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What's the Difference between Cannabis Extractions?

You've likely seen on the market a variety of cannabis extracts, from solvent-based extracts like shatter, distillate, and diamonds to solvent-free extracts like hash or rosin. But what is the difference between these extracts and what makes one "better" than another?

What are extracts?

Cannabis extracts (also known as concentrates) are products that undergo a process that creates cannabis oils with a high concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes. There is a wide variety of extraction methods that produce different concentrate types. These can be categorized into two basic groups, Solvent-Based and Solvent-Free extracts.

Solvent-Based Extracts

Solvent-based extracts use chemical solvents to dissolve trichomes, and extract the biochemical compounds from the plant and turn it into an oil. There are a few different solvent-types used for extractions, ethanol and hydrocarbons (butane or propane) or CO2 extracts.

Ethanol Extractions

Ethanol is used as an extraction method to make decarboxylated oils such as Phoenix Tears, also known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). When you see an ethanol extract with a dark coloration, then you know that the flower was pre-decarboxylated, converting the cannabinoids from their acidic (THC-A, CBD-A) forms into the non-acidic forms (THC, CBD). This step helps prep the plant matter for the extraction process. The matter is then left to soak in ethanol, with the plant matter strained out later on. The remaining ethanol is evaporated leaving behind the extracted oils.

Phoenix Tears (RSO) is considered a full-spectrum oil, meaning that it contains all the cannabinoids and other chemicals that occur naturally in the plant before extraction. Honey oil is a similar process that takes it one step further by removing fats and waxes, leaving behind that thick, golden, honey-like oil. Phoenix tears are also usually mixed with MCT oil which would then make it used for ingestion, whereas Honey Oil is smokable.

Hydrocarbon Extractions (Butane or Propane)

Hydrocarbon extracts are the more common extracts found on the Canadian market today. These include things such as shatter, wax, budder, diamonds, and many others. What really differentiates these products is the terpene content, cannabinoid content, exact method of extraction, and post-processing. Hydrocarbon extracts get that golden honey colour because the plant matter was not decarboxylated and not heated during extraction. This is considered a cold extraction. Hydrocarbons are made by running the butane or propane solvent through the cannabis flower in a closed-loop system that doesn't allow the solvent to enter the air. The extracted oil is then purged in a purging oven which removes the residual solvent.

Shatter & Taffy (70-85% THC)

Shatter gets its name from its glass-like appearance and physical properties. It's hard, brittle and easy to snap or shatter. When the consistency of the concentrate changes, so does the name. So when shatter is made and produces a tough yet malleable consistency, it can be called "taffy" or "pull-and-snap". These differences are usually a result in the concentrates cannabinoid content. For example, shatter tends to have a higher concentration of THCA, whereas taffy has a higher concentration of THC, resulting in their respective consistencies.

Diamonds & Caviar 80-99% THC

THCA diamonds are the most potent concentrate and can contain up to 99.9% THC when heated up. They get their name from their name from their crystalline structure and semi-transparency that look diamond-like. With diamonds, we're basically removing the crystals of THCA from the general extract and processing it again.

Honeycomb & Budder 70-85% THC

Honeycomb and budder are two sides of a coin, with the difference being consistency. Both extracts contain air bubbles that change the consistency from brittle to malleable. Honeycomb gets its name from it's brittle honeycomb appearance and texture. Budder is more malleable and has a consistency almost like (you guessed it) butter or cake frosting. Badder is another extract that falls into this category with a consistency that is closer to sauce, more liquified. The bottom line is all of these extracts go through the same extraction process with varying consistency results.

Live Resin 65-85% THC

Live resin (not to be confused with live rosin) is a butane extraction that uses fresh frozen flower. The plant is frozen immediately after being harvested meaning they are uncured, skipping the drying, curing and trimming process. This allows the retention of monoterpenes and preserves the plant profile in its original form as much as possible. Live resin has a strong aroma, it smells like fresh bud and that translates into a delicious fresh flavor when dabbed. This is a cold extraction process, and the goal with cold extractions is to retain as much of the monoterpenes and plant profile as possible.

Distillate 80-98% THC

Distillate is an extract that has been refined specifically for cannabinoid purity. Whether that's THC, CBD or other cannabinoids or terpenes. It's made by placing a previously made extract in a distillation machine, which applies different temperatures and pressures in order to separate the biochemical compounds as they evaporate, one at a time. With the distillation process, you're able to hone in on very specific cannabinoids and terpenes.

CO2 Extractions 55-85% THC

CO2 extractions are similar to butane extract, in that flower is run in a closed-loop system. The difference is the high pressure and cold temperature needed to make CO2 an effect solvent. This process does not leave behind any residual hydrocarbons as none are used, but does leave behind residual moisture. It requires 2 stages of extraction, one focused on the cannabinoids, another on the terpenes.

Commonly, vape cartridges use a CO2 extraction process, although they can also use butane and ethanol.

These are just a basic overview on some of the solvent-based extracts that are currently on the Canadian market. The very basic differences between the various solvent-based extracts is how they are finished and their final consistency. Now that we have a basic idea of some of the solvent-based extracts, let's take a look at the solvent-free extracts.

Solvent-Free Extractions

Solvent-free extracts are a more traditional method of cannabis extraction and they include things like the various hash types and live rosin (not to be confused with live resin). As the name suggests, solvent-free extracts do not use chemicals to separate the trichomes, pistils and glands from the rest of the plant matter.

Live Rosin 40-75% THC

Live rosin is made by pressing buds between two hot surfaces with considerable pressure. This is done with a rosin press, although it is possible to use a hair straightener as a press. Using lower heat and higher pressure will retain more of the monoterpenes and allow for a more flavourful extract. After buds have been squished, they are separated from the surrounding secreted oils; no further processing is necessary, though some choose to purge and de-wax during further post-processing.

Keif or Sift Hash 20-45% THC

Traditionally, buds are placed on a screen and shaken or vibrated, removing as many trichomes and pistils as possible. You can do this yourself at home with a 3 or 4 piece grinder. As you grind the flower, trichomes fall through the screen and into the keif catcher. Keif or sift can be pressed into a brick using pressure and sometimes heat to create traditional hash.

Bubble Hash 30-75%

Bubble hash, or ice water hash, is made by adding flower to bags of ice water (called bubble bags) and stirring. By agitating and freezing, the resin glands break off. These glands that contain cannabinoids and terpenes, are then processed through a series of screens, while the plant matter is left behind. There are two types of bubble hash, full melt or regular bubble hash. Full melt bubble hash means that when the extract is smoked or dabbed, there is no residue left behind. This is considered the highest quality of bubble hash. Regular bubble hash will leave behind a slight residue.

Which one is the best?

So, after learning about the different extract types, what's the "best" concentrate? That's subjective. It really depends on what you are looking for specifically. If you're just starting out on concentrates, ask you budtender what their favorite is and why. Just remember, as with any cannabis products; go low, start slow and have fun!

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