Whether you’re new to concentrates or a total pro, our cannabis concentrates guide should help you make informed decisions about what’s best for you.
Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
Cannabis concentrates are taking the marijuana world by storm. From syrup-like live resin to sparkling THC crystals, extracts offer a little something for everyone. Yet, not all concentrates are made the same. The contents, consistency, and appearance of extracts change depending on the type of solvent used and the way that the concentrate was processed. So, how do you tell the difference? Before you hit up a dispensary, here’s how to spot the best cannabis concentrates.
Simply stated, cannabis concentrates are the extracted essential oils of the cannabis plant. Like all plants, marijuana produces an essential oil. Essential oils are nutrient-rich fats that plants create to help them survive. Essential oils can contain fragrances to attract pollinators, as well as antimicrobial compounds and bitter flavors to keep predators at bay. Extracting these essential oils from plants is how we harness the medicinal and nutritional benefits of various herbs and spices.
While all essential oils are unique, the oils produced by the cannabis plant contain an impressive array of nutrients. Cannabis resin not only contains the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes the famous “high”, but it also contains an abundance of flavor and aroma compounds. In addition, cannabis oil contains other cannabinoid compounds related to THC, including cannabidiol (CBD). These lesser-known cannabinoids not only contribute to the overall experience the concentrate provides, but they may also have medicinal benefits.
Marijuana concentrates can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten. The most common way to consume concentrates is via a smoking process called dabbing. Dabbing requires a special type of water pipe, called an oil rig.
To properly dab, a titanium, quartz, or glass “nail” is heated to temperatures between 315 and 900℉. A small amount of concentrate is then applied to the heated nail as the consumer inhales from the water pipe.
Cannabis concentrates can also be used in vaporizers and to fill favor pen cartridges. Similarly, they can be added to drinks and foods to make fast infused edibles. Both cannabis and hemp oils are also added to balms and lotions for topical application.
Cannabis concentrates come in all shapes and sizes. From rock-like crystals to syrupy oils, there are more types of extractions than ever before. So, what gives? In order to create concentrated cannabis oil, you need to separate the nutritious resin from the plant material. This is not an easy task. You cannot simply wash resin off of plant matter.
Cannabis resin is a fatty oil, which means that it will not mix with water. In order to collect concentrated resin, you need to extract it with a solvent. Some of the most common solvents when making cannabis concentrates are butane, ethanol, and carbon dioxide (CO2). While most extractions contain either THC, CBD, or some combination of the two, there are differences between concentrates depending on what type of solvent is used.
Botanical extractions are nothing new. Pharmaceutical companies use extractions when studying new plant-derived medicines. Decaffeinated coffee is made using CO2 extraction technology and many seed-based cooking oils are extracted using similar methods. With cannabis, however, extractions are a fairly new addition to the industry repertoire. Thanks to decades of prohibition, the advanced extraction technologies utilized by other industries are only just now entering the world of medical and recreational marijuana.
Shatter, wax, honeycomb, budder, crumble. Regardless of the name, it’s all BHO. BHO is short for butane hash oil. As the name suggests, BHO is a cannabis concentrate made using butane as a solvent. BHO was one of the first concentrates to hit medical and recreational markets. Out of all of the solvents, butane extraction requires the least amount of technology. Some brave consumers even make crude butane extracts themselves. Though, this is not recommended.
Butane is quite dangerous. The gas is highly flammable and can easily explode when not properly handled. Nowadays, butane extraction is done safely by extraction laboratories with the appropriate equipment. Making BHO with high-quality extraction machinery allows technicians to safely handle the flammable gas and more easily ensure that no residual gas remains in the end product.
Unlike other solvents, BHO is also very good at separating THC and other cannabinoids from the cannabis plant itself. A high-quality BHO should be amber to golden in color, an indication that no chlorophyll or other plant materials have ended up in the extraction. The consistency of any BHO should be fairly solid, however, there is quite a lot of variation in BHO concentrates depending on how the product was prepared. Some BHO can be soft, like butter. Other preparations can look like amber crystal shards, called shatter.
CO2 oil is perhaps the second most common cannabis concentrate. This type of concentrate is often used to fill vapor cartridges or oral syringes. Like BHO, an excellent CO2 oil will fall somewhere between light to dark amber in color. Unlike BHO, which produces a soft yet solid product, concentrates extracted with CO2 gas feature a honey-like consistency.
While all solvents commonly used to process cannabis will successfully extract THC, different solvents work better at pulling out different cannabis compounds. In a 2018 study comparing CO2 extract to dried cannabis flower, researchers from Washington State found that certain aroma molecules were lost during the CO2 extraction process.
These aroma molecules, called terpenes, are part of what gives each cannabis strain its unique identity. By filtering out terpenes through CO2 extraction, it is possible that you lose some of the characteristics that make cannabis cultivars different from one another. To overcome this problem, terpenes are often added back into products that have been extracted using CO2.
Shatter is one of the most common preparations of BHO. Named for its translucent, glass-like appearance, a high-quality shatter will feature an amber coloration and be firm to the touch. Whether or not a concentrate takes on the shatter depends on tweaks to the extraction process. After processing in a butane extractor, the collected resin is placed onto a baking sheet and “purged” in a vacuum oven at relatively low temperatures.
This purging process removes excess butane from the mixture. Unlike waxes and budders, which are alternate formulations of BHO, shatter undergoes a unique heating process that removes excess fats and unwanted materials and inspires its glass-like consistency. Shatter is then left to harden on a flat surface. Though, any agitation can alter the physical arrangement of the extracted cannabis molecules. If the product is mixed or jostled too much, the shatter begins to create disorganized crystals. This molecular disorganization will give the product an opaque, waxy appearance.
If you’re searching for some truly high-quality shatter, it’s hard to pass up Moxie. Moxie is an extraction giant with facilities in California, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Colorado. The company has won multiple awards for their cannabis extracts, all of which are made in a safe facility using state-of-the-art extraction technology.
Budder is another type of BHO, made using the same techniques as shatter. The end processing, however, is a little different. To get a smooth, butter-like consistency, the concentrate is whipped and heated after extraction. This excess heat may cause some of the aromatic terpenes in the product to evaporate. However, the whipping process also makes for an easy-to-consume end product that is well mixed and highly potent. Concentrates made with propane (propane hash oil) also tend to take on a butter-like consistency.
Dabblicious Extracts in California boasts 13 different Cannabis Cup awards for their exceptional concentrates. If you’re hoping to spot a high-quality budder, their Lemon Banana concentrate features over 61 percent THC. With a pale yellow hue and a smooth texture, make sure you clean your rig before enjoying a dab of this top-notch BHO.
Wax is another form of BHO (or PHO) that is very similar to shatter. The difference between wax and shatter is primarily in appearance, though wax may be heated and handled differently than shatter to give it its dense consistency. Both concentrates are highly potent, often featuring up to or over 70 percent THC. Yet, wax has been agitated during the cooling phase. Instead of cooling into a clear crystal sheet, the fatty crystals in wax are highly disorganized and chaotic. This gives wax an opaque appearance and an almost granular texture. The ideal wax should be golden in color. Wax may also feature a greater terpene content than shatter.
If you’re searching for true extract experts, Craft 710 of Colorado does not disappoint. While Craft offers high-end distillates, live resins, and BHO, they also offer an exceptional selection of cannabis wax that has been extracted using propane as a solvent. Expect a golden coloration and a soft, crumbly texture from their high-potency products.
Live resin is yet another type of butane hash oil. Except, unlike traditional shatters and waxes, live resin is a little more difficult to make. This type of concentrate is made using fresh cannabis flowers that have been flash-frozen after harvest. If harvested indoors, buds are immediately moved to a commercial freezer.
If harvested outdoors, cannabis flowers are immediately placed into vacuum-sealed bags and flash-frozen using cooler of dry ice or liquid nitrogen. Extracts are then made using this frozen material. The more conventional approach to BHO uses cannabis flowers that have been dried and cured.
There are several advantages of making cannabis concentrates using this method. Flash-freezing preserves the terpenes and cannabinoids that are present on the plant right after harvest. Though, some resin glands may be lost or ruptured due to the sudden change in temperature. This method also allows extractors to make concentrates without having to wait for their flowers to dry, cure, and age.
Like all BHOs, the ideal color for a live resin is a golden amber. The texture of a live resin will be slightly granular, somewhat translucent, and with a slight syrup-like consistency. However, the texture can change to a full-on syrup to a thick honey-like goo depending on how the sample was processed.
Oregon-based Dirty Arm Farm offers some truly exceptional live resin. Featuring beautiful amber coloration, their extracts delight consumers with superior flavor and clean processing. An ideal live resin, cannabinoid crystals are clearly visible. A saucy terpene-rich juice adds an additional layer of satisfaction to the mix.
Hashes are slightly different than concentrates. Whether or not hash products are considered extractions depends on your perception. Unlike other resin extracts, bubble hash is made without the use of a solvent. Instead, simple preparations are made using cold temperatures and agitation to separate nutrient-dense trichome resin glands from plant particles.
Bubble hash is made using nothing more than ice, water, a bucket, and some filtering equipment. Dried cannabis flowers are mixed with ice, which causes trichome glands to freeze. As they freeze, they become brittle and break off. The broken trichome glands are filtered away from the plant material and collected, creating a crude cannabis extract.
The coloration of a proper bubble hash can range slightly. Some hashes will feature a more opaque amber coloration. Others will retain some green coloration, creating a light brown hue overall. Bubble hashes are soft and easy to manipulate. Their texture is somewhat akin to a mouse, with a slightly fluffy appearance. They can also take on a powdery or crumbled texture.
An example of an excellent bubble hash comes from California-based Elevated Extracts. Elevated Extracts is a sister brand to Lifted Edibles, which has won numerous awards for their culinary concoctions. With Elevated Extracts, the Lifted team uses solventless ice water techniques to create fine, golden-colored hash.
Rosin is a simple, solventless way to extract cannabis compounds. Instead of relying on butane, CO2, or alcohol, rosin separates oils from plant material using heat and pressure. The result is an amber-colored concentrate with a semi-translucent appearance. Somewhat akin to a sticky pancake, rosin is softer than shatter and easy to manipulate. It is also easy to make at home by folding a cannabis flower in wax paper and compressing the flower in a hot hair straightener.
Polar Icetracts of Washington State offers three-time award-winning bubble hashes and rosins. If you’re searching for an excellent example of solventless extracts, Polar Icetracts utilizes cool temperatures as well as pressure to create truly high-quality concentrates without solvents.
Most consumers can recognize vape oil. Whether you’re buying it in bulk to fill your own cartridges or you’re experimenting with a new pre-filled flavor, vape oil is simply cannabis concentrate that has been
The best cannabis concentrates for vape oil will be free of potentially toxic additives, like propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG). Both of these compounds potentially decompose into carcinogenic toxins when heated to high temperatures. They’re often added to vape oils as thinning agents. However, vegetable glycerine is considered to be a safer alternative for those searching for a high-quality product.
Arizona-based Vapen Clear offers an excellent vapor cartridge. Featuring over 99 percent total cannabinoid, Vapen Clear uses distillate technology to create an incredibly pure cannabis product. The end result is a nearly-clear liquid with all chlorophyll and unwanted waxy compounds removed.
THC distillate is one step below pure THC. The THC content in a distillate will be extremely high, soaring beyond 95 percent or so. However, a distillate is still not considered a purified THC. Instead, a distillate may still contain trace amounts of cannabinoids and other products apart from THC.
Still, when it comes to purity, THC distillate is hard to beat. After extraction using a solvent, distillate products are then treated with ethanol before distillation proper. Once making it to the distillation phase, cannabis oils are separated using special laboratory technology that uses heat, steam, and filtration to further separate the various cannabis components from one another.
The end result is a gooey, honey-like syrup that contains only cannabinoids. Depending on the initial strain used, the distillate can contain mostly THC, CBD, or a mixture of various cannabinoids. What you won’t find in a distillate, however, are terpenes. Some extractors add terpenes back into the concentrate after processing. But, the process of distillation destroys all terpene aroma molecules that run through the process.
The Clear is one of the first distillates to hit the market. An incredibly potent product, The Clear produces a tasteless and nearly colorless distillate. The distillate can be used for dabbing or to fill vapor cartridges. Both THC and CBD varieties are available.
Many consumers confuse THC isolate with THC distillate. THC isolates are like purified distillates. This is as close to pharmaceutical-grade THC as you can get without actually buying a pharmaceutical product. You can also find purified CBD isolate as well. Both products will be clear in coloration, as they contain nothing but the isolated cannabinoids themselves.
Isolate is often infused into vape oils, tinctures, beauty products, and other cannabis products. Isolate is a popular ingredient in cannabis products due to its easy dosage. An isolate does not contain any residual terpenes or cannabinoids, so you know that when you add 10 milligrams of an isolate to your morning coffee, you know that you have consumed exactly 10 milligrams of THC.
If you’re searching for the best THC isolate, look no further than Guild Extracts. As concentrates continue to become more advanced and diversified, extractors continue to develop new ways to create purified products. Guild was one of the first extraction companies to bring THC isolate to dispensary shelves.
THC crystalline is a form of THC isolate. While isolates can come in both liquid or solid preparations, crystalline is the natural form of THC. Often considered 99.9% pure THC, crystalline is made in extraction laboratories using advanced techniques. Oils are separated from plant material using a solvent like hexane, which is also used to make canola oil. After extraction, the product is further agitated and processed to separate individual compounds from one another. The end result is a purified crystal form of THC.
Guild Extracts, again, takes home the prize. Guild was at the forefront of introducing THC crystalline to the market. To be exact, they’re product is actually THC-acid crystalline. That means that when ingested as-is, this product will produce no psychoactive effect. When heated, however, this is some potent stuff.
CBD crystalline is exactly the same as THC crystalline, only with a different cannabinoid. Cannabis oil is extracted from high-CBD plants, then agitated and processed to collect purified CBD crystals. These crystals can be bought online from CBD suppliers without a medical cannabis recommendation. To consume CBD crystalline, you can dab these crystals, mix them in with food, or sprinkle some into a vaporizer.
Green Roads World offers an excellent CBD crystalline. Offered in 1000 milligram containers, a little of this crystal isolate goes a long way. All Green Roads products are laboratory tested by a third-party, ensuring that what you read on the package is actually want you’re getting inside the bottle.
Terp sap, also known as terp juice, is considered a full-spectrum extraction. While other extracts, like THC crystalline, separate out cannabinoids and concentrate them in their crystal form, terp sap preserves all of the terpenes and other important cannabis molecules. In a terp sap, all of the unnecessary waxes and lipids have been removed from the extract. A terpene-rich juice and cannabinoid crystals remain, making terp sap one of the most potent concentrates on the market.
However, terp sap is not potent because of its high THC content. While an excellent terp sap can feature upwards of 40 percent of the psychoactive, the product will also contain 20 to 30 percent terpenes. The rest of the concentrate contains other cannabis compounds that are vital for individual strain experiences. The end product is a syrup-like concentrate with visible cannabis crystals. A light amber or golden coloration are signs of an excellent terp sap.
British Columbia-based Elevated Extracts offers an excellent example of a terp sap. Made with small batches from award-winning flowers, their terp sap features both a high cannabinoid and high terpenoid concentration. Expect full flavor and a unique experience from each batch of Elevated Extracts.
RSO is a cannabis concentrate with many names. You can find RSO called Phoneix Tears, Full-Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO), and Rick Simpson Oil. However, all of these products are more or less the same thing. RSO is a crude extract of dried cannabis plants, often using a grain alcohol or ethanol.
This is one of the easiest and cleanest oils to make at home. It is also one of the most highly sought after oils by medical cannabis patients. Unlike BHO, CO2 oil, or other cannabis preparations, RSO is considered a full-spectrum extract. While other extraction methods remove many of the terpenes and other beneficial cannabis compounds during the extraction process, RSO contains a little of just about everything.
Ethanol and grain alcohols are not picky solvents. Instead of simply dissolving cannabinoids like THC and CBD, they tend to pick up just about everything. As a result, a well-made RSO will be almost black in color. The coloration of an RSO can also vary depending on whether or not it is homemade or made using extraction machinery at an industrial facility. Some RSO samples will be dark brown while other feature a green tinge. The darker coloration is due to the greater amounts of chlorophyll picked up by the solvent.
Although RSO is less pure than many other types of extractions, it is still considered one of the best cannabis concentrates among medical consumers. RSO was first popularized by the Canadian activist Rick Simpson almost a decade ago. Simpson used the concentrate to heal from basal cell carcinoma, which is a variety of skin cancer. After success with the botanical extract, he began making and distributing the concentrate to others with serious illnesses. Today, many consumers self-experiment with the oil after finding inspiration in Simpson’s story.