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Cannabis Concentrates: Extraction’s Resin Renaissance

Photo Professor P/additional photos Gracie Malley


Cannabis Concentrates: Extraction’s Resin Renaissance

Go behind the scenes as breeders reveal their specific strain’s lineage, flowering times, ideal climate and consumption methods in this new book.

Marijuana maestro, Ed Rosenthal, is a certified legend in the world of cannabis publishing.  His latest book, “This Bud’s for You,” offers up a fresh, eclectic selection of essays and articles by some of the world’s finest cannabis writers, including a few members of Cannabis Now’s editorial team. Enjoy this exclusive sample — a reflection on the early days of dabs.

Centuries after we’ve all toked our last, when hash historians of the future trace the evolution of whatever fantastic extracts they’re ingesting, they will break everything down into the BD and AD eras – Before Dabs and After Dabs.

The social buzz around dabbing has done more than ignite new interest in the very old idea of extracting and concentrating cannabis compounds. This resin renaissance has created a new cultural framework for the categorization and consumption of concentrates.

The earthy spice and balanced effects of well-crafted “full spectrum” hash will never go out of style. But if you haven’t waded past the icy shallows of traditional cold-water concentrates, there’s an uncharted sea of exotic flavors and otherworldly sensations waiting for you to dive in and explore.

My “beat” is chasing the bleeding edge of a technological and cultural revolution in cannabis extraction. Thankfully sampling the most powerful concentrates on the planet while doing it.

As a result, I get regular opportunities to speak (and dab) with some of the finest minds in the industry, people who are changing the way the world approaches cannabis consumption. From elusive chemistry majors hell-bent on perfecting the molecular isolation of liquid terpenes and THCA crystals, to self-taught closed loop artisans who’ve mastered the art of making shatter that tastes like sweet fruit and looks like clear golden glass.

California is awash in more dabbable extracts than I can ever hope to sample in a single lifetime, not that it stops me from trying. But it wasn’t always like this. The first time I tried any sort of concentrate that wasn’t bubble hash or traditional style hash oil was in the early 00s — whenever the Vapor Room in San Francisco first started selling CO2 wax.

By that time I was smoking hash with my morning coffee, so one of the VR’s budtenders suggested the wax on the day it arrived. He definitely warned me to take it easy on my first try, so my only excuse for what happened next is that I was young.

My plan, to the extent I ever had one in those days, was to try out the expensive wax stuff, ride my bike to the Red Vic and catch a movie. Eager to experience the full effect, I mashed a grape sized lump on top of a bowl of flowers and fired it up, taking the same sort of massive rip I normally did, completely ignoring the nice man’s perfectly sensible advice.

The explosive coughing fit that followed lasted about five minutes, but the overwhelming physical and psychological effects lasted hours that felt like years. That night (which I spent alone, teetering on the razor edge of full-blown hallucination) wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but suffice to say I never made it to the movie theater.

Rather than being put off by the mind-blowing experience, I was intrigued. I started buying wax instead of hash, but intuitively felt I wasn’t utilizing it to its full potential.

I started experimenting with some early “wax pens,” which made for more convenient use but never quite captured my fancy. Loading them was a pain, they had battery issues and, on balance, were an over-complicated buzzkill.

And then I remembered how we used to smoke hash when I was in high school — hot knifing. We’d heat up steel knives in the coils of an electric stove and press a chunk of hash between the eponymous hot knives, capturing the resulting smoke with a paper funnel or half of a two-liter plastic bottle.

I asked a few people about hot knifing wax and they told me all about dabbing. I went to a local headshop, where the manager was happy to sell me a cheap dab rig at a 500% markup, complete with an equally overpriced titanium nail and crummy butane torch.

That night I excitedly took my first dab in classic first dab fashion — off a red-hot titanium nail.

Fast forward to 2015. I’m taking a low-temp dab of 99.9% pure crystalline THCA rolled into clear gold shatter. I feather the carb cap on the quartz glass banger until I’m satisfied with the size of my hit and blow a billowing cloud of terpy vapor at the computer screen as my lungs heave a sigh of relief – my how times have changed.

So what’s the difference between shatter and wax? What about crumble and sugar?

Putting aside rosin and CO2 extraction for the moment, almost all the wax, crumble, shatter and so on you find for sale in states with dispensaries is made using solvents like butane. One common catchall term for these solvent-based extracts is “BHO,” which stands for butane hash oil. And while that term is imprecise, it’s useful for explaining how wax and shatter can be so chemically similar yet have such radically different physical characteristics.

One easy way to clear up a lot of the confusion surrounding the different types of “non-hash” extracts is to think about concentrates like candy.

Most candy starts out as a simple blend of sugary syrups. The difference between a lollipop and a piece of taffy is largely the result of temperature during cooking. In the same way, the immediate result of running solvents through cannabis will always be some liquefied blend of extract and solvent, it’s what comes next that determines its final state.

So the same run that gets purged in a vacuum oven to make a shatter can be whipped over heat to make a wax. But the core method of extraction remains the same.

Some people adore what they perceive as higher terp levels in wax, others are fascinated by the golden clarity and hard candy stability of a great shatter. Many of these differences are superficial and a matter of preference. But however the concentrates are made, dabs are part of cannabis’ future. Those of us who have tasted and felt the incomparable power of a good dab know there is no substitute.

For more information or to purchase the book, click HERE.

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