. Dry sift has a powdery consistency and contains the plant’s most active compounds.
Dry sifting requires a series of mesh screens wrapped around wooden frames and stacked on top of each other. As the buds are rubbed on the screens, the trichomes pass through each screen for additional refinement. Dry sift kief can be collected and pressed into a hash ball or slab. Kief can also be used to top off bowls or increase the potency of joints.
One of the simplest ways users at home can create cannabis concentrates is investing in a multiple-chamber grinder. When it is used to grind cannabis buds, the kief can fall through the screen in the middle and collect in the bottom chamber.
Ice Water/Bubble Hash Extraction
Ice water extraction uses a series of mesh bags set over a bucket filled with ice and water. The cannabis material is submerged in the ice-cold water and stirred to remove the trichomes from the plant material. As the trichomes break off, they fall through the “bubble bags” and are collected to produce full-melt bubble hash.
Rosin presses use low pressures and heat to compress the plant material (buds or kief) and squeeze the viscous resin material. In some cases, rosin can be made from bubble hash produced from fresh-frozen buds to produce live rosin. “Live” products are known for having a better aroma and flavor.
At home, cannabis users can make their own concentrate from cannabis buds using a hair straightener on low heat and some parchment paper. Buds folded between parchment paper can be pressed between the hair straightener to release its natural oils.
Choosing the Right Cannabis Extraction Method
Cannabis consumers can choose from a variety of cannabis concentrates and extraction processes. Knowing how each concentrate type is made can help consumers decide on the best cannabis concentrate. Do they prefer a higher potency? Are they looking for a better smell and taste? Are they scared of residual solvents?
For example, health and wellness consumers may gravitate toward solventless extraction techniques that avoid using solvents to create concentrates. While solvent extracts in the legal market are tested for unsafe residual solvent levels, many consumers may have peace of mind sticking with solventless concentrates or even CO2 extracts.
Consumers who do not want to experience the intoxicating effects of THC may opt for CBD isolate and distillate products, usually made with alcohol extractions. Consumers who appreciate terpenes may turn to hydrocarbon extracts such as live resin and terp sauce, which contain higher terpene levels.
As extraction technologies improve, consumers will have a greater choice in cannabis extracts and more education to make a more informed decision. In today’s market, there is an extract for every cannabis consumer.
Media Bros – Color Remediation at its Finest
Cannabis extraction has come a long way from its homegrown roots. Commercial facilities must now maintain safe working environments and produce high volumes of cannabis oil to compete in the fast-growing market.
For processors looking to gain a competitive edge, Media Bros’ color remediation filter media and hardware can elevate any biomass quality into a more pure and lighter-colored cannabis oil without sacrificing quality. Cannabis extracts just got a whole lot better.