There are many kinds of cannabis concentrates. They come in various colors and consistencies and go by many names. What ties them together, however, is that every concentrate was crafted with the goal of perfectly separating trichomes from the dried botanical matter of the cannabis plant.
Trichomes are a small mushroom-shaped outgrowth on a plant which contains the highest concentration of THC, CBD, and other valuable compounds. When a solvent, pressure, or temperature of dry or fresh cannabis flowers is altered the essential oils of the plant separate from the dry leaves and flowers.
For beginners who are interested in cannabis concentrates, it’s important to learn about a few of the methods and uses for them before buying. Sometimes, the names of concentrate products are differentiated by the method used for making them, but other times it’s a reference to the consistency of the concentrate.
Kief & Dry Sift
Kief is made when trichomes are removed from dried weed using pressure and grinding. The first method is to use a grinder with a kief catcher to grind flower or cannabis nugs before smoking or vaping them. The grinder method is typically for personal use — for a large scale cannabis farm, a pollen box can help speed up the kief workflow. The last way to make kief is with dry ice, a product that freezes the trichomes off of the plant.
Dry sift is a process that also separates trichome heads from the plant, but this is a more methodical approach. This type of hashish is made with a series of different sized screens and hand sifting that gently slice the trichomes off into the bucket below.
Once kief and dry sift are made they can be put on top of bowls or sprinkled into joints for extra potency. These cannabis concentrates can also be decarboxylated and added to culinary delights.
Submitting cannabis flowers to water and agitation will create bubble hash, an artisanal concentrate. Like making kief, bubble hash can be made safely at home. To craft bubble hash, cannabis flowers must be submerged in water and then agitated. This can be done with a bucket and a spatula, a hand mixer commonly used to mix cake batter or a miniature washing machine made for camping or tiny living.
Bubble hash is made by placing the cannabis into buckets of ice-cold water and agitating it to knock the trichomes off of the flower. Then the water is separated from the now wet cannabis into variously sized micron bubble bags meant to slowly separate the hash from the water. At the end of the laborious process, there will be some bubble hash to scrape out of the final bag. Once finished, bubble hash can be used just like kief but is often more potent.
This type of extract uses hydrocarbons as a solvent and requires expensive, safety-tested machinery. The process of extracting oil with hydrocarbons is dangerous outside of an industrial laboratory since the gasses are highly combustible. While butane, propane, and ethanol are the most prominent hydrocarbons, many extractors use a proprietary blend of various solvents.
To explain the process in the simplest terms, these extracts are made by putting dry cannabis into a column and then adding the hydrocarbons before heat and/or pressure is applied. The process of closed-loop extraction, a hydrocarbon method in which butane is purged out within the collection pot, will manipulate the temperatures in order to separate the desirable cannabis oils from the solvents. This process can make products of many names — from shatter to budder, crumble to oil. Distillates can also be crafted with hydrocarbon extraction.
This is also the method for live resin extractions, but this high-end wax is differentiated by the start materials used. With shatters and crumbles, the cannabis its made from is already dried and cured, whereas live resin uses weed that is freshly plucked from the plant and sometimes flash-frozen before use.
Similar to the hydrocarbon process, CO2 extraction uses a solvent along with a blend of temperature and pressure to extract the compounds from the plant matter. It is often referred to as supercritical extraction because the solvent, CO2, is taken to a supercritical temperature and pressure to bring it to its fluid state. Once in this state, it is passed through the cannabis flower where it dissolves the trichome membrane and captures the oil.
The benefits of CO2 extraction as compared to other methods are widely debated in the extract community, but some prefer this solvent because of the ability to finely tune which cannabinoids or terpenes to isolate based on the temperature and pressure. Isolates and distillates can both be made with this process. There are some dab products made using this method, but it’s most widely used for edible oils and vape cartridges.
Making rosin is gaining popularity because it doesn’t use a solvent at all, it’s made with a combination of heat and pressure. When rosin methods were still being developed, people made it at home one nugget of weed at a time with a hair straightener. Now there are industrial rosin presses that use the same basic idea, take two heated plates lined with parchment and squish cannabis flowers until they release beautiful golden rosin. Once extracted it is generally used in a dab rig but can be smeared on papers for rolling infused joints as well.
The world of cannabis concentrates can be overwhelming to a beginner, but learning the basic concepts of how solvents and extraction work is smart for a consumer. Knowing about kief, dry sift, hydrocarbons, CO2, and rosin is a good scope from which to start.