During the last years the marijuana industry has been flooded with new, interesting and potent ways of preparing, refining and extracting the plant's active alkaloids into substances that are taking the weed experience to a whole new level. We are talking about what commonly is referred to as hash oil or dabs. Although the techniques used today are part of a long chain of botanical experimentation which can be traced back to the pre-prohibition era, it is clear that the legalized, accessorized and lucrative weed industry of the United States has lately played a huge role in the possibility of conducting serious and safe laboratory research, leading to some impressive innovations in the industry. These innovations have made a major impact on the European market as well, as oils have become some of the most sought-after products in Dutch coffee shops. To continue to be on top of the scope and properties of these substances we continue to uncover and discover the different forms that these extracts take.
Firstly, by extract, we mean any cannabis oil that concentrates the plant's chemical compounds like THC and CBD. This extraction can be achieved through different techniques, but always maintaining the same principle, which is to separate the terpenes and cannabinoids from the plant material. The result can be a substance that achieves a THC or CBD concentration of up to 80%, as opposed to the average of 15% of weed buds. So please, like always, take care and know your limits. To try to navigate this somewhat nerdy world we will make the first categorization, which is between solvent-based (the main ones used are butane, CO2, ethanol) and solvent-less concentrates. In this article, we will be talking about solvent-based concentrates, and in the near future we will be looking at solvent-less extracts.
Today's hype centers around solvent based extraction. With this technique, active alkaloids are separated from the plant using a solvent, most commonly butane (thus BHO, Butane Hash Oil) which enters into contact with plant material in an extraction tube. Because of butane's low temperature as a gas, it crystallizes the cannabinoids and takes them with it when it drips out of the tube. The resulting liquid is then heated in order to purge, solidify and shape the substance.
Keep in mind that when we talk about these varieties, the techniques and quality of the solvent and thus of the final product can vary greatly. In the cooking phase, the solvent should be evaporated completely. However, if a low-quality butane gas is used, this usually means that there are possible traces of other substances that could not be purged. These residues not only produce a nasty taste in the final product but can also be unsafe and unhealthy. High-quality oils are referred to as full-melt because when heated on a rig or a vape they leave no residue or traces in the bowl. So, perhaps it goes without saying, but trust your dealer, and keep in mind that sometimes it's better to spend a few extra coins in order to get the best possible experience.
The substances that come out of a BHO extraction, usually are divided into two main categories (and many other subcategories), which are separated mostly by their looks and texture. These are shatter and wax.
Generally, shatter is considered the most refined and pure form of cannabis concentrate. It maintains a consistency similar to glass, a transparent, fragile, thin sheet, which explains the name. The transparency of this oil is achieved by avoiding to stir the cooking substance. However, let's remember that this is not a standardized industrial product, and like every recipe, each cook has slightly different ingredients, techniques, equipment. Consequently, there can be many small varieties in how the final product looks. It can be more liquid (“sap”), or more flexible (“pull-and-snap"), etc., but none of these differences imply a lesser quality, but rather are the result of small differences in heat, moisture, the properties of the original plant material etc.
The main difference between wax and shatter is the fact that wax is opaque and has a softer, creamier consistency. This density occurs because the molecules crystallize as a result of stirring the substance while it is in the cooking phase. Just as we saw in the transparent concentrates, there is a whole spectrum of slightly different consistencies that can effect this extract. The very creative cannabis community has obviously found names for all the varieties, which all describe the consistency of the final product: budder (like butter), honeycomb (like honeycomb), crumble (like...ok I won't insult your intelligence).
In the end...it's just the beginning
The cannabis world has been taken by storm in the last years, and these potent concentrates are one of its main battle horses. It is not by coincidence that now all the major Cannabis Cups around the world have opened a new category for these products, and there are those who swear by dabs and oils, having abandoned all raw forms of flower. Although this trend seems here to stay, we are hoping that this will be met by an increasing availability of tests to determine exactly what we are dabbing. These important steps are already being taken in the United States, where the most respectable dispensaries are now able to list all substances in their products. As the markets of legal marijuana sales are opening more and more, we sincerely hope that it will not only be for the profit made from this plant but also for its more safe and enjoyable use.
So inform yourself, find the right tools and enjoy and trust what you put into your beautiful body.