What are Cannabis Concentrates: A Guide to Extraction Techniques

You have probably heard about dabs, and maybe someone vaguely explained to you how concentrates are made at one point, but you’re still a little fuzzy on the specifics. We’re here to help!

Think of cannabis concentrates as an isolation (or distillation) of the beneficial cannabis compounds from the plant – the goal being a pure, therapeutic combination of cannabinoids and terpenes without excess plant material.

In layman’s terms, this means your final product is 90-100% THC, whereas cannabis flower is more like 15-20% THC. This concentration of beneficial compounds allows the user to consume a far smaller volume to achieve the same effects. This article discusses the different extraction techniques used to make cannabis concentrates.

Types of Concentrates:  The Very Basics

Cannabis concentrates can be divided into two main categories: solvent and solventless extractions. A solvent is a substance that dissolves a solid, resulting in a liquid solution. When we talk about cannabis concentrates, popular solvents include: butane, propane, CO2, and alcohol.

Although water is technically a solvent (“the universal solvent,” if you remember your high school chemistry class), ice-water extractions are typically classified as non-solvent extractions in the cannabis world. Solventless extractions do not introduce any foreign substances (except for water).

Budder, Sap, Shatter, Wax… What’s the Difference?

Many people refer to concentrates by their consistency, i.e. shatter, budder or wax. However, the consistency of a concentrate alone does not indicate which extraction technique was used. The same extraction method can deliver a variety of final-product consistencies, depending on a number of factors.

The method of extraction and the starting material is far more important than the concentrate’s final consistency, as there are several variables that manipulate the consistency; some are in control of the extraction artist, while others are not.

The reason for this distinction is that extraction practices dictate the healthiness of the concentrate, while the consistency is largely preference-based from a consumer standpoint.

For instance, many people debate shatter vs. budder; but shatter can be converted to budder by simply whipping the concentrate on a hot plate. Furthermore, you can derive a buddery consistency via BHO, PHO, and CO2 extraction. It’s the solvent (if any) and starting material that matters.

Starting material can range from dry trim to cured buds to fresh frozen whole plants. It’s your responsibility as a thoughtful consumer to inquire from your budtender about the starting material and extraction process used in your favorite concentrate.

 

Solvent-Based Extractions

Solvent-based extractions typically produce concentrates that are known as oil. If made properly, this means the concentrate will be free of plant matter (also known as contaminate). These oils will melt and vaporize to nothing – meaning very minimal residue will remain on the nail if dabbed, for instance.

The consistency of solvent-based cannabis concentrates varies greatly based on a few factors: strain of cannabis, growing conditions, curing environment, extraction technique, the solvent used, purging process and equipment used all play a role in the final product.

 

Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

Cannabis concentrate derived from a butane-based extraction is referred to as Butane Hash Oil or BHO for short. BHO is by far the most popular concentrate of late as a result of its potency and varying consistencies; shatterbuddersapsnap n’ pull, and sugar can all be derived from butane extraction.

Although dangerous to make at home, sophisticated machinery has made commercial production safe and effective. BHO should be produced by a reputable extractor who understands how to properly purge each run to avoid unpleasant aftertaste or harsh residual butane.

Perhaps the best analogy for how it works is an espresso machine: as the water passes through the puck of ground coffee beans, it strips them of their oils (which contain the caffeine, flavor, and aroma) into a filtered, highly concentrated solution. For cannabis, the extractor places plant material in a column with a filtration screen at the end, and as the butane passes through the column it strips the plant material of its cannabinoids and terpenes.

The solution containing both butane and beneficial cannabis compounds is then placed in a vacuum oven in order to evaporate, or purge, the BHO of its butane and any other foreign contaminants.

There is almost always a trace amount of butane in the oil produced by these extractions, so try to minimize your risk by purchasing lab-tested BHO. Some legal states have begun to place maximums on the amount (PPM) of residual solvent allowed in BHO sold in dispensaries. Make sure your oil is properly purged!

How to Purge BHO Oil

Purging BHO Oil can happen in a variety of ways. Typically. people opt to use vacuums to reduce the boiling point of the oil and prevent burning or oxidation. Removing gas from the oil helps to make the dab more enjoyable.

Propane Hash Oil (PHO)

Concentrate derived from a propane-based extraction is referred to as Propane Hash Oil or PHO for short. Although others are possible, the consistency of PHO is typically budder.

The process of propane extraction is very similar to butane extraction, the primary difference is simply swapping butane for propane. Propane extractions run at higher pressures, stripping different ratios of plant waxes and oils than butane which, depending on the strain, can deliver fewer residuals and higher levels of terpene preservation.

Propane has a lower boiling point than butane, which allows for a lower purging temperature for PHO and results in the budderyconsistency as opposed to shatter. Note that some extraction companies utilize a blend of propane and butane.

CO2

CO2 oil is the golden liquid used in almost every pre-filled vaporizer pen cartridge. CO2 oil is substantially safer than propane and butane-derived extracts. CO2 oil is a clean, dab-able product once removed from the extraction machine with no harmful residuals or risk of toxicity.

Another upside to CO2 extractions is that it kills any mold or bacteria present in the plant material. Although safer to consume, in my experience, CO2 oil lacks the flavor profile (terpene content) present in BHO and PHO. CO2 oil is commonly used in edibles and can be purchased in its activated form.

CO2 extractions almost always produce a viscous oil (color can range from amber to dark) that is typically delivered in an oral syringe. However, secondary refining processes can bring CO2 extractions to a stable, shatter-like state.

Supercritical or subcritical carbon dioxide extractions involve holding the CO2 at high or low pressures, respectively; the process involves extremely expensive extraction machines. The CO2 passes through the cannabis material and strips the plant of its oils, waxes and other matter. By adjusting certain parameters, the extractor can save more cannabinoids and terpenes in order to preserve purity or strip more unessential material like chlorophylls to increase yield.

Alcohol

Concentrates can also be created by soaking ground cannabis in alcohol (either isopropyl or Everclear). A short soak is all that is needed to isolate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the starting material. A longer soak will also dissolve undesired plant materials like chlorophylls and waxes.

Alcohol-based concentrates are safe to make at home and are safe to consume, assuming the solution has been filtered and purged. Purging, or evaporating, the alcohol requires precise temperature control and patience.

This type of concentrate, also known as Rick Simpson Oil, is typically consumed orally or via tincture. This type of concentrate is generally purchased for medical application due to its potent cancer-fighting properties, as opposed to recreational use.

Isolate

Distillation, also known as isolation, is a form of extraction and refinement that separates full spectrum plant oil into its individual constituents – meaning you can isolate the THC, CBD, and terpenes individually from a batch of full spectrum oil. This allows the extractor to achieve extremely potent concentrates that only contain one of the many compounds found in the cannabis plant.

Although it is generally accepted that full spectrum extracts provide higher medical efficacy, isolate is useful because it gives people access to specific cannabinoids (like CBD) in higher quantities than can be found in flower. For instance, CBD isolate typically contains 99% CBD, indicating a very pure product.

Another benefit to CBD isolate is that it can be shipped all over the U.S. because it doesn’t contain any THC. As an industrial hemp product, it is federally legal to ship to all fifty states.

Solventless Extractions

Solventless extractions are considered to be the most enjoyable, highest quality, and most unadulterated form of cannabis extracts. Even better, all the solventless extraction techniques can be performed at home with relative ease. With the exception of rosin tech, the goal of solventless extracts is pure glandular trichome head isolation, as the heads contain the coveted cannabinoids and terpenes.

For these reasons, solventless extracts are our recommended and preferred concentrate despite the extra steps needed to press it into dabs. Pure isolated trichome heads in either the dry sift or ice water hash form are known as full melt. The term full melt is used to describe the highest grade of solventless extractions that melt fully, leaving behind little to no residue, indicating very little plant matter in the product.

 

Dry Sift

Dry sift involves using a series of taut silk screens with varying microns to separate the trichome heads from the stalk and plant matter. A micron is a microscopic unit of measurement used to identify the size of the holes in a sifting screen. It is the most natural and unobtrusive way of producing concentrates, but it also happens to be a meticulous process that results in low yields.

For this reason, quality dry sift is difficult to find and extremely expensive, even in legal states, as commercial growers see significantly higher returns on solvent based extractions. Nonetheless, it’s arguably the most flavorful concentrate because it retains the most volatile terpenes and preserves the richest aromas.

There are different grades of dry sift ranging from kief, which contains a mixture of trichome heads, stalks, and plant material to full melt, which contains just the glandular trichome heads. Expert hash makers can ‘clean’ lower grades of dry sift, refining the material further to improve quality.

As the name indicates, full melt dry sift leaves little to no residue when dabbed and is considered to be ultimate connoisseur grade hash. Its starting material is typically of the highest quality, which results in an incredibly pure concentrate that does not introduce any foreign substances during the extraction process. This type of concentrate typically looks like beach sand and can be pressed into a dab-able sheet with light heat and pressure.

Ice Water Hash

Ice water extraction is very similar to dry sift; however, the process incorporates ice and water to break the brittle trichome heads off of the plant material. The agitation can be performed either by hand or with the help of a washing machine.

The solution containing the water and trichomes is then filtered through what is known as a sieve stack, or a series of filtration screens of varying microns. The purpose of the screens is to remove any contaminate (plant material) and to isolate the glandular trichome heads.

The final step in the ice water extraction process is to break down the hash into smaller pieces using a microplane or metal strainer so that it can properly dry. Some commercial hash makers skip this step and opt to utilize a freeze dryer instead. Once the ice water hash is free of moisture, it is typically placed in an air-tight glass jar to cure; the longer the better.

Like dry sift, there are varying grades of ice water hash. Quality ice water extractions also take on the consistency of beach sand and can be pressed into dab-able sheets. Cannabis extracts produced using this technique have a variety of names; bubble hash, ice-o-lator hash, full melt, solventless wax, ice wax, etc.

Rosin Tech

The newest trend in cannabis concentrate production is referred to as the ‘rosin tech’ or ‘solventless hash oil’ (SHO). Rosin is great as it provides consumers a safe alternative for making oils within the comfort of home with easy-to-access starting material: all you need is a cannabis bud. This process utilizes heat and pressure to extract the essential oils from the flower or hash.

The consistency, yield, and flavor profile of rosin will vary based on strain and the specific amount of heat and pressure utilized; but as a general rule of thumb, lower temperatures and higher pressures result in the least adulterated, most terpene-rich extracts. This can be performed using a simple hair straightener, or an industrial press if you’re getting fancy. The rosin tech typically produces a glassy, stable oil that takes on a shattery consistency; but like most concentrates, you can find it in a variety of consistencies.

The rosin tech can also be used to extract the essential oils from lower grades of ice water hash or dry sift; effectively turning your trash into treasure! Depending on the starting material used, the product will be labeled as either ‘flower rosin’ or ‘hash rosin’.

Want to learn more about this new cannabis concentrate process? We have put together detailed instructions on how to make rosin, along with the best ways to consume it.


How to Use BHO Concentrates: Tips for Shatter, Budder, Oil, Wax & Live Resin

Have you ever tried dabbing? We highly recommend it! If you need to buy your first dab rig or dabber check out the Loto Legend for a fully electronic dab rig with the soul of a bong.

In order to get the most from this article, you should have a good grasp of what cannabis concentrates are and how they are made. To briefly summarize, there are two main categories in the concentrate world, solvent, and solventless extractions. Solvent-based extractions utilize potentially hazardous compounds like butane (all the concentrates below are butane-based), propaneCO2, and alcohol; whereas solventless extractions do not introduce foreign substances (except for water).

If you already know what’s going on and your preferences are dialed in, check out our secrets to taking the absolute best tasting dabtwaxing your jointspressing ice water hash and dry sift, or making rosin hash.

BHO has risen in popularity due to its potency, flavor, and variation in consistencies. Nearly all consistencies are possible with butane-based extractions: shatterbuddersapsugarsnap n’ pull, etc – but that does not mean one is better than the other!At the end of the day, the consistency of solvent-based cannabis concentrates varies greatly depending on a range of factors: the particular solvent used, the specific cannabis strain, growing conditions, curing environment, equipment used, purging process, and extraction technique. It is important to note that some of these factors are controllable, while others are not. QUALITY IS RELATIVE!

After copious amounts of trial and error, we’ve discovered some unique tips for how to maximize your butane hash oil (BHO) experience by choosing the right product for your needs. For instance, when dabbing outdoors, it’s easier to handle the budder consistency in a Pebble or other silicone container when loading a vaporizer, as opposed to, say, shatter.

Most of the consistencies listed below can be created with various extraction techniques, but this article will help you find the consistency of BHO that works best for how you like to consume cannabis. Despite the fact that each concentrate is referred to by its consistency, it’s important to understand that they are all the result of the same butane-based extraction technique. Most importantly, no one wants to cough up a lung when smoking or dabbing!

Pro Tip: If you’re going to bother with BHO as opposed to solventless extracts like dry sift and ice water hashlive resin is our recommendation. It’s going to have the best flavor and retain the most enjoyable aroma, making the most of the terpene profile of the cannabis it was extracted from. For tips on how to smoke dabs, click here. If you’re still learning, we recommend purchasing some essential weed accessories and a 420 travel kit in order to improve the experience.

Shatter

As the name suggests, shatter has a hard, smooth, glass-like consistency. This concentrate breaks easily into shards and is often referred to as being ‘stable’. Shatter is typically translucent (for those who place an importance on clarity) and very visually appealing. However, because shatter breaks so easily, it is arguably least forgiving to work with of all consistencies. A simple tap with your dabbermay send shards of concentrate flying across the room!

For this reason, we recommend using shatter in the comfort of your own home, as opposed to on the go, to prevent losing your stash. Many prefer to dab shatter as it can be difficult to load into certain vaporizers, but that’s not to say you can’t vaporize it.

It will be difficult to twax the exterior of a joint or blunt with the brittle concentrate; we suggest putting it inside the joint or blunt during rolling instead. When using shatter for edibles, make sure that you activate the cannabinoids via decarboxylation before combining with oil or butter.

Fun cannabis concentrate fact: shatter concentrates can be converted to budder by simply warming the concentrate on a hot plate, then whipping air into it.

Pro Tip: For easier handling, warm the tip of your dabber before sticking it into the shatter to break off a dab more easily.

  • Best suited for dabbing at home
  • Challenging consistency to handle, not recommended for beginner or outdoor use
  • Shatter shards can be mixed with flower inside joints or blunts before rolling

Budder/Wax

Wax, or budder, refers to cannabis extracts with a creamy, buttery consistency. It is also called crumble or cake batter. The consistency is comparable to soft wax and is much more forgiving to work with than shatter.

Perhaps the only downside to budder is that it is less visually appealing than some other consistencies. Budder can be vapeddabbedtwaxed (inside the joint or blunt), smoked, or used in edibles. Once again, make sure to activate the wax prior to combining with your oil or butter if you’re going to be using it for edibles.

  • Wax is more forgiving and easier to handle while on the go
  • Great consistency for vaporizer pens

Sap

Sap is a term used to describe the soft, viscous, sticky consistency of cannabis concentrates. This consistency is typically pliable, oily, and relatively easy to work with, albeit quite sticky.

We recommend storing sappy concentrates in parchment paper or a non-stick silicone container. Sap maintains the glossy visual appeal of shatter with a more forgiving consistency and is equally suited for use both at home and on the go. It can be dabbed and vaporized with ease, and because sappy extracts are pliable, they are easy to spread around your joints and blunts. Saps can also be incorporated in edibles once decarboxylation has occurred.

  • Sticky, but simple and forgiving consistency
  • Great for twaxing due to its pliability
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor use

Snap N’ Pull

Snap n’ pull refers to concentrates with a consistency somewhere between shatter and sap (the two extremes).  If you’ve ever made hard candies or taffy at home, you might be familiar with the consistency. It can stretch or snap when pulled based on ambient temperature and amount of force used. More abrupt motions will cause the concentrate to fracture, while gentle movements will cause it to stretch.

This is one of our favorite consistencies to work with, as it is visually appealing, manageable to handle, and not quite as sticky as sap. Because snap n’ pull shares qualities of both shatter and sap, it is one of the most versatile consistencies discussed. It is the best consistency for wrapping clean, visually appealing snakes around joints or blunts when twaxing. It could even be turned into budder/wax if desired. It can be consumed inside or outside, in nearly every fashion: dabbedvaporized, smoked, or used in edibles.

  • The middle ground between shatter and sap
  • A very versatile consistency, and our personal favorite to work with
  • The perfect consistency for wrapping snakes around joints or blunts

Live Resin

The ‘sugar’ consistency of live resin is typically achieved when the starting material has some level of moisture present. This is most commonly the result of processing freshly harvested frozen plant material (as opposed to dried and cured buds/trim).

Live resin captures the aromas and flavors present in the living plant immediately after harvest, many of which would be lost in the curing process. Sugary live resin consistencies are visually appealing, easy to work with, and contain high levels of terpenes. However, due to the specialty nature of extracts derived from fresh frozen plant material, live resin is typically the most expensive form of BHO concentrate.

Note that this consistency can also be achieved using the main buds/colas of the plant as opposed to the trim – this is referred to as nug run. Both the live resin and nug run designations indicate the starting material as opposed to the extraction technique or consistency.

  • Live resin captures the unique flavors and aromas of fresh plants
  • Dabbing will deliver maximum flavor and effect
  • It can also be vaped, smoked, twaxed or used in edibles

Bonus: Propane Hash Oil (PHO)

Rising in popularity is the practice of using propane, or a mix of butane and propane, in an effort to create a less toxic and more terpene-rich extract. You will be hard pressed to find PHO in a consistency other than budder or wax; but assuming you don’t mind, PHO can be dabbed, vaporized, twaxed (inside), smoked, or used for edibles and topicals after activation.

  • An extraction technique with the potential for more flavor
  • Because the consistency is usually budder, PHO is great for vaporizer pens
  • Versatile enough for use in any consumption method

The Easiest Way to Make Shatter

We follow the High Times tried and trued method of #rosintech

Follow their step by step guide by grabbing:

  1. A hair iron, some parchment paper and weed are all you need.
  2. Set the iron to medium-low and put your weed in the parchment paper.
  3. Squeeze very hard for a few seconds.
  4. Collect the squeezed-out resin on your dabber.

Travel & Storage

Regardless of consistency, it’s important to store your BHO properly to preserve potency and terpene content. We like to use an air-tight, non-stick silicone container like the Pebble. It also ensures that your shatter doesn’t auto-budder over time. What do you keep in your 420 travel kit? Check out our 10 Essentials for Savvy Stoners here.

Did you know it’s now legal to take a vape pen on a plane? As long as you adhere to the TSA guidelines you can now bring your vape and all your favorite 420 travel kit essentials when traveling!

CBD Dabs – Isolates

Did you know you can achieve the same fast-acting results with CBD dabs?  CBD concentrates and isolates can be used in any dab rig or dabber to provide high doses of pure CBD for intensive symptom relief in minutes. Derived from organic, non-GMO, sustainably-grown hemp and batch-tested for quality, purity, and potency,  CBD isolate is exceptional and effective.