How To Use Cannabis As A Medicine
Concentrates - Smoking And Vaping
Concentrates are growing in popularity and represent the “next level of cannabis consumption.” A common industry comparison that may or may not be in good taste is that while smoking a joint or even hitting a bong rip is like drinking a heavy beer; dabbing is likened to taking multiple shots of THC. The more scientific and accurate way to illustrate this is that while smoking flower provides the user with an average of 20-30% THC; smoking and especially dabbing concentrates has the user consuming THC contents ranging between 30% to even 90%+ THC! That’s effectively more than triple the potency in some cases!
What is a Concentrate?
Simply put, a concentrate is an extraction of the trichomes and terpenoids separated from the cannabis plant material. It is a material concentration of the medicine essentially and they can be smoked/vaped outright or made into edible or topical products. It is important to note that the quality of the starting material must be good and especially clean, as this will drastically affect the quality of the concentrates. Impurities, pesticides, mold, and their harm can possibly be magnified in concentrates. With that said, there are various methods and techniques of extraction and a resulting variety of different textures and consistencies, each of which is explained below.
Dry Hash Extractions - Old School Drum Extraction, Kief, Charas, Finger Hash
The act of making Hashish has been around for thousands of years and is the original way of making “Concentrated” Cannabis. Originally popularized in ancient cultures and countries in the middle east - Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Afghanistan, Africa, and more - the old school method of manufacturing hash involved packing harvested cannabis plants into drums, to which they would be covered with silk screens and then beaten and banged like a drum. Trichomes and powdery kief would be filtered through the screen during the banging, collected and then cured for consumption. Although this may sound crude, this method does produce good medicine that can be outright smoked, pressed out, or utilized in making edibles, tinctures, and topicals.
It is also important to mention that “Charas” or scissor/finger hash, or even the kief from the bottom of a flower grinder is also considered a concentrate in the same vein as dry hash extraction.
Water Extraction - Bubble Hash
There is a more modern way to make hashish, and this involves a little more technique than simply banging on drums filled with cannabis. Utilizing bags with micron (µ) specific screens at the bottom of each bag, they are placed in tandem and in order from smallest micron to largest in a bucket. Cannabis plant material is placed into the top most bag, which is then combined with ice and water. This mixture is then agitated by hand stirring or even with a drill in order to force the valuable trichomes and terpenes towards the bottom of each bag and into the bucket. Large scale, more high tech runs can utilize an actual washer! The resulting material is then laid out, dried, sometimes sifted and microplaned, and cured. Multiple “wash runs” are possible, and most hash makers are pretty thorough about maximizing their yields and resulting materials from each wash.
As with dry hash, the manufactured product can be smoked or vaped outright, pressed out, or utilized to make edibles, topicals, and even Rosin (see below).
Grades - Burner, Bubble, Full Melt, Moonshine
There are indeed different textures and what connoisseurs call “grades” of hash. Oftentimes, they are graded by 1-4 star ratings, but the industry has seen several other ways of judging quality such as calling certain grades Bubble, Full Bubble, Full Melt, Moonshine - these are all industry standards subject to change at any time unfortunately.
Suffice it to say, this variety is dependent on many factors including but not limited to: quality of starting flower material; the micron size of each granular group of hash (each bag in the bubble system produces different grades); how cold the room is where the hash is being processed and stored; whether or not the hash maker is employing fine sifting techniques during production; what the final consistency comes out as; and how the concentrate inevitably smokes - how well it melts and how much ash is left. The exact particulars of making different grades of hash are beyond the scope of this book, but it is important to note the differences and recognize them for both medical and recreational consumption.
Hash makers will typically like to have their hash pressed out for ease of storage or for distribution. Additionally, some connoisseurs like to take loose hash, press it out themselves, and dab it!
Chemical Solvent Extraction
Chemical Solvent Concentrates include concentrates that were manufactured utilizing a solvent such as Butane or Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in order to separate trichomes and terpenoids from the plant, so that they may be reprocessed into a smaller more concentrated substance. The resulting consistencies of product are varied and are dependent on a number of factors including but not limited to: quality and freshness of starting flower material, type of solvent used, what type of extraction method is being used, type of purging method use, what temperatures were used throughout the process, what type of machine, vacuum, or oven were used, and whether the concentrate maker employs techniques like whipping or stirring during the purging process. Most concentrates are made with the intention of being vaporized or “dabbed” but they may also be smoked (mixed in with a joint or bowl), and used in making edibles, topicals and more.
Butane Hash Oil or BHO for short is one of the most common form of concentrates recognized by cannabis connoisseurs. The primary solvent used for extraction is Butane which is used to “blast” and collect the trichomes and terpenoids into an oil, which is then purged using a combination of heat and vacuum extraction to “purge” out the butane solvent. What is left when properly purged, is a product that is free of chemicals (0 PPM or 0 Parts Per Million). BHO can come in many consistencies, is most often vaporized/dabbed but can also be used for edible and topical creation. The most common ones are listed below:
Wax - this consistency is similar to candle wax in that it is thick and sticky, but easily melts.
Crumble/Honeycomb - this consistency is dry, loose, and crumbles into smaller pieces easily. Larger samples often have small holes in them and resemble a “honeycomb.”
Budder - this is more viscous, sticky, and resembles a gooey butter.
Shatter/Glass - this consistency looks similar to hard candy and cracks when handled.
Sap - this is a sticky texture and consistency that resembles honey or molasses.
Taffy - this is slightly firmer than sap but not as brittle or as hard like shatter; it almost resembles taffy candy.
Clean BHO is a major topic in the industry, and unfortunately, these kinds of concentrates carry some sort of infamy - there are countless stories of amateur concentrate makers manufacturing bad product that taste like sulfur and pesticides (improperly purged material) and wanna be chemists with little real world knowledge blowing themselves and their houses up. As such, it is an unfortunate industry responsibility to only manufacture and source clean medicine in a properly controlled system and environment. Regardless, BHO still remains and is sometimes the preferred mode of consumption for many users.
Carbon dioxide vapor cartridges have hit the cannabis industry hard and are only growing in popularity. There are countless brand manufacturers and each have their own spin, take, design, flavors, and latest and greatest tech behind both their extraction and functionality of the actual pen/battery. Essentially, the concentrate itself is a liquid made of trichomes and terpenoids extracted from the cannabis plant with Carbon Dioxide supercritical fluid extraction technology and then mixed with vaporizable liquids that may or may not be infused with flavoring.
CO2 cartridges offer a vaporizable alternative to smoking cannabis that is fairly cost effective. Users enjoy how discreet they can be - instead of leaving behind smoke clouds and odors that may be abrasive to other non-smokers, vapor cartridges leave small and fast dissipating vapers that carry very little smell. CO2 extraction and cartridges are not without their downsides, however, and the quality between the various CO2 manufacturers can be vast depending on the quality of the machines being used and any other post extraction techniques such as winterization or additional distillation.
With that said, the market and CO2 carts are evolving, and like smoking, they provide a viable way of medicating with cannabis if smoking or vaping is intended for therapeutic use.
Other Chemical Solvents - Propane, Hexane, Fractional Distillation, +More
There are indeed other solvents that can be used in the chemical extraction of cannabis. “Extract Artists” have been known to experiment with various methods and techs including but not limited to utilizing Propane, Hexane, and more, and with using esoteric chemistry techniques such as Fractional Distillation. These processes are out of the scope of this book/journal, but it is important to know that other techniques of creating cannabis extracts and concentrates do exist and that those crafts are also growing and evolving.
While Cannabis Rosin may be new to the market, the actual concept of Rosin is not. Musicians, especially those who play string instruments such as violins or cellos, are familiar with the hard but brittle clumps of solidified oil that helps with the maintenance and treating of their bows strings. This rosin is essentially comprised of hardened oil and sap from trees and this is very similar to Cannabis Rosin.
Cannabis Rosin is the heated and hardened collection of cannabinoids and terpenoid oils created by pressure and heat. As in the above image, this can even be done with something as crude as a hair straightener. Most industrial Cannabis Rosin producers utilize multi-ton jack presses in order to process large amounts. Essentially, raw flower or even hash/kief, is placed in between a parchment paper or screen, to which they are pressed and smashed together utilizing low heat temperatures, and extreme pressure - sometimes several tons of weight pressure.
The resulting amberish oil can be collected and dabbed outright, which is the most common form of consumption, but they may also be cured to achieve a better texture, as well as used in creating edibles and topicals.
“NugRun”; “Fresh Frozen”; “Live Resin”
These are terms often used to describe high quality cannabis wax or rosin. Nug Run refers to
concentrates processed with actual bud instead of trim. Fresh Frozen refers to concentrates
processed with bud that is immediately frozen after a harvest in order to preserve as much terpenoids as possible. Live Resin refers to concentrates made immediately after a flower’s harvest in order to produce the freshest possible material. Connoisseurs prefer any of the above as they maintain the closest representation of taste in relation to the original flower. It is easy to argue that these taste the best when it comes to consuming concentrates.
Dosing concentrates actually follows the same conventions as flower does, although it is important to remember that these extracts come packed with much higher percentages and doses than those traditionally found in flower. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this: A gram of Cannatonic Bubble Hash contains 44.3% CBD,17.4% THC, 10.2% CBN and a gram of Girl Scout Cookies
Live Resin Wax contains 88.4% THC, 4.3% CBD, and 9.8% CBN.
The resulting milligram contents of these gram examples are as follows: The Cannatonic Bubble Hash gram contains 443 mg of CBD, 174 mg of THC, and 102 mg of CBN; while the Girl Scout Cookies Live Resin Wax gram contains 884 mg of THC, 43 mg of CBD, and 98 mg of CBN.
Although concentrates may indeed be smoked, which hash often is, the growing method of consumption for these concentrates is vaporizing. Like smoking flower, 30-40% of the medicinal content is lost to combustion, while vaporizing nets a smaller loss at 10-20%, sometimes even less when done at proper “heady” low temperatures (low temp dabbing).
CO2 Cartridge dosing varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and the contents and sizes of each cartridge will indeed differ from product to product. Professional and established companies will, however, have these products lab tested and have part of their lab results shown on their packaging. Most will have a recommended amount of puffs listed so that users can have an idea of how much to take.
Medical Application of Concentrates
Like smoking, consumption of cannabis concentrates is oftentimes ignorantly misunderstood, despite the fact that there are indeed medical and therapeutic benefits to vaping and dabbing.
Consumption of concentrates may actually provide near instantaneous relief to symptoms in users who need much heavier doses and relief than those provided by smoking flower, as well as faster relief than what edibles and even tinctures can provide. Recommending doses can be tricky with the high variances in potency possible with the various extracts, but soldiers with severe PTSD, patients fresh out of surgery, individuals with a long history of severe back or joint pain, and even Fibromyalgia and Multiple Sclerosis patients - many have reported positive feedback with consuming concentrates ranging from smoking hash, to discreetly using CO2 carts during the day, to outright dabbing after going through a severe pain spike. As with smoking cannabis, self titration is the key with finding one’s dose and frequency of medication. The versatility of concentrates cannot be understated and some of the many medical applications of these include but are not limited to:
Severe Pain Symptoms: Post surgery, Phantom Limb Syndrome,
Convulsions, Spasms, Grand Mal Seizures, Parkinson’s Tremors
Headaches and Migraines (Cluster Headaches)
Anorexia or lack of appetite due wastings syndrome, medication, or chemo.
Severe and Chronic Insomnia
Anxiety and Panic attacks (CBD and heavier strains are recommended for this)
Note that the onset of smoking/vaping concentrates is very similar to smoking flower - effects typically occur within 5-10 seconds of inhalation. Duration of effects typically lasts 1-4 hours.
Due to the many varied types of concentrates out there, it is difficult to provide accurate recommendations for new users; moderation is best, and start small when trying a new product.
This article and page continues further in the following subsections:
Written and Organized by
Cannabis Education and Research Director