From Soil to Oil
How Concentrates are Made!
Concentrates have been rising to significant popularity over the last few decades. Cannabis concentrates are substances in which the cannabinoids and terpenes have been isolated from the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids and terpenes contain all the things we love about cannabis – effects and flavors and aromas oh my! Despite the continuously growing selection of concentrate options, the process of creating a cannabis concentrate starts like any other form of cannabis – with the plant!
Cannabis plants intended for concentrate production are grown slightly differently than other cannabis plants. The goal is for the plant to produce a lot of trichomes – these are the small crystals that form on the buds containing all the cannabinoids and terpenes. The best plants for concentrates produce large trichome heads resulting in more oil and more flavorful concentrates. In order to produce a concentrate without solvent, the large trichomes are especially important.
Flower tends to produce more and bigger trichomes when grown in a climate controlled environment with complete organic soils and no pesticides. Some growers practice lowering the temperature in the grow room right before harvest. This is thought to cause flower to produce even more trichomes in order to protect itself. From here, there are two different ways to move forward before terpene extraction.
- Freezing the flower without curing prevents the breakdown of terpenes and cannabinoids which can more fully capture the profile of the strain.
- If concentrate extraction is not the end goal (or you are undecided with your own home-grow!), it’s always safe to dry and cure plants to protect the trichomes.
Once the flower is ready, there are two options for extraction. First, the mechanical or physical separation process uses pressure and/or action rather than solvents to remove the trichomes. Second, the chemical extraction process uses solvents to dissolve the trichomes from the plant.
For any live concentrate like live resin, the trichomes are extracted from a fresh plant that is flash-frozen to preserve the full flavor profile of the plant. Otherwise, concentrates are extracted from plants that are dried and cured before starting the extraction process.
To separate trichomes through mechanical separation processes, methods of centrifugal action, gravity separation, and filtration are used. Three different techniques can be used for mechanical separation:
Sieving: The ground plant is sieved through a screen by hand or with a mechanical tumbler equipped with screens to remove exposed trichomes resulting in kief.
Ice-water method: Plant materials, water and ice are combined in a vessel and agitated until the trichomes break away from the plant and sink to the bottom often resulting in bubble hash (it bubbles when burned!)
Cold and warm press methods: This process results in rosin by using heat and pressure to remove the terpenes and cannabinoids from the flower. Extreme pressure is applied until resin is excreted from the plant.
Solvent-based extraction is the most efficient way to remove trichomes. The liquid form of solvents essentially “wash” the plants of the terpenes and cannabinoids. Solvents with low boiling points are ideal in order to boil off the solvent while maintaining the full spectrum of compounds found in the trichomes. Solvent-based extraction happens under fairly low pressures and temperature. There are a number of solvents that can be used for extraction. Two of the most commonly used solvents are butane and carbon dioxide.
Butane: Butane is best for stripping all cannabis compounds from the trichomes.
Carbon dioxide: CO2 is a more selective solvent used for extracting selective terpenes and cannabinoids. Repeatedly passing CO2 through the plant material in a closed-loop system will typically extract all of the cannabinoids.
No matter what solvent is used, all concentrates will need to go through a “purging” process to remove the chemicals before you can consume it. Different “post-processing techniques” result in the various forms like budder or diamonds that you see on the shelf today!
All of that work leads up to getting your favorite concentrate into your hands. Concentrates come in varying consistencies like diamonds, badder, sauces and live resin. Once you get into concentrates, you tend to find your favorite. From shatter to sugar and everything in between (hello, live caviar?!), there are so many options for you to find what works for you. Head to PotGuides for more info on consistencies, extraction, consumption methods and more!
Methods of Consumption
Concentrates can be consumed in a variety of ways. Cartridges or “vape” pens, nectar collectors, and dab rigs are the most common forms of concentrate consumption.
- Vape pens are made up of a battery and a cartridge. Most cartridges are filled with a distillate oil. However, live resin, rosin and sauce cartridges are becoming more common. A vaporizer is probably the easiest, most convenient and most discreet way to consume cannabis (outside of eating an edible). Additionally, inhaling vapor that is temperature controlled through electricity can cause fewer respiratory issues than methods that rely on combustion. With vaporization happening at a lower temperature, the user can inhale more cannabinoids while avoiding higher quantities of carcinogens that come from smoking. Keep an eye out for a future post all about vape pens and cartridges!
- If you are ready to graduate from a vape pen but not quite ready to invest in the entire dab rig set-up, a nectar collector is the next best step! A nectar collector consists of a silicone or glass straw; a tip usually made of titanium or quartz; a silicone or glass dish as a receptacle for dabs; and a water chamber. The tip of the nectar collector differs from a dab rig in that the tip is heated with a torch, then touched to the concentrate and inhaled through the mouthpiece. Electronic nectar collectors are also available to avoid having to use a torch. The perks of a nectar collector include portability, simplicity and reduction of waste of concentrates.
- A dab rig is a glass chamber similar to a bong. Where a bowl would be on a bong, you’ll find a “banger” or “nail”, usually made of glass, titanium or ceramic. Once the concentrate is added to the nail, a butane torch is used to heat the nail which vaporizes the concentrate. The vapor is inhaled through the mouthpiece, just like a bong. Dabbing has risen to popularity as it provides a more immediate, potent effect with stronger terpene-rich flavors. Head to Weedmaps for a more detailed step-by-step guide to dabbing!