Marijuana Concentrates Buyer’s Guide

marijuana concentrates

image courtesy of High Times

With marijuana concentrates more popular than ever before, it’s easy for the average consumer to get lost in trying to navigate the many options available on the market. While price is generally a reliable indicator of quality relative to similar products, its hardly an empirical method for determining how good a concentrate will be before you have a chance to try it. In this article, we’ll discuss what experienced connoisseurs look for in their concentrates so you can be better prepared the next time you head to the dispensary to pick up some dabs.

Use Your Senses

You have five senses at your disposal— sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. You should use as many of these tools as you possibly can when shopping for concentrates! Of course, the easiest way to accomplish this is to test a sample but since that’s rarely an option for the average consumer, it often falls on sight and smell to do the bulk of the investigation. No worries! These two very powerful tools… if you know how to use them.

Color, Clarity, Consistency

A shattercareful visual inspection of a concentrate can determine a lot right off the bat. Better concentrates will have a lighter color to them and will take on a color similar to blondehash. Darkness or a green tinge is usually a sign of impurities pulled from the plant as a result of poor-quality butane / technique (though darker-colored purple strains seem to come out a little darker). Good shatter is filtered and should be mostly translucent— there should be no discernible particles trapped anywhere.

Consistency should be as advertised, So, if you’re paying for shatter, you shouldn’t be getting sugar. More liquid, sappy shatter will either be poorly purged or have a high terpene content whereas more solid, stable shatter will always have substantially fewer terpenes leading to a less pleasant flavor.

Sugaring can be caused by prolonged improper storage, a rushed purge, or from substantially high volatile terpene content so additional inspection is usually required. Its generally harder to determine how good sugar will be before sampling which is why it tends to be cheaper.

If you can, be careful to observe if the concentrate sticks to whatever its on or if it breaks apart easily— drier, more crumbly concentrates are usually over-purged and lack the flavor profile of “wetter” looking concentrates.

Follow Your Nose

According to Dr Alan Hirsch of the Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, 90% of what is perceived as taste is actually smell. That means that a solid whiff of your concentrate in question should be a good indicator of how said concentrate will taste. That’s two senses in one… you should always smell your concentrates before you buy! A stronger smelling concentrate is bound to have more flavor and be more enjoyable than a mild-smelling concentrate.

And while there is really no way to determine if one flavor profile is “better” than another (to each her own), there are some smells that you want to avoid; you should be skeptical if you detect any unpleasant or chemical smells, especially if the concentrate has a more liquid consistency or a strange color. Be wary of liquid-like “solvent-less” concentrates available in different fruity flavors, these are often achieved with flavor additives (same with pre-filled cartridges that use e-juice). If you can’t smell anything, you can expect the concentrate to not taste so great.

Nug Run vs. Trim Run vs. Popcorn Nug Run

nugsFinally, we have to address the different qualities of plant matter that go into making concentrates. Obviously nug runs are going to offer the most potent, flavorful concentrates because those buds have higher concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes. This is what you want if you’re looking to get the full concentrate experience.

Popcorn nug runs and trim runs, thotrim runugh still potent, contain considerably
fewer terpenes than nug runs and more impurities— these always tend to be darker and more “stable” with much less impressive flavor (even though some will pass the “smell test”). Is there good, tasty PNR or TR shatter? Sure! You’re just going to be disappointed many, many times looking for it. If you’re going to spend the money, its almost always worth it to spring for the nug run.

It’s a lot to remember… but after enjoying higher-quality concentrates for a while, these considerations become second-nature. Perhaps the best way to get started is to treat yourself to the nicest concentrate you can get your hands on and enjoy it… really enjoy it. Make yourself familiar with what a really good concentrate is like and work your way backward… that way you’ll be ready to pounce next time you see a deal at the dispensary (and avoid the disappointing traps)!

How Clean Is Your Cannabis Extract?

how clean is your cannabis extractThough we don’t often think about it, consuming marijuana means you’re ingesting more than just THC. The process of growing and curing weed often subjects the plant to numerous chemicals and pathogens, and without any oversight or regulation, consumers are forced to rely on growers to be responsible in their use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Unfortunately, most marijuana growers lack a proper understanding of agriculture science.

One example is the widespread use of the fungicide “Eagle 20 EW” which has been detected in commercial grows in Colorado. Though its commonly used on hops and grape crops, the compound has been banned for use on tobacco because the residue left behind becomes toxic when burned.

A recent independent study in the state found that nearly every sample of medicinal marijuana obtained contained trace amounts of harmful, potentially carcinogenic pesticides. Even though these chemicals were only present in very low concentrations, regular long-term exposure could pose a health concern, especially to patients with already compromised immune systems.

Concentrating Cannabis

marijuana sprayed with pesticidesThe improper use of pesticides becomes an even bigger problem when we begin to look at cannabis extracts. By concentrating the marijuana plant, one can also unintentionally concentrate any residual pesticides left behind in the plant. As any toxicologist will be happy to tell you, “the danger is in the dose,” the more concentrated a toxin is, the greater a threat it poses to peoples’ health.

Additionally, though butane itself is considered generally non-toxic at mild concentrations, 99.99% pure butane is nearly impossible to obtain without ordering from a specialized, regulated scientific supply company leaving most “extract artists” to rely on disposable butane canisters that use any number of toxic adulterants as a carrier gas (some of these canisters may advertise themselves as “pure” but even the most expensive lab-grade reagents can only assure a >95% purity as the gas can decompose into primary products).

Outsourcing CBD

One last concern specifically addresses CBDchina agricultural runoff concentrates which are often manufactured from industrial hemp. As these concentrates have risen in popularity, China has begun exporting extracts made from Chinese hemp which could pose a health risk. The New York Times and BBC recently published several articles covering how heavy metal runoff from mining operations has made its way into the food supply, skyrocketing cancer rates by as much as 500% (maybe more, its hard to determine exactly how bad things have gotten with a lack of reliable self-reporting from China). It’s been well established that plants like hemp readily absorb these heavy metals and that Chinese environmental authorities cannot be trusted for proper analysis or certification of such materials. Consumers must be cautious and make sure to only purchase extracts produced in countries with  strong regulations like the U.S. and Canada.

So how clean is your cannabis concentrate? It’s impossible to know without thorough independent chemical analysis. The extract industry has exploded largely unchecked and only now have we begun to realize that these concentrates pose a new set of concerns previously unknown with consuming the marijuana plant alone. As places like Canada and Colorado begin to adopt policies that regulate the marijuana industry, there’s no doubt we’ll gain a better understanding of exactly how these substances actually affect our health.

Is Dabbing Really Dangerous?

is dabbing dangerousWe’ve all seen the news stories about how dangerous dabbing can be — dramatic accounts of clandestine “drug labs” being blown up by amateur hash-makers– but really, how dangerous is dabbing for the average user? Though there’s been little formal scientific research specifically on the topic (due mostly to the DEA’s listing of marijuana as as schedule 1 substance), empirical data suggests that under ideal conditions, dabbing should pose even fewer health risks than traditional combustion of marijuana.

Dabbing Is a Form of Vaporization

The key to understanding dabbing is to realize it’s just a contemporary form of “hot knife” vaporization– a stainless steel (or ceramic or quartz) surface is heated directly and that surface is used to vaporize hash oil below the ~450°F required for actual combustion (remember THC vaporizes around 300°F)– flame is never applied directly to the hash oil. As a result, the vapor contains mostly water and cannabinoids rather than the mix of tar and potentially dangerous aromatic hydrocarbons contained within smoke.

It’s been well established: vaporizing is much healthier than actual smoking. Of course, certain dabbing rigs can present different safety challenges… propane and butane torches require compressed gas which always requires proper storage and safety to avoid explosion. E-nails can also be hazardous if left on and forgotten and knocked over– though they require about as much precaution as a waffle iron.

The Quality of Your Concentrate Is Important

Now that we’ve established that vaporization is less harmful than combustion, its important to consider what exactly you’re vaporizing. Under ideal conditions, your concentrate will be butane-extracted and the solvent purged below the 3ppm taste threshold (though CO2 and pressure-extracted concentrates offer similarly healthy but less potent alternatives). Butane is relatively non-toxic and is often used as a preservative in the food industry. Under such circumstances, concentrates are composed mainly of plant resin and offer the purest form of cannabinoids available on the market. Very high quality concentrates are also able to capture volatile terpenes stored within the cannabis plant which provide “entourage medicinal effects” and contribute to a concentrate’s flavor.

Of course, dabbing poorly-made concentrate can be just as detrimental to your health as smoking. Amateurs chemists like professional janitor Rick Simpson have become famous for perpetuating “light naptha-based” concentrates, solvents which are not available commercially without severe adulteration of highly toxic chemicals. These solvents are absolutely not safe for use with any product intended for human consumption and concentrates made this way present a serious threat to both the health of patients and the legitimacy of marijuana as medicine.

Negative Health Effects from THC?

Despite the greatly elevated levels of THC in concentrates, there has still yet to be a single case of marijuana overdose in the history of time (and believe me, some folks are out there trying). Still, there are certain hazards to consider with such elevated concentrations of THC. Such high levels of THC can quickly lead to increased tolerance, dependence, and more pronounced withdrawal effects upon cessation of marijuana. Some people can also be overwhelmed by the strength of a dab, causing a marijuana-induced panic attack.

While there appears to be no significant long-term effects from smoking marijuana or its concentrates, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term physical and mental impacts it has on human beings. Until the federal government is willing to clear the way for researchers to do what they do best, we may never have a clear understanding of how marijuana affects our health in the long-run. Still, it would appear that dabbing presents no significant health risks and may provide a healthier alternative to traditional combustion of marijuana.

As states being to legislate their own rules regarding marijuana, we’ll likely see this topic appear more and more– hopefully that will drive the government to reconsider its position so a serious long-term study can be performed.

Shatter Vs. Wax Vs. Sugar

bho  shatter wax sugarThere’s no question that we’re living in a golden age for concentrates— a greater federal tolerance for the marijuana industry and the widespread availability of extraction “tech” has dramatically increased the amount of concentrate available to patients and recreational users alike. However, the explosion in popularity of concentrates has also generated excess of misinformation circulating the internet, especially among amateur hash-makers.

Perhaps the most common questions among enthusiasts is “What is the difference between shatter and honeycomb wax?” and “Why does my concentrate look like ______? How do I make it look like _____?” A quick google search will yield an endless supply of contradicting “answers” from forum “experts” who demonstrate a tentative grasp of basic scientific principles. Even among bud-tenders, there seems to be little consensus or understanding with regards to how different forms of concentrate actually differ from one another. In this article, we will examine the difference between shatter, wax and sugar and speculate why light colored, translucent shatter is likely to be the most desirable product to consume.

Shatter Vs Wax

Just about every dispensary these days will have more than one form of hash outside the traditional pressed-trichome product that’s been around for centuries. While CO2 extracted “crumbles” and more liquid, pressure-extracted concentrates like “the clear” have become more common, this article will focus on butane-extracted hash (see our previous article on the benefits of closed-loop extraction).

BHO generally comes in two forms, shatter and wax (or crumble). Shatter tends to have a consistency ranging from sticky sap to a very stable, hard resin at room temperature and can have an appearance anywhere from a dark brown to a nearly translucent. Wax on the other hand, tends to be completely dry and crumbly and is sometimes referred to as “honeycomb” because of its resemblance. While both are made using the same solvent (butane) and a vacuum purging process, there are several factors that account for the difference between the two forms of concentrate.

As one might expect, wax/crumble is purged for longer at higher temperatures resulting in a drier more “completely purged” product that has less residual butane complexed within. However, butane isn’t the only compound that can be purged at 100°F and -29 mmHg. Under such a vacuum, the boiling point of all liquids are depressed.

More Than Just THC

When butane is used to extract THC from raw plant material, it also picks up a medley of other compounds including terpenes, plant fats, and chlorophyll (via micelle formation). The concentrations of these compounds vary as you move from the top of the cola to the roots of a marijuana plant which is why “trim run” and “nug run” extracts of the same plant can appear completely different. It should also be noted that n-butane is actually slightly water soluble at room temperature and can pick up some polar species which tend to make for darker, harsher concentrates (this is why dryness is important for both solvent and raw plant material).

While plant fats and chlorophyll are undesirable (and tend to burn, leaving ash behind), terpenes are the compounds that contribute to the smell and flavor of marijuana and some have been known for centuries to possess medicinal and practical value. Many of these compounds are volatile (meaning they start to evaporate) around room temperature so their concentrations begin to decrease as soon as a plant is cut and killed. The key to making the most pleasant, flavorful extracts is maintaining a full terpene profile while decreasing the butane content below the 3ppm taste threshold.

Over-Purging

Basic thermodynamics determine that liquids boil more readily when held under vacuum. During a vacuum purge, the pressure can be reduced as low as -29 mmHg which lowers the boiling point of butane from 31°F to -96°F (and THC from 315°F to 195°F). In order to achieve a “complete purge” many will even apply additional heat without considering the consequences this will have on the volatile terpenes (which already evaporate at room temperature and normal pressure). This is the main reason why shatter tends to have a more potent taste/ smell when compared to crumbles.

At this point one must ask the question, “what’s more important? A full terpene profile or less residual butane present in the final product?” Ultimately while the THC concentrations in shatter will be greater than that of crumble (because of density), both have similar perceived “strength.” As many people use cannabis for many different reasons, the answer is entirely personal but it should be noted that residual concentrations of butane in either products has been deemed non-toxic to humans. With that in mind, I consider crumble to be over-purged product that is missing an ideal component, the natural terpenes (some folks try to add food-grade terpenes like ‘D-limonene’ but the end result is almost always unnatural and off-putting).

Judge A Book By Its Cover

While its impossible to know just how a concentrate will taste until you’ve tried it, there are certain traits to look out for that high-quality shatters seem to all have in common:

1.It will be transparent: “dewaxed” shatter will be free of any solids that would give it a cloudy appearance and will leave little residue behind when vaporized.

2. It will be light colored: the dark color to shatter is caused by solids and polar compounds that get picked up during extraction, usually attributable to the presence of water. Some of the best extract artists have suggested freezing fresh cut plant material to lock up water while maintaining a full terpene profile resulting in some spectacularly light, almost clear shatters.

3. It will smell strongly: high terpene concentrations will almost certainly give off a magnificent bouquet.

The consistency of shatter (from vicious ‘taffy’ to ‘stable’ shatter) will depend on the overall butane and terpene concentration, both which contribute to a more viscous product.

Shatter vs. Sugar

“Sugar” is the word used to describe shatter that has begun to resemble the consistency of wet sand while not completely drying out into crumble. Many have speculated that this could be strain-dependent while others have suggested that this results from shatter “sitting around for too long” or from residual butane escaping the shatter. While legitimate experimental data doesn’t yet exist on the subject, I believe the real answer to be a combination the previous suggestions.

I think sugar results from a natural separation of volatile components (butane and terpenes mostly) from non-volatile components. Different strains contain different concentrations of various terpenes and non-volatile molecules which explains why some strains naturally “want” to sugar up more than others. This process is accelerated by the vacuum purge which effectively increases the volatility of all components within the extract. Regardless, “sugaring up” suggests some degradation of the final product (which is why it generally tends to be priced cheaper than regular shatter of the same variety)

Conclusion

Though its often farmers and amateur chemists who end up constituting a large portion of the concentrate production industry (at least as long as it’s somewhat illegal), organic extraction/isolation of volatile compounds and most especially concentration of such under vacuum is a very delicate process even by a trained chemist’s standards. A scientific attention to detail and high grade starting material are often the difference between a Cannabis Cup winner and the discount crumble available at your local dispensary. Be aware of the differences between sugar, shatter and wax/crumble and use the guidelines we’ve mentioned while choosing your next concentrate (if you have such a luxury) and see if you don’t notice the difference.

Essential Dab Tools

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dabbing-tools

What’s the Difference Between Male and Female Water Pipes?

male vs female concentrate pipes

There can be a lot of confusion in today’s dabbing world, especially when it comes to concentrate/water pipes in their relation to nail size. One of the main problems that we see from amateur dab heads in the industry is the ability to discern between a male or a female water pipe/concentrate pipe. As a general rule of thumb, most water pipes/bongs are going to be female in nature meaning, a device, usually a downstem or bowl,  goes inside the pipe, where as with a concentrate pipe, which is usually male in nature, bowls and downstems can be probed with the pipe. (similar to male/female genitalia) *wink wink*

Here are examples for a better understanding of what the difference between a male and female pipe typically is.

Female Water Pipe (Straight Percolator Beaker Water Pipe) 

In the following diagram displaying the Straight Percolator Beaker Water Pipe, the downstem is inserted within the female part, and then the bowl is inserted into the downstem. Pipes of this nature are best used with cannabis flowers or buds.

waterpipe_2

Male Concentrate Pipe (10 Inch Single Dome Stemless Honeycomb 14mm)

In the following diagram displaying the 10 Inch Single Dome Stemless Honeycomb 14mm concentrate pipe the glass nail is placed within the male part and then the bowl is placed over the inserted glass nail inside the male part. Pipes of this nature are best used with dabs or medicated concentrates.

concentrate_pipe

 

Vape Pen Review: Smooth 2 Loaded Vaporizer Gold (Wax & Oil Pen)

vape pen

Now that you’ve been well versed as to how vaporizer pens work and operate, we wanted to review one of the best, and shockingly, most cost effective marijuana concentrate or dab vaporizers on the market to date.  The Smooth 2 Loaded Vaporizer Gold (Wax and Oil Pen), sounds like tongue twister when you first say it out loud, but once you use it, you realize it’s one of the better vape pens for wax, oil, dabs, etc., that’s out there currently.

Smooth 2 Loaded Vaporizer Gold (Wax & Oil Pen) setup

When you buy this pen you get one 650mah Battery, one 2 loAded Atomizer, one packing tool (dabber), one wireless USB charger, and one user manual

What Makes This Vaporizer Stand Out?

One thing that I find disconcerting from some vaporizers on the market today is the fact that they take FOREVER to use. Some require you to hold a button for five minutes, wait half an hour for the damn thing to load, or read a set of instructions that when you’re done reading, will have you thinking…..”WTF did I just read? I wanted to vape, not join N.A.S.A.” The great thing about this pen is that there is none of that.  A matter of fact, the pen comes with barely any instructions at all and you kind of have to be in “the know” as to how the heating element works, because in the end, it’s the speed of the heating element that makes this pen stand out from the pack.

The Heating Element

heating element

If you’re like me, you like your vape pens to be quick and stealthy, especially when your blazing your dabs on the go. Unlike other concentrate vaporizers that can sometimes take minutes to heat up, this one heats up your dabs in less than a few seconds. All it takes is a double click from the vape pen’s button and you’re ready to inhale.

How to Use the Smooth 2 Loaded Vaporizer Gold (Wax & Oil Pen)

  • Make sure pen is fully charged before using (the pen comes with a USB charger that you can plug into a laptop or PC)usb charger
  • Once you know the pen is fully charged by the green light indicator, you can screw the titanium GR2 coil on top of the base which had previously been charging.titanium GR2 coil
  • When the titanium GR2 coil is screwed on top of the base, you can add your dabs, but not too much as to over-fill or block                                      the flow of air to the mouthpiece.

dab

  • After your dabs have been placed on top of the coil, you can seal the deal by screwing the 2 loaded atomizer on top and then placing the glass mouthpiece over it l like so. vape pen
  • Now, simply double click the button on the device while inhaling and enjoy your dabs!

All and all, this is great pen at a surprisingly great price, but since it’s our first review we’ll give it a 9/10 instead of the 10/10 since we’ll be reviewing some more products for dabs.

Dabs 101: What is a Dab?

dabs

For those of us who have been stuck under a rock for the past couple of years, are  novices in the evolving marijuana industry, or like me, have been misled by the conflicting information on the internet concerning dabs, this read is for you.

What Is A Dab?

A dab is a small amount of a concentrated cannabis extract derived from marijuana. This concentrate extract is most commonly made from boiling fairly large amounts of cannabis, often with a solvent, to enhance the extraction process, and then using a “vacuum” or similar device for refinement. ….sounds pretty easy right? WRONG. More and more cases of dabbing experiments gone wrong are coming to the surface, so we don’t want to sound like your mom, but use and make dabs with caution or risk exploding consequences. (as shown below)

bho-explosions

Dabs can go by many different names, such as BHO, eerl, shatter, wax, earwax, honeycomb, crumble, green,  honey oil, butane honey oil, and the list goes on.  A lot of confusion about cannabis extracts stems from the lack of unchanging terminology in the cannabis community, in large part due to the many methods of making dabs and their varying consistencies. For instance, ‘BHO’ as it’s commonly referred to, is a type of concentrate made using butane as the primary solvent. While a number of variables can determine the final consistency of BHO (mostly temperature and solvent used), people use different names such as, ‘Butane Honey Oil’ (shown below), when referring to each consistency and style.

bho-oil

                 ‘Shatter’ (shown below) , refers to the glass-like consistency that often breaks or “shatters” when handled.shatter-final

BHO Wax, Earwax, or even “Errl” in some circles is probably the most common type of dab found at most  medical dispensaries. (shown below)

Dabs

 

“Honeycomb Wax” or just “Honeycomb” gets the name from it’s close semblance to “Honeycomb”. (shown below)

honeycomb-wax

“Green” is a type of dab that is usually dark green and gooey in consistency. This is the style most common in ‘ home-made “dabs” unless you have access to a vacuum or other device for advance extraction and refinement. (shown below)

bho-green (1)

Warning: Marijuana concentrate making is best left to the experts, but if it must be done, it should always be done outside or in a lab setting with a specialized ventilation system to ensure proper air flow. Because of the flammable nature of butane gas, even static electricity should be avoided when making BHO (watch out for your cellphones). *These are only a few of the current “dabs” that you’ll find on the market today so if you have dabs of your own, feel free to leave us a comment so that we can be informed!