What is hash? Hash is comprised of extracted cannabis trichomes, which contain the active compound THC, as well as other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN and CBG.
Hashish (or hash) is comprised of extracted cannabis trichomes, which contain the active compound THC, as well as over a hundred other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN and CBG. There are many different ways to make hash, and some of these techniques have been developed over hundreds of years by traditional cannabis-growing communities, such as those found in Morocco’s Rif Valley.
Perhaps the most popular method to extract hash is the dry-sieve technique. Here, fully-grown, harvested and dried cannabis plants are shaken or rubbed over a fine-mesh screen to capture the powdery, crystalline resin as it falls from the plant. The size of the mesh dictates the quality of the resulting hash: a fine screen will produce high-quality hash, a screen with wider gaps will produce lower-grade hash with more plant material contained within the mix.
When using the dry-sieve method, the length and intensity of the ‘shake’ will also produce varying results. To produce the highest-quality dry-sieve hashish, such as the varieties known as Double Zero, King Hassan and Ketama Gold, good-quality plants are shaken over a fine screen for just one or two minutes, to capture only the ripest and most developed trichomes. Again, shaking for longer produces lower-grade hash with more plant matter.
After the dry-sieve method, hand-rubbing is the second most popular technique. Widely practised in India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan (as well as many lesser-known hash-producing countries such as Bhutan and Myanmar), and exported throughout the world, hand-rubbed hash is almost as common in global terms as dry-sieve.
With this method, the cannabis resin is typically collected from living plants still in the field. Hash-makers will quite literally spread their arms and run through fields of mature cannabis plants, catching the sticky resin on their skin so that it can be rolled into balls and left to “cure”: in the case of charas, this “curing” stage may be several years in duration.
The quality of hand-rubbed hash can be affected by the quality of the plant itself, as well as by the care taken to avoid including plant material. The time taken to properly cure the hashish is also very important, not only for hand-rubbed hash but for that made using any method. However, in the case of hand-rubbed hash, the curing stage is particularly important as the fresh plants contain a vast quantity of moisture that must be removed.
“Pure” cannabis extracts
As modern techniques to extract the resin from cannabis have improved, the resulting products have become exceptional in quality. Now, as the medical cannabis industry becomes fully established in the USA and elsewhere, the medical-grade hash produced by some of the licensed, regulated producers there are arguably among the finest cannabis products found in the world today.
Usually, high-grade extracts are made using a solvent such as alcohol or butane gas, or simply with ice-cold water. The theory is that the crystals must be separated to create hash in any technique, but a dry-sieve or hand-rub method will never achieve the level of purity that can be achieved by using a more precise form of mechanical or chemical separation.
With water or solvent extraction, the crystals are isolated from the remaining plant matter and suspended in solution before being filtered through a fine mesh and dried, and then cured for weeks to ensure that all traces of water or solvent have evaporated.
When using the water extraction method, a series of successively-smaller mesh-screen bags are placed one inside the other and put in a bucket or similar receptacle. Fresh or dried plant material is placed into a separate mesh bag with a larger screen size than any of the other bags (often 220 microns or above).
Then the cannabis-holding bag is put into a bucket or specially-adapted washing machine (Mila’s famous Ice-o-lator or Bubbleator, for example), filled with freezing water. The water is then agitated, freezing and hardening the crystals and allowing them to snap off and be suspended in solution. The mixture is poured into the bag-lined bucket, and as is passes through successively-smaller screen sizes, the larger particles and residual plant material are trapped.
This method produces several different grades of hashish, of which the smallest screen size (25-45 microns) is often the finest quality. The larger screen sizes (90-220 microns) produce hashish of lower quality with more plant material.
This technique makes use of alcohol or butane gas to separate the crystals from the remaining plant material. A screen is still necessary, but usually a single screen size is used, producing hash of consistent quality rather than the several grades achieved with water extraction.
As THC and other cannabinoids are soluble in alcohol and other solvents, the resin dissolves in the solvent and can then be separated. With butane, a device such as the HoneyBee is useful for making smaller quantities; for larger quantities, customised equipment is advised.
The HoneyBee consists of a plastic cylinder with a small hole for insertion of a gas can nozzle in one end and a series of small holes in the other. When the pressurised gas is forced into the plastic cylinder, it expands and forces the dissolved resin out through the holes and into a waiting receptacle.
With alcohol, the quick-wash isopropyl method is fast becoming the most popular, and is commonly used by medical producers in the USA. Here, cannabis is mixed with pure isopropyl alcohol for a very short time: a maximum of thirty seconds is advised to ensure the results are of high quality. The mixture is then filtered through a screen, and left to dry.
What is the “best” type of hash?
Solvent hashish is arguably the purest and strongest form available today, and as methods have improved, the early problem of residual solvent traces has largely been eliminated. However, working with volatile, flammable compounds can be dangerous; therefore, making one’s own solvent extracts should only be attempted by those with knowledge and experience of the risks involved.
Making water hash is also a challenging process, but carries practically none of the risks involved with solvent extraction. The results are comparable to solvent extracts at their purest, but lower grades may be disappointing. Many hash enthusiasts prefer water extracts to solvent extracts as they are seen as “cleaner” due to having had no contact with potentially-harmful solvents.
However, for those wishing to achieve flavour over strength, the extracts are often passed over in favour of dry-sieve or hand-rubbed hash. While extracts are pure and strong, they often lack flavour as the terpenes contained within the plant material are washed away. As more plant matter is retained in dry-sieve and hand-rub hash, the flavour of the parent plant is often retained.