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Flashback to a time before the legal cannabis industry: the landscape of products was limited, dominated by flower and hash and little else. If they were available, concentrates were primitive, homemade concoctions traded between patients seeking better medicine. Over 20 years later and those days are a distant memory. Walk into any retail location, and the shelves are lined with dozens of concentrates that would all surely seem alien to the cannabis lovers of days gone by. Today’s cannabis consumer seeks shatter, wax, HTFSE, live resin, and sauce.
These cannabis concentrates are similar in potency but extracted through a fascinating assortment of high-tech processes. Backyard butane honey oil (BHO) was only the beginning. Now concentrations require gas and liquid chromatography, mass spectrophotometry, and other technical, lab-based processes. Not to mention, they always need a certified, highly trained lab technician.
For the confused and uninitiated, what differentiates all these new categories of cannabis concentrates? How does a shatter differ from wax, and what does the live resin designation quantify? Time to dive into the unique characteristics and extractions processes of these popular consumer concentrates.
COMMON TYPES OF CANNABIS CONCENTRATES
To the novice, it may seem like all extracts and concentrates are just a highly form of processed cannabis. That much is true — a cannabis concentrate is highly potent, with cannabinoid percentages ranging anywhere from 40%-90% THC, as opposed to 30% for the strongest buds tested thus far. In addition to similarities, there are many differences between the various types of concentrates, including texture, taste, color, and extraction process.
Many categories of cannabis concentrates are primarily defined by their final form. Shatter is a clear extract, the texture of which ranges from snappy and toffee-like to brittle and glass-like. Its color and texture are primarily related to the plant constituents (cannabinoids and terpenes) within the original material.
When it comes to shatters, producers typically rely on hydrocarbons like butane (and sometimes CO2) to pull the cannabinoids from the source material. A secondary process, called vacuum oven purging, evaporates the final solvents and much of the lingering moisture to form a glass-like texture. Some producers also rely on a rosin extraction press to produce shatter, but this is less common.
The terpene profile in the original material and what remains following the extraction predict final consistency and texture. Shatters contain lower moisture levels and lower terpenes than other concentrates.
Wax, also known as budder or frosting, has a much softer consistency than shatter. This concentrate ranges in texture from soft icing to creamy budder to sticky candle wax. Again, like shatter, it is typically produced through solvent-based extractions, with the major difference in consistency appearing during the final stages of the process.
Budders achieve a creamy, whipped-like consistency because they are agitated during the cooldown stage. Whipping for several hours post-extraction helps evaporate the final solvent molecules, removes additional moisture, and preserves more terpenes than through a shatter process.
As consumer tastes have evolved in the modern cannabis industry, so too have the extraction methods. HTFSE, or High Terpene Full Spectrum Extract, comes with an increased demand for concentrates rich in flavor. Conventional extraction methods destroy most volatile terpenes through harsh, high-heat environments. HTFSE is a new wave of extraction tech focusing not on cannabinoid potency but on terpene preservation.
Typical methods for producing HTFSE include using fresh, flash-frozen plant material, light solvents, and super-low temperatures. Both live resin and terp sauce are examples of HTFSE.
Live resin concentrates speak more about the original plant material than they do about the extraction process. Typically, cannabis concentrates come from dried and cured plant material. Live resins, on the other hand, come from fresh, flash-frozen plant material.
Harvested at peak potency, flash-freezing fresh material locks in volatile terpenes and cannabinoids that may get lost through the curing process. Live resins are classified HTFSE thanks to their high terpene content. Another difference between live resins and other cannabinoid-focused concentrates is the extraction temperature. Lightweight hydrocarbons make it possible to extract at super cold temperatures to preserve the most volatile of terpenes within the final product.
Not all companies process their live resin in the same way. The Bloom Brands, based in Los Angeles, take a different approach to preserving precious terpenes. Rather than flash freeze, the plants are taken to their extraction facility right after they are cut down and are processed within 24 hours after harvest. Once extracted, the oil is triple distilled, capturing the valuable terpenes during the process. From here, the Bloom team uses a special fingerprinting technique that breaks down the strains at the molecular level, performing a chemical analysis on each strain. This allows them to create a fingerprint of the strain that can be recreated time and again, resulting in a product that is as close to the original strain as possible. The benefit to the customer is a live resin vape cartridge that provides the same effects every time they buy.
Sauce is an extraction with many faces and is all about terpene preservation. It is known as terp sauce, diamonds, or simply “The Sauce.” The consistency, like the name suggests, is quite liquidy or saucy. Depending on the cannabinoid profile and stage of extraction, it may also contain crystalline structures (THCa), which is where it gets the nickname Diamonds.
A complete sauce will contain both High Cannabinoid Full Spectrum Extraction (HCFSE) as well as HTFSE, although these may be broken down into individual components.
Sauce is a Live Resin, solvent-based extraction method designed to carefully maintain the original terpene profile. Terpene preservation requires a lighter solvent (like a dominant propane blend) and lower temperatures. Even exposed to normal environmental temperatures, terpenes can quickly degrade, hence the reason for fresh, flash-frozen plant material.
Using a centrifuge, or more primitively temperature adjustments, producers extract pure terpene ‘sauce’ from cannabinoids ‘diamonds.’ Whether separated or sold as a full-spectrum concentrate, there are dozens of possibilities for terp sauce.
Rosin is the preferred choice for the cannabis purist. Made without the use of any solvents, rosin tastes like the buds it was pressed from, but with a deeper flavor and stronger high. Rather than using a solvent like butane and extracted flowers in a closed-loop extraction machine, rosin is made with a special rosin press. The buds are placed between two places that use equal amounts of heat and pressure to firmly squeeze the buds together until a warm, gooey extracts flows out. This golden liquid is rich with terpenes and contains no plant matter, since it is contained with a mesh sieve or filter bag.
Fresh or dried flower can be pressed into rosin, but the most sophisticated method of making rosin is to press bubble hash, further refining the rosin into the concentrate of all concentrates. Rosin presses, both for commercial or personal use, are quite affordable. Rosin can be smoked in a dab rig, vape pen, or added to a joint or bowl of weed for extra cannabinoids and a terpene-rich flavor.
An Ever-Evolving Spectrum of Cannabis Concentrates
As consumers’ tastes change and technology allows for more sensitive approaches to extraction, cannabis concentrates have also improved. Extraction technology has transitioned from THC-focused, crude oils into terpene-forward live resin masterpieces. Although there may still be a significant portion of the industry pushing concentrates with more than 90 percent potency, the market seems to have subtly shifted towards flavor profile, which means HTFSE and other terpene-rich products. Considering the evolution of the last ten to twenty years, it will be interesting to see where the industry is in the future.