By extracting the active ingredients (cannabinoids and terpenes) from the cannabis plant you create a cannabis concentrate. The vaporisation of cannabis concentrates is called dabbing and is an increasingly popular method of consuming cannabis.
‘Cannabis concentrate’ is the umbrella term for extractions of ‘cannabinoids’ (THC, CBD, CBN, CBC, etc.) and ‘terpenes’ from the cannabis plant. By extracting the cannabinoids and terpenes, only the active ingredients are gathered and separated from the rest of the (non-active) plant material. A concentrate can be solid (for example hash or wax) or liquid (oil).
To understand how to make an extraction we have to zoom into the cannabis plant first.
Trichs & terps
The cannabis plant produces flowers, which are more well-known as buds or weed. On these flowers, a resin is formed: these are the white crystals visible on the flower buds. The more resin the more potent the weed. If we take a close look at the resin it’s clearly visible that it manifests itself as loose ‘hairs’: these are ‘trichomes’.
On the trichome ‘hairs’ small balls are produced: the ‘trichome heads’. Trichome heads are the holy grail of the cannabis plant: all cannabinoids and terpenes are stored in the trichome heads. The heads are responsible for the taste of cannabis, the effect of cannabis and its medical applications. It’s only the heads that make us feel high or stoned.
Terpenes are responsible for the smell and flavour of the weed and have, in combination with the cannabinoids, their own (medical) effect.
Therefore cannabis strains with high levels of both trichomes (thrichs) and terpenes (terps) are the ideal input for a cannabis concentrate.
What strain to use?
Obviously, it’s important to use a strain of weed that produces large amounts of trichomes. More trichomes logically increase the chance for high concentrations of cannabinoids in the trichome heads. Second, the strain should be rich in terpenes.
An important saying in the extraction process is: ‘what goes in comes out’. This is to emphasize the fact that the input (a well-bred cannabis strain with lots of trichomes and strong terpenes) determines the output (the quality of the cannabis concentrate).
Some cannabis strains produce more trichomes (with a higher concentration cannabinoids) than others. Next to genetics, the cannabinoid concentration is dependent on multiple external factors, like circumstances during cultivation. Other strains are rich in terpenes, which makes the smell coming from the plant more intense.
Especially for you, we tested which cannabis strains are most suitable for making a cannabis concentrate...
Top 4 strains for cannabis concentrate
- Sour Power from HortiLab
- Holy Grail Kush from DNA Genetics
- Wappa from Paradise Seeds
- Original Amnesia from Dinafem
How to extract from cannabis?
So, let’s get practical. How can we separate trichomes from the rest of the weed and what is needed to do so?
First, we make a distinction between non-solvent and solvent methods. Non-solvent methods are most simple: you sieve the plant material in order to filter out the crystals. This can be done either by hand or with machines specifically developed for the purpose, like the Pollinator, Ice-o-lator or Bubbleator. The other option is to solve the plant material in either butane gas or alcohol. The active ingredients dissolve in the fluid and have to be filtered out later on.
Prefer to go a bit more professional and let a machine do the hard work for you? The Pollinator (available in different sizes) is the optimal equipment for you. It’s recommended to put the plant material in an airtight bag in the freezer for at least 2 hours before you start. Next, put the plant material in the electrically-driven machine. In 2-5 minutes the Pollinator has done the sieving and your extract is ready.
The Ice-O-Lator is a simple and pure water and ice extraction method. The system consists of two bags with fine screens which you put into a bucket filled with ice, water and your plant material. You need a kitchen machine to do the mixing for you. The use of a double screen guarantees a very pure end product: dust particles and plant waste will stay behind in the water. The key to the process is a water temperature of just above zero (4 to 5°C is optimal).
Ice-o-Lator in washing machine
Ice-O-Lator also created bags that can be used in a top loading washing machine. Instead of stirring the cold water and leaves manually, let a rotating washing machine do the work for you, separating the precious crystals from your plants.
The Bubbleator uses a similar extraction method like the Ice-o-Lator. The system is a complete and fully operational set-up and requires only cold water, a collection bucket, electricity and the plant material that will be used. Once the wash is finished the water containing the trichomes passes through a filter bag that collects any loose leaf material from the water. Next it passes through the crystal catching sieve bag where your crystals are collected. Similar to the Ice-o-Lator, you pass these crystals through a kitchen sieve for drying, after which they are ready for pressing or immediate use. The screen bags of the Bubbleator are pyramid-shaped in order to give water more interplay with the plant matter.
Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
The concentrate is made by shooting butane gas through the plant material and purging the butane afterwards. Use either the Queen bee extractor or the Honey bee extractor. Put the plant material inside and shoot the butane gas through the opening. The oil will drop out on the other side.
Caution: be sure to only use this method outdoors! Butane is very flammable and can easily lead to explosions!
ISO Hash Oil
It’s also possible to solve the plant material in alcohol. Only Isopropyl alcohol is suitable, and it should at least be 91%, preferably 99%. Put both alcohol and plant material in the freezer for at least a couple of days before you start.
When using a solvent method you have to purify the concentrate before you’re able to use it. With the BHO method, it’s common to use a vacuum oven to purge. For the ISO Hash Oil, a system with coffee filters and some patience (eventually the alcohol evaporates) will do.
When opting for the BHO method beware to use butane gas of good quality! Choose ‘refined’ or ‘purified’ butane, which means the manufacturer did not put any additives that might stick into your concentrate.
Terminology: wax, hash & shatter
As said before ‘concentrate’ is an umbrella term and cannabis concentrates come in different shapes and forms. Technically speaking ordinary hash is a concentrate as well.
(Online) sources are full of terms like shatter, wax or bubble hash, that refer to concentrates. Exact definitions are not always available, but in general it can be said that shatter refers to very pure concentrates, that almost look and feel like glass. Wax is more sticky and oil is completely fluid. Bubble hash is hash produced by a Bubbleator. Icewax is wax from the Ice-o-lator. Full-melt refers to concentrates that contain so little plant material that the concentrate fully melts when heated. Full-melt extracts are most suitable for use in a vaporizer as they don’t leave a residue.
Whether a concentrate is fluid or solid is not only dependent on the extraction method that you use but also on the quality of the plant material you put in.