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The Quintessential Guide to Cannabis Extracts

October 2, 2017

Even seasoned cannabis connoisseurs can be overwhelmed by the vast swath of names and forms taken by cannabis extracts -- what’s the difference between wax and oil? Why are some extracts viscous, opaque, and sappy, while others are clear and rigid, like a pane of glass?

Fear not, for the following article will equip you with the discerning eye to confidently choose the concentrate that meets your personal standards. We will cover the basics of cannabis extracts, an overview of the extraction process, as well as the differences between 3 major types: Shatter, hash oil, and wax.

 

THE BASICS

For those new to the subject, a cannabis extract is any concentration of the plant’s chemical compounds (such as THC, which is psychoactive, and CBD, which is profoundly therapeutic), suspended within oil. Arriving at this suspension requires an elaborate, complex process of extraction via a solvent -- the most common of which, until recently, was butane.

Butane has remained a popular solvent due to its affordability and efficacy in separating the CBD and THC-rich oils from the plant matter, but extraction artisans of late have been hard at work, innovating in their field with solvents such as carbon dioxide and ethanol, which are generally preferable as (unlike butane) they are neither toxic nor flammable.

 

THE EXTRACTION PROCESS

While the intricacies of cannabis extraction involve a delicate balance of art and science, the following is a high-level overview: The plant matter is ground, flushed and soaked with the solvent, which is then purged (evaporated via extreme temperature and pressure), leaving only the oil, brimming with concentrated cannabinoids (like THC and CBD), as well as terpenes (these are responsible for the sophisticated smells and tastes associated with a given strain, but also have profound therapeutic and psychoactive effects).

 

SHATTER

The first form of the concentrated extract is distinguished by its transparent amber hue and glasslike quality. With a tendency to break into pieces when handled, the cannabis community has dubbed it shatter. Though many self-proclaimed experts may insist that the clarity of a particular pane of shatter is indicative of its purity (and therefore its quality), it’s truthfully more of a correlation.

Yes, under-purged (and therefore less pure) extract will often turn out murkier, but there are also many other factors that can influence the color, such as the sourced strain, soak time, temperatures and pressures reached during the purge, and more.

 

WAX

This is generally a more malleable, opaque substance that has lost its transparency after the extraction. This is usually due to agitation -- disturbing the oil before it is fully solidified into shatter will cause crystals to form, refracting light and creating a less transparent appearance.

Though all agitated waxes share this lack of transparency, the consistencies will vary. Variations in moisture, temperatures, and the pre-existing texture of the oil before purging will all contribute to a wax’s consistency.

Some oils will naturally be runny. Sometimes this is due to being extracted with CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) instead of butane, or perhaps this strain has an excess of terpenes, which double as solvents. These runny oils will often be whipped into a fluffy, buttery form, appropriately called budder. If the moisture content is lower, it will crystalize further into a dry, flaky substance known as crumble or honeycomb.

 

HASH OIL

This catch-all term refers to the substance proceeding directly from a routine extraction, before it settles into shatter or is disturbed and crystallizes into a wax. Hash oil is a viscous, clear liquid, and is often sold in syringes. Its liquidity lends oil to a wide variety of uses, from topical ointments to carefully crafted edibles.

Whatever your preferred form of extract, we hope this guide has prepared you to select it confidently from our curated catalog of products.