Cannabis Concentrates 101: Is Pure THC the Future?

There is a whole plethora of different cannabis concentrates now available to the public. They vary from each other in the extraction technique used, in texture, colour, and cannabinoid and terpene profile. Concentrates can even reach over 99% cannabinoid purity, creating a whole new world of ways to consume cannabinoids.

Until the last couple of decades, cannabis extracts existed solely in the form of alcohol tinctures or hand-rubbed hashish. Even during that time, cannabis extracts were created by clandestine cannabis dealers and experimental chemists. Since the legalization of cannabis, cannabis extracts have exploded in popularity all over the globe, and technological advancement continues in the way of cannabis extraction techniques.

Extraction techniques such as fractional distillation, chromatography and CO2 extraction are now being applied to cannabis, resulting in nearly pure cannabinoid extractions. Pure THC and CBD now exist in the form of isolates or distillates and can reach purity levels upwards of 99%.

Older, more traditional forms of extraction are still being applied as can be witnessed in the bubble hash or hand-rubbed hash still sold in Amsterdam coffeeshops. But needless to say, the world of cannabis extracts has come a long way in the last decade, making an entire range of different cannabis extracts available to the public.

3 different extraction methods

There are various ways to purify cannabis in such a manner that the plant matter is removed and only the resin remains. The products of these various techniques could all loosely be termed ‘hash’, but those within the industry generally differentiate between traditional hash-making methods and modern extraction techniques.

1. Hash or hashish extracts

Traditional hash-making methods (namely hand-rubbing and screen-sieving) may be capable of producing very high-quality products, but due to the mechanical and manual means of separation, it is all but impossible to prevent some plant matter remaining amongst the resin glands.

The texture and colour of traditionally made hashish is influenced by various factors, including amount of residual plant matter, technique, and level of compression. Hand-rubbed hashish also takes its dark coloration from surface oxidation of THC.

2. Water extraction

Using near-freezing water to assist the separation of trichomes from plant matter is not a new idea, but the techniques have certainly become more refined over the years. Technically speaking, the process is mechanical and not chemical, as cannabis resin is insoluble in water and the water therefore does not act as a solvent.

At the most basic level, water hash can be made by filling a jar with water, ice and plant matter, sealing the jar and agitating it. The agitation separates the trichomes from the plant matter, and the differential density of the respective parts causes the trichomes to sink while the leaf matter floats. This process has been refined over the years with improved agitation and filtration techniques to the point that very pure extracts can be obtained.

Sold in Amsterdam as ice-o-lator, ice hash or water hash for years, the purity of certain specimens is such that they are now increasingly known as non-solvent or ‘solventless’ extracts, particularly in the U.S. market. As will be discussed later in the article, sometimes solventless extracts are more preferable to consumers as there is less chance of contamination.

Hashish is unfamiliar to most Americans, unlike most Europeans. It is the most traditional form of cannabis extraction (probably because it requires no machinery or chemicals), and existed long before extracts became popular in the USA. When the U.S. cannabis market exploded, technology had already developed for chemical, solvent extractions, and therefore hash remained much more popular in Europe than the U.S.

3. Solvent extraction

In order to completely separate the trichomes from the plant matter, a chemical rather than mechanical process is required (although several chemical extraction processes also make use of mechanical stages, e.g. grinding, freezing, and filtering).

Chemical separation necessitates use of a solvent capable of dissolving the trichomes; these solvents may be either polar (alcohols such as ethanol or isopropyl) or non-polar (butane, hexane). Newer, more sophisticated extraction techniques use CO2 as the solvent.

Chemical polarity refers to the electric charge present in a molecule. A polar molecule (such as H2O) carries a positive charge on the oxygen atom and negative charges on the two hydrogen atoms. Due to the difference in charge, it has a net dipole (two opposing poles). A non-polar molecule (such as methane; CH4) has equal distribution of charge and therefore has no overall dipole.

Broadly speaking, a non-polar solvent will dissolve a non-polar solute, and a polar solvent will dissolve a polar solute: e.g., butane will dissolve oil, and water will dissolve sugar. However, classifying solvents as simply polar or non-polar is an oversimplification, as polarity is in fact a relative scale.

One way of measuring polarity is to look at the dielectric constant (DK) of the solvent. DK is a separate measurement—the ratio of overall electrical capacity of a substance against that of a vacuum, when a specific voltage is applied—but corresponds well enough with polarity that it is a useful measure.

Extraction methods determine terpene and chlorophyll content in the concentrate

When using polar solvents, certain polar compounds contained within the plant matter are also dissolved and remain in the final product. This is unless further filtration stages are undertaken, many of which reduce potency and flavour—such as charcoal filtration. Chlorophyll, terpenes and certain other plant alkaloids, all generally insoluble in non-polar solvents, are dissolved in the solution and influence the final aroma, flavour and consistency of the extract.

While it may be desirable to include terpenes (which are largely responsible for flavour and aroma), chlorophyll, with its dark-green colour and bitter flavour, is less favoured. Further filtration often removes the terpenes and even some cannabinoids, so it is better to prevent chlorophyll from dissolving in the first place.

Quick-wash methods are a good compromise: the plant matter is immersed in solvent for less than a minute, compared with (up to) several weeks in standard methods. This method also allows for some retention of the flavour-forming terpenes.

5 different kinds of cannabis extracts

Depending on the kind of extraction technique used, a different final product will ensue. Extracts differ in colour, texture, terpene profile (and therefore flavour) and cannabinoid profile.

Certain extraction techniques have a greater chance of leaving residual solvent in the final product, and these generally make for inferior and potentially unsafe extractions. Others don’t require a solvent at all. Depending on the manufacturer, their budget and the extraction equipment available to them, certain techniques are preferable over others.

1. Cannabis rosin

Rosin is a form of solventless extraction. All that is required to make rosin is heat. The cannabis flowers are wrapped in a kind of absorbent paper, such as parchment, and are pressed between two hot plates. The trichomes and resin melt off the flower and into the parchment, after which it can be collected.

This technique first became popular as a DIY cannabis extract. In the last couple of years, rosin became attractive to extract manufacturers on a commercial scale because it requires very basic technology and doesn’t require a solvent at all.

2. Wax & shatter

In the last decade, cannabis wax and shatter became the most popular form of cannabis extraction in the USA. The extraction technique is almost identical between wax and shatter, but agitation after the extraction gives way to two different textures: one is waxy, the other is glassy and crumbly.

To make wax or shatter, manufacturers often use butane extraction. Cannabis flowers are contained in a tube-shaped vessel. Butane is then pumped through the vessel at high pressure, and acting as a solvent, pulls out cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material. Heat is then used to evaporate any residual solvent. When the final product is agitated, it creates a more waxy-like extract. When it is left to cool without agitation, the final product is more like shatter.

There are dangers associated with this kind of extraction technique, as residual butane in a product that will eventually be smoked poses a threat to the user. Inhalation of butane is dangerous, and not every manufacturer takes adequate steps to remove all residual solvent. On top of this, DIY butane hash extraction is dangerous, as it is prone to explosion.

3. Cannabis and hash oil

Cannabis oil concentrates, especially in the form of CBD oil, is becoming one of the most popular ways to consume cannabinoids. Butane hash oil (BHO) was one of the first forms of cannabis oil, and remained the most popular way to extract oil until recently, when CO2 was discovered as a better solvent.

At high pressure, CO2 turns into a liquid, at which point it can be pumped through cannabis flowers. Acting as a solvent, it pulls out a full spectrum of cannabis constituents such as cannabinoids, terpenoids and even flavonoids.

Once pressure resumes, CO2 turns back into a gas and therefore doesn’t require much work to be removed from the final product. It is one of the cleanest ways to extract cannabinoids, and obviously so, as there is almost no risk of solvent contamination of the final product.

Most CBD oil of the modern age is manufactured using this technique. It is much less dangerous than extracting using butane and has great yields. However, it is expensive technology, and is therefore generally employed by well-established CBD oil extractors.

4. Hashish

As mentioned earlier, even traditional hash rubbing is a form of cannabis extraction. Hashish is arguably the oldest form of cannabis concentrate. Even today, hand-rubbing hashish is still practiced, although needless to say, the industry has developed technology for making hash extraction easier.

Hand-rubbed hashish is most commonly found in Morocco and India, where this ancient technique of cannabis extraction is still practiced. The flowers are rubbed between the palms of the hands, and after some time, the resinous material of the flower collects on the palms and fingertips. When this resin is scraped off the hands, it becomes hashish.

Modern techniques for making hash include bubble hash, or as residents of The Netherlands might know it, ice-o-lator. While wax and shatter are sometimes referred to as hash, they are not in the traditional sense, as they use chemical extraction rather than manual/mechanical extraction.

5. Isolated cannabinoids

The cannabis market has exploded with the extraction of pure cannabinoids, as this kind of product is infinitely versatile for cannabis product manufacturers. Extraction technology has given the cannabis industry the ability to extract pure cannabinoids such as pure THC and pure CBD.

They are sold in the USA as CBD and THC isolate or distillate. In many parts of Europe, such as The Netherlands, CBD isolate is not available to the public. However, it can be used to manufacture CBD goods such as CBD oil, topicals and tinctures.

Isolated cannabinoids are the product of very sophisticated distillation. CO2 extraction is used to create a cannabis concentrate, which is then passed through a fractional distillation kit. This device allows all of the different fractions of cannabis to be distilled. Each cannabinoid evaporates at a different temperature, and using fractional distillation, each cannabinoid can be distilled separately and collected.

Chromatography can also be used to create isolated cannabinoids. It is much the same as what most of us would have encountered in high school chemistry. The cannabis extract is passed through a medium, and depending on the density and chemical makeup of each constituent, it will travel through the medium at a different rate. Different cannabinoids can then be collected. 

Winterization is used to purify the final product from any other substances that may be present. The final product is a truly isolated cannabinoid such as CBD or THC isolate, and has a white or yellow powdery texture. It can be used to manufacture oils, vape juices, tinctures, topicals, edibles and beverages.

Medical application of cannabis concentrates

There is growing public concern over the degree of purity which cannabis concentrates can now reach — upwards of 99% purity. There is controversy surrounding the limit which cannabis concentrates should reach, especially with respect to safety.

While some variations of cannabis concentrates will be used exclusively by recreational users, there is a medical application of concentrates. For example, isolated cannabinoids can be used to manufacture pharmaceutical-grade cannabis medicines. Isolated cannabinoids allow for exact ratios of cannabinoids to be measured out, which would otherwise be impossible from a full-spectrum extract.

Isolated cannabinoids like THC or CBD isolate or distillate create a potential intersection between the pharmaceutical industry and the cannabis industry. Even though it is still a mystery as to how cannabis concentrates will evolve, they create a very positive opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to participate, creating a fully-fledged, fully legitimised medicinal cannabis program.

  • Disclaimer:
    This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your doctor or other licensed medical professional. Do not delay seeking medical advice or disregard medical advice due to something you have read on this website.

Comments

10 thoughts on “Cannabis Concentrates 101: Is Pure THC the Future?”

  1. This is what a Cabal looks like when abusing power to defend its PROPERTY RIGHTS:

    “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

    Original Assignee: The United States Of America As Represented By The Department Of Health And Human Services”

    The ‘DEA’ is protecting this ^.

    1. Tom Speed: Just to add clarity to your comment above. This is US patent No 6,630,507 B1 “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.” Hampson et al, filed on April 21, 1999, issued on Oct 7, 2003. Fortunately, the patent should expire 17 years from the issue date (Oct 7, 2003) or 20 years from the filing date (April 21, 1999) thus in 2020 or 2019. The information revealed in the patent (26 pages) is nothing short of mind-blowing. Cannabis compounds are explicitly described as “particularly beneficial” as an antioxidant, being able to cross the blood-brain barrier in preventing, arresting or treating neurological damage such as in Parkinson´s, Alzheimer´s and HIV dementia, in autoimmune neurodegeneration in e.g. encephalitis, and hypoxic or anoxic neuronal damage resulting from apnea, respiratory or cardiac arrest, and anoxia caused by drowning, brain surgery or trauma (concussion or spinal cord shock). and “particularly useful as a neuroprotective”. “The therapeutic potential of non-psychoactive cannabinoids is particularly promising”. It states that cannabidiol is not toxic, even when chronically administered to humans, or given in large acute doses (700 mg/day). The patent also discusses different routes of administration and dosing regimens. It is totally loopy logic to state it is a Schedule 1 dangerous drug with no therapeutic value while the patent DHSS was granted specifically states the contrary.The fact that these government researchers knew over 20 years ago that cannabinoids had great potential in multiple diseases and patented this information to keep control over it is immoral, unethical and fringing on being a crime against humanity. Is Chuck Rosenberg of the DEA not aware of the DHHS patent? Is this guy ignorant, incompetent or just intellectually dishonest? How embarrassing. While the rest of the world is making progress in the medicinal cannabis legislation, it seems the US is marching backwards into the future. When scientific logic does not prevail then there must be another reason for refusal. What are the financial rewards for maintaining the status quo? Follow the money trail. After all, if one plant product such as cannabis has multiple therapeutic uses it would make many expensive pharmaceutical drugs redundant. And the FDA depends heavily on the fees they charge for pharmaceutical drug approval and registration maintenance. It pays their salaries. With less pharmaceuticals they might find their income stream diminishing and worse still, their jobs disappearing. So it kind of makes sense for him to be protecting the interests of the pharma industry.

  2. Suzanne O'Mullan

    Unfortunately the pharmaceuticals have all the power. This is exactly what is happening with the vaccines and pharmaceuticals. The pharmaceuticals are so powerful that they have had our government pass a law where families of children who have had severe vaccine damage cannot sue. They are immune from being sued imagine that. The power of the pharmaceutical companies is so great I’m on sure that even the cannabis community can break through. The CDC centers for disease control is in bed with the pharmaceuticals. I wouldn’t doubt that the DEA is also in bed with them. Pharmaceuticals make billions of dollars and hurt our kids. I have a son who has been vaccine damaged and has suffered for 23 years to which I can do nothing about He recently had a severe side effects to an antipsychotic where his brain swelled and we almost lost him I have been treating my son with cannabis for the past six days and all I can tell you is that it is nothing less than a miracle He normally doesn’t sleep past two hours with the combination of four meds. He slept six hours two nights ago and seven hours last night My son smiled at me for the first time in 23 years yesterday I have everything documented on little videos for the befores the Afters just in case someone cares enough to see it if it ever gets that far in DC Unfortunately pharmaceuticals are so big and power it’s going to take unbelievable amount of power to bring them down I’m not writing this about pro vaccine or anti-vaccine I’m writing this to share what I know about how powerful the pharmaceuticals are and what this cannabis community is up against because it’s not the DEA that’s driving this it’s the pharmaceuticals just my two cents

  3. I forgot to add if cannabis were taken off of this list the pharmaceuticals would lose billions of dollars in all of their medications that they have on the market. If you really want to see how the Center for disease control works look up The Tuskegee experiment on YouTube and watch it this makes me nauseous beyond words Our government is still doing this to people E.g. Recent cannabis decision.

  4. Very nice article. Im glad the states have started taking action to allow the development of cannabis. Its hard to deal with such a level of arrogance like this from the DEA, best to just keep letting the truth come out and it will eventually out shine. Cannabis has come a long way in recent years

  5. Brad Troutner

    I have a CBD hemp farm and we are move our fresh flower into a 40′ freezer container in the middle of the field. Inside the freezer we have a huge grinder and tumbler. Once the product is frozen it is ground and tumbled. The gathered trichomes are sent through three distilled water washes. The trichs fall to the bottom and all the chlorophyl and plant material is suspended in the distilled water which gets sucked off with a water vacuum. The purified trichs are then strained and dried. This method gives us huge results and absolute pure trichs with all the terps intact. Have you ever heard of anyone else doing this? Great article. Thanks! – CannaHerba.com

  6. Try this sometime… 🙂

    Pick up an air still online. Buy your favorite alcohol, or whatever is on sale ;). Put your alcohol in the air still and separate out the 40% alcohol. Test the drops near the 40% point by lighting one on fire. Let it drip on your finger & flick your bic. As long as it lights and completely disappears, it’s pure alcohol. Once it lights , but leaves water residue behind, it’s no longer producing pure alcohol. Stop collecting alcohol at that point. I used a half gallon of Bacardi and ended up with 4&1/2 cups of 100% pure alcohol (or as close to 100% as you can get at home). Take your shake, ground up bud, and so on, and put 28 grams of your material in a mason jar and put in the freezer overnight, along with another jar or bottle of your collected 100% pure alcohol. The next day your alcohol should be around -15° to -20° farenheit depending on how cold you keep your ice box. Remove both jars from the freezer and begin by pouring enough of your collected alcohol over the material just enough to cover it. Once your material begins to float a little, put a lid on the jar and put both jars back into the freezer. This will keep the alcohol from evaporating away too quickly. Gently shake the jar, to agitate the plant material and loosen and separate the trichomes from the plant, every couple of minutes. After about 10 to 15 minutes, it’s time to do the first filter. Take a handkerchief and place over the mouth of a clean empty mason jar so that some of the handkerchief is dipped down into the jar, enough so a funnel can rest on the mouth of the jar and the stem of the funnel is touching the bottom of the handkerchief. Put a funnel into the jar in the handkerchief. Next take a plastic strainer with fine holes and pour your soaking plant material into the strainer over the funnel so the alcohol can be collected in the jar. Squeeze the alcohol out of the plant material gently with a silicone or rubber spatula and press against the material. Put the plant material back into the mason jar it was poured out of and add more of the 100% alcohol to cover it and place back into the freezer for another 10 to 15 minutes and repeat the process several more times. I usually get three or four washes depending on how good the plant material is. Once you have used all of the alcohol to wash the material and you’ve recollected it in another jar, leave some of the handkerchief submerged in the alcohol. Gently shake the handkerchief, as if you were dipping a tea bag in a cup of hot water, until all of the trichomes have dissolved into the alcohol and only a tiny amount of plant material and undissolved trichomes remain in the center of the handkerchief. This may take up to an hour for the leftover trichomes to dissolve. When the process is finished, you’ll have 100% pure drinkable alcohol with about 5-8 grams of pure cannabis oil in it. 🙂 And YES You CAN drink it, just be careful. One shot of pure 100% alcohol is equal to 2 & 1/2 shots of regular shelf alcohol. Plus each shot will contain anywhere from 3/4 to 1 full gram of pure cannabis oil. I suggest a nice mixed drink with your favorite soda or juice ;). If you want, you can also pour some of the mixture into a shallow Pyrex dish and evaporate the alcohol until just the oil is left behind. Scrape up the oil with a razor blade. Place in a freezer for best storage and easier handling. Smoke it, eat it, drink it, enjoy it!!!!!! ( &Don’t forget to pass that $#!T)

  7. Jim Stevens

    If anyone wants any proof or data of cannabis is harmful in any shape or form ,then just ask the people who had put cannabis to the test since at least since the 1960’s I have 20 years of daily use until 1987 when I stopped because I would cough to much. and that’s is be cause I also smoked two packs of Kools a day. I don’t mind ignorance that’s just not knowing “like most people are ignorant as how to fix a motorcycle”. But I can’t stand stupid people and that’s what the D. E. A. is. Dumb Earrogent Assholes.
    (spelling)
    Jim,

    Now with cancer, and I’m not going to let these stupid people treat me anymore. All of the opeoides come from a plant, a flower “poppy”(So whats the difference between the two flowers?) Cannabis has no side effects and you cant overdose or die from using to much at one time and I’m going to cure my cancer with using it weather you like or not. You might have to sleep or have a read good happy day.
    Its time to admit defeat DEA you have lost and the people have spoken and will do so on other areas the government has tried to take from us

  8. Chris Damas

    This hardly classifies as news as it was in the Federal Register on December 14 but I suppose putting it in big type makes six month old news more attractive.

  9. waterfallmagazine
    Good day very nice blog!! Guy .. Beautiful .. Superb .. I’ll bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally?
    I’m glad to search out numerous useful information here within the put up, we want work out more strategies on this regard, thanks
    for sharing. . . . . .

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    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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