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.

Wax

        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.

Shatter

        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.