Introduction

From brownies to medicated muscle creams, you can find cannabis concentrates in hundreds of products.

 

Concentrates are products made from the cannabis plant that have been processed to keep only the most desirable plant compounds (primarily the cannabinoids and terpenes), while removing excess plant material and other impurities. Ounce for ounce, cannabis concentrates have a greater proportion of cannabinoids and terpenes when compared to natural cannabis flowers.

 

Concentrates can also help increase the potency of your flower. The next time you pack a bowl with cannabis flower, try sprinkling kief on top, or add drops of concentrate oil to cannabis flower before rolling your joint. Cannabis concentrate products can also be consumed on their own. For example, concentrates can be vaporized using a portable vaporizer or dab rig (this activity is referred to as “dabbing”). Dabbing has quickly become one of the most popular consumption methods in the market.

Concentrate Textures
Clockwise from top: Shatter, distillate, crumble, badder, crystalline, rosin, dry sift

Concentrates let you experience cannabis in a multitude of ways; they come in a variety of textures and can be consumed using several different methods. The look and feel of a concentrate doesn’t necessarily indicate its level of quality (effects, flavor, potency); these are simply aesthetics that can help you keep track of your personal preferences.

 

One of the leading benefits of concentrates is the rapid onset time and the ability to yield a high more potent than consuming cannabis flower. Concentrates have a high bioavailability, meaning the effects you feel and experience, as well as the rate of absorption into your body, happen almost immediately. The effects of a cannabis concentrate can last anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on the person.


What are Concentrates and Extracts?

Distillate
Distillate

 

Concentrates come in many forms and include the most desirable parts of something. For example, orange juice concentrate has the smell and taste of the orange fruit, but without the excess fluid, peel or pulp. The same is true for the cannabis plant: the aromas, flavors, and other desirable substances can be retained while removing the leaves, stems, and other unwanted materials.

 

Extracts are a specific type of concentrate that use solvents to draw out the desired substances of a plant, seed or fruit. For example, vanilla extract is produced by using alcohol as a solvent to pull out the desired flavor component, vanillin, from vanilla bean pods.

 

The cannabis plant has complex compounds, or chemical substances, that can be used in a multitude of products. These compounds affect the look, smell, flavor, and texture, as well as physiological or psychoactive effects (if any) of cannabis products. The most desirable cannabis compounds are found throughout the cannabis plant in small, sparkling structures called trichomes. A cannabis concentrate refers to any product created by the accumulation of the trichomes from the plant.

Trichome Covered Cannabis
Trichome-covered cannabis

These frosty appendages coat the entire surface of the plant, especially the flower buds. Trichomes contain all the cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) and terpenes that give different cannabis cultivars, or strains, their unique aromas and physical effects.

 

Compared to cannabis in raw plant form, cannabis concentrates offer a more potent high, quicker onset of action, and a wider range of consumption methods. Depending on your consumption preferences and tolerance level, the ideal dose can vary widely from person to person and even product to product.

cannabis shatter vape brownie balm

Cannabis concentrates are diverse and used in a wide range of products. With a selection of options, you can fine-tune your cannabis experience and find the ideal combination of cannabinoids and terpenes that appeals to your taste and provides the most benefit.

Is there a difference between a concentrate and an extract?

All extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts. While those terms are used interchangeably, the primary difference between a concentrate and an extract is how trichomes are collected. Extracts are a type of concentrate created using solvents (alcohol, carbon dioxide, etc.) that essentially wash the trichomes off the cannabis plant. Concentrates made without the use of solvents are produced using mechanical or physical means to remove and gather trichomes.

 

Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and CO2 wax are examples of extracts; each of these comes in varying textures such as shatter, badder, budder, and crumble. Different extracts and the varying textures may yield different experiences from one product to another.

 

Rosin, dry sift and kief are examples of concentrates that are made without using solvents.


How to Talk About Concentrates

“Reduced Fat Homogenized Ultra-Pasteurized Milk” is also known as “2% milk,” but that may sound baffling until you’re familiar with the product and its name. Once you familiarize yourself with the terminology used with concentrates, the more comfortable you’ll feel when reviewing descriptions and labels. The product names can seem complex. For example, a product named “Hardcore OG Nug Run Shatter” may sound confusing. What do each of these words mean?

 

Producers and manufacturers use specific words and phrases to help you identify key characteristics and qualities of cannabis concentrates. Certain terms may be used on labels and descriptions on concentrate products to identify:

  • The type of cannabis plant materials used to make the concentrate
  • The processing techniques
  • The resulting textures
  • The intended consumption methods

Input Materials

Everything starts off with cannabis plant material. The cannabis plant’s flower buds, leaves, and stems are collectively referred to as the starting, or input material. The input material can alter the resulting cannabinoid and terpene profile of the cannabis concentrate. Additionally, the quality or grade of the input material also affects the potency and flavor of its resulting concentrates.

Process Type

Cannabis concentrates are products created by the accumulation of trichomes (the gland that makes the cannabinoids and terpenes). There are a variety of ways to separate the trichomes from the starting material. Each of these processes needs its own specific materials and/or physical actions, or methods, in order to produce a concentrate.

Consistencies

Once the cannabinoids and terpenes have been removed from the plant material, the resulting solution can take a variety of forms. These forms allow patients and consumers to pick and choose their preferred texture of the concentrate product; they aren’t necessarily an indicator of how the concentrate will taste or affect an individual.

Illustration of the Many Concentrate Consistencies
The many concentrate consistencies

Dabbing Equipment

Concentrates are safe, yet potent. To consume a cannabis concentrate safely and effectively, you must have a specific setup with the appropriate equipment in order to properly activate the concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes.

Dabbing equipment
From left: Carb cap, quartz banger, titanium nail, dabber with carb cap, dab rig with quartz banger

Textures and Consistencies

Terms like shatter, badder, crumble, sugar, oil, and sauce refer to a concentrates’ appearance (texture, color, malleability). ­In other words, these terms simply inform us about the look and feel of the concentrate. For example, a concentrate product with the name “Nug Run Blue Dream Shatter” tells you three things:

  1. The strain of the cannabis plant used was “Blue Dream”
  2. “Nug run” indicates that the plant material used to make the extract was dried and cured flower
  3. The extract has a “shatter”-like consistency and texture

The following seven terms describe the most common concentrate textures found in the market.

Shatter, Budder, Badder, and Crumble

Shatter is known for its brittle, glass-like texture. It can also have a snap-and-pull consistency. (Imagine taffy candy being pulled really tight before snapping). Shatters usually have a golden yellow to bright amber color throughout.

 

Budder and Badder are oilier and softer in texture. (Think of a stick of butter or cake batter.) They’re malleable, easy to handle and have a sun yellow to bright orange coloring. The butter-like consistency allows the extract to be easily used as a spread on blunts or joints, or to be dabbed using a dab rig.

 

Crumble is a brittle version of budder or badder. As the name suggests, it has a crumbly-like honeycomb consistency. The color tends to be similar to budder or badder, but instead of having a glossy texture, they tend to have a matted shade of yellow.

badder budder crumble shatter
Clockwise from top: Shatter, badder, budder, crumble

Sugar, Sauce, and Crystalline

Sugar is a term used for any concentrate that has a similar consistency to wet, sappy sugar. They’re not uniform in nature and typically have colors ranging from a bright yellow to a deep amber.

 

Sauce is thicker, more viscous in texture and looks stickier. The color of sauce can range from deep amber to bright mustard. Sauce is similar to sugar in both its consistency and color, but has a more uniform and prominent crystalline structure.

 

Crystalline is a single, crystallized compound. Just as the name implies, THCa and CBD crystalline are white crystals that can vary in density and size from small rocks to powder.

sugar crystalline sauce
Clockwise from top: Sugar, crystalline, sauce

Smoking Methods

A cannabis concentrate can be consumed in a variety of ways, from sprinkling it on a bowl or adding it to a joint for added potency, to vaporizing them using a dab rig or portable vape pen. The ideal method for consumption depends on the type and texture of the selected concentrate as well as the personal habits of the person consuming. When deciding which method will work best, first consider the tools you have at your disposal and the texture of the concentrate. Extracts like shatter and badder are malleable and easy to use in a dab rig, while powdery concentrates, such as kief and crumble, can be easily enjoyed by adding them to a more stable foundation like flower. Here are some of the most common methods for smoking or vaporizing concentrates.

Topping Your Flower

Adding powdered kief to your bowl, or wrapping wax around a joint, are the most cost-effective methods to using cannabis concentrates. These methods don’t require any of the expensive tools necessary for taking dabs, while still increasing the potency of your smoke and adding extra flavor from the concentrate.

Twax and Cannabis Concentrate on Bowl
From left: Bowl filled with flower topped with crumble, Twax joint with glass mouthpiece

Dabbing

The most popular way to consume cannabis concentrates is by vaporizing the concentrate using a “dab rig.” This method consists of heating a “nail” (made from either glass, ceramic, or titanium) and then applying the concentrate directly onto the hot surface, instantly turning it into a vapor for consumption. While there are many inexpensive ways of turning any water pipe into a dab rig, below is a list of items you’ll need for a dab rig:

Dab tools
From left: Torch, dabber and carb cap combo with a dab on the end, dab rig with quartz banger

Vaporizers

Pre-filled Vape Pen

Vaping is the most discreet and portable option for consuming cannabis concentrates. The most common form of vaping is a pre-filled cartridge that attaches to a battery. The cartridge contains a heating element that comes in contact with the battery and heats the concentrate when activated. This battery-and-cartridge combination is collectively referred to as a vape pen. Standard vape pens are operated by pressing a button or, in the case of a buttonless pen, simply taking a drag from the mouthpiece of the cartridge. These pre-filled cartridges aren’t refillable and are to be discarded after the concentrate runs out, but the battery can be saved and reused many times.

Handheld Vaporizer

Using a handheld vaporizer is another portable method to consume cannabis concentrates. With a vaporizer, you manually fill a chamber with any type of concentrate and attach the chamber to a battery. The chamber typically contains a heating coil that turns the concentrate into a vapor when the user presses a button. Unlike a dab rig, this method does not require any additional equipment, but still gives you the ability to pre-fill the chamber with any type of concentrate and use it on demand.


What Are the Main Extraction Types?

Concentrates are made one of two ways: physically separating the trichome from the plant or using liquid solvents.

Physical Separation

 

During the physical separation process, trichome glands are removed from the cannabis starting material using a physical action, like shaking or pressing. Think of the trichome glands as fruit on a citrus tree: physical separation is similar to the shaking of a citrus tree to remove the fruit.

 

When creating dry sift, for example, cannabis is shaken through a series of screens in specific sizes to ensure only the trichome heads make it through to the final product. Rosin is created using a targeted combination of heat and pressure to squeeze the desired compounds out of the plant. The key concept of physical separation is that a direct physical action results in the expression of trichomes.

Liquid Solvent Extraction

All solvent extractions use the same basic workflow: a liquid solvent is used to separate the active compounds from the trichome gland to yield a solution. This solution must be further refined until nothing but the desired compounds remain.

LPG Closed Loop System
Closed-Loop system

Due to the volatility of these solvents, technicians typically use closed-loop extraction systems, which allow them to safely control elements like temperature and pressure in order to achieve the optimal result. Depending on the solvent selected, the resulting extract is put into a vacuum oven to ensure complete solvent removal prior to consumption.


How Do You Make Different Textures?

Different textures are the result of deliberate steps taken before or after the initial extraction process.

Shatter

Shatter is one of the most versatile textures. In fact, many other textures, such as budder and crumble, start off as shatter. Shatter is known for its resemblance to brittle glass, which shatters on contact, but can also have a “snap and pull” consistency that gives it elastic-like properties. Shatter can be created using a variety of solvent extraction methods, the most popular of which include BHO, PHO, EHO, and CO2.

Badder, Budder

These textures are the result of agitating terpene-rich shatter into a more creamy consistency. To achieve this frosting-like texture, technicians whip the shatter under low and even temperatures to introduce and redistribute air molecules. The volume of these air molecules determines the density of the resulting texture.

Badder Budder

 

Crumble

Crumble is shatter that has been whipped, like badder and budder, and then purged in a vacuum oven at low temperatures to “dry” the concentrate while retaining its cannabinoid and terpene content.

crumble

Crystalline

Crystalline is a transparent or semi-transparent cannabis concentrate that may resemble coarse decorative sparkling sugar or kosher salt. Multiple methods can be used to produce crystalline, but they all follow the same basic principles of crystallization.

 

An example of crystallization is making rock candy. Rock candy is a flavored confection that’s produced when sugar (a chemical solid) is slowly added to boiling water (a liquid). The resulting solution cools a bit, then flavor and color is added. A prepared stick is lowered into the solution. Over time, crystals form and grow on the prepared stick, eventually yielding the desired product.

 

Crystallization is a process where a chemical solid is mixed with a liquid to create an initial solution. Any impurities are removed from the initial solution, and the extract is then mixed with another solvent under a different set of conditions to start the formation of pure crystals.

Crystalline

Distillate

Distillates are made by exposing a winterized and decarboxylated extract to heat and vacuum, which promotes the separation of cannabinoids based on their different boiling points.

Distillate