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Concentrates are quite popular, but quite intimidating at the same time. Not only are there so many different types of concentrates — hash, shatter, badder, crumble, just to name a few — but there’s a dizzying number of ways to make them. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. This guide to how cannabis concentrates are made gives you a behind-the-scenes look into these products.

 

Concentrates are made with scientific precision, but it's also a labor of love and art. As Jonathon Arvallo of MFNY says, "Concentrates are all about creating something that I care about and love. It's about getting the plant to the people."

 

Cannabis Concentrates 101: What are cannabis concentrates?

“Concentrates” is a broad term describing cannabis products with elevated cannabinoid potency — typically THC — beyond the levels typically seen in cannabis flower. While flower can contain up to 30% THC (and above 30%, depending on the cultivar and the cultivator), concentrates contain anywhere from 60% and up to 90% THC. Concentrates are so popular that they even have their own holiday.

 

Concentrates include a wide range of products, including kief, hash, oils, and waxes. Many of them, especially dabs, come from the same extract but have different textures and appearances due to the way the extract is treated. For example, shatter is extract laid out on a sheet to chill, giving it a brittle consistency. When that same extract is whipped, it becomes the fluffy, frosting-like badder.

 

Concentrates are roughly divided into two sub-categories: extracts and non-extracts. Extracts use a solvent to draw out cannabinoid and terpene content, while non-extracts use mechanical separation to achieve the same goal. Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is an example of an extract, while hash is an example of a mechanically separated concentrate.

How cannabis is treated before extraction matters, too. For example, flower that’s flash frozen before extraction is called live resin, but you can different types of live resin, such as sugar or badder.

 

How are concentrates made?

Concentrates can be made in many ways, each of which have their own advantages. The method a manufacturer chooses influences the final product in a number of ways, including its potency, flavor, aroma, texture, and consistency. Each method can also be tailored to the preferences of the manufacturer, who may introduce additional steps or post-processing techniques to develop their signature approach to making concentrates.

 

“For me, it’s all about creating something that I care about and love,” said Jonathon Arvallo, Director of Processing and Manufacturing at Marijuana Farms New York (MFNY), a concentrates manufacturer based in the Hudson Valley. “It’s about getting the plant to the people and highlighting what it really is about — and I want to do that through concentrates.”

 

 

How mechanical separation is done

Mechanical separation is any method in which trichomes loaded with cannabinoids and terpenes are removed from the plant by physical means, rather than using a solvent.

This method has existed since at least the 12th century, when the production of hash first began in Persia. Then, mechanical separation was as simple as rubbing cannabis flower between your hands and collecting the sticky resin left behind. Today, mechanical separation is a bit more sophisticated, using fine mesh screens to separate the trichomes. The principle, however, remains the same.

How hydrocarbon extraction is done

Hydrocarbon extraction is a method that employs butane (and other hydrocarbons, such as propane) as a solvent. The primary benefit of hydrocarbons is their low boiling point, which allows manufacturers to purge residual solvents from their extract at temperatures that won’t destroy precious cannabinoids and terpenes.

How ethanol extraction is done

Ethanol extraction is another solvent-based extraction method used to separate cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant. It’s often conducted at cold temperatures to better preserve these compounds. This method’s primary benefit is that ethanol extraction can be performed at low operating pressures, which makes it a cost-effective method.

How supercritical CO2 extraction is done

In this extraction method, temperature and pressure are closely controlled to force the CO2 into a “supercritical” phase, where it behaves simultaneously as a gas and a liquid. A primary benefit of supercritical CO2 extraction is that it doesn’t leave behind any residual solvents, so it doesn’t require a purging step like hydrocarbon and ethanol extraction. However, CO2 only tends to pull the same handful of terpenes no matter the strain, leading to similar tastes and smells across all concentrates produced with this method, according to Arvallo.

How ice water extraction is done

Ice water extraction is a solventless method that begins with what is technically a mechanical separation process. Cannabis biomass is placed in near-freezing water and agitated so that the cold, brittle trichomes break off of the plant material. The water-trichome mix is then drained through a series of fine mesh bags, where the trichomes are captured as the water flows through. Once drained, the trichomes are gathered and pressed into bricks of “bubble hash” and allowed to dry. The bubble hash is pressed to create rosin, a solventless concentrate beloved for the way its cannabinoid and terpene profile mimics that of its origin cultivar.

 

 

For Arvallo, hydrocarbon extraction and ice water extraction are the focus. These two methods, he said, allow him the greatest degree of control in producing the best quality product possible.

 

“Those are the two most valuable in terms of quality and cleanliness,” Arvallo said.

 

Take a deeper dive into hydrocarbon extraction

Thanks to the low boiling point of hydrocarbons like butane and propane, manufacturers can use this method to maximize the amount of cannabinoids and terpenes preserved in the process. Both compounds, but particularly terpenes, begin to degrade and boil off when exposed to heat. Because butane can be purged from the concentrate at its boiling point of 30.2℉ (-1℃), hydrocarbon extraction is ideal for limiting the extract’s exposure to heat.

 

“Through BHO and hydrocarbon extraction, I can comfortably say I’m giving you the cleanest, highest quality product possible,” Arvallo said.

 

In hydrocarbon extraction, the solvent is chilled to convert it into a liquid. It’s then passed over cannabis biomass, where it pulls cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material. Hydrocarbon extraction typically pulls minimal chlorophyll, lipids, and waxes that reduce the overall purity of the final product. This reduces the need for additional steps like filtration and winterization needed to dewax some concentrates.

 

The extracted solution is then heated at low temperatures to remove the solvent in a process called “purging.” Hydrocarbons are a great solvent for this step thanks to their low boiling points. When performed the right way, the result is a clean, potent product that bears the flavors and aromas of the original strain, Arvallo said.

 

“Butane gives you a stronger grip over the undesirable compounds,” he said. “I pride myself on the scientific value of controlling molecules — holding back what I don’t want and only allowing the good to go through.”

 

Producing high quality BHO means sourcing the best cannabis flower and clean hydrocarbon gasses to use as solvents, Arvallo said. It also means tightly controlling temperature and understanding key parameters. Finally, the post-processing techniques a manufacturer employs can make a big impact on terpene retention and product consistency.

 

For consumers who want to identify high quality BHO in the dispensary, Arvallo said to look for a light golden or amber hue and robust, characteristic aromas. Those are signs that the original cultivar’s terpene profile is still intact and that the BHO is relatively pure, free of unwanted chlorophyll, lipids, and waxes.

 

Ice water extraction: a deeper dive

Ice water extraction, which is used to produce bubble hash, is also the first step in creating the solventless extract known as rosin.

“Rosin is a different animal,” Arvallo said. “It comes down to the material, not only for yield but quality of product as well. A strain with small trichomes and short stalks will take a lot of agitation to remove them, which will remove plant material as well.”

 

A high quality outcome, then, starts with choosing the right genetics. A cultivar (strain) that has a lot of large trichomes with dense heads and tall stalks will be a better candidate for ice water extraction. It’s also best to work with freshly harvested or fresh frozen flower, which will contain more cannabinoids and terpenes than dried and cured flower.

 

The next key consideration is water temperature. Ice water extraction is aptly named because the water needs to be near-freezing to best preserve cannabinoids and terpenes. The cold also makes the trichomes brittle so they are easily stripped away from the plant material.

 

With biomass and water in hand, agitation begins to remove trichomes. This can be carried out by stirring a bucket filled with biomass and water, but the best wash machines (devices created specifically for this kind of extraction) create a vortex designed to strip away the maximum amount of trichomes without pulling chlorophyll and other plant material. The result is a more pure final product that contains minimal unwanted compounds.

 

Once collected, the trichomes are pressed into bricks and dried into bubble hash. From there, the bubble hash is placed in a rosin press, which features two heated plates that are pressed together to squeeze the bricks of bubble hash. The rosin press squeezes a thick, dark, sticky oil from the bubble hash and – Voila! – you’ve got rosin.

 

According to Arvallo, the way to identify top-shelf rosin in the dispensary is to look for a light gold or translucent white color along with a moist consistency.

 

“That’s how I know the plant wasn’t overly mature and the terpene content is going to be true to the strain,” he said.

 

Solvents used to make cannabis concentrates

Common solvents used to make cannabis concentrates include:

  • Ethanol
  • Butane
  • Supercritical CO2

Solventless methods used to make concentrates

The two most common solventless methods involve mechanical separation and ice water extraction.

What are the types of concentrates?

Concentrates include a wide range of products, including kief, hash, oils, and waxes. Many of them, especially dabs, come from the same extract but have different textures and appearances due to the way the extract is treated. For example, shatter is extract laid out on a sheet to chill, giving it a brittle consistency. When that same extract is whipped, it becomes the fluffy, frosting-like badder.

Some examples of concentrates you’ll find for sale at The Travel Agency are:

  • Distillate oil
  • Sugar
  • Badder
  • Kief
  • Hash

 

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Quality concentrates at The Travel Agency

If high THC is your endgame, concentrates are worth trying. Whether an old-school pressed hash or a small scoop of badder in your dab rig, this world is innovative, growing, and yours to explore. Shop concentrates at The Travel Agency to enjoy some of the finest cannabis New York has to offer. Stop in our Union Square or Downtown Brooklyn locations, or order cannabis for delivery through our delivery partner, Doobie.

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