Introducing Cannabis Concentrates

. March 31, 2019.
Cannabis_Splash_0419

A primer with “OG Dirtbag”

OG moved to Ann Arbor in 1987 and began growing marijuana. He started growing as, at that time, he was a poor college student, consequently unable to afford to buy it for himself. In the late 80’s, often marijuana was sold with seeds, since most cannabis was imported and the growers did not eliminate the male plants and pollinated crops. He has witnessed a radical shift in marijuana cultivation over the last 30 years through the height of the Drug War when government surveillance was widespread and risks of incarceration were high.

Today state restrictions have loosened, and the availability of grow stores, nutrients, new cultivars, and scientific research has lead to the development of a variety of new products. The cannabis community has moved from simple secret gardens in closets and basements, to large, above board, businesses.

OG has been consulting for 11 years, both locally and nationally, including a long-time collaboration with The Dude Grows Show (dudegrows.com). The name “OG Dirtbag” is a handle he used for the Show, as in OG Kush (a cannabis strain), an acronym for Ocean Grown, which refers to the northern California coastal community where the OG cannabis lineage was developed. Dirtbag is a slang term in the cannabis growing community, referring to someone who chooses to grow in a peat based organic soil. OG’s consulting business has evolved from helping people with basic grow/production problems to, now, mostly consulting on product development, packaging, and branding. The industry’s consulting business has grown along with the cannabis, reflecting standardized business practices, as now a majority of states have legalized cannabis while, at the same time, community acceptance has grown.

Current talked with OG about cannabis concentrates, a series of cannabis products developed in the last decade, which are rapidly growing in popularity.

What are concentrates?

Concentrates are extractions from the cannabis plant specifically targeting various cannabinoids like THC or CBD that are created by putting plant materials through various processes. Extraction methods range from simple pressure and heat to using solvents like alcohol, butane and CO2. In these solvent based extractions, solvents are passed through the plant material. The end process is to extract the cannabinoids from the solvent to create the concentrate. Wax, shatter and butter are all common concentrate products made from BHO (butane honey oil) extractions. The different product names refer to the various textures and viscosities that result from different processing procedures. Once concentrates are created, a possible next step is to fractionally distill the concentrate into oils, primarily for vape pens. Hash, while in the category of concentrates, is still organic plant material, differing from extracted concentrates which are isolated cannabis components. Hash, typically made from the trichomes (crystals on the outside of the bud), does not employ a solvent based extraction process.

Available concentrates

Concentrates started gaining popularity around 2008. Since then the concentrate game has become incredibly technical. Sauce, pure THCa “crystals” and oils (fractional distillates) are the latest concentrate products dominating the market. The different names indicate slight variations in how the concentrate was created and its effects. Wax, shatter, and butter are also available at local dispensaries. These six concentrates (sauce, crystals, oils, wax, shatter and butter) represent the overwhelming majority of the products currently available. Concentrates represent approximately 50% of cannabis consumption and will likely gain a larger percentage of the market in the future as the plant’s flower is expected to become more of a connoisseur’s niche product.

Using concentrates

The two most popular ways to consume concentrates are by using a vape pen or a dab rig. Vape pens are best for on the go use. Producing near odorless vapor, they are convenient and use refillable cartridges, typically filled with fractional distillates (oil). Dab rigs are similar to bongs in that they filter the smoke before it is inhaled and come in various forms, allowing for a wider variety of ways to use concentrates. These products, pens and rigs, can be purchased at local smoke shops and many dispensaries. Some people also like to “decorate” or enhance their joints or blunts of rolled flower by adding a concentrate of choice. Typically, the cost for these concentrates ranges from $45-90 per gram.

The concentrate experience

The high is different from the full plant euphoria of hash or flower and varies among users. Experimentation is needed to determine the preference for each user.

For some, the experience of extracted concentrates instead of hash or flower is like going from sipping a fine wine to taking shots of moonshine. For others, concentrates feel like a more pure example of what the cannabis plant has to offer. Due to the wide variety of concentrates available, as well as personal preferences, it is difficult to categorize individual experiences.

Concentrate advantages

Advantages of concentrates include that they are easy to sell, compact and highly potent products that require lower inventory volume for dispensaries, making them lucrative. Consider this visual example, one pound of cannabis (think of a standard pillow) can be reduced into roughly 50 grams of concentrate (about the size of a tennis ball) which creates a significant difference for managing, storing, selling, and consuming. For consumers, concentrates offer an accessible, low visibility, fast, easy, portable, potent, and convenient way to consume cannabis.

Disadvantages of concentrates

Currently, there is very limited research on the long term health impacts of transforming cannabis into different compounds for consumption. If, by chance, the cannabis used to derive the concentrate was contaminated in any way, that impurity will only be amplified in the extraction process.

The future for concentrates

The trend is to continually isolate individual components in the chemical makeup of marijuana. In the future you can expect sonic separation using water instead of petroleum based products for the extraction process. New products are introduced every few months. This is a fast moving market and it’s hard to even guess what the next products will be. Microgels are the latest products in recreational use, these are concentrates that are pressed into a thin film, similar to a breath strip, that dissolves on the tongue. Additionally, the industry is working on isolating THCv, which does not get you high at all; instead, it’s an appetite suppressant. Flower sales are down due to less demand. Originally, concentrates were created using waste byproducts of plants, but now they are so popular that entire plant harvests are used just for concentrate creation. Concentrates are becoming more popular, and will likely dominate the market in the future.

photo credit: key to cannabis

photo credit: key to cannabis

Glossary of Common Concentrates

Keep in mind there are as many extractions and techniques as there are stars in the sky, this glossary merely represents the tiniest amount of what’s out there and what’s to come.

Sauce: is a mixture of THC isolate crystals and terpenes. It looks almost like a runny slurry of concentrate.
Crystals: are THCa isolates that are grown from butane extracts. They look like shards of crystal meth.
Oils (fractional distillates): are fractional distillation of concentrates usually derived from solvent based extractions. They most commonly come in oil cartridges for vape pens.
Wax: is a simple product that is made with a butane honey oil based extraction. It gets its name because it looks like ear wax.
Shatter: is derived from wax only it’s a more refined version where the fats and lipids have been removed from the product. It’s generally amber in color and you’ll find it in two forms, either a brittle crystalline form or a form that’s commonly referred to as pull and snap. Pull and snap resembles a fruit roll up.
Butter: is nothing more than wax that’s been whipped up so it has this creamy texture to it.

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