Back in the day, all you needed to know about cannabis was how to roll a joint and what the difference between a bong and a pipe was. But rising popularity and the technological know-how of modern-day cannabis patients has led to a whole new territory that might seem strange and frightening. Surrounded by vapes, dabs, doohickeys and whatchamacallits, the newcomer can quickly become confused and overwhelmed.
Well not to worry, dear reader. Your favorite cannabis correspondent has put down the buds for one day to learn all about cannabis concentrates. No longer will those strange and alien-looking goops and powders make you feel like an out-of-touch narc.
Concentrates are made from the trichomes of the cannabis plant. Trichomes are the cannabinoid-rich crystals you find on the surface of the flowers. These crystals are separated from the buds through different methods and then used to make a number of products.
If you're a serious smoker, you would do well to think about buying a bud grinder with a kief collector on the bottom. Every time you grind out a bowl, the loose trichomes that fall from the buds sift through a mesh and collect in the bottom of the grinder. The incredibly potent powder that results is kief, and it can be sprinkled on top of bowls to give it an extra kick. Dispensaries generally sell kief in half-grams.
Dosage: Kief is smoked on top of bowls or inside joints. Some brave wanderers will smoke it by itself (but be careful not to touch the flame directly to the kief, or you'll burn it up). This stuff is powerful and should never be underestimated, but the THC levels can be vastly different from strain to strain. Expect it to be three to seven times stronger than the usual dose of flower.
The infamous hash is made by compressing kief into pucks or bricks. This might be one of the oldest ways to turn cannabis into concentrate, going back to at least 900 AD in the Middle East, where the condensed form of the plant made it easier to transport and trade. Dispensaries generally sell these in half-gram increments.
Dosage: Hash is smoked in a number of ways. If the hash is of high quality, it will crumble at a touch, but usually, you'll have to apply some heat to it for a few seconds until it breaks up. Smoking it like kief works well, but fans also have been known to place a small piece of hash on the end of a paper clip and light it just until it starts to smoke. There's also the glass method, where you set up the paper-clip-hash-chunk combo and get the chunk of hash burning, then put a glass over the top and collect the smoke that rises. Then there's the (scary as hell) method of heating up two knives, placing the hash on one blade, and pressing it with the other, making it smoke. Dosage is comparable to kief.
Despite what you might have heard, concentrates aren't just about vapor and smoke. Orally administered tinctures are also on the menu for patients who prefer the effects of edibles or are trying to avoid the throat irritation common with inhalants.
Cannabis tincture is made the same way as other herbal tinctures. After the cannabis has been decarboxylated—a process that activates the THC found in the raw flower—it is soaked in alcohol, creating a THC-infused extract. Tinctures can be very potent, but finding the right dose is much easier in this form than smoking or consuming edibles, since it can be measured out in exact, reliable increments.
It was once known as “Green Dragon.” Dragon extracts come in a variety of flavors these days and are a great way for a rookie to ease into the field.
Dosage: Tinctures are usually administered in drops under the tongue. Start with a 1ml drop and increase as needed. Effects will begin within 15 to 45 minutes after dosing. Tinctures can also be added to foods to make instant cannabis-infused edibles. Expect these effects to begin within 60-90 minutes, much like over-the-counter edibles.
Budder, wax, shatter, honey, crumble …
It took me a while to figure this out, but all of these names refer to cannabis oil, which can be extracted in a number of ways. The most popular methods of extraction these days produce butane hash oil (BHO) and CO2 oil. The different names refer to different consistencies of the oil that come about from a variety of agitation methods.
BHO oil's sticky consistency and amber color won it the common nickname of “honey.” It's made by passing liquid butane through a tube filled with flower. The liquid butane quickly dissolves the trichome heads and cannabinoids, producing a solution that is heated to a temperature that will burn off the excess butane and leave only the oil. This method gained some notoriety a few years ago due to its dangerous preparation method. Butane is highly flammable, and early adopters weren't always careful, meaning there were more than a few explosions in extraction labs back in the day.
CO2 oil produces the purest form of concentrate available in a method that leaves more of the cannabinoids intact. The method used, supercritical fluid extraction, uses pressure and carbon dioxide to separate plant material in the most efficient way possible at the moment and produces an oil that can be smoked or vaporized. Portable vaporizer pens have made this oil extremely popular, with most dispensaries selling various sized disposable cartridges filled with CO2 oil cut with a medical-grade solvent called polypropylene glycol. Syringes of various sizes are also available.
Dosage: BHO and CO2 oil can have THC levels up to 90 percent (although the legal limit for producers in New Mexico is currently 70 percent), and should be experimented with a hit at a time. These products are generally used with a dabbing kit or vaporizer. CO2 oil can be used with vape pens, which streamline the process and remove the need for complicated rigs that characterize BHO use.