What Are Cannabis Concentrates: Types, How They’re Made, & How To Use
Concentrates have been around for thousands of years and consumed around the world. It’s fair to say, though, that our technology for making these unique marijuana products has improved since then. Today, we’re able to create concentrates that include every compound we love in cannabis, and we’re also able to create products that isolate just a single cannabinoid like THC. So let’s dive a little deeper into the process of creating concentrates, the types of concentrates that exist, how to actually consume them, and more.
What Are Cannabis Concentrates?
Cannabis concentrates are marijuana products made from one of the best parts of the plant—trichomes. Those sticky, crystalline hairs you see on premium flower are actually tiny glands that contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. When you collect trichomes, you can distill their contents or you can use them whole, but both methods create some of the most potent, flavorful, and aromatic products on the market.
Marijuana concentrates are made one of two ways:
- Solvent Concentrates: Solvent concentrates are products made with solvents, such as butane, CO2, alcohol, or ethanol. These solvents are forced through the cannabis in a closed loop system to extract the terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids within the cannabis. Once extracted, the solvent is then purged from the final product. Typically, solvent-based concentrates require professional equipment because of the volatility of the solvent.
- Solventless Concentrates: Solventless concentrates use alternative methods to both remove the trichomes from the flower and create a final product. Solventless concentrates can be created using heat, pressure, and simple agitation. Unlike solvent concentrates, solventless concentrates can be made at home provided you have the right equipment and in some cases, patience.
What Are the Types of Cannabis Concentrates?
There are a lot of different types of cannabis concentrates on the market, and more are being introduced every day. With that in mind, here’s a cannabis concentrates 101 course on some of our most popular products:
Wax Cannabis Concentrates
Wax is a type of butane hash oil (BHO) (sometimes propane hash oil [PHO]) created when butane or propane is forced through the cannabis to extract resin. While the product cools, it’s agitated, which is what creates the gooey-thick and grainy texture wax is famous for.
Shatter Cannabis Concentrate
Shatter is also a type of BHO, but that glass-like quality it has which gives it its name is created when the butane is purged from the resin. The fats and plant matter are removed, leaving a hard, clear product that can be broken, or shattered, into shards.
When shopping for a distillate, you’ll likely find THC distillate, CBD distillate, and even some cannabinoid-combo distillates. A distillate is exactly what it sounds like—a concentrate made using a solvent to extract one or a few cannabinoids and nothing else. THC distillates are typically incredibly potent with THC levels in the high-90%. While some companies add terpenes back into the distillate, many distillates do not have much of a flavor or aroma because the terpenes are destroyed in the distillation process.
Live Resin Cannabis Concentrate
While live resin is a type of BHO, it’s made from flower that’s been flash frozen, a technique said to better preserve terpenes and cannabinoids. Typically, flower is dried, cured, and aged before it hits the shelves. By flash-freezing the flower, extractors avoid the more traditional time consuming method while still creating a great product. Just like other BHOs, the solvent is pushed through the frozen material and a molasses-thick syrup is created that we call live resin.
Rosin Cannabis Concentrate
Rosin, which sounds a lot like resin, has one distinct difference from its cousin—it is created using solventless techniques. Both heat and pressure are applied to the flower, and rosin is created. Some cannabis enthusiasts even make their own rosin at home by wrapping their favorite strain of flower in wax paper and clamping it between the pads of a hot hair straightener. That said, you can also view our menu to find a higher quality of rosin that won’t make a mess of your countertop.
This concentrate is literally the dried trichomes from flower. While you can certainly purchase kief, a lot of cannabis enthusiasts prefer to collect it themselves using a grinder with a kief catcher. Kief can be pressed into hash, or it can be added to a bowl of your favorite flower as a topper for extra potency during your session.
How Are Concentrates Made?
Concentrates can be made using one of two methods—solvent-based extraction and solventless methods. While heat, pressure, and agitation are key to solventless methods, solvent-based extractions typically use either hydrocarbon, ethanol, or supercritical CO2 (an awesome name for what’s ultimately just high-pressure carbon dioxide) solvents.
- Hydrocarbon extraction: With hydrocarbon extraction, propane or, more commonly, butane are pushed through the cannabis flower to extract terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. The extract is then purged of the butane using a careful balance of heat to evaporate the solvent without destroying the extracts.
- Ethanol extraction or alcohol extraction: We’ve been using ethanol as a solvent for a long time because it’s easier and safer to use than butane. The problem with this extraction technique is that you can also get things like chlorophyll and tannins from the plant that then have to be filtered in order to create a pure concentrate. Once both the ethanol and the extras are removed, you have a ready-to-consume concentrate.
- Supercritical CO2 extraction: This extraction technique is getting more and more popular because it uses a natural product that doesn’t leave behind anything toxic. The highly pressurized CO2, which is incredibly cold, is pushed into the flower. This chill preserves all the things we love about the flower, including the scents and flavors. Then, the CO2 just evaporates, leaving you with a liquid concentrate that can be added to products like vape cartridges.
How Are Wax Concentrates Made?
Wax concentrates are most commonly made using butane and a closed-loop system. The butane is forced into the plant material in order to extract the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids we love. Then, the butane has to be purged at the right temperature to preserve those compounds while still getting rid of the toxic-to-humans chemical. Depending on how the extract is treated during the purging process, you can get wax, shatter, budder, and other types of concentrates. To make wax, the extract is agitated while it cools.
How Are Shatter Concentrates Made?
Shatter is made in a very similar fashion to wax. Butane is typically forced into the flower to extract the resin that is then purged of the solvent and other impurities. While wax is agitated to create its thick, pliable consistency, shatter is left alone to cool, creating a clear window of product that can be broken like glass into little pieces of what we call shatter.
How is Cannabis Distillate Made?
Cannabis distillate can be made using either butane or supercritical CO2—though CO2 seems to be growing in popularity among distillers. Once extracted, the concentrate is mixed with ethanol and put in a cold freezer where the impurities separate from the cannabinoids. After about 24 hours, the concentrate is pulled from the cold and the unwanted material and ethanol is removed. From there, the cannabinoids that have been extracted are decarboxylated, the process of heating them to make them convert from THCA into THC or CBDA to CBD. Then, the concentrate is distilled using a process of pressure and heat that isolates the cannabinoid that’s wanted for the final product. Some distillers choose to add terpenes back into their final product, but others choose to leave it both odorless and tasteless. You can find both options on the market.
How Are Live Resin Concentrates Made?
When cannabis is harvested, it’s typically dried and cured. With live resin, it’s flash frozen. Then, it goes through a solvent-based extraction method while it remains frozen, allowing the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids to all be preserved in the cold. What you’re left with is a textured concentrate that can take the form of a wax, budder, or other consistency, though typically they’re labeled with “live” at the front, like live wax, so you know it’s a type of live resin.
How Are Rosin Concentrates Made?
Ditch the solvents because you don’t need them to make rosin. Instead, you’re going to want to create a combination of heat and pressure that will cause the resin to drip from the trichomes. The best rosin is professionally made and purchasable at one of our locations, but you can also make rosin at home. Just know that too much pressure or heat will ruin both your cannabinoids and terpenes, so do your research before attempting it with your favorite strain of premium flower.
How is Kief Made?
Kief is made when the cannabis flower is dried and cured. This also dries the trichomes on the bud. Dried trichomes are kief. Technically, you can collect kief with a good quality grinder equipped with a kief catcher and some premium flower. There are also solventless methods that include water extraction and dry sieving, where the trichomes are removed from the plant using water or agitation, respectively.
How to Smoke & Use Cannabis Concentrates
One of the best things about consuming concentrates is that they’re versatile. You can typically find a concentrate that suits just about any method of consumption or application, so you can consume the way you’re most comfortable. Cannabis enthusiasts often choose to dab or vape their concentrates, but concentrates can also be applied to the skin as a lotion, placed under the tongue as a tincture, or eaten as an edible. You really can customize your concentrate experience just about any way you’d like.
Answering FAQs About Cannabis Concentrates
It doesn’t matter if someone is new to cannabis or they’ve been enjoying marijuana for decades, we get questions from just about everyone about concentrates, including:
How many types of cannabis concentrates are there?
There are many types of cannabis concentrates available. That’s the thing about the cannabis industry—we keep inventing new ways to enjoy cannabis. That means while there are plenty of concentrates options available to you now, there will likely be even more in the future.
What’s the difference between concentrates and flower?
There are several differences between concentrates and flower. Those differences include:
- They’re physically different things. Flower is the actual dried flower bud from the marijuana plant. Concentrates do not contain any kind of plant material.
- Concentrates tend to be more potent. The amount of THC and other cannabinoids found in flower currently hits its max around 34% THC. Concentrates, like distillates, can be as potent as 99% THC.
- They can be enjoyed in different ways. While there are certain ways both cannabis products can be enjoyed (vaping and smoking, especially), concentrates tend to have more versatility. For example, most cannabis connoisseurs prefer to use concentrates in edibles. Concentrates make up things like lotions and tinctures, too. Flower is just a little more limited.
- There are many different types of concentrates. The word “concentrates” is an umbrella term used to describe a group of different cannabis products. Flower is just what it sounds like—flower. You can purchase popcorn, shake, or premium flower, but at the end of the day, it’s all just one form or another of cannabis flower buds.
It used to be that flower had more flavor, but as we hone our concentrate extraction techniques, and even add terpenes back into concentrates, that difference is getting smaller and smaller—flower and certain concentrate products taste equally delicious.
What’s the difference between concentrates and extracts?
This is a somewhat debated topic in the cannabis world. You may hear some cannabis enthusiasts use these words interchangeably, and you may hear some people insist there’s a difference due to how they’re created. The latter’s argument is that concentrates can be made one of two ways—solvent-based extraction and solventless technique. If a concentrate is made using a solvent, it’s an extract. If it’s made without using a solvent, it's just a concentrate. Basically, all extracts are concentrates but not all concentrates are extracts.
Concentrates are popular for a reason—they’re easy to consume, they’re versatile, and they offer a variety of experiences depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re ready to give concentrates a try, come talk to our budtenders at your favorite dispensary. They’ll answer any questions we somehow missed in this guide and make sure you leave with exactly the concentrates you’re looking for.