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Decoding Cannabis Concentrates: What Are They and What Makes Them So Popular?

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What Makes Cannabis Concentrates So Potent and Popular?

If you’re still fairly new to the cannabis scene – or if you’re returning after an extended hiatus due to expanding legalization – then you might be wondering what the big deal with concentrates even is. After all, isn’t smoking a blunt or hitting a bong good enough anymore?

Since legalization, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the production and consumption of cannabis concentrates – but that category itself is pretty big. There are a lot of different products that fall into the catch-all of cannabis concentrates.

Our goal today is to help you sift through all that information and make sure you have all the need-to-know facts about cannabis concentrates.

What Are Cannabis Concentrates?

To be scientifically accurate, concentrates are a condensed version of the plant's trichomes, which contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that create the effects of consuming the plant.

It’s interesting to point out that some may use the terms “concentrates” and “extracts” interchangeably – but this isn’t always the case. As pointed out by Verilife's FAQ on concentrates, extracts may be concentrates, but not all concentrates qualify as extracts.

Wait – but why not? They’re both extracted THC aren’t they? Well, no… not necessarily.

Technically, some concentrates are extracted using a solvent like butane, CO2, or even alcohol – and those qualify as extracts. Others are produced with solventless methods that condense (or concentrate) the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

Regardless of how the concentrate was produced, it will have a significantly higher potency than the flower it was made from because it’s pure cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids – all the best parts of the cannabis plant.

Examples of Solvent Based Cannabis Concentrates

  • Shatter
  • Wax
  • Distillate Oil
  • Crumble
  • Live Resin

Examples of Solventless Cannabis Concentrates

  • Budder/Badder
  • Rosin
  • Kief
  • Hash

Are Solventless Concentrates Better or Safer than BHO?

The most common – and affordable – concentrates are made by using a solvent (such as butane, ethanol, alcohol, or CO2) to extract the trichomes that contain all the therapeutic and/or psychoactive components of the plant.

While this is efficient and affordable, it’s not the most pure form of concentrates since you’ll never be able to remove 100% of the solvent used. However, the trace amounts remaining leave the final product as safe to consume as the raw plant flower is to smoke.

On the other hand, if you want a more pure experience you may want to consider solventless concentrates like rosin, which is highly similar to “saucey” wax or live resin in consistency but is excreted from the plant under low heat and high pressure.

What Makes Concentrates So Potent?

The name “concentrates” is self-explanatory if you really think about it. Anything that's concentrated is “stronger” or “more potent” “undiluted” or “intense” than its original or traditional form. Take condensed soup or juice for example – adding water dilutes it, but without water it’s… powerful.

The same goes for cannabis concentrates. So while most strains will contain 20-30% THC on average in raw plant form, a concentrate made from the same strains could have anywhere from 65% – 90% THC.

That potency can be affected by a number of things including the original potency of the strain, extraction method, and how it was stored after extraction. In my experience, around 85% THC is fairly average in the medical cannabis market for most shatter, wax, and distillate (vapes).

FAQ About Cannabis Concentrates

We’ve used a few terms throughout this post that you might – or might not – be familiar with. To make sure you leave with the best understanding possible, we’ve answered some of the most common frequently asked questions about cannabis concentrates.

Wax VS Shatter VS Budder: What’s the Difference?

The most obvious difference between these three types of concentrates is their appearance, as you’ll likely be able to find comparable potencies in each category.

Wax gives off a more generic “waxy” appearance, often resembling ear wax – however, people often use this term to refer to shatter, crumble, sauce, or badder which are all different consistencies at least. Most wax on the market is BHO (butane hash oil) but it may also be commonly found with CO2 used as a solvent.

Shatter is easily recognizable because it comes in a thin sheet that almost looks like glass – though it can vary in color from nearly clear to a dark amber depending on a number of factors in the extraction process. Usually, this type of concentrate is fragile and easily shatters like glass, hence the name.

Badder, budder, and sauce all refer to the consistency of a concentrate – though all are usually more likely referring to live resin or rosin, which have similar consistencies and appearances despite only one being made with a solvent.

Live Resin VS Rosin: Are They the Same?

While they might have similar appearances, live resin, and rosin are very different concentrates when looking at how they’re made.

Live resin uses frozen plant material, which is meant to preserve the cannabinoid and terpene profiles as close to their live-plant state as possible. This ends up producing a highly flavorful, aromatic, and potent concentrate.

Rosin, on the other hand, is a solventless concentrate made by compressing the buds using a combination of low heat and a lot of pressure until they secrete a syrup-like cannabinoid and terpene-filled substance.

Are Vape Cartridges Considered Concentrates?

Depending on your experience with cannabis so far (which seems different generationally these days), you may be more familiar with vape pens than wax or “dabs.” If that’s the case, you may be wondering if a vape pen is considered a concentrate – and the answer is yes!

In fact, while some vape pens contain live resin or rosin, most contain cannabis oil distillate – which is a solvent based concentrate. Distillate is a preferred concentrate for those who want to benefit from specific cannabinoids and terpenes, as the profiles can more easily be refined than they can with other concentrates.

Why Are Cannabis Concentrates So Popular?

One of the main reasons that cannabis concentrates have become so popular is a “less is more” mentality – especially among medicinal consumers.

It’s easier to take a puff or two from a vape pen or a dab every few hours than to stop everything you’re doing to smoke a blunt or a bowl. Plus, when you consider vape carts in the picture, they are far more convenient and discrete than smoking.

While smoking remains the most popular way to consume cannabis, concentrates have quickly gained notoriety in cannabis culture over the last few decades, and that doesn’t show signs of slowing anytime soon.

Julia Granowicz-Johnson is a founder, copywriter, and journalism blogger with a passion for the cannabis plant and its uses in personal wellness and medicine. She advocates for the reform of cannabis laws around the globe through her writing and aims to bring attention to the negative impacts that prohibition has left in its wake.