Elevation

710: Oil, Shatter, Wax & Hash

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.

Extraction

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.

Dabbing

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.

Hash

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.

Large-scale production of hashish, or hash, likely originated in Morocco in the 1960s when the West African nation became an essential stop on the infamous Hippie Trail. However, researchers believe hash originated several thousand years before in East Asia, which makes it the oldest concentrate still used today. Though it can be made into extract hash oil, traditional hash is plant-based, which differentiates it from oil-based concentrates like wax and shatter. 

Trichomes, a name derived from the Greek word for plant outgrowth or hair, are the translucent resin glands on cannabis plants that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoid compounds. Different types of cannabis trichomes exist—e.g., bulbous, capitate-sessile and capitate-stalked—and the amount of THC in the trichome heads dictates potency. Hash producers typically make hash using sieves to separate the trichomes from mature cannabis flowers, collecting the resin glands and pressing them together into a dense hash brick. By contrast, modern concentrates typically use solvents to capture the cannabis compounds and then purge the solvent through heat and other methods. Hash tends to have lower THC content than modern concentrates, but solvents can reduce other important compounds. Compared to shatter, for example, hash has more terpenes, which are the organic compounds responsible for the smell and taste of cannabis.

Though a hash brick is the traditional form, new ice-water extractions produce solvent-free hash concentrates often called ice hash or bubble melt hash. To make it, cannabis is typically placed in ice and cold water. At low temperatures, the trichomes separate from the cannabis plant and sink to the bottom of the icy slush. A filtration bag or other type of filter is then used to collect the resin glands, which take a paste-like form that can vary in color, sturdiness and pliability. Other new techniques to make solvent-free hash include heat/pressure separations and static-electricity sieving, among others.

Hot knifing was an early version of dabbing in which users placed a lump of hash between two hot knives and inhaled the vapors. Today, hash lovers typically heat the concentrate in a pipe, bong, hookah or vaporizer, and some people combine hash and cannabis in a rolled joint. Historically, individuals also used hash to make edibles, notably the Hashish Eater’s Club in 19th-century Paris. Club members included influential authors like Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers) and Honoré de Balzac (The Human Comedy).

Shatter

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.

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. 

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).

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.

Wax

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.

Special devices are necessary to take a hit of wax, and they typically involve using a torch to superheat a heating surface (typically 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 wax is placed on the superheated surface, instantly vaporizing it and providing a super-charged hit through the pipe or vape. Various delivery devices exist, and some people simply sprinkle a little wax or oil atop cannabis buds and smoke it. Furthermore, the quality of wax 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.

Just as there are different types of dabs (e.g., oil, hash, shatter), wax comes in a wide variety of forms that include honeycomb, crumble, earwax, flake and others, including local variations. The differences often relate to the manner in which the THC and other cannabinoids are extracted from the cannabis plant. Extractions should be left to professionals, so please do not try this at home, but it typically involves combining buds with a solvent like butane, carbon dioxide or isopropyl alcohol and then purging it with a heat and possibly a pressure vacuum. The molecules crystallize during the extraction process, which accounts for the opaque appearance.

Depending on the heat, moisture and pre-purge texture of the oil, the wax can have different consistencies ranging from a coarse cookie-like crumble to sticky thick chunks that truly resemble wax. Budder, another form of wax, is whipped like scrambled eggs during the purging process to add air and create a peanut butter-like consistency. While the names and extraction methods might differ, opaque dabs with these types of consistencies are collectively called wax.

Oil

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. Certain steps can turn the oil into a solid substance like wax or shatter, but some people simply use oil, arguably the rawest and most basic form of extraction. 

As with all oil-based concentrates, producers typically use a solvent (e.g., butane, carbon dioxide, etc.) or other medium to capture the cannabis compounds from the plant. Producers then purge the solvent using various methods, which can range from applying heat to freeze and filter. The purge process is often limited, which means oil is typically less refined with more impurities and inconsistent THC levels. However, it does retain a higher level of compounds like terpenes, the organic compounds responsible for the plant’s taste and aroma. For this reason, many people associate oil with having more flavor. The concentrate can be derived from plant trimmings, but high-quality oil is usually made with fresh frozen buds or extracted directly from the plant.

Oil is a gooey sticky liquid that often has a consistency similar to honey, and it can be hard to handle depending on how a person consumes it. Most people consume dabs by 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. Often using a vial or syringe, the person then drips oil onto the nail, instantly vaporizing it and providing a super-charged hit through the pipe or vape. Easier ways to enjoy oil include pre-filled cartridges for vape pens, candy edibles and oral ingestion through a syringe or vial. The latter is a throwback to the pre-prohibition days when pharmacies sold cannabis medicine in the form of a tincture, or liquid concentrate, and patients would put a few drops under their tongue. Another option is to take a cannabis nugget, coat it with oil, roll it in dry hash and then dip it again in oil. The coated nugget is called a honey bud.

Rosin Technique

The rosin technique is rapidly gaining in popularity as a safe, quick and effective method of extracting the active resins from cannabis flowers for medicinal or recreational purposes. Typically, extraction of cannabis oil requires the use of a solvent such as butane, isopropyl alcohol or coconut oil to dissolve the sticky resins and separate them from the plant material. However, the rosin technique removes the need for such solvents, simply replacing them with gentle application of heat and pressure to melt and release the resins.

The rosin technique is typically used to extract small amounts of resin for immediate personal use, and it is performed using a pair of simple ceramic hair straighteners to provide the required heat and pressure; however, some producers are now using industrial heat presses in order to scale up production and process much larger quantities at once.

The heat and pressure generated by pressing a warm pair of hair straightening irons against a small quantity of cannabis is sufficient to melt the resins and release them from the plant matter to which they are attached. Protecting the cannabis with unwaxed parchment paper shields the cannabis from the straightening irons and also provides the perfect surface on which to release the cannabis oils.

Along with a set of ceramic hair straighteners (ideally one with a digital temperature control), the simple try-at-home method requires only some standard unwaxed parchment paper. Also advisable is the use of a 25-micron screen, which is placed between the paper and the cannabis, allowing the resins to pass through but not the plant material; and a razor blade or similar implement to collect the resin together once extracted.

First, heat the straightening irons to 200 - 340°F (93 - 171°C); while they are heating, grind or otherwise break down your flowers and separate them into piles of around 0.5g each.

Next, cut or tear the parchment paper into squares large enough to accommodate the individual piles of ground-up cannabis.

Then, place one of the piles of cannabis neatly onto a small section of the 25-micron screen, and fold the screen over once, enveloping the cannabis within it. Fold the parchment paper over the screen so that it entirely envelops the section containing the cannabis. If not using a screen, the cannabis can be placed directly onto the parchment paper.

Once the straightening irons have reached the required temperature, gently place the flat irons around the parchment paper and close them, applying light pressure for around five seconds before releasing and removing them.

Open the paper and peel it gently away from the screen, or directly away from the ground-up bud if not using a screen. A pair of needle-point tweezers may also assist in this stage of the process, to ensure that all oil is retained and all residual plant material removed.

Repeat the process for each of the 0.5g piles of cannabis, using a new square of parchment paper each time.

Once you have processed all of your cannabis, use the razor blade to scrape all the resin from the squares of parchment paper and collect them together. The final amount of oil extracted from your starting material depends greatly on the quality and nature of the material; if using good-quality flowers, the yield should be comparable to conventional solventless extraction methods at around 10 to 15 percent. The rosin technique is also a popular way to turn hash and kief into oil; if using this type of starting material, expected returns may be much higher.

Once you have collected all of your rosin together, it can be stored and used just as any other extract. rosin has the added advantage of containing more activated cannabinoids than oil extracted from many other solvents, due to the heat used during the production process. Thus, if using rosin to make edibles and tinctures, it is unlikely to require much further heating to entirely activate the cannabinoids within it. 

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