We humans have been consuming the cannabis plant for millennia, whether as a source of nutrition, medicine, or spiritual and recreational experiences. While most people are familiar with cannabis as dried bud or flower ready to be smoked or vaporised, it is much more diverse than this. In recent years, cannabis extracts, also known as cannabis concentrates, have become more popular than ever before, with consumers drawn to their potency, portability, and ease of consumption.
The sheer variety of cannabis extracts, from hash, shatter and budder to wax, rosin, resin and crumble, represents a whole world of cannabis that many have only scratched the surface of. So, let’s take a look at some of the most popular cannabis extracts available. We’ll look at their history as well as how they’re made, their modern-day uses and methods of consumption in this Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis Extracts.
What are cannabis extracts?
Let’s kick off with the most important question: What exactly are cannabis extracts? Well, the name is pretty self-explanatory – cannabis extracts are products that have been extracted from the cannabis plant. The extracted products can contain either a variety of the plant’s naturally occurring compounds such as cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, or can have been further refined to remove certain products.
For example, CBD isolates are produced from hemp plants that may be rich in many other cannabinoids and plant compounds. However, through a series of extraction processes, manufacturers are able to remove these other ingredients until only (or mostly) CBD is remaining – isolated CBD.
Some of these extracts may be used to create other cannabis-infused products, such as edibles, beverages and skincare. But in this article, we’ll be focusing on extracts as a category of their own.
The earliest cannabis extracts
Cannabis is one of the earliest known cultivated crops. It has been used for industrial purposes – including the manufacture of clothing, weapons, and tools – as well as for medicinal, spiritual and recreational uses for thousands of years. In Ancient Hindu texts, cannabis is even classified as one of the five sacred plants, alongside Tulasi (Holy Basil), sandalwood, jasmine and neem (Indian lilac).
Records suggest that cannabis was also added to medicinal tinctures, alongside other ingredients, millennia ago. For example, Ancient Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo is credited with creating the first cannabis-based anaesthetic by combining the plant with alcohol almost 2,000 years ago. However, the first true cannabis extracts were not produced until some time later.
Hashish – now more commonly known in the Western world as ‘hash’ – is one of the earliest known cannabis extracts. While still popular today, the origins of hash date back hundreds of years. One of the earliest forms of hash was made by gently rubbing growing cannabis plants by hand until the sticky resin became compressed. Later, woven sieves are used to collect the cannabis resin which is then pressed to create smokeable products containing a boosted THC content: hash usually contains 40-60% THC, compared to cannabis flower which generally contain 10-20% THC.
Other popular cannabis extracts
Today, there is a wide range of cannabis extracts available to purchase. The brave among us may even attempt to create their own cannabis extracts at home – this can be done by applying heat and pressure to cannabis flowers and collecting the resulting oil-like substances that are released. However, most consumers will prefer to purchase their cannabis extracts from a reliable source. Some products that may be available, depending on where you live, include cannabis budder, shatter, wax, rosin, resin, and crumble.
Sounds a little overwhelming, right? So, why are there so many different types of cannabis extract and how are they made? Well, as we said earlier, cannabis extracts are all products that have been extracted from the cannabis plant. But this doesn’t mean that they are all extracted in the same way. In fact, there are a number of ways to extract natural cannabinoid-rich oils from the cannabis plant. Perhaps the most straightforward way is to apply heat and pressure using a specifically developed press – or perhaps a pair of hair straighteners if you’re feeling adventurous.
Cannabis extraction methods
Many commercially available extracts, however, will have been produced using slightly more complicated extraction methods. The most popular extraction methods include the use of either a hydrocarbon solvent such as butane or propane, or an ethanol solvent. CO2 extraction is also a popular method for the manufacture of cannabis extracts. However, solvent-free methods, like those used to make hash, are also in practice today.
The extraction method applied can have a significant impact on the final cannabis extract produced. Alongside the starting product (i.e. strength and type of cannabis), the extraction method can influence the cannabinoid and terpene content and the texture of the final product. Many extracts are named for their appearance. For example, you could end up with:
Shatter is a type of cannabis extract that sets into a solid and translucent texture, like a shard of glass (hence the name). Shatter is typically made using butane or hydrocarbon solvent extraction.
Crumble has a dry, powdery texture and crumbles easily. It is one of the driest cannabis extracts and can contain up to 90% THC. It is made using solvent extraction methods, such as butane, propane or CO2. Crumble is made in a similar way to shatter but requires lower temperatures and longer “cooking” time, resulting in its drier consistency.
Wax is again named for its appearance and texture, cannabis wax is the term used to describe extracts that are – you guessed it – waxy. Most waxes are produced through solvent extraction using butane or hydrocarbon. These extracts are called BHO – Butane Hash Oil.
Resin refers to the sticky substance secreted by the trichomes of the cannabis plant which can be collected to create resin extracts. This can be done by simply rolling resin in your fingers or by dry sifting cannabis.
Rosin is a type of solvent-free cannabis extract created using heat and pressure. This can be done by packing cannabis flower into a mesh bag and placing it in a hydraulic press with heated plates. As heat and pressure are applied, the oils from the plant’s trichomes seep out.
Cannabis extracts can be consumed in a number of ways; however, the most popular method is dabbing. This involves heating the extract with a bong like device called dab rig until an inhalable vapour is released. Extracts can also be used to make edibles and other products, as we mentioned earlier.
- Heating a Dab Rig ready for cannabis concentrates
So, there you have it. The cannabis extract category is a diverse world that many are yet to explore (we have only named a few of the total amount available). While the science behind their manufacture may be a little daunting, extracts are increasingly making up a significant chunk of the cannabis market – at least in cannabis-legal jurisdictions. Would you give them a go?