With marijuana being legalized recreationally in 4 states (as well as D.C.) and medicinally in 23 states with more on the way, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing new ways to consume the herb. One thing is for sure, the more we get of anything the more of it we want. With marijuana, that has opened the door to the world of concentrates which offer a much higher THC content than any cannabis flowers you’ve ever smoked.
The thing is, the stronger it gets, the more certain groups fear it – and the more we change it, the more ammo those groups have because it’s no longer as “natural”. It can be tricky working with concentrates – but patients and recreational consumers alike seem to be eating it up. Of course, this won’t stop the media from making a frenzy of the whole thing and blowing situations largely out of proportion.
So here we’re going to take an in depth look at marijuana concentrates – how they originated, what “dabs” are, how they’re made, and what is safe to try yourself and what is best left to the experts. We’re also going to take a look at how the media has already tried to twist this new form of cannabis into a drug far more dangerous than it really is.
A Brief History of Concentrates
The two oldest THC concentrates are Hash and Kief – both of which are made from the crystals on the leaves of the plant that normally get thrown away. Hash is made when the crystals are scraped off and rolled into a resin-like consistency, usually smoked in a joint or a pipe. This is the oldest marijuana concentrate dating back thousands of years.
Kief is nearly as ancient. Its simply the trichrome crystals sifted off the buds, also generally smoked although it can be turned into hash. This is one of the purest natural forms of THC that can be extracted from the cannabis plants. Both have an average THC content of 20-60%, generally on the higher side (dependent on the grade of cannabis used).
Newer concentrates are a quite a bit more difficult to extract – but they are also quite a bit more potent with an average THC content of 60-90% (depending on grade of cannabis and extraction methods used). The most popular of new concentrates include water hash, CO2 Oil/Wax, and Butane Hash Oil/Wax. Concentrates offer a stronger dose and generally longer lasting effects, making them a popular option among a growing crowd of people.
Popular Concentrates: The Science behind Dabs
Water Hash – This is one of the more simple to make concentrates that has come about in recent years. It is made by tossing cannabis buds (fresh or fresh-frozen) directly into ice water. As the trichromes freeze the water must be agitated to separate them from the buds.
The water is then filtered through screens designed to trap only the frozen trichromes, which test at 50-80% THC content. The consistency of the final product is grainy – like sand; but a new trend is to press it between two pieces of parchment paper which gives it an appearance more like shatter made from wax.
CO2 Oil – This concentrate is made by carbon dioxide, compressed at high PSI’s in order to extract a “superficial fluid” which is able to extract the essential oil from the plant leaves. The oil is generally an orange tinted color when extracted with CO2 and the THC content can vary from 50-75% depending on the final processing of the oil. Generally, oil like this is used in edibles rather than using finely ground buds.
Butane Hash Oil – Also known as wax, shatter, crumble, all of these are the same thing, simply perhaps in a slightly different form. These are the concentrates that are most commonly referred to as “dabs” by the millennial generation and the cannabis industry.
They are made by pressurized butane is washed over the leaves and plant material – the solution that comes from this is the collected. After that they must remove any excess solvent from the solution; this is often done by applying heat and using a vacuum to remove the solvent while retaining the wax.
Media Scare Tactics Employ Half Truths
Out of all the different concentrates, Butane Hash Oil is the one that gets the worst reputation in the media.
“This is extremely dangerous, there are many home explosions in this process,” Valente said. “So there’s not only concern about the use of this type of a chemical going into a child or a young person’s body, but also the immediate concern about explosions that we might be seeing in the state of New Jersey.”
Okay, so it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t try anything at home that would be as risky as creating Butane Hash Oil. Something could easily catch fire or the pressurized butane could explode – it’s probably safe to say we should leave that to the professionals, right? While there are cases of people who tried to do it themselves, disaster stories have been relatively far and few between.
While there isn’t a lot of scientific data and it should not be in the hands of children, wouldn’t it make sense to try and take control early and regulate it before kids can access it as easily as they can weed? (Trust me, it’s not going to take long for that to happen!) There has got to be a better approach than scare tactics.
“Dangerous New Form of Marijuana Out There, Police Warn
‘Shatter’ is five times more potent than pot, and can cause explosions once lit.” – Patch.com article
Again, I want to point out that the wax and shatter themselves, while potentially carrying trace amounts of butane, are not going to explode. Not spontaneously and still not when lit with a lighter. The amount of butane that actually makes it into the wax might make the sticky stuff sizzle, but you don’t have to worry about being blown to bits when you smoke it.
“Authorities say the high concentration of the drug can be extremely poisonous and destructive to human nerve tissue. Hallucinations, confusion, and violent behavior are some of the symptoms caused by Shatter.” – NBC Chicago
As far as I’ve ever heard (and I’m sure we would have heard about it by now) there has not been any cases of permanent brain or nerve damage from dabs. Also, hallucinations and violent behavior are the last things you will find from a person who has just taken a toke of 90% THC wax – they’re far more likely to be hyper-focused or couch locked depending on if the wax was derived from a sativa or indica plant.
Think about it – if you’ve ever smoked in your life you can surely agree the last thing you were thinking was something violent. So how would something with a higher potency of this chemical that relaxes us even possibly cause violent behavior? This is practically Reefer Madness all over again – and we need to put an end to it before it gets out of hand.
Is There A Safe Home Extraction Process?
When it comes to making marijuana concentrates at home, the one thing I will absolutely not advocate is the process of creating Butane Hash Oil. I feel like anything using butane should be left to a professional in a setting that is designed for it, rather than in a home setting. However, this is one of the reasons that I think regulation is the best option for ALL states when it comes to keeping people safe.
The easiest concentrates to make would have to be hash and kief – mostly because these are collected and not extracted from the plant. They both have a significantly higher THC content compared to traditional buds (which average 25-30% on the high end) and they are easy to obtain, especially if you are growing your own (or have a kief catcher in your grinder!).
However, if you’re determined to have something a little bit stronger, then the CO2 extraction method, while still more complicated and still requiring high PSI’s to be successful, is safer than the butane approach. This is a much larger concern for states who do not legally allow concentrates as the black market will not have access to real labs to extract the product.
The Real Dangers of Cannabis Concentrates
Okay, so if marijuana concentrates are so much more potent is butane explosions the only “danger” to worry about? The truth is, unless you’re trying to make butane hash oil concentrates really aren’t all that dangerous. Remember, it’s definitely not going to explode when lit! However, the potency still remains questionable.
The biggest problem with concentrates is that people are overdoing it with their first try – which is how we get people who become very paranoid and anxious. With something that has at least triple the potency of the original plant, you have to learn to dose accordingly. One single dab hit can have as much THC as an entire joint – so moderation is really the key.
The same happens with cannabis strains that are too strong – inexperienced users will end up having a very uncomfortable experience. Likely it will include paranoia, dizziness and tiredness – but none of these symptoms are permanent or life threatening. Even with THC levels as high as 90% we still have yet to see an overdose from cannabis or any related concentrate made from extracted THC.
Why Dabs Are Gaining Popularity in both Recreational and Medical Consumers
As generations go by things change – and one thing that has changed a lot in the last two decades is the world of marijuana. The plants themselves have been bred to be more and more potent over time. The THC levels that used to average 12-17% have risen to an average of 25-30% – even hash and kief weren’t quite what some were looking to achieve.
Even though dabs likely started off as a better way to medicate, it has turned into a cultural phenomenon. The cannabis community got a hold of something new and it offers a much more intense high – this is likely the reason that it has continued to gain popularity. I’m not the biggest fan of dabs myself – but I think that those who enjoy it should be free to do so as long as they are being safe and not trying to make it themselves.