Smoking, dabbing, and vaping concentrates has become a main way of consuming cannabis. But what are these different concentrates on the market, like shatter, wax, butter, and resin, and how are they different from each other?
Cannabis concentrates can be found on dispensary shelves, boasting names like shatter, butter, wax, resin, and more. Any specific cannabinoid can be concentrated, so regardless of whether you’re looking for delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC, delta 10, THC-O, THCV, CBG, or something else, it can be found in concentrate form. This is great for delta-8 THC users, because it allows a concentrated form of this alternate form of THC which doesn’t cause anxiety like half-brother delta-9, and which leaves users with a clear head and energy, while having a similar medical profile. We’ve got great deals for delta-8 THC and many other compounds, so take a look, and try ’em out!
Extracts vs concentrates?
A concentrate is sort of what it sounds like, a concentrated form of something. Before getting further into it, though, it’s best to do some quick definitions in order to understand what we’re speaking of. The terms ‘concentrates’ and ‘extracts’ are used almost synonymously, and though sometimes this makes sense, sometimes it does not. So, for the sake of clarity, here are the two basic definitions.
Extract: This is anything that has been taken out of the cannabis plant. A cannabis flower is a flower, not an extract, but when the plant is put in alcohol to leach out the THC or CBD, those compounds that get taken out, are extracts of the plant.
Concentrate: This is an extract that has been put in concentrated form. So let’s say a plant naturally has about 20% THC. If you smoke the plant you’ll get that 20%. However, if you extract the THC out into a product that now doesn’t have the rest of the plant, the THC is concentrated to account for maybe as high as 90%+, making it a concentrate. You can kind of look at it like this, all concentrates are extracts, but not all extracts are concentrates.
Taking a minor cannabinoid like CBN is a good example. You can do an extraction, like a tincture, where different compounds from the plant are leached out into the alcohol. If it’s just a regular extraction, the amount of CBN will be low, since it doesn’t exist in large quantities in the plant. If it’s <1% of the plant, the ratio of it to other compounds will remain the same in the tincture. However, if you’re looking specifically for a CBN product, you might want to find a concentrated form, where the CBN has been leached out, and then separated from the rest of the compounds, making for a concentrated version of just that cannabinoid.
Sometimes this means taking the CBN from several plants to put together as one concentrate. This is also why synthetization occurs frequently when making cannabis products. CBN doesn’t exist in large amounts, so if enough is wanted to produce a product, it often has to be synthesized in a laboratory to make enough for production. There is currently argument over whether something should be considered a synthetic under this condition.
Another good example is hemp oil vs CBD oil. Hemp oil is made as an extraction of the compounds in a hemp plant. CBD oil is a hemp extraction where the CBD has been concentrated to be above the amount found in the plant in nature.
How are extractions done?
Extractions can be done in different ways. The tincture method, mentioned above, is done with ethanol alcohol usually, although tinctures can also be made with vinegar, oil, glycerin, or even water. Alcohol does the best job of breaking down plant material to release compounds, so it’s often used most for this purpose.
For the kind of extracts we’re talking about in this article, they are usually extracted using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide. Usually butane, though. The plant material is put in the solvent, which breaks down the trichomes which house the cannabinoids inside. The cannabinoids bind directly to the solvent, and by the end of the process, the solvent is burned off with heat, leaving behind a concentrated extraction of cannabinoids. This is often done in a closed loop system:
A closed-loop system is a process that involves devices that can operate automatically to control a process in order to reach a specific result. In an open-loop system, human help is required, closed-loop does not have such a requirement. As per the name, the process involves a circular motion and ends in the same place it begins. For a closed-loop, the plant material starts in one place, goes to another where its soaked with a solvent like butane. Then to another chamber where compounds get released, and then to another chamber where the solvent is heated to burn it off. The remaining solvent filters back to the place it started, ending the loop.
More and more, this is being done as a cold process in order to preserve cannabinoids and terpenes. When done as a cold extraction, the plant material and solvent are both cooled first – sometimes down to cryogenic temperatures in the case of something like live resin. The cooling becomes a part of the closed-loop cycle. In a closed-loop system, the solvent never makes contact with the outside, and this creates a generally safer situation when dealing with flammable solvents. Anytime a solvent like butane or propane is used, it’s a hydrocarbon extraction.
Main concentrates of interest: shatter, wax, BHO, butter, resin…
There are a lot of different names these days to define concentrates. Concentrates have names like shatter, butane hash oil, butter, wax, resin, rosin… So what’s the difference? Sometimes not much at all. In fact, sometimes the difference has more to do with the consistency of the final product than anything else. Here’s a basic breakdown of some of the more popular concentrates currently on dispensary shelves:
Shatter: This concentrate actually looks a bit like glass, which makes the name understandable. It’s generally yellow in color with air bubbles throughout, and a slick, hard texture. It has the appearance that it would literally shatter if you banged it against a hard object. It’s stiffness and shininess are what defines it. Shatter gets its appearance because of the cooling process it goes through. It is purged, heated, and cooled on repeat for no less than 48 hours, which turns the otherwise sticky oil, into a glass-like structure. This can allow for very high THC levels of close to 99%, so the end product is nearly pure cannabinoid.
Wax and butter are the same thing, and can also go by the name batter. Much like the name again, the consistency is creamy-looking, like butter, with a thicker, wetter consistency than shatter. This is a result of actually being whipped, much like butter. The whipping process evaporates out solvents left over, while incorporating in air to give it its nice buttery texture. Depending on how intensely its whipped, the final product can be more dry and crumbly – resembling wax, or less intense which leaves it creamier like butter. Waxes and butters melt very quickly, and are great for dab tools.
Honeycomb is another kind of concentrate, generally made using hydrocarbons as solvents. The only real difference between how shatter and honeycomb are made, is in the purging phase (which is how most of these concentrates get their individual textures). Unlike shatter which is purged, heated, and cooled on repeat, or butter, which is whipped during purging, honeycomb is created by putting the concentrate on a pan in a vacuum, and purged only at low temperature for a long time, allowing it to dry out. This creates a concentrate that can look like a honeycomb, or simply just be dry and crumbly, making it different then concentrates that are wetter and stickier. This is also called crumble, because it can crumble in your hand due to its brittle nature.
Live resin: This one relies on not only using cold temperatures, but using cryogenic temperatures, although the rest of the extraction is similar to the others mentioned, using a closed loop, and a hydrocarbon solvent like propane or butane (or carbon dioxide). The plant material is frozen immediately after harvest, and the solvent is also cooled down to cryogenic temperatures before being put over the cannabis. In this process the matter is still being heated at a point to burn off the solvent, but the rest of the process is done at -292 F. The last step for live resin involves vaporizing out CO2 molecules to lower volatility, which leaves the pure live resin at the end. The end result is a yellow concentrate with a consistency somewhere between liquid oils, and more firm waxes.
One concentrate that does not fit in with the rest, is live rosin. What makes rosin stand out (and it should never be confused with resin – which is a different thing), is that it doesn’t require a solvent, instead using cold and pressure. The term ‘live’ that’s used for both resin and rosin, comes from the idea that both concentrates are made from fresh frozen cannabis, and the processes are done in cold temperatures. This is to preserve as much of the plant material as possible. Some people make rosin in a cheaper way using a hair straightener to smash it together, but the heat in this can ruin plant constituents.
Instead, the real way to make it is to make bubble hash (water hash), which involves an entire process of putting the plant material in successive bags of ice water and using agitation in the cold to remove the plant constituents from the plant. After agitation, there is a layer of golden trichomes that have come off the plant. These are washed off at the end to cleanse away impurities, left to dry on a filter screen, and then scraped off with something like a butter knife. This ice wax is then smashed through a filter in low temperatures, and the result, which is pushed through the filter, is a nearly pure concentrate. Rosin comes out looking smooth and oily, kind of like honey. One gram of good quality rosin can go for over $100.
One name that should be very well known, is BHO, or butane hash oil. This is not a specific type of concentrate, but rather refers to all the concentrates that can be made using butane as a solvent. This term often gets used in place of the more specific concentrate names, but is not specific to anything else, other than the processing solvent. Similarly, when the term ‘CO2 oil’ is used, it refers to concentrates made using carbon dioxide as a solvent. The same concentrates can be made by using either butane or carbon dioxide, so if you want shatter, wax, resin, or whatever else, it doesn’t have to be made with a hydrocarbon.
A supercritical CO2 extraction is when carbon dioxide is compressed beyond its ‘critical point’. A critical point is a term used in thermodynamics to describe, in the case of CO2, when its being held at, or above, its critical temperature and pressure point, which allows it to stay somewhere in between a liquid and a gas. At natural temperature and pressure, CO2 is a gas, and when frozen, its dry ice. In its supercritical state it has properties of both a gas and a liquid.
For a CO2 supercritical extraction, the CO2 is compressed to its supercritical liquid form, which is put on cannabis to strip away the cannabinoids and terpenes. The CO2 is then re-pressurized to turn back into a gas, at which point everything it stripped from the plant is left and the CO2 is gone. It’s like if there was stuff stuck in ice, and then the ice melted completed, leaving only what it had been holding onto. This kind of extraction has a couple benefits. The CO2 can be pressurized at temperatures that don’t ruin plant material, and when it reverts back to a gas, it does so without leaving any kind of contamination on the product, making for a cleaner extraction process than using hydrocarbons like butane. It also will not decarboxylate material in the process of extraction.
One of the great uses of a CO2 supercritical extraction is to make an isolate. An isolate is one of the purer forms of concentrate because in the process of making it, all the other plant materials are burned out, which means isolates actually have no smell, color, or flavor. Isolates can be made in several ways, the best of which is with a CO2 supercritical extraction. A less expensive way to make an isolate is with ethanol. Ethanol works well and is safe, but will also pull out more from the plant than just cannabinoids, requiring other techniques to clean out the rest. Yet another way is to use a solvent like pentane. Regardless of how it’s done, the final product is a crystalline powder, which is about the most pure form of CBD or THC possible to get, with no other plant material there.
If necessary, after the initial extraction, the extracted material is winterized – or soaked in alcohol and frozen to separate out cannabinoids from other residual plant matter. This is necessary after an ethanol extraction since plant materials are included in the extracted material. The idea of an isolate is that it will be just one cannabinoid in crystalized form. This is separate from a distillate, which is rich in one specific cannabinoid, but which contains other cannabinoids to include the entourage effect.
There are a ton of different cannabis concentrates on the market that include names like shatter, butter, wax, resin and so on. Depending on what’s important to you, and what you’re looking for, there is sure to be a concentrate that meets your needs.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.