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Concentrates 101


Concentrated cannabis comes in many forms, but whether it’s wax, shatter or hash, they have one thing in common: they have gone through a process to extract as much of the cannabis plant’s active ingredients as possible, while removing as much of the plant material as possible. . .

It is that process that makes the difference, although the quality, color and smell of the end result also depend on the starting material.


You start with the plant. Concentrates are generally made from trim or shakes – which used to be waste. Some concentrates are advertised as ‘nug run’, meaning they can be made from flowers that would otherwise be bagged and sold at pharmacies.

You then choose an extraction method. There are as many extraction methods as there are end products.

Traditionally, plant material was passed through a sieve to separate the resinous trichomes from the plant. For example, kief and pressed hash is still made today.

Modern methods will use both a solvent and a mechanical action to separate the resinous trichomes from the plant material.

Butane, alcohol, dry ice and cold water are the most common solvents used in making concentrate. Mechanical processes can be as simple as a kief sieve and as complicated as a multi-step process using a closed loop CO2 device and a vacuum oven.


The word “concentrate” is literal: there is more power, both medical and psychoactive, in a concentrate than in a flower of your favorite eighth. Most medical-grade flowers have no more than 20 to 25 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while concentrates can be as strong as 80 percent THC or more.

It can take as much as an ounce of flowers to make a few grams of concentrate, so prices are similarly concentrated. This reflects both the required raw material and the processing.


While oral oils and tinctures exist, concentrates are most commonly consumed through a method called ‘dabbing’.
The most basic form of dabbing involves heating a metal nail with a butane torch and pressing — or “dabbing” — a small amount of your specific concentrate onto it with a metal pick.


The main difference between the different dabbable concentrates is the extraction method. Here is a small overview of the differences in end product by method.


BHO stands for “butane hash oil”. As the name suggests, butane is the solvent used here. BHO has become extremely popular among cannabis users due to two main factors: it is quite cheap to produce and is very, very potent.

This is one of the most common concentrates you will find in pharmacies and is great for dabbing.

Depending on how it is produced, it may be called “wax” or “shatter”.

Shatter is made by completely removing the butane from the hash in one go. Wax is made by whipping the hash while rinsing. This is why wax is usually somewhat sticky and looks like real earwax – hence the name – or honeycomb, while shatter tends to be very firm and slippery.

Shatter can achieve a higher percentage of THC, but the process eliminates many of the terpenes – the organic compounds in plants that determine how something smells and in cannabis determines how a high feels – that wax still contains.

This means that, technically, your shatter may be stronger, but your wax may be more flavorful and nuanced.

You may also come across terms like ‘living resin’ and ‘holy water’. These are both forms of BHO – the difference is in how the plant was harvested before the solvent was applied. These often resemble juice, but stand out for an extremely high number of terpenes, such as the ‘terpene juice’ of Nectars 710.


Cold water hash has an extraction method of the same name. The method is exactly as it sounds. Plant material is combined with ice water and passed through a sieve. This ideally creates a sort of gritty product once it has dried completely.

You see a number along with many cold water concentrates. This is the micron system: the higher the number, the larger the sieve the hash has passed through.

I generally use them as an addition to a joint or as an addition to a bowl.


This is the process used to make the medicine found in most vapor pen cartridges. This process involves producing CO2 in a liquid state and passing it through the plant material under high pressure to capture as many cannabinoids as possible. This requires an expensive, closed system that is essentially high-tech lab equipment – and it creates a very, very pure extract.
Since this process is slightly more expensive due to the machinery involved, the product is generally more expensive.
CO2 concentrates tend to resemble an oil with a molasses consistency.

Photo by Gabrielle Lurie

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