Cannabis Concentrates: A Primer

        Last month, a major holiday in the cannabis world came and went – wait, what? If you’re like most Massachusetts medical cannabis patients, July 10 is a day like most others in the middle of the summer. It’s generally hot and humid; a far throw from the idyllic conditions we’re used to on April 20, when all you’ve usually got to worry about is the gentle breeze blowing out your light. However, to a growing subset of the Massachusetts cannabis community, July 10 is quickly becoming just as (if not more) important than 4/20 on the list of canna-centric holidays.

        So why 7/10? It’s easy – remove the backslash and flip what you’ve got remaining upside down. What does that spell? OIL! As in Hash oil. July 10 is National Dab Day, celebrating everything to do with cannabis concentrates. For many on the east coast, it’s really no wonder they’ve never heard of this holiday, as compared to what’s happening out west, the market seems to still be in its infancy when it comes to canna concentrate products in general.

What are cannabis concentrates, exactly?

        Cannabis concentrates are all made from hash oil which is a concentration of highly potent plant compounds, extracted from cannabis plant material with the focus on extracting cannabinoids and terpenes, the medicinally active substances. There are many methods of extraction, the main difference between the different methods is the choice of preparation. How the hash oil is processed after the extraction determines which type of concentrate it will become. The differences are most apparent in the aesthetics of the final product – despite their similarities in composition. The processes are complex and varied in their scope, but one thing is for sure – the end result is always a superior cannabis experience for the patient.  If you’ve never tried concentrates, or if you’re an active concentrate user who wants to learn more about the products they’re using, take a few minutes and give this a read before your next visit to an INSA dispensary.


        Here at INSA, the hash oil used to create wax is extracted from dried and cured cannabis plant material using a hydrocarbon extraction method. Cannabis wax has a crumbly, almost crusty appearance, that can feature a range of hues spanning from opaque mild beige to brighter yellow-orange colors. Some cultivars, including Incense Haze x Chem, produce a wax that appears bright, vibrant yellow. Others, such as Master Kush, yield a far staider shade, resembling more of a mustard color. Cannabis wax can be consumed using concentrate vaporizers as well as in home units such as dab rigs, nectar collectors and as an addition to a flower mix – wax works great sprinkled on top of your bowl or crumbled into a joint. Compared to its cousin shatter, it tends to be easier to work with as it remains fairly stable regardless of ambient temperature.


        Cannabis shatter is another member of the concentrate family and is very similar to wax in its extraction method and hash oil raw material it is made from. This comes as a surprise to many, as while cannabis wax has a crumbly (like a cookie) texture, shatter has a glassy, translucent consistency that becomes very hard to work with as it warms up. Shatter should be translucent and has a range of shades from amber to light straw gold, as opposed to wax’s opaque matte range of yellows. Shatter gets its name from its snappy brittle consistency, however it’s important to note that if you ever come across anything with more taffy like of a consistency, it’s because it has a very rich terpene profile. These shatters are referred to as pull and snap. The effects of cannabis shatter are close to what you can expect from wax, and shatter is consumed using the same methods. Unlike the wax, cannabis shatter’s consistency is sensitive to temperature, and has a tendency to become sappy and taffy-like when warmed or, in colder environments, more brittle. Due to this characteristic of shatter, it requires more finesse to manipulate effectively.

Live Sugar

        The biggest difference between live sugar and the other concentrates that INSA offers is that it if made from fresh cut cannabis flower and plant material which is then immediately frozen to capture as much of the “LIVE” flower terpene profile as possible. This differs from the dried cured cannabis plant material that is smoked, vaped or used to create other concentrates like wax and shatter. Although the cannabis plant material is frozen and not cured, the hydrocarbon extraction process remains the same, just the parameters of the production/processing change. Live sugar has a granular, or sugar-like texture. It ranges in color from bright golden yellows to deeper oranges. The higher the terpene content, the saucier the granular sugar texture is. It is consumed the same way a patient would use wax or shatter. Live sugar is what many patients say is very smooth when smoked, dabbed or vaped with rich flavors from the higher terpene content.

So how are concentrates made?

        INSA uses a closed loop hydrocarbon extraction technology that is designed to thermodynamically separate desired hash oil (containing the active medicinal compounds of cannabis) from raw plant material using simple hydrocarbon gas. The critical compounds, cannabinoids and terpenes, in the medical marijuana plants are largely non-polar and largely, but not exclusively, composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The hydrocarbon extraction technology uses the principle that “like extracts like”, thus simple straight-chained non-polar hydrocarbons, i.e. n-Butane, are ideal for their extraction. The closed-loop system ensures the majority of the hydrocarbon solvent is recovered in the operating tank. As previously mentioned, depending on the type of concentrate desired from the hash oil, different post-extractions techniques are used. These techniques use a combination of mixing, whipping, general physical agitation, heat and exposure to extremely low pressure/vacuum environments. To manufacture high quality concentrates, these are all performed with three goals in mind;

1) ensuring that any residual solvent is purged for the safety of our patients,
2) preserving the quality of the cannabinoid and terpene profiles in the hash oil, and
3)   achieving the desired textures and consistencies.

Worried about the safety of ingesting hydrocarbons?

        Fear not - in Massachusetts, concentrates with a test result over 12 hydrocarbon parts per million is disqualified for sale in the state. For comparison, in Colorado that number is 5000 parts per million. In fact, you’re likely to ingest more butane lighting a pipe with a portable lighter than you are from ingesting cannabis concentrates that’ve been subjected to the MMJ safety regulations of the state of Massachusetts. Concentrates also must pass state mandated tests for any microbiological, mycotoxins and heavy metals contaminants.

The Big Question: Are cannabis concentrates for you?

        If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already taken in a great deal of information, which we hope will help empower you to decide if cannabis concentrates are right for you. As with any other cannabis product, the rule for beginners is always: start low, go slow. Ask your friends about their experiences. When visiting the dispensary, feel free to ask whatever question may be on your mind regarding the products. You’re not the only one with questions, and it’s important to remember that we will take that into consideration when explaining anything to you. Using concentrates opens you up to a whole new part of the cannabis world. It’s exciting, and with the proper guidance and preparation it can be a life-changing experience.

Interested in learning more?

        If you would like to learn more about concentrates, including how to use them and where to find them, check out the first installment of INSA’s Informational Series. This special event, scheduled for Sunday, August 5 at INSA Easthampton and Sunday, August 12 at INSA Springfield, features a presentation by INSA’s concentrate experts. This will be followed by a question-and-answer session, replete with pizza and refreshments, hosted by members of INSA’s extraction team. In order to get the most out of all of your new concentrate knowledge, special deals will be available for those attending. Currently, INSA’s Informational Series is open only to Massachusetts medical marijuana patients and caregivers.



Why Should You Keep Your Massachusetts MMJ Card?

As the state looks ahead to adult–use, or recreational sales, INSA has received a lot of questions from concerned patients and interested individuals trying to make an informed decision.  They want to know what’s going to happen to the existing Massachusetts Medical Use of Marijuana (MMJ) Program. With legal recreational sales on the way, is the Massachusetts MMJ Program still necessary?  Is it beneficial to remain a MMJ Patient?

The answer is… Yes!

The fact is, the Massachusetts MMJ Program is and will continue to be a very necessary piece in ensuring Massachusetts’ patients are given the best possible access to the treatments that work for them. The designers of the program have taken special care to furnish the medical program with its own exclusive features and benefits that recreational customers will not have access to.


Reason #1: Save 20%

If you’re a medical cannabis patient in Massachusetts, you’re probably thinking, “Why should I bother paying money upfront to renew my card, when I can just go into a recreational cannabis shop for free?” Well, if you’re like most patients, you’ll probably end up spending more than $1,200 a year at a medical cannabis dispensary, such as INSA Springfield or INSA Easthampton.

Why is that $1,200 number so important?

Well, considering a state tax rate of 17%, and assuming local municipalities will take advantage of the opportunity to charge a 3% rate, we’re looking at a 20% total tax rate on recreational cannabis.  Medical patients do not pay any tax.

It can cost you about $200 to see a certifying doctor, and another $50 to register with the State.  That’s $250. Which means if you spend over $1200 a year (or just $100 a month), having a medical card will pay for itself.


Reason #2: No Dose Potency Limits on Medical Edibles

Did you know that one of the most drastic differences between medical and adult-use cannabis will be in edible dosing restrictions?  As it stands, medical edibles do not have a limit on the amount of THC allowed per dose.  Recreational adult-use edibles will be capped at five milligrams per dose or serving.

These restrictions are not meant to punish recreational consumers or reward patients.  Simply, the rule is in place as a safeguard for the general public. Similar regulations can be found in California, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado where cannabis edibles meant for recreational consumption are capped at one hundred milligrams a piece.  Of course, with a cap at a mere five milligrams per dose, Massachusetts takes this a step further.


Reason #3: Home Delivery

Right now, medical cannabis patients in Massachusetts are allowed to have their cannabis delivered to them, provided there are services available.  These services will eventually extend to recreational consumers – but not until summer, 2019 at the very earliest.  So, if you’re interested in getting your cannabis brought directly to your door, a medical card will be the only way to make that happen for the foreseeable future.  Ask an INSA team member about when home delivery will be available.


Reason #4: Reserved Stock

While recreational, adult-use cannabis will be offered strictly on a first-come, first-served basis, medical patients can be assured that a percentage of the dispensaries’ stock will be set aside for them.  This is to ensure that those who have spent the money and time to maintain their Massachusetts MMJ registrations are taken care of in receiving medicine that is necessary for them.

Does this mean that I’m guaranteed to get exactly what I came in for?

Not necessarily, no.  Just as there is no way currently for dispensaries to guarantee the availability of a specific product, this reservation of product for medical card holders will not provide any guarantees of particular products either.  There are many issues that can arise when working with plants. (They like to grow at their own pace!)


Reason #5: Purchasing Limits

Massachusetts MMJ regulations stipulate that adult-use cannabis consumers will be allowed to purchase up to one ounce per visit, while medical patients will be allowed up to ten ounces at a time, provided the amount purchased fits within their 60-day allotment.


Among all of this seeming uncertainty, one thing stands for sure - these are very exciting times in the world of legal cannabis here in Massachusetts.  As we move forward, it’s important - whether you’re a patient or an adult-use consumer - to surround yourself with as much information as you can.  The fact of the matter is, with such a new industry, change is the name of the game.  Here at INSA, we will continue to grow and adapt to consistently meet and exceed the needs and expectations of our patients.  We’ll always be keeping an ear open to those questions and concerns, and will always do our best to ensure that our patients have access to safe, reliable medicine, in a comfortable, welcoming environment.  Here at INSA, serving the Massachusetts medical cannabis community is nothing short of a labor of love. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Recreational Cannabis in Massachusetts - What's the Word?

The seeds of Massachusetts cannabis legalization were first sown back in 2008, when decriminalization measures passed by voters saw most cases of cannabis possession go from a criminal charge to a civil infraction. The legal cannabis cause was forwarded substantially during the 2012 election, in which we saw the approval of the Massachusetts Medical Use of Marijuana (MMJ) Program. In fall 2016 voters across Massachusetts said yes to Question 4, to fully legalize and regulate cannabis.

But wait a minute, you say - what does it all mean? Unfortunately, there seems to be more questions than answers out there, and even the good information can be confusing. So what’s the deal? We thought we would break it all down and get straight to the facts.


“So July 1st is definitely the day that recreational cannabis goes on sale in Massachusetts?”

Yes!  Well, that was the plan at least.  In the law that made adult-use, or recreational marijuana use legal, guidance and a budget was formed to create the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).  The mission of the CCC is to honor the will of the voters of Massachusetts by safely, equitably and effectively implementing and administering the laws enabling access to medical and adult use marijuana in the Commonwealth.

The CCC rolled out a time table to license dispensaries to start selling recreational cannabis products starting on July 1, 2018.

However, the July 1 start date is looking very unlikely, as of today. With so much left to do, there is definitely a chance that the CCC won’t meet the July 1 goal. There are still many unanswered questions as of the posting of this blog, just a few days away from July 1.  

Check back often as we will continue to update this blog as we are made aware of any changes.


“Will I need a special card to buy recreational cannabis in Massachusetts?

No! Since it is not a part of the Massachusetts Medical Use of Marijuana Program (MMJ), the only credential necessary to purchase from a recreational cannabis dispensary is a government – issued photo ID that matches the purchaser.
This can include:
Driver’s License
State ID
Military ID


“How much is recreational cannabis going to cost? I heard it was going to be a lot more than medical cannabis.”

It is true that recreational cannabis in Massachusetts will be subject to taxes that MMJ Program patients are exempt from. This rate will include the state’s excise tax, 10.75%, and sales tax, 6.25%, for a total state tax rate of 17%. Of course, this may be compounded with municipal or local taxes, up to an additional 3%.  For many patients, it just makes good financial sense to keep your patient status active. For more information on maintaining your Massachusetts MMJ Patient status, check out our guide here.


“How much cannabis can I possess as a recreational consumer, and am I able to transport it?

As the law is written, adults in Massachusetts are allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis outside of their residence. Inside their residences, they are allowed up to ten ounces.

If you’re going to be driving with cannabis in the car, you may not have an open container in the passenger compartment of the car. An open container is considered any package with a broken seal or with the contents partially removed.

Speaking of driving – we really hope it goes without saying, but if you’re going to be driving with cannabis in the car – DON’T USE IT WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING! Everyone knows somebody whose life was turned upside down by a drunk driving accident or conviction. Operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance can ruin your life and the lives of others around you.


“Am I able to grow my own cannabis?”

Absolutely. All adult – use cannabis consumers are allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants per person, and up to twelve total plants per household. Of course, landlords have the right to disallow cannabis cultivation on their property, so it’s important to get the ‘all clear’ from them first!


“Will I have to give up my FID card if I purchase recreational cannabis from a Massachusetts dispensary?”

We’ve heard this one many times, and the official line is this – the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has said, “Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.” This is nothing more than a recent reiteration of the Gun Control Act of 1968 which prevents anyone who “uses or is addicted to a controlled substance” from owning or using a gun. To get a sense for where they stand now, recent appellate rulings have said that barring medical patients from owning a firearm does not violate their second amendment rights.


“How old do I have to be to purchase recreational cannabis in Massachusetts?”

To purchase recreational, adult – use cannabis in Massachusetts, the purchaser must be at least 21 years old. Once shops open for recreational sales, a valid government – issued photo ID is required upon entry into the dispensary.


“Now that recreational cannabis is legal in Massachusetts I can consume it wherever I want, right?”

Well… not quite! While you now have the ability to legally carry cannabis in public, it is still a civil infraction to consume it in public spaces. The law sees public cannabis consumption in a way similar to an open container of alcohol. The penalty in Massachusetts is $100 per occurrence – the same as it’s been since decriminalization in 2008. Of course, it is still illegal to bring your cannabis over state lines, into federal buildings or onto federal property.


The CCC will be revaluating and potentially rewriting regulations pertaining to “on-site consumption” in February of 2019.


“Can I share the recreational cannabis I buy from a dispensary with a friend? Can I purchase for them?”

So recreational cannabis isn’t even on sale yet and you’re already asking how you can share yours with your buddies? Where can I find some friends like you? Anyways, as long as your friends are over 21 years old, feel free to share! As for buying cannabis for them – as long as they’re over the age of 21, you are perfectly in your right to do so.


Check back often as we will continue to update this blog as we are made aware of any changes or updates on when the state will be licensing recreational dispensaries.