Shatter is a cannabis concentrate that is smooth, solid and translucent like amber-colored glass, and additional processes and precautions make it exceptionally clean, pure and potent. Consuming shatter typically involves using a torch to superheat a heating surface known as a nail (usually made of titanium, quartz or glass) attached to a water pipe or vaporizer pen. A metallic needle-like device is used to scrape shards off the shatter (or chunks if the concentrate softens through warmth), and when placed on the nail, the shatter instantly vaporizes providing a super-charged hit through the pipe or vape. A person consuming shatter only needs a dab, which inspired the name dabs for all concentrates and dabbing to describe their use, and the oil-based nature of concentrates inspired the association with 710 (which spells 01L upside-down) and Dab Day on July 10 (7/10) to celebrate its use.
Transparency is a defining visual characteristic of shatter, and it signifies that the extract molecules did not crystallize like they do with wax (a softer opaque concentrate). The extraction process plays a primary role in whether an extract becomes shatter or wax, and while many different methods exist, they must all take special care to avoid agitating the oil through moisture, rapid temperature changes and physical action (e.g., stirring, boiling, etc.). When making shatter, the producer mixes cannabis and a solvent like butane to extract tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids, and then starts the long process of purging the solvent.
The purge commonly involves heating the extract slowly in a low-temperature vacuum oven for about one to three days. The heat turns the solvent into gas, which the vacuum sucks out of the surrounding air. Lower temperatures are necessary to avoid browning the oil or agitating the mix. Another potential purging process is winterization, in which the oil is mixed with a pure type of grain alcohol and placed in the freezer for several days. The mixture is then poured through a coffee filter to remove additional waxes and lipids. If the molecules are undisturbed during the process, the extract forms glass-like shatter that is usually hard, thin and brittle. An ounce of cannabis might only produce a few grams of shatter, but the highly concentrated extract can contain THC levels several times higher than the average cannabis bud. Different variations of shatter can reflect consistency, strain and the type of solvent used (e.g., BHO for butane, PHO for propane).
Purity vs. Flavor
Many people say shatter is particularly potent, but all dabs are inherently strong, so deciding between concentrates should really be a matter of personal preference. With shatter, it is a matter of weighing purity against flavor. The extraction methods increase the purity by purging more fats, lipids, waxes and residual solvent, but this can also decrease the level of terpenes, the organic compounds responsible for the plant’s taste and aroma. Shatter is often the choice for those who prioritize a clean, pure and potent extract over taste and aroma.
Learn more about wax here.