❀ Concentrates: An Introductory User’s Guide
What Are Herbal Concentrates + Why Should We Care?
Cannabis concentrates, sometimes referred to as extracts (short for “extractions”), are concentrated consumables. Many extracts are derived from dried and cured cannabis flower. Live extracts use fresh-frozen whole cannabis flower. Concentrates offer what many believe to be the best flavor, symptom relief, and high with a fast onset time. They are a staple for many rec and medical users because of their coveted fire (read: high THC content + potency) and oftentimes delightfully outrageous terpene profiles.
What Forms Do Concentrates Take?
If you hear or see the words butane honey oil (BHO), shatter, badder, butter, crystals, diamonds, resin, sauce, sugar, rosin, (full-melt) bubble hash, wax, pull n’ snap, sap, honey, honeycomb, holy water, cake budder or batter, brittle, or crumble you’re in Concentrates Land! These extracts are all consumed by dabbing and, therefore, can be vaporized and enjoyed at low temps that maximize the amount of terps which end up in your lungs and blood stream. [For more on the advantages of low temp consumption, see our articles on terpenes + vaping.]
While all concentrates can get deliciously terpy, live concentrates (e.g. live resin, live sauce, live sugar) hold a reputation all their own. Live concentrate from fresh-frozen whole flower is prized for its strong medicinal effects and outstanding taste due to an even higher terpene content than extractions from dried and cured flower. Interestingly, you’ll tend to find a higher percentage of monoterpenes (e.g. limonene, linalool, myrcene, terpinolene) in live extracts as compared to the high prevalence of sesquiterpenes (e.g. bisabolol, caryophyllene, elemene, guaiol, humulene, nerolidol) in non-live extractions. If you have a good nose and strong tastebuds, you may even be able to differentiate live concentrates from others by allowing your senses to decode the predominant terps. New party game, anyone?
Certain concentrates including caviar, hash, kief, and moonrocks cannot be vaped and must be smoked. They are commonly used as bowl-toppers to boost the effectiveness of good ol’ herb. THCA powder, a form of isolate, can be dabbed or smoked. Fully-extracted cannabis oil (FECO) or Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is usually ingested as it contains activated THC and as such does not need to be heated for medicinal use. That said, some people do enjoy dabbing FECO to achieve a faster onset and quicker symptom relief, but it should be noted that the effects of vaping do not last as long as those of edibles. Liquid vape cartridges (carts) contain oil extracts like distillate or liquid live resin. As their name implies, vape carts are consumed by vaporization with the aid of a pen battery or box mod.
What Is Dabbing + How Does It Work?
The art of dabbing revolves around picking up small amounts of herbal concentrate (dabs) with a metal, ceramic, or glass carving tool (dabber) and dropping or scraping it off into a special chamber attached to a heat source that vaporizes or combusts the concentrate, which is then inhaled.
The special chamber which holds concentrate is either the atomizer of a pen vape or the quartz, titanium, or ceramic banger or nail attached to a dab rig (think water pipe specially designed for concentrates). The beloved healing and psychoactive cannabinoid THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is heat-activated. A pen battery, box mod, blow torch, or electronic nail (enail) serves as the heat source to convert the acid form of THC—known as THCA or Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid—into its active form. For those medicating with high-CBD concentrates, the name of the game is the same: heat converts CBDA to its active form of CBD. Other medicinal cannabinoids and all the terpenes are heat-activated as well. [Read up on the benefits of the major terpenes here + learn why hotter isn’t always better!]
Some people vaporize or combust their concentrates by placing a dab on a heat-safe surface and using a borosilicate (boro) glass straw to breathe in the herbal compounds after the business end of the honey straw or nectar collector is sufficiently heated with a torch. Others might prefer the convenience of pen vaporizers which mimic traditional dabbing while increasing its ease and portability, allowing you the freedom to take your plant medicine with you on the go.
What Do Solvents Have to Do with It?
Solvents (e.g. butane, carbon dioxide, propane, pentane, ethanol, isopropanol or grain alcohol) are used to extract the active compounds such as cannabinoids and terpenoids from plant material. There are also solventless extraction methods (i.e. water/ice, pressure, and heat). As a somewhat special case, carbon dioxide is generally put into the “solventless” category because it fully evaporates leaving no residue.
Different recreational and medical markets have various guidelines on the level of residual solvent that is allowed in the final product. Residual solvent is measured in parts per million (ppm) per gram (g) of finished concentrate. The most common numbers we see refer to butane extractions. For example, Illinois requires that concentrates have less than 10 ppm of residual solvent per gram of finished extract, while Colorado’s limit is currently set at 800 ppm/g. As of the end of 2017, a statewide standard had not been adopted by California, though the city of Berkeley set a limit of 400 ppm/g. Washington state has a limit of 500 ppm/g. We can start to see that concentrates vary widely in purity across the country, as they do around the globe.
How to Properly Store Concentrates for Terpene + Cannabinoid Preservation
Here at SkyBlue, we want you to get the most from your medicine. So let’s talk about the storage of herbal extracts. We ought to store our concentrates in a way that preserves potency and boosts ease of use. This only takes a little bit of effort and offers mega rewards in the form of consistently happy highs.
The major medicinal compounds in cannabis (i.e. cannabinoids, terps, flavonoids) have natural enemies in light, air, heat, and humidity. These environmental factors can and will degrade your medicine, though following our tips will allow you to get the most from it. Good concentrate storage keeps our medicine fresh and potent, while keeping dust, lint, and other contaminants from getting trapped in our extracts. While there is a lot of contention over the best way to store concentrates to preserve the healing potency of its medicine, there are some quick + dirty tips that we all can follow to up our concentrates game:
Do minimize light exposure. ➲ Store in the dark.
Do minimize air exposure. ➲ Store in (appropriately-sized) airtight containers.
Do minimize degradation from heat or humidity. ➲ Store in a cool, dry place.
*For extra credit—If you have more than one concentrate, grab a piece of tape and a pen and label your medicine. Sometimes it’s hard to identify mystery strains while medicated up!
Those are the quick + dirty dos; here are the quick + dirty don’ts:
Don’t store concentrates uncovered or in the light.
Don’t leave concentrates out, exposed to open air, even while dabbing.
Don’t keep concentrates in hot or humid places.
Don’t use wax paper for concentrate storage.
Let’s dig in a little bit regarding the implementation of and reasoning behind these basic storage guidelines for concentrates:
Minimize Light Exposure
To cut down on light exposure, keep your concentrates wrapped in parchment paper or in an opaque container (silicone and tinted amber or cobalt glass are excellent choices), or choose an airtight case with parchment paper for shatter slabs. Resealable mylar bags fitted with silicone-coated parchment paper are another popular way to store shatter. Depending on the concentrate type, it can helpful to use parchment paper for its nonstick properties in addition to glass or silicone. If you’re saving every penny for concentrate, you can get by with clear glass jars that are easier to find and may even come with your purchase. Just keep them in a dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet for extra light-blocking mojo. Some people toss everything, once sealed and labeled, in a cigar or shoe box up on a closet shelf. Others use a lockbox. Find a method and storage place that works for you.
Minimize Air Exposure
Like light, air degrades the active compounds in extracts. For this reason, it’s best to store concentrates in airtight containers of some sort. Don’t underestimate the importance of using containers that fit the amount of product you have without tons of extra space. If you only have 0.5 g of wax, don’t store it in a container that could easily hold two times that (or more). Obviously, the volume of wax is going to diminish with use, so it may be necessary to switch containers over time depending on how quickly you burn through your extracts. In a perfect world, our storage containers would be precisely big enough to hold our concentrates and no bigger. This isn’t always possible, so, as with everything in life, take the tips you can implement and don’t sweat the rest.
On balance, we should be more worried about exposure to light, heat, and humidity than air (if we store our concentrates in some form of airtight containers). Even if you mix your concentrates together in the same storage container (yes, people do this), keep the containers as small as possible. The space your concentrate doesn’t fill will inevitably be filled with air. Some air exposure is unavoidable. Keep in mind that besides the protection of appropriately-sized containers, we can further safeguard the terps and cannabinoids in our care by not opening their storage containers more often than we need, nor leaving them open longer than we must.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place
It’s vital that your concentrates remain at room temp or cooler. If you’re already a concentrates consumer, you know what happens when heat hits—terpenes and cannabinoids vaporize! But degradation is an ongoing process that starts as soon as extracts are made, and degradation doesn’t stop till our concentrates are used up or completely worthless medicinally. Don’t store your extracts in direct or indirect sunlight to avoid heat damage. On the same note, avoid storage locations close to heat sources. Again, drawers and cabinets are your friend. There’s superabundant moisture in the bathroom, so pretty please whatever you do, don’t choose the medicine cabinet. Make sure everything is clean and dusted to provide your concentrates with the best possible home.
While we’re on the subject of all things concentrate related, let’s explore a few more bits and bobs of info that will put us further ahead on the path to concentrate connoisseurship.
Temperature + Concentrate Consistency
Manipulating the temperature of extracts for storage is not recommended as fridge or freezer storage can easily mess with the ideal humidity of finished extracts. Nevertheless, if you have a concentrate that is simply too sticky to handle like some varieties of sap or sauce, it can be helpful to stick it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes immediately before use. Set a timer so you remember to take it out and don’t store it there long term! And don’t put it on wax paper! (We’ll get to the why of that soon.) Glass-like shatter will soften at room temp or from the heat of your hands as you work with it. Crumble can be easier to grab ahold of if you first gently heat a clean dabber before dipping it in your extract, although sometimes the best remedy is to purchase a deep shovel-shaped dab tool specifically for scooping and loading crumble.
Why to Avoid Wax Paper + Reach for Parchment Paper
It’s preferable to avoid mixing extract storage and wax paper because the wax coating on wax paper bonds to BHO before dissolving into it. Essentially, the wax is transferring to your consumable. Concentrates stored in wax paper by mistake are typically rendered trash, as most people don’t want to and shouldn’t smoke or vaporize wax because of the unavoidable chemical byproducts produced when wax is heated.
Parchment paper, on the other hand, is an equally accessible yet much safer choice if you need a nonstick storage aid for your extracts. Quality parchment paper is coated with a thin layer of food-grade silicone, which is what allows us to easily peel up concentrates that have been stored on it. Silicone is thankfully nontoxic when incinerated.
However, be aware that many budget brands of parchment paper contain the silicone substitute Quilon—a chemical containing the heavy metal Chromium, which does become toxic when combusted. Quilon is approved by the FDA for food contact and is used for candy wrappers, but it may not be safe for concentrate storage. The residual Quilon on your herbal extract will reach hotter temps when consumed than, say, the unheated wrapper on salt water taffy, not to mention the unheated taffy itself. Heavy metal toxicity is bad for everyone and worse for medical users with preexisting health vulnerabilities.
If you don’t want to inhale toxic Quilon byproducts, there are an abundance of Quilon-free parchment papers made with non-toxic silicone from which to choose. Silicone parchment paper would be more suitable for concentrate connoisseurs and is available in both rolls and pre-cut squares. Some users prefer unbleached, Quilon-free, silicone-coated parchment paper for their concentrates.
Aside from paying attention to storage habits, the way we handle concentrates and the way we handle our tools of the trade can vastly improve—or tank—our experience medicating with herbal extracts. We’re all about keeping it clean. Spring has sprung! There’s no better time to spring clean your concentrate game.
Clean Concentrate Tech Tips
Covered containers make the top of the list when it comes to maintaining a clean concentrate game. Although it’s probably true that you haven’t lived till you’ve seen a picture of a fly caught in some butane honey oil, no one wants to dab that! But it doesn’t seem like most people want to dab their pet hair or their sweater lint either. Covered containers keep you covered. Even though looks awesome when slabs of shatter are displayed uncovered on the counter, it’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t waste your hard-earned cash by risking your concentrate cleanliness for aesthetics. Remember that we’re always aiming for airtight concentrate storage.
Always wash your hands well before handling any concentrate and consider gloving up if you’re going to break down a slab of shatter or wax by hand into pre-portioned servings for easy vape pen use. Pre-portioned dabs make it easy to travel light with only what you need. Keep in mind that breaking apart extracts in this way may dry them out rather quickly, so make sure they’re in an airtight container and don’t break up more than you’re planning to use within a relatively short period of time. Our hands contain natural oils that can adversely affect our concentrates. Using clean dab tools and/or gloves helps minimize the transfer of oils and prolongs the shelf life of your extracts. It’s not a bad idea to store some alcohol swabs with your vape, dabber, and concentrates to keep everything clean and dust-free.
Whether you use a pen or dab rig with enail, keep in mind that the cleaner you keep your vaporizer the more efficiently it will vaporize your concentrates (instead of wasting energy heating up reclaim in the chamber or banger/nail). It comes down to this: The better you treat your dabbing toolbox, the happier you’ll be with the quality of your dabbing experience.
Let’s quickly run through the basic care and feeding of a dabbing toolbox: Clean your dabbers before and after each use. If you use dab mats of any kind to divvy up your concentrate, clean those pre- and post-use. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning your vape, banger/nail, or honey straw. Employ Q-Tip Tech as applicable. If you use a dab rig, clean the glass and change the water regularly. After all, there’s nothing like clean glass! That’s all she wrote, fam.
We hope this article will help you embark on a journey to the magical frontier of cannabis concentrates. Here’s to better tasting vapor and stronger relief. We’ll see you in the clouds! Have a fav concentrate, SkyBlue atomizer, tried and true storage method, or any questions? Let us know in the comments! We love hearing from you.