Differences in Cannabis Concentrates & THC Oil Extraction Methods
It feels like nowadays you have to be an actual scientist just to keep up with the latest and greatest in cannabis concentrates. The days of just choosing between dry sift and ice hash are long gone. Scientists have been concentrating on new and improved THC oil extraction methods, and it seems like the new “best thing” comes around once a year. Back when concentrates first started gaining popularity it was all about the hash. Now we have shatter, budder, crumble, oil, distillate, isolate, live resin, rosin, live rosin, and even RSO and tinctures. That’s a whole heck of a lot of concentrates to keep up with. Admittedly, though, there are worse problems to have. With all of those options and differing opinions scattered across the internet, it can be tough to decide on what the best THC oil extraction methods are, and how they are different.
Let’s learn a little bit about the science behind concentrates.
Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
Let’s start with what you probably know best. BHO (Butane Hash Oil) is one of the most common types of marijuana concentrate because it is relatively cheap to produce and provides consistent and desirable results. BHO extraction is responsible for almost any shatter you’ve ever had, as well as most budders and crumbles.
BHO extraction works on the back of a closed loop system where dry cannabis is packed into a tube and blasted with liquid butane. The butane strips the plant material of oils like cannabinoids and terpenes and leaves the residual material in the tube. The oils are deposited in their own reservoir and the residual solvent in a separate one. Thanks to that residual tube, butane can be used several times over to reduce chemical waste.
Once this process is complete the concentrate is placed into a vacuum oven that purges as much of the remaining solvent as possible. It’s during this process that we get the variety of BHO products like shatter and crumble. While shatter and oil are produced relatively naturally, budders and crumbles require physical agitation to get the right consistency. Shatter and budder are the two most ideal forms due to their ease of handling.
A different, rarer form of BHO is isolated THCa. THCa is a chemical relative to THC and just requires heat to transition. THCa isolate is super refined to the point where all you get are the crystals themselves. Without heat, this concentrate can be consumed orally without psychoactive effects, which is great for patients that need THC but can’t handle the highs. For recreational consumers this stuff just serves as a clean, smooth way to get really, really high. These crystals are usually over 99% pure. Due to their near-perfect purity, they have virtually no taste, which is why you can often see them in the same container as terpene “sauce”. The two together provide a glorious high both in effects and tastes. While this is one of the rarer THC oil extraction methods, it is gaining popularity quickly.
BHO caught a bad rap in the media in recent years due to amateur cannoisseurs. Many of whom used shady extraction techniques which threw flammable chemicals all over their extraction rooms, causing explosions (not even kidding). Okay, so amateur BHO extraction can lead to basement blow-ups, but don’t let that deter you from the concentrate as a whole. BHO is actually a terpene-rich extract that poses very little threat to your overall health, so long as you’re not trying to make it yourself at home.
Alright, before you experts start correcting me, I know live resin is technically BHO, too. The reason it gets its own section is that it has some important differences in how it is extracted in comparison to its BHO relatives.
While most BHOs are made with cannabis that has been dried and cured, live resin uses the freshest flower possible. In this process marijuana is taken straight from the plant and put in the freezer. The reason for this is to preserve as many terpenes as possible. Studies have shown that when bud is left to dry and cure it can potentially lose up to 55% of the terpene oils present at harvest. Live resin is all about the flavor, so using dry bud just doesn’t live up to the standards. Other than that, live resin has the same closed-loop system extraction methods as the other BHOs.
When homemade BHO labs were exploding all around the country, CO2 presented itself as a safer alternative. While it is a safer technique, it should be known that research from a university in Holland suggests that THC is the least soluble cannabinoid in CO2, making other THC oil extraction methods more ideal for high potency dabs.
CO2 extraction is made with a technique called “supercritical fluid extraction”. It works raising CO2 to a temperature where it is supercritical, acting as both a gas and a fluid. In this state, the CO2 passes through plant material like a gas, but dissolves cannabinoid and terpene oils like a liquid solvent. CO2 is much less likely to explode, but there are notable differences in the final product.
CO2 oil typically comes out just as it sounds: as an oil. This makes it tougher to handle for regular dabbing, which is why you’ll find most CO2 oil stored in vape cartridges for easy access on the go. CO2 is also a more natural compound so it presents less risk upon inhalation. If you’re looking to cut butane out of your intake and don’t mind sacrificing some potency for flavor, CO2 oil is a great option.
Distillate is the beautifully golden oil that you find in cartridges all over the country. Distillate is a refined oil that usually begins with BHO or CO2 oil. The process known as “short-path distillation” takes previously made concentrates and refines them to higher THC concentrations using heat and strategically placed flasks and bulbs. The original concentrate is heated to a point where cannabinoids begin to separate from terpene oils and remaining plant matter. The final results can often take a 70-80% THC concentrate and turn it into ~99% THC. The final result is a runny oil that can be placed in cartridges or in syringes to be applied directly to dab rigs and flower.
Let’s take a step back here and recognize the OG of marijuana concentrates. Hash reigns as one of the first concentrates and is produced without the use of any solvent. Hash can typically be found in two different forms: dry sift and bubble hash.
Dry Sift Hash
Dry sift hash is truly the simplest form of concentrate. The method for producing this hash is to simply take dry plant material and sift it through fine metal screens. Agitating the plant matter causes trichome crystals to separate and fall through the microscopic openings in the screens. Those crystals, commonly referred to as kief, contain a high THC concentration with very little plant matter remaining.
The process of making bubble hash is slightly more complex. The flower used in this process is typically frozen and then placed into “bubble bags”. These bags, where this hash gets some of its namesake from, have microscopic holes that allow only the finest particles, such as trichomes, to pass through. Ice-cold water is used as a means of agitation to aid in the separation of trichomes from plant material.
What’s the Difference?
While both of these remain in the “concentrate” category, they are typically enjoyed in a different way. While most cannabis concentrates you’ll find on the market today require a dab rig, hash is typically smoked out of a pipe or in a joint, like flower.
While hash remained the king of concentrates for many years, the new solvent-based extracts are getting all the love now. Dabbing is now an extremely common method of consumption, so hash has taken a back seat. Rosin is a new form of solventless extraction that is both easier and cheaper to produce than hash.
Rosin extraction is a simple concept of applying heat and pressure in order to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes from flower. At the right temperature, cannabinoids and terpenes become viscous to escape the plant material holding them without burning up and becoming useless. Once the pressure is applied the ooey-gooey goodness just squeezes right out. Simply place your flower in between some parchment paper or into a bubble bag and apply heat and pressure from something as common as a flat-iron hair straightener. While professionals have large presses that give exact temperatures and pressures, many people are pressing their own dabs at home with a straightener or a t-shirt press. If you really want the experience of creating and smoking your very own dabs, try this method instead of blasting a bunch of butane into the air!
I know, “live resin”, “rosin”, “live rosin”; how are these all so different yet they sound so similar?
I don’t have an answer for you. I didn’t name em, I just smoke em. But what I do know is that they are all very different from each other, and Live Rosin is the Cadillac of dabs (for now).
Live Rosin Extraction
Live rosin extraction steals some technique notes from both hash and rosin. In order to extract this super tasty concentrate, you basically do the same process of rosin pressing, but instead of pressing flower you press already concentrated hash. Using heat and pressure on a material that is almost entirely cannabinoids and terpenes filters out even more of the pesky plant material that may remain. This process is extremely time-consuming, but the efforts are well rewarded. Live rosin is currently sitting at the top of the concentrate game (while everyone is entitled to their own opinion) and can be found at shops for near $100 per gram, sometimes more.
While they may be some of the spendiest dabs you can buy, they are also some of the purest and best tasting.
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
The last type of concentrate we’re going to cover today is the medical marvel, RSO, or Rick Simpson Oil. RSO is a thick black cannabis concentrate that is widely regarded as a medicine. Countless success stories can be heard from patients suffering from cancer and living with disorders like epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and MS.
Rick Simpson was a skin cancer patient that used RSO to treat growths on the skin and watched them all but disappear over the course of a few days. Ever since then Rick was a believer and a huge advocate of using marijuana as medicine.
RSO is extracted by using a solvent like 99% pure isopropyl alcohol to strip the THC from the plant material. The process is relatively simple and only requires a few simple steps. First the plant material is soaked in the solvent and crushed up to agitate. After a few minutes of crushing and stirring, the mixture can be strained and the process can be applied to the plant matter once more. After two runs, the plant material has given up almost 100% of the present THC. The next step is to simply boil out any excess solvent and water. Once the oil is dehydrated of excess moisture it can simply be sucked up into a syringe or placed into food-grade capsules for easy dosing.
What’s the Difference?
RSO differs from these other concentrates because it is ingested orally, not by combustion. While it doesn’t taste very good, the effects are noticeable for both patients and recreational users alike. Many patients don’t seek the psychoactive high associated with marijuana, so there are options like 1:1 THC: CBD RSOs as well as full CBD RSO. For those that are just looking to get high without the necessity of the medicinal aspect, RSO is certainly going to do the job. Because it is legally considered a concentrate and not an edible, 1 gram syringes of RSO typically contain several hundred milligrams of THC. If you’re looking for a discount buy for edibles, this is it. Just keep in mind that it tastes a whole lot worse than gummies or brownies.
There you have it, that’s the current state of the cannabis concentrate world. We hope you learned a few things here and that you’re able to try out the whole array of concentrates available to you. Be sure to let us know what you think the best concentrates are and what new methods are spicing up the game. And don’t forget to shop Diem’s cannabis and cannabis concentrates online or in-store at one of our Massachusetts or Oregon locations: Lynn, Worcester, Portland, and Salem.
*Statements made on hellodiem.com have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for individual medical advice.