Concentrating on Concentrates

By: Gus Tovar

Herbal concentrates are nothing new, herbal tonics and tinctures have been around for centuries. Early herbalists quickly found ways to extract the medicinal properties of their herbs to concentrate their potency and create a more viable method of administration for their patients. Be it for medicinal or recreational values, humans have been on a constant crusade to make their drugs more potent and in effect more efficient.

There are records showing marijuana being used for its medicinal and recreational properties, since the start of recorded civilization. Marijuana has been one of the most universally used medicinal herbs throughout history.  The earliest instances of use of the plant can be traced back thousands of years ago in China and the Middle East. Not even 100 years ago the plant was still widely available and used as a household medicinal herb.

My dad tells me about my Great-Grand-Mother’s tinctures all the time. Whenever someone fell or hurts themselves, she always pulled out her mason jar where she kept marijuana flowers soaking in alcohol. She would then use this tincture to not only sterilize the wound but also to bring relief to the pain caused by the injury. Her generation was lucky enough to grow up during a time before the great misinformation about marijuana had become standard in our society.

Alcohol based extraction is one of the earliest methods for extracting active ingredients from herbs. Great-Grandma had the basic idea down for an alcohol extraction. However, it was nothing compared to the tinctures we are now finding in marijuana dispensaries in San Diego. These higher-end tinctures might follow the basic idea of soaking the plant material in alcohol. They, however, follow up the basic extraction with high-end purification methods, and of course very high potency source materials. Tinctures are usually consumed orally, and work similar to an edible in the way they take effect.

While tinctures are the most common type of alcohol extraction, there are dispensaries which carry another type of alcohol based extract known as “Rick Simpson oil” or “phoenix tears.” This extract is usually very dark, almost black in color, and thick like tar. Rick Simpson oil gained popularity some time ago as it became one of the most efficient methods to introduce extremely high amounts of Cannabinoids into your body.

Rick Simpson oil is created by taking the tincture one step further and evaporating all of the alcohol from the solution. Once all of the alcohol is evaporated, what is left behind is a resinous black concentrate which boasts an extremely concentrated potency, and most importantly an extraction of the full spectrum of cannabinoids present in the plant.

Moving away from alcohol extractions, there is another rather primitive method of extraction known as “dry sifting” or “hash catching.” This method of extraction is solventless, and can be achieved by many different methods, from natural agitation to temperature assisted agitation. Modern dry sift methods usually consist of using dry ice to cool down the plant material to extremely low temperatures, then using micro-screen fabrics to sift the particles from the plant material. Once the particles are grouped up, we see the “hash” form. This hash can then be smoked or eaten depending on the preparation process.

Hash, unlike other more modern extraction methods, falls into a 6-star rating system. Hash is literally plant particle cake and there are often small trace amounts of particles which leave a residue on your smoking apparatus. A low quality 1-star hash will leave a very large amount of residue on your rig. A 6-star “full melt” hash should leave an extremely small, almost undetectable amount of residue. These sort of hashes are rare and usually see very inflated prices due to the amount of labor that goes into creating them.

The most common and well know extraction method is Butane. BHO, or Butane Hash Oil, is now a household name for Marijuana users. This method of extraction has become a favorite of extract artists, as it truly has been the most researched and therefore efficient method utilized over the last decade. Very high end closed loop systems are now available for purchase which take the guess work out of the extraction. Just about anyone with access to source material and money for a system can be generating their own top shelf concentrates at home. Plant material is blasted with Butane which extracts the THC and other yummy chemicals from the plant. This butane soup is then put through a purging system, which when done properly will remove all solvent from the extract. Leaving behind nothing but pure cannabinoid goodness.

BHO, comes in a few different shapes and forms. The most common state of BHO is “shatter,” shatter is what usually comes to mind when someone thinks of a “dab.” Shatter is an oil substance which changes in physical state depending on temperature. Shatter can literally shatter and break in colder temperatures, but can quickly become sappy and runny in warmer climates. BHO can also take the form of a “crumble.” A crumble is a denser and easier to work with extract. It is the consistency comparable to “sticky thick molasses infused sand sugar,” it is quite dry compared to the more oily shatter. We also find BHO in a “budder” or “cake batter” consistency, in this state the extract feels like a batter. It is wet, yet solid, usually reeks of terpenes. Other than the basics, we also find “pull and snaps” consistencies, which are usually just a very runny shatter, and “sugars” which are usually just a much more crystalline variety of a crumble.

Along with Butane, there are other solvents being used to extract the medicine such as Co2 and Propane. While Co2 has been showing great promise in the extract world, it has proven to not be as efficient in extracting the full flavor profile from the plant material, and therefor creating an inferior extract. However Co2 extraction does claim for a “healthier” extraction. When done right, all solvent should be removed from the extract, regardless of what solvent was used to begin with. With that being said, when BHO is done properly, it truly leaves no room for Co2 to shine.

Propane Hash Oil is the new kid on the block, and PHO is starting to pop up in medical dispensaries around the country. While it claims to provide the best of both Butane and Co2 much testing is still left to be done, before it can claim itself the new king of extract methods. I for one am very excited to see what extract artists will pull off using this solvent.

All in all, we are currently being bombarded with a wide array of marijuana extracts. I am personally a fan of the traditional Butane extractions. I feel that they will always provide the end user with the best experience. However, one must be careful with these products and always ensure that you are acquiring lab tested solvent-free extracts. Many new companies cut corners, leading to residual amounts of solvent being left behind and inhaled by the user. Even trace amounts can cause issues in the long run, so please make sure to only consume extract made by people who know what they are doing.

With this being said, do your research on the extract artists. It is smart to stick to the well known “Brand Names” like Moxie, Nature’s Lab, HiFi, or any of the other high-end Butane extractors. But keep in mind, there are many local shops making products which not only meet but exceed the standards set by the “top shelfers” in the industry. Smaller shops such as Ganja Hut in the South Bay are proving that love and dedication bring forth the highest of quality extracts. Finding a local extract artist to support will not only bring you great quality medicine at a good price, but will allow for the small guys to compete with the giants. Bringing a wider variety of products and options to the consumer.  

Happy Toking Tokers.