A Handy Guide to the Various Types of Cannabis Extracts!
In the seemingly endless quest for stronger pot, extracts have become the new rage, attracting customers for their incredibly high potency. The origins of cannabis extracts stem from hash made in Afghanistan several centuries ago. Some modern extracts claim be pure THC, testing at over 99% purity (known as isolates), while most extracts will range between 60-80% THC, with the remainder being a mix of terpenes, fats, lipids, and other organic compounds found in the cannabis plant.
Often, extracts are categorized by consistency, which can include shatter, budder, pull n’ snap, wax, sugar, oil, and many others. Shatter is typically a rich amber color and has no malleability at room temperature. When bent, shatter will break into fragments much like hard candy. “Pull n’ snap” is a name given to a popular form of extract that is similar in texture to a hard taffy; gooey enough to be stretched but solid enough to snap when pulled apart. Wax, sometimes referred to as crumble or, less glamorously, “earwax,” is preferred by those who aren’t using a dabber, since it has the least sticky texture and can typically be held by hand. Sugar is most commonly a crystalline soup. It’s wet enough to be more viscous than other textures, but the defining characteristic of sugar are the granules of trichomes that are visible amidst the oily substance. Oil is the soupiest of the selection, it will typically “run” and has the most liquid and viscous texture of any extract. Typically CO2 extracts will result in a more viscous “oil”-like consistency.
Extracts, also referred to as concentrates or “dabs,” are typically extracted with a solvent. Butane, Propane, CO2, and ethanol are the four most common solvents; each will result in a slightly different texture and consistency. This article will outline the primary solvents used to make extracts, and how they affect the resulting oil.
BHO (Butane Hash Oil)
BHO is one of the most common extracts because of its relatively high potency and the variety of consistencies it can create. Most often, producers will utilize a “closed-loop” extraction method, meaning the butane is recycled back into the original container after extraction. This method is highly efficient and economical, making butane a popular solvent selection for producing large quantities of concentrate. BHO is almost impossible to recognize by sight, because the resulting extract can take virtually any of the aforementioned textures depending on the starting material, and other factors like purging method, the amount of pressure used to strip the starting material, and so forth. Butane extracts are known for having a high terpene content, attracting users who are looking for a tasty and aromatic dab!
PHO (Propane Hash Oil)
PHO is comparable to BHO, except the resulting consistency will often resemble a “budder,” which is the smoothest and creamiest (albeit least shelf-stable) form of extract. Propane strips cannabis of its essential compounds at a higher pressure than butane, which results in a different ratio of cannabinoids to terpenes, and other compounds. The pros and cons of propane versus butane are frequently debated, but it seems to mostly reduce to personal preference.
CO2 extracts are quickly rising in popularity, mostly because it’s very easy to dissolve all of the original solvent out of the finished product. CO2 has the lowest boiling point of any solvent mentioned thus far. Extracts used in edibles or vaporizer cartridges are most commonly CO2. The trade-off for the purity and potency of CO2 is that the solvent usually strips fewer terpenes and flavorful compounds from the plant, often giving the oil a less vibrant taste. Also, the liquidity of the final substance is off-putting to those who prefer a firmer texture. Still, the potency, cleanliness, and versatility of CO2 substantiate this solvent as a preference for many dab enthusiasts.
Alcohol extractions were the original method used to create edible extracts, such as tinctures or RSO (Rick Simpson Oil – a type of edible concentrate). The alcohol strips the cannabis material of its cannabinoids and terpenes in a matter of seconds. However, with this extraction method there will typically be a higher amount of chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives plants their green pigmentation, as well as undesired fats and lipids. For this reason, alcohol extractions are typically consumed as an edible, because the residual compounds are known to have several health benefits when ingested, but lend to a harsher smoke.
In addition to concentrates that are made using a chemical solvent, there are other methods of extracting the compounds of the cannabis plant that are solvent-free. The most common of which is dry sift, sometimes referred to a “keif” or “dust.” Dry sift is made by simply rubbing the outwardly visible trichomes from the cannabis bud. This type of extract is essentially just a finely ground powder of cannabis with the most intoxicating constituents (THC and other cannabinoids) being most prevalent. Sift cannot be dabbed like other forms of extracts, but it works best when added to dry flower and smoked or vaporized.
Rosin is the chosen method for those who want to safely make their own extracts at home. The only solvent used in this method is heat, which makes for a clean and safe finished product that does not require purging. Most commonly, a bud will be wrapped in wax paper, where a hair straightener or other hot object presses the essential oil out of the nug. While this method isn’t the most efficient, the resulting extract can easily exceed 60% total cannabinoids, and the ease of this method is appealing to many DIY extractors.
The process of “purging” a finished extract is vital to meet the standards for a sellable product. In order for any extract to be sold in the Washington State market, it must be tested to ensure the original solvent does not exceed 500 PPM (parts per million) of a gas or original solvent. This extremely stringent requirement ensures the user is consuming no more butane in a dab than would be inhaled from a bic lighter when lighting a joint. In order to meet this requirement, processors will use a variety of techniques, primarily vacuum suction, heat, or stirring to evaporate as much of the gaseous solvent as possible.
Despite being a controversial way to get high, dabs are growing in popularity every year, and provide seasoned smokers with a reliable means of surpassing a tolerance to cannabis flower. Awareness to the potential risks and dangers of producing, processing, and consuming extracts has given rise to stringent testing requirements that prevent contaminated or unsafe extracts from being sold on the recreational and medical market. Bearing this in mind, the most dangerous part of vaporizing dabs is the tremendous potency and possibility of getting too high! Therefore it’s recommended to start small, very small, and work your way up with patience.