Dabs, Distillates, Wax, Resin, Rosin... What's With All These Types of Oils?
When people first get into dabbing it can be daunting, the method of taking a dab often utilizes butane, a torch, and a dab rig which can be intimidating to use. When you go to the dispensary for a gram of oil it can be overwhelming to see the vast variety of textures and types, how do you pick from a sea of options?
The cure process is perhaps the most important step in creating any cannabis product from jars of flower to edibles and everything in-between, it all starts with a cure period. After harvesting bud from the plant, it's generally hung up to dry in special rooms where the humidity, temperature, and light are controlled. The goal of curing is to reduce the water content found within the plant to ensure no molding occurs. Curing also helps develop taste, aroma, potency, and even the cannabinoids. During the cure time, cannabinoids like CBGA and THC can degrade into other cannabinoids like CBN, CBD, or THCA giving the weed a more well-rounded cannabinoid profile. Once the cannabis has cured, it is ready to be packaged or processed into oil.
Distillate is the most common type of oil used in the cannabis industry, it gets its name from the process in which its created. To begin making this product, processors extract cannabinoids using a solvent such as propane, butane, CO2, or ethanol to make something called crude oil. Crude oil is unprocessed concentrate that contains high levels of plant matter, solvent, and other undesirable constituents. This product is allowed to freeze in a cooler to separate some of the plant matter from the desired cannabis concentrate. After about 48 hours, the crude oil layer is removed and ready to have the solvent filtered out. Once the solvent is removed, the oil is ready for distillation - a process in which a substance is repeatedly heated/cooled to isolate a particular chemical, in this case it's THCA. In the process of isolating THC, we see incredibly high THC concentrations with some processors reaching a purity of 98% THC. However, the heating process also damages the sensitive terpenes and other minor cannabinoids found in concentrates that are responsible for the specific effects we feel amongst different strains. Coincidentally, during the heating process, the oil is exposed to temperatures that activate the THCA to THC through a process called decarboxylation. Distillate is a very versatile concentrate that are commonly found in edibles, syringes, or vape cartridges. This is the only type of oil that can be dabbed, vaped, or readily consumed making it the most versatile cannabis concentrate. This is also the easiest and most cost effective method to make highly concentrated and dosed edibles, as long as you have a full gram in your syringe, you just have to move the decimal place over a spot and that will give you the amount of THC in mg. Since distillate is an oil it will readily mix with other oils including vegetable, coconut, avocado, etc, to combine add the desired amount of THC to you oil, heat in the microwave and now you have infused oil ready to make anything you want.
Instead of using cured weed, live resin uses freshly harvested buds or buds that were harvested and immediately frozen (freezing weed preserves the terpenes and cannabinoids for years to come). By using freshly harvested buds, processors can extracts high concentrations of terpenes – the chemicals responsible for the specific effects associated with various strains. A solvent (propane or butane) is blasted onto the flower to dissolve the cannabinoids and terpenes before being pressed into a sticky oil. The concentrate then goes through a "clean up" phase where the solvents are removed through a purification process.
Live Resins are slowly becoming more popular in the industry as people are starting to understand the unique benefits it offers. Live resins – also referred to as "full-spectrum" tend to have lower THC contents usually around 60-80% because other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, CBN, and others are preserved during the production process and therefore makeup the other 20%-40%.
Hash is believed to be the first recorded cannabis concentrate in history with its origins residing in ancient Egypt. This product is highly valued because it doesn't use any chemical solvents in its processing making the product 100% cannabis, void of any solvent residues. There are two common methods to make hash but they are both solventless and utilize a series of screens to create a highly potent, full spectrum concentrate. Either kief or ground flower can be used to create hash, but the goal is to isolate the trichomes. Trichomes are the white sparkly dots found on cannabis, they excrete a resin that contain the desired cannabinoids and terpenes.
Cannabis product is agitated and sifted through a series of screens with each proceeding screen being a finer size micron than the last until you're left with a sticky, dark, clay-like substance. From here the hash is pressed into a brick or rolled into a ball.
Bubble hash uses the same concept with the addition of ice and water. Screen bags are layered sequentially with the first screen being the largest. Ice and water fill the bag and sit for about 30 minutes to allow the trichomes to freeze and easily fall off. Sticks are used to agitate the cannabis-ice mixture to allow the desired product to fall through the screens. The layers of screens are removed each revealing a lighter color, higher quality, and larger quantity of bubble hash.
Live rosins are another full spectrum oil, perhaps the most coveted and expensive cannabis concentrate that you can find. Just like live resins, live rosin is created from flash frozen flower. It is then turned into bubble hash before being flash frozen a second time; completing the preparation process. The hash is transferred into a fine micron bag that would only allow cannabinoids and terpenes to pass through its fine mesh. The bag is placed under a type of hydraulic press where pressure is applied to squeeze out the resin that we call rosin. This concentrate is recommended to be stored in a fridge to preserve the fragile terpenes that reside in the oil. The consistency is similar to playdough which is why this concentrate is almost exclusively used for dabbing. Adding additional terpenes or thinner is generally not enough to prevent the clogging issues found in cartridges.
By using a solventless ice water extraction, we're left with a pure and clean tasting oil that is distinctive in flavor and experience. In today's market, processors have been experimenting with live rosin edibles and cartridges to expand the uses for this unique concentrate.
Hydrocarbons are molecules consisting of only carbon and hydrogen atoms, in the cannabis industry, it is a blanket term used to encompass several of the most common extraction techniques including butane hash oil (BHO), propane hash oil (PHO), and hexane hash oil (HOH). All of these methods follow the same basic extraction steps. First, the flower is either soaked in a liquid hydrocarbon or blasted with hydrocarbon gas to dissolve and extract the trichomes. If liquid was used, it is then exposed to extreme pressure or sent through a device that will vaporize the liquid into a gas form. As the extract is vaporized, the heavy cannabinoid oil remains a liquid and drops to the bottom, ready to be collected and further cleaned from the solvent.
This oil comes in a variety of textures and colors which is important to the cannabis consumer. Shatter, wax, crumble, batter, budder, and diamonds can all be made from these extraction methods making it the one of the most versatile of concentrates.
This extraction method isn't common in the cannabis industry because its expensive and processing times can take upwards of 6 hours. CO2 is exposed to heat and extreme pressure to reach a liquid-gas state – also referred to as supercritical fluid (SCF) that has the density of a liquid with the viscosity of a gas. This SCF soaks the cannabis, at these extreme pressures, the plants resins readily dissolve into the CO2. When the solvent is ready to be separated from the oil, the SCF is sent through a valve where the pressure, temperature, and flow rate are adjusted. This will allow the liquid resin to drop into a collection vessel while the CO2 turns into a gas. Using carbon dioxide as a solvent is a sustainable practice because of its reusability and widespread availability, making it more environmentally friendly.
Ethanol extraction is one of the original and most common forms of cannabis extraction due to its low risk and cost effective methods.
There are two popular methods for this extract; cold or vaporized ethanol. For cold ethanol extract; flower is soaked in cold ethanol (-40C) where the cannabinoids are extracted. From here, the solvent is transferred to a vessel where rotary or falling film techniques evaporate the solvent – separating the cannabinoids from the ethanol.
The other method starts by adding marijuana to a condensed cylinder positioned between a condenser and a flask of boiling ethanol. As the ethanol boils, it produces vapor that is passed through the cannabis material, dissolving the trichomes as it makes its way to the condenser. The condenser collects the vapor solution into another flask in liquid form, from here the solvent (ethanol) is ready to be removed from the solute (cannabinoids) using various separation techniques.
Rick Simpson Oil
This product is often overlooked due to its dark appearance, 40%-60% THC concentration, and intimidating presence in a syringe. These attributes make any concentrate unappealing for dabs which is why this concentrate is used for consumption. Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is a concentrate unlike any other described in this article. This product was created in the early 2000's after Simpson was diagnosed with a type of skin cancer after working with asbestos in the engineering field. After conventional prescription medications failed to provide relief, Simpson began researching alternative medicine. This led him to grow his own supply and development of a product that was specifically curated to the treatment of his ailments. Today, it is most commonly used in the medicinal world of cannabis to treat a variety of symptoms associated with cancer, epilepsy, depression, arthritis, and much more.
RSO is also referred to as "crude oil" which is an oil that has not gone through a refinement process to clean up undesirable components such as chlorophyll which gives the oil its black color. During recent years, RSO has slowly been making its way into the edible market with a few companies producing gummies but most consumers buy the syringe to make their own edibles or ingest directly. As long as you're looking at a full gram of oil, you can simply move the THC concentration decimal place one digit to the right and that will give you the amount of THC in milligrams. Example; if the concentration of your RSO reads 53.7% THC, it'll translate to 537 mg, this is more than 5 times the amount of THC found in a typical box (100 mg) of edibles. It's important to remember that THC needs a fat to bind to in order for our bodies to properly absorb/utilize the compound. Eating RSO on an empty stomach can result in a more mild to nonexistent high.
This concentrate comes in the form of a powdery white substance or small crystals that resemble coarse sugar. With THCA contents of 99.9% it is the most potent concentrate available on the market. This product can top your bowls off, infuse pre rolls, or dabbed in conjunction with other concentrates to create a stronger and more potent experience.
Any oil can be turned into THCA isolate when treated with the proper solvents and machinery. Starting oil is combined with a solvent such as acetic acid or hexane to dissolve any remaining plant matter like lipids, terpenes, and even other cannabinoids. Heat, pressure, and motion are applied through a rotary machine where the solvent containing undesirable plant matter is evaporated, leaving just the THCA. The product is ready for another cleaning step through a process called chromatography where the remaining plant matter is removed and all color is stripped away leaving beautiful white crystals of pure THCA. Since the terpenes have been removed, this product won't have a distinctive taste or specific effect outside of feeling very high. This product can be consumed to enjoy the medicinal benefits of cannabis without experiencing a psychoactive high since our body can't convert THCA to THC readily.
In conclusion, navigating the world of cannabis concentrates, especially for dabbing, may initially seem overwhelming, but a deeper understanding of the extraction processes reveals the diverse array of options available. From the crucial cure process that influences the taste, aroma, and potency of cannabis to the versatility of distillate, live resin's focus on preserving terpenes, the ancient tradition of hash, the luxury of live rosin, the versatility of hydrocarbon extracts, the sustainable approach of CO2 extraction, the cost-effective and widely-used ethanol extraction, the medicinal significance of Rick Simpson Oil, and the unparalleled potency of THCA isolate, each concentrate offers a unique experience.
Choosing the right concentrate becomes a matter of personal preference, desired effects, and even environmental considerations. Whether one seeks the full-spectrum experience of live resin, the clean taste of CO2-extracted oil, or the potent effects of THCA isolate, the cannabis concentrate market provides a diverse range of options to cater to individual needs. As the industry evolves, new innovations and uses for concentrates, such as live rosin edibles and cartridges, continue to emerge, expanding the possibilities for cannabis consumers. In this ever-evolving landscape, consumers can explore and appreciate the nuances of each concentrate, ultimately finding the perfect fit for their preferences and lifestyle.
Photo by Jeff W