Cannabis concentrates. Similar to that orange juice concentrate in the back of your freezer, cannabis concentrates are the product of distilling down the most desirable parts of the plant. They contain all the cannabinoids and terpenes of cannabis flowers and none of the excess plant material. Ounce for ounce, marijuana concentrates have a far greater proportion of cannabinoids and terpenes than raw cannabis flowers.
Concentrates with active cannabinoids, usually distillate, are infused into edibles, tinctures, and topicals to provide effects without the application of heat.
Cannabinoids and terpenes are responsible for the effects, aroma, and flavors you might experience with any cannabis product. They are found throughout the cannabis plant in small, sparkling structures called trichomes. A cannabis concentrate is simply a condensed accumulation of these trichomes. Grab any high-quality cannabis flower and you can see them for yourself. These frosty appendages coat the entire surface of the plant, but they’re particularly noticeable on the flower buds.
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In the same way that not all concentrates are extracts, not all concentrate customers are dabbers. Dabbing is the process of heating a concentrate or extract to the point that it vaporizes, producing a highly potent vapor the consumer can inhale. Dabbing is the most common consumption method associated with concentrated cannabis, which explains why you’ll hear concentrates referred to as dabs. But these products can also be experienced via vape pens, tinctures, topicals, edibles, and more.
In order to decide which concentrates and consumption methods will work best for you, first consider what you’re looking to accomplish.
For a low-maintenance potency boost: top your flower
Adding powdered kief to your bowl or wrapping wax around a joint can up the potency of your smokeables with little extra effort. These methods don’t require any of the expensive tools necessary to dab, while still increasing the potency of your smoke and adding extra flavor from the concentrate.
For an intensely potent, fast-acting high: dab
When most people talk about consuming cannabis concentrates, they’re typically talking about vaporizing the concentrate using a dab rig. This method consists of heating the nail, or the dab rig equivalent of a bong bowl, and then applying the concentrate directly onto the hot surface, instantly turning it into an inhalable vapor. Most dab rigs are glass with nails made from either glass, ceramic, titanium, or quartz. And while the traditional method involves heating the nail with a torch, there are many user-friendly e-nails on the market now, too.
It’s also worth noting that high THC levels and dabbing are not synonymous. While high THC levels are still the norm, dabbable high-CBD concentrates and pure CBD distillate are becoming more popular as well.
For a light high on the go: use a vape pen
Pre-filled vape pens are a discreet, portable, and efficient way to consume cannabis concentrates. While they’re unlikely to get you as high as a dab, the high does set in almost immediately. All you need is a pre-filled cartridge and a battery or an all-in-one vape pen. The cartridge’s battery activates a heating element that warms the cannabis concentrate. Most vape pens are operated by pressing a button or, in the case of a buttonless pen, by simply taking a drag from the mouthpiece. Pre-filled cartridges and pens aren’t refillable and need to be discarded after the concentrate runs out, but detachable batteries can be saved and reused many times.
For a more customizable experience, consider using a dab pen. With a dab pen, you manually fill the chamber with any type of concentrate and attach the chamber to a battery. This method gives you the flexibility of a dab rig and the portability of a pre-filled vape pen.
For a long-lasting, smoke-free high: eat an edible
Edibles rarely make it into the cannabis concentrate conversation, but they should. Store-bought and home made edibles alike are made possible by cannabis extracts. Much like vapes, they don’t require special equipment and are easy for new consumers to try. And much like dabs, they can provide a long-lasting, potent high depending on the dose. The main difference between edibles and inhalables is the onset time. Inhale vapor or smoke and your high will kick in almost instantly; eat an edible and your high may take up to two hours to reveal itself.
For targeted relief: try a topical
Similar to edibles, topicals are typically left out of concentrate conversations. But when applied topically, concentrated forms of cannabis may provide targeted relief without the head high.
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Shatter is likely to be the most popular cannabis concentrate around. Being one of the first concentrates on the market, it has established a following of dedicated dabbers.
Shatter gets its name from its thin consistency that often results in it shattering into lots of little pieces. Shatter is a thin sheet of extract that is usually clear or amber in color. Shatter that is dark is considered to be of lower-quality and to possibly contain impurities leftover from the extraction process.
Shatter is made using BHO (butane) extraction before going through a filtration process designed to strip it of any remaining impurities. However, some traces of BHO may still be present in the final product. Since BHO is potentially harmful when ingested, it’s important to buy shatter from trusted brands that produce pure and clean shatter.
Wax concentrates are less oily and more waxy in texture. Like shatter, wax concentrates like crumble are made using a BHO extraction process. Also like shatter, wax concentrates contain a high THC content and produce a powerful, long-lasting high. Apart from their look, texture, and consistency, these two concentrates are actually very similar.
CO2 oils are produced through an extraction process that uses CO2 gas. These oils are commonly found in the pre-filled vape cartridges and vape pens sold in dispensaries across the country. Because the CO2 extraction process takes place at a lower temperature, more of the plant’s natural terpenes and flavors are preserved. Like rosin, CO2 oils are considered to be more pure and flavorful than most other concentrates.
Rosin is a concentrate that is prized for its purity, potency, and flavor. Unlike other concentrates, it is not extracted using a solvent (like butane). Instead, rosin is meticulously squeezed out of dried flower, kief, trim, and hash using heat and pressure.
Because no solvents are involved, rosin also tends to retain more of the natural terpenes and flavonoids found in the cannabis plant. Because of this, it is more flavorful than other concentrates and many people find it more enjoyable to dab. If purity and flavor are priorities, you can’t go wrong with rosin.
Hashish (Arabic: حشيش), also known as hash, is a drug made by compressing and processing trichomes of the cannabis plant. It is consumed by smoking, typically in a pipe, bong, vaporizer or joint, or via oral ingestion. Hash has a long history of usage in countries such as Lebanon, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Morocco, and Pakistan. Hash consumption is also popular in Europe. In the United States, dried flowers or concentrates are more popular, though hash has seen a rise in popularity following changes in law. Like many recreational drugs, multiple synonyms and alternative names for hash exist, and vary greatly depending on the country and native language.
Hash is a cannabis concentrate product composed of compressed or purified preparations of stalked resin glands, called trichomes, from the plant. It is defined by the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (Schedule I and IV) as “the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant”. The resin contains ingredients such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids—but often in higher concentrations than the unsifted or unprocessed cannabis flower Purities of confiscated hashish in Europe (2011) range between 4% and 15%. Between 2000 and 2005 the percentage of hashish in cannabis end product seizures was at 18%. With the strength of unprocessed cannabis flowers having increased greatly in recent years—with flowers containing upwards of 25% THC by weight—the strength of hashish produced today and in the future is likely to be far more potent than in these older records.
The consistency and appearance of hash varies depending on the process and amount of leftover plant material (e.g. chlorophyll). It is typically solid, though its consistency ranges from brittle to malleable. It is most commonly light or dark brown in color, though may appear transparent, yellow, black, or red.
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Because marijuana concentrates are highly potent, the physical and psychological effects can be much stronger than with plant cannabis use.
But like all drugs, the effects of cannabis and THC depend upon how much you use.
There’s a difference between smoking a low-THC joint once a day and using a high-THC concentrate multiple times a day.
Mark Prince, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University, said, “Research suggests that frequent, heavy use, such as a large quantity of cannabis, has deleterious effects.”
But he adds that right now, there isn’t enough scientific information to know where the line falls between beneficial and harmful cannabis use.
When people use a marijuana concentrate, they can titrate the dose so they only inhale or ingest enough THC to get high.
Piomelli says although this reasoning makes sense, we don’t know for certain whether this is how all people use these products.
Also, it’s easier to overdo it with marijuana concentrates, especially for novice users. This can increase the risk of toxicity.
In recent years, doctors have reported cases of users developing heart and brain problemsTrusted Source or psychosisTrusted Source after dabbing.
This could be related to the higher levels of THC in these products. But Piomelli says the marijuana concentrates can also deliver high amounts of contaminants.
One studyTrusted Source found more than 80 percent of tested products were contaminated, such as with solvents or pesticides. Homemade marijuana concentrates or those bought on the street may be more likelyTrusted Source to contain toxins.
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When it comes to the long-term health effects of marijuana concentrates, we’re entering uncharted territory.
“We have a good sense of how smoking cannabis affects health. Surprisingly, it’s not as bad as one would think, based on the tobacco example,” Piomelli said.
“But we know almost nothing about all these various vaping and dabbing products that are now available,” he added.
Some studies have found that higher-potency cannabis increases the risk of cannabis dependenceTrusted Source or psychosisTrusted Source, with some studies looking specifically at the use of butane hash oilTrusted Source.
Prince’s lab has looked at the links between cannabis potency and physical and mental health effects, but have seen mixed results.
He adds that the variability of marijuana concentrates on the market also make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the health effects.
More research is needed to understand how people are using marijuana concentrates and the short- and long-term effects of these products.
“THC is a very biologically active molecule. It has multiple effects, some of which are positive, some of which are not positive,” Piomelli said.
But he added, “We still know very little about its chronic effects, particularly in teenagers and children, pregnant women, and elderly people.”