A Complete Guide to Cannabis Concentrates

An array of cannabis concentrates: CBD oil, capsules, and topicals, with marijuana leaves in the backround.

 

The world of cannabis concentrates can be daunting for someone that's used to traditional cannabis flower.

Shatter, hash, wax, dabs, kief, oils, and rosin: all these terms can be a bit intimidating. It's no wonder many people prefer to stick with the forms of weed that they're used to.

It’s true that marijuana concentrates might not be for everyone. They do tend to appeal to more experienced cannabis connoisseurs, or folks that are seeking more potent, intense experiences.

But cannabis concentrate could have a place in any herb enthusiast's toolkit. You don't necessarily have to have a large amount, or experience heavy effects. Concentrates tend to have a high THC content, but you can also find ones that are CBD-dominant and won't get you very high.

In this article, we'll provide an overview of the most popular cannabis concentrates out there: what they are, how to use them, and what you can expect.

Hopefully it's helpful to both people that have never used concentrates, and to folks that are more experienced explorers.

What are Cannabis Concentrates?

Cannabis concentrates are any product that's made from distilling the active ingredients in cannabis plants. By active ingredients, we're talking about cannabinoids like THC and CBD, and terpenes too.

These compounds are what give your weed its effects and aroma, and concentrates will have similar effects to the strain in its original form.

Marijuana concentrates don't include any of the excess plant material, meaning it's a much stronger, highly concentrated form of cannabis. They have a much higher percentage of THC, CBD, and terpenes compared to normal herb.

Cannabis concentrates can be consumed by themselves, or combined with other forms of cannabis. For example, you can sprinkle some in a joint to increase its potency or add different effects.

 

A close-up of crystal trichomes on a cannabis plant.

Types of marijuana concentrate products

In order to produce concentrates, the trichomes of the cannabis plant are extracted. Trichomes are the gland in the plant that stores the cannabinoids and terpenes.

How are concentrates extracted? There are two main ways: methods that use a liquid solvent, and those that don't. We'll divide up this guide into these two broad categories.

Some extraction methods will remove everything but one specific cannabinoid (like THC or CBD), and others leave the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes intact. The experience varies greatly from one concentrate to another, so exploring your options and finding your favorites can take time.

But with all the options out there, conducting your research should be fun and stimulating.

 

Dry herb vape with pre-loadable ovens by Furna

Solventless Concentrates

Solvent-free extraction is also known as physical extraction. With a solventless extraction method, the trichomes are separated from the cannabis plant using a purely physical process, like pressing or shaking.

You can think of it as the trichomes being like the fruit of a tree. If you shake the cannabis enough, the THC-rich "fruit" will fall and can be collected.

The most common types of solvent-free cannabis concentrates include hash, rosin, and kief.

 

Two bricks of hash.

Hash (or hashish)

Hash is a very popular cannabis concentrate, and its use has a history that goes back over a thousand years. Traditional methods of making hash involved packing marijuana resin to make compressed blocks that can be smoked.

How hash looks and feels will vary depending on how it was made, and the amount of plant material left in it. Usually it's solid, but it can be brittle or malleable to the touch. It's usually light or dark brown, but it can be other colors as well.

Hash can be smoked, vaporized, or ingested, and is several times stronger than cannabis. Keep in mind that most dry herb vaporizers can't handle concentrates, and that you need to decarboxylate hash before eating it for it to have full effects.

Hash usually has 40-60% THC, significantly stronger than weed. Dried cannabis flower is usually 15-25% THC.

Bubble hash and ice water hash are also forms of hash which you can make yourself at home.

Rosin (and live rosin)

Rosin is a syrupy cannabis concentrate, usually golden or amber in color, and it's translucent. Rosin is made by using a hydraulic press to heat and pressurize the source cannabis, which can be either flower, kief, or hash.

It's quite similar to solvent-based concentrates like shatter and wax, but for people that don't want any trace amounts of solvent in their concentrates, rosin is a great alternative. You can even make it yourself using a homemade rosin press.

If the rosin is made from frozen fresh cannabis, and not dried and cured weed, it's called live rosin. Rosin is quite strong, as much as 75% THC, with live rosin generally stronger.

Rosin is most often consumed with a dab rig, but you can easily vape it in a vaporizer that can handle concentrates. There are also prepackaged cartridges. You can also smoke it from a glass pipe, or use a tiny amount to top up a bowl of cannabis flower. You can ingest it too.

Rosin can also easily be used in a vape that can handle concentrates — or found sold prepackaged in vape cartridges. You can also smoke it straight out of a glass pipe or use a tiny dab to top off a bowl of cannabis flower.

 

A weed grinder with a kief catcher at the bottom.

Kief (keef, dry sift, pollen)

If you look closely at a cannabis plant, you'll see a light dust of crystal powder on the tips of the trichomes. That's kief.

Kief is one of the most common and popular concentrates because it's so easy to extract. Many weed grinders have a kief catcher as the bottom layer.

As you grind the dry herb, the ground weed will stay in the chamber above the kief catcher. But the powdery dry sift will slip through the catcher and stay in the bottom compartment of the grinder.

Kief is usually around 50% THC, but purer forms can be even stronger. The most popular way to use kief is just sprinkling it onto a cannabis joint or the bowl of a pipe filled with ground weed.

You can also eat kief, but it needs to be decarbed first to activate its full effects. Because it's so powdery, kief isn't easy to vape. But you can add it to ground cannabis in a dry herb vaporizer, just don't consume it on its own or it can stick to the sides of your vape's chamber.

 

Furna vaporizers with swappable ovens

Solvent Based Concentrates

Other cannabis concentrates use chemicals or solvents as part of the process to get the trichomes off of the plant, and extract the essential oils. Solvent-based extraction processes are more efficient, and are the main method used by the weed concentrate industry.

The solvents used are usually butane, ethanol, propane, and/or carbon dioxide. After the chemical process is done, the solvents are removed from the resulting concentrate. They may remain present in trace amounts.

In general, it's a good idea to only buy cannabis concentrates from licensed producers in a legal market. This way, you'll know the highest safety standards were followed in producing them.

 

Bright yellow marijuana concentrate in a jar.

Butane hash oil (BHO)

Concentrates that were extracted using hydrocarbon solvents like butane or propane are all usually categorized together under the name butane hash oil, or BHO. These concentrates are probably the most common ones out there.

BHO concentrates usually manage to preserve the most cannabinoids and terpenes of the cannabis, with THC levels reaching 70-90%.

Butane hash oil concentrates are available at all kinds of price points and textures. If you've heard the terms shatter, wax, budder, and crumble, these all refer to the consistency of the concentrate, what it looks and feels like.

Most of the time these products will be BHO concentrates, although it is possible to achieve these textures with some of the other methods. They can be vaped or consumed using a dab rig.

If a concentrate is labeled as containing live resin, that means it was produced with flash frozen cannabis plants, as opposed to dried and cured buds.

CO2 oil

Another category of solvent-based cannabis concentrates is CO2 oil. It's similar to BHO concentrates, but is produced using carbon dioxide, which is considered by some to be a safer, more common solvent than the ones used in BHO concentrates.

C02 is used for things like decaffeinated coffee and for pharmaceutical extractions, so it has a long history of use as a solvent. And by modifying the pressure settings during the extraction process, you can create different textures of CO2 oil concentrates.

Most commonly, CO2 oil will remain in a liquid form, and are often sold in vaporizer cartridge form, such as 510 oil carts. Disposable vape pens can also use CO2 cannabis extract.

Most CBD-dominant oils are made using CO2 extraction processes. However, not as many terpenes are preserved in the extract, compared with butane hash oil extracts.

 

Cannabis oil capsules, with jars of oil and a marijuana leaf behind them.

Tinctures and Capsules

A tincture is a cannabis concentrate extract in a liquid, usually alcohol or glycerin. Marijuana tinctures were popular in the 19th century and early 20th century before prohibition. They’ve recently resurfaced in popularity during the legalization era.

Tinctures can only be ingested, usually using a dropper to place drops of tincture on your tongue. Because it's an edible concentrate, it will take longer to take effect. You can expect it to take 15-45 minutes to start feeling effects, and as long as two hours before it hits its peak.

Capsules are similar to tinctures, but the cannabis concentrate is inside a gelatin capsule, and you swallow it as you would any pill. They can take a little bit longer to kick in compared with tinctures. Digestion in the stomach takes longer to take effect than sub-lingual application under your tongue.

Distillates and isolates

Distillate is a concentrate that has been distilled to achieve more specific effects, and remove unwanted compounds. Usually, distillate will remove terpenes, changing the effects of extracts and making them flavorless.

For people looking for high THC levels, the cannabinoid content of distillates can hit 90%. However, the terpenes themselves can have therapeutic or enjoyable effects, so you might miss some of what has been removed. It all depends on your personal preference.

If you purify distillates a few steps further, you can get isolates, which only contain one cannabinoid from cannabis in them.

CBD isolate and THC isolate are the most common ones, but CBG and CBC isolates also exist. An isolate can get up to 99.9% purity, and have no smell, color, or taste.

 

Two people vaping using vape pens.

How to Vaporize Cannabis Concentrate

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to consuming cannabis concentrates. But not all of them are user friendly.

Among heavy concentrate users, dab rigs are probably the most popular way to enjoy marijuana concentrates. A dab rig has a nail or dabbing tool that gets heated up with a torch, and you place your concentrate directly onto the nail.

Because dabbing requires specialized equipment, and has a learning curve, concentrates get a reputation for being complicated for beginners to use.

But as mentioned above, you're not limited to dab rigs. You can smoke, have capsules, tinctures, and even ingest some concentrates. Some can even be applied topically.

To vaporize concentrates, you can buy vape pens, or session vaporizers specifically designed to use concentrates. Vaping concentrates, whether from a vape pen or a larger vaporizer, will let you enjoy effects quickly without having to smoke them. You’ll also avoid the negative health risks associated with smoking.

If you're looking to vaporize both marijuana concentrates and dry herb, there are some dry herb vaporizers that let you consume both. Some are better in vapor quality and flavor than others, and the convenience and messiness of using concentrates varies.

The best dry herb vape for concentrates

For most dry herb vaporizers, vaping weed concentrates just isn't an option at all. Other dry herb vapes have the ability to vape concentrates, but they involve the use of awkward inserts you have to place inside the vaporizer chamber.

It can be a messy process, and the inserts can be hot to the touch. Although it's a useful capability in a pinch, if you're interested in using concentrates regularly, it probably won't cut it for you.

The Furna vaporizer solves this problem with a swappable oven system. Furna has ovens specifically for dry herb and for concentrate, and you can swap in whichever one you want. It's a much more convenient solution and takes the mess and frustration out of the process.

There are also 510 oil cart ovens which let you attach a 510 oil cartridge to the vaporizer. Having all the options makes Furna the most versatile dry herb vaporizer out there.

Also, if you want to keep a session going, you don't have to clean out and reload your vape. You can just load up multiple ovens before you start, or before you leave your house. Then you're good to go whenever you need to reload.

The swapping really is instant: the outside of the oven never gets too hot to handle, so you can handle it immediately. This way you can keep a session with friends moving smoothly, or easily stay discreet when reloading your vape in a more public setting. Check out the Furna vape to learn more.

 

Vaporizer with dry herb and concentrate ovens by Furna