Cannabis plants contain various compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and several processes—both new and old—can be used to extract these compounds into a highly concentrated form. Wax, shatter, hash and oil are among the most common concentrates, and variations exist within each. The increased potency means people only need a small dab, which inspired the name dabs for concentrates and dabbing for their use. Though traditional hash is plant-based, most concentrates are oil-based, and this inspired the numeric association with 710, which looks like 01L when turned upside-down. As a sign of 710’s growing popularity, people now celebrate the use of concentrates on 7/10 (July 10), or Dab Day, just as people celebrate the use of cannabis on 4/20.
Modern extraction methods typically involve combining cannabis with a solvent like butane, carbon dioxide or isopropyl alcohol that captures the compounds and removes them from the plant material. Producers then purge the solvent with heat, which might involve boiling the extract or baking it in a vacuum oven that sucks the gasified solvents out of the air. Newer solvent-free methods include water-based extractions for ice hash and the rosin technique for rapid extractions using heat and physical pressure.
Hot knifing was an early version in which users placed a lump of hash between two hot knives and inhaled the vapors. Today, most people use special devices for dabbing, and they typically involve using a torch to superheat a heating surface (usually called a nail and made of titanium, quartz or glass) attached to a water pipe or vaporizer pen. Using a metallic needle or similar device, the dab is placed on the superheated surface, instantly vaporizing it and providing a super-charged hit through the pipe or vape. The quality of dab often relates to the extraction process and the quality of the cannabis, but the THC content in wax is typically at least 70 percent. By comparison, 20 percent THC is high for regular cannabis. Below are basic summarizes for several common concentrates.
Hashish, or hash, is resin extracted from cannabis flowers by separating THC, resin and trichomes from the plant. These compounds are then bound together into a substance with more density and potency than cannabis. Hash was the first widely used cannabis product that concentrated the most potent compounds found in the plant. Ice hash is sometimes called ice wax, but the popular concentrate is considered hash, not wax.
Shatter, one of the more popular dabs, is smooth, solid and transparent like amber-colored glass. To achieve this look, producers utilize more complex processes and take special care to avoid agitating the extract when purging the solvent. Many equate its glass-like transparency with purity, and special extraction methods do make it more pure by purging more fats, lipids, waxes and residual solvent. Shatter often has higher THC levels, but the purging process decreases the level of terpenes, the organic compounds responsible for the plant’s taste and aroma.
Wax is a blanket term for extracts that are opaque and solid with a soft texture, and variations include honeycomb, crumble, earwax, sugar, and local waxes like cake batter in Los Angeles. The differences often relate to the extraction and purging process, and the range of consistencies include coarse cookie crumbs, small- to medium-sized flakes and sticky thick chunks that actually resemble earwax. Likewise, budder is a gooey form of cannabis wax made from runny, moist oils whipped during the purging process to create a substance not unlike actual butter. Generally speaking, wax has lower THC content but more terpene-related flavor, though some wax concentrates can have very high THC percentages.
Oil, the most raw and basic form of extraction, is a gooey sticky liquid that can be hard to handle, but it typically retains a high level of terpenes. For this reason, oil is known for having more flavor than other extracts, but THC levels can be inconsistent. Oil is commonly consumed in vape pens using pre-filled cartridges or syringes.