What are Concentrates?
The Starting Material
Methods of Extraction
What's on the shelf?
What are Concentrates?
Concentrate products are highly concentrated forms of marijuana. All concentrate products are extracted from cannabis material that is either cured or frozen fresh at harvest. Concentrates are produced with a variety of extraction processes to yield a more potent product that retains all the cannabinoids and terpenes of the starting material while all other excess plant material is discarded. Terpenes provide all the aromas and flavors for cannabis. The goal of the extraction process is to isolate the trichomes of the flower, which contain all the cannabinoids and terpenes of the cannabis plant.
Like with all cannabis products, grower/processors will all utilize different methods to produce their concentrates. They look to find the perfect balance between completing and replicating a complex scientific process and using artisanal touches to make their concentrates both unique and consistently the best product they can be. The distinction between concentrate products will come from the details in how they are produced. These result in differing textures, potency, and composition. Below is a listing and description of different categories of concentrate products and the distinction between them.
The Starting Material: Live vs. Cured
Concentrates can be produced using cannabis in different states as the starting material. This includes anything from trim, dry leaf that has been cured and fully harvested, or flash frozen "live" flower. Concentrate products should be labeled as "live" or "cured" to allow patients to know more about the starting material used by each G/P and what they can expect during the use of each product. Dry cured and fresh frozen cannabis material each have unique properties and are chosen depending on the products that are being created. Cured concentrates can offer a higher yield of cannabinoids and live concentrates can offer a higher terpene yield as well as a higher percentage of clear trichomes that are better for isolate products.
Any "live" concentrate product is simply an extraction done by using fresh frozen flower that is not cured, dried, or trimmed and harvested at peak ripeness and immediately frozen to preserve as many flavor and aroma producing qualities as possible.
Cured extracts are concentrates produced using cannabis that has undergone a curing process as the starting material. Curing is when growers place buds in anything from glass jars to specialized airtight bags to help ensure a proper balance of air and moisture that will preserve fragrance and flavor. Cured concentrates should be labeled as such.
Methods of Extraction: Solvent-Based vs. Solventless
Creating concentrates is done through extraction processes that can be as basic as applying heat and pressure or a more complex chemical extraction process in which a solvent is used. Solvent based extraction is the most common method used by growers in PA and is always done in a contained laboratory grade setting using high-grade industrial equipment. Producing quality solvent-based concentrates involves a balance between an intricate scientific process and an artisanal approach that makes the product unique. Products that differ in name will typically be different in potency, physical appearance, consistency, and how they are produced. The solvent-based process is the most common form of extraction method because of the results of the end product. Solvent based extracts yields a potent, tasteful product and is the most consistent way to get concentrates on the shelf in the dispensary.
A centuries old process revamped with modern technology and equipment, solventless extracts are making their way into the PA medical marijuana market. The main goal of solventless products is to ensure the purity and specific, distinct qualities of each strain being used are preserved to the highest possible extent. Solventless extracts are widely renown for pronounced flavors and natural purity. A less complex, but extremely precise process of applying a combination of heat and pressure to the starting material, usually live flower, results in rosin or live rosin. This product is sought after by patients seeking high quality, high potency concentrates in their cleanest form, highlighting the unique qualities of each individual strain.
As mentioned above, solvent-based extracts make up the majority of concentrate products on the shelf at PA dispensaries. This extraction process has many detailed variations when getting into the specifics: solvents used, material being used for extraction, desired end product, etc. But before you can understand the specifics, it is helpful to get a basic overall picture of the process first so you can better understand the product. Because of the involvement of solvents in the extraction process, marijuana extraction should only be performed by experts in a laboratory grade setting.
The most common solvents used in cannabis extraction are hydrocarbon gases such as butane or propane. Growers utilize hydrocarbon solvents in a closed-loop extraction system that involves high-grade industrial equipment. This a complex chemical process done in a contained laboratory grade setting. The following section is a basic outline of how a closed loop process for solvent-based extraction produces concentrates.
Closed Loop Process of Extraction
What's on the Shelf?
Concentrate or extracts can be an umbrella term that describes an assortment of products on the shelf. The PA market has a wide variety of concentrates that can take shape in different forms, textures, and viscosities. Different growers will utilize different techniques and make their own adjustments to the intricacies of the process to yield a unique concentrate product. Producing quality extracts is a rigorous scientific process. But this process still has room for artisanal touches that can make the difference in the flavors, aromas, and potency of the end product. Growers shooting for the highest quality concentrates know how to find this balance and consistency when producing high-grade concentrates at scale.
Because of the different production methods mentioned above and a wide variety of end products this can lead to confusion from patients on what they are purchasing. A basic guideline is that concentrates will come with higher potency, and there will be an indication of the strain used and the type of concentrate in the name. If a concentrate is named Cherry Diesel Live Sugar “cherry diesel” is the strain and “live sugar” is the type of concentrate. The primary method of consumption for concentrates is dabbing. This is simply the process of vaporizing cannabis concentrates in a temperature-controlled dab rig, similar to a bong (this is why you will hear concentrates sometimes referred to as “dabs”). Below is a breakdown of the concentrate products patients will see on dispensary shelves.