Over the last couple of years, concentrates have been the fastest growing market segment of Washington’s recreational marijuana sales. Outside of BHO (butane hash oil), discerning dab connoisseurs can now purchase products that have been extracted in a number of different ways, ranging from CO2 oil to rosin and other solventless concentrates. With so many options to choose from, it could leave you wondering about the pros and cons of different extract styles and what contributes to higher price points.
BHO (Butane Hash Oil)
When it comes to flavor, BHO is widely regarded as the superior choice by many dab enthusiasts. In addition to being an express ticket to Flavor Country, butane extracts are the least-expensive to produce, and can be found at varying quality levels for an average price of $20 - $50 a gram.
The price point, like with most any other product, is typically indicative of the quality level; more affordable concentrates with less aesthetic appeal tend to be produced using trim. Higher price points may be due to a more refined extraction process or higher grade materials used, such as dried buds (known as “nug run”) or fresh, frozen buds right off the plant (referred to as “live resin”). You should be able to tell by looking at the product why it commands a higher price point, but if not, check the packaging for “nug run,” or “live resin,” or ask your budtender what the story is.
The drawback to BHO, however, relates to concerns about how healthy it is to consume butane. Like any other subject you’ve ever Googled, there are loads of conflicting information pertaining to the safety of consuming butane, but we do know this:
a) per Washington state law, extracts must test at <500ppm residual solvents
b) lighting a joint is about the equivalent of 500ppm of butane.
In a 2015 High Times article, Colorado biology professor Bob Melamede PhD was quoted as saying, "I looked through the National Library of Medicine database on this, and there isn’t any evidence that inhaling residual hydrocarbons like butane are dangerous—at least in small amounts. It’s an irritant, but that’s about it."
Pros of BHO:
- Best flavor
- Lowest price
- Various consistencies (wax, shatter, crumble, pull-and-snap, etc)
Cons of BHO:
- There may be health risks associated with the consumption of butane
Another type of concentrate that has been increasing in popularity over the years—especially in disposable vape cartridges—are CO2 extracts. Processed through an intimidating tangle of metal tubes and hoses, this procedure utilizes carbon dioxide as a non-toxic solvent for extracting cannabinoids and terpenes. A prevailing belief held by some seasoned dabbers is that CO2 concentrates are rarely as flavorful as BHO, though we would suggest experimenting with CO2 extracts yourself and forming your own opinion.
Regarding texture, there are skilled producers in the recreational industry who are able to produce terpene-rich CO2 extracts in myriad consistencies (like shatter and waxes), but the majority of CO2 extracts on the market tend to have a gel-like consistency and are easy to work with.
The price point on CO2 is typically a little higher than BHO, but not so much that it’s prohibitive. Compared to BHO prices, expect to pay an extra $5-$10 per gram for CO2 ($30 - $40 a gram on average).
Pros of CO2:
Cons of CO2:
- Sometimes less flavorful than BHO
- Slightly more expensive than BHO
Commonly referred to as “clear” by customers and less-than-litigious marketers, distillates are a form of BHO that has been purified to the point that it becomes translucent. While the process of turning crude concentrates into distillate is somewhat convoluted to explain, it’s not terribly different from the process of converting sour mash into whiskey using a still.
Often packaged in a “tanker” or syringe, distillates are fully activated and may be used as edibles or topicals (in addition to being dabbed or smoked). If you’ve ever seen the pretty “twax" joints on Instagram with coils of translucent oil wrapped around them, that’s what distillate is, and the tanker makes it super easy to apply to prerolls to make your own twax joints.
In addition to purity, distillates are sought after for their potency— they usually test between 70% and 90% THC— though they don’t contain any measurable terpenes, so the high is actually… well… kinda bland. Because distillate lacks terpenes, many producers choose to add food-derived terpenes to their product (like limonene and myrcene) to give their oil a sweet, fruity flavor. Dabbing distillate can be fun when used liberally, but otherwise, distillate is best enjoyed with flower (on a joint or over a bowl).
Pros of distillate:
- Solvent free (all butane is fully purged)
- Can be used as an edible or a topical
- It looks cool
Cons of distillate:
- By itself, the effect is not as “fun” due to to a lack of terpenes
- The runny consistency can be tricky to work with
In addition to being completely solventless, rosin has received a lot of attention over the last few years because it’s safe and easy to produce your own rosin at home. We’ve all read horror stories about black market extractors blowing up their homes in an attempt to produce BHO, but all you really need to make rosin is some sticky bud (some strains are more effective than others, such as Gorilla Glue #4 or Dutch Treat), a piece of parchment, and a hair straightener. State licensed producers, of course, use heavy duty equipment along the lines of hydraultic presses to produce rosin to scale.
The solventless aspect of rosin is one of the traits that makes it especially attractive to consumers; not only do you have peace of mind knowing there are no extraneous chemicals in your dabs, but you reap the benefits of using a “whole flower” concentrate. Whereas other extraction techniques typically retain THC (and trace amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes), “whole plant” concentrates better preserve the intended effect of the strain.
Some dabbers believe that rosin always has a superior flavor to butane extracts, a point that's often disputed by BHO purists. From personal experience, I’ve tasted some extremely flavorful rosin but also some lackluster rosin as well… from what I’ve been able to deduce, the deciding factors seem to be the material used (the strain itself, whether it’s made from bud or hash or keif) and the manufacturing date. Fresh squeezed rosin seems to taste better than rosin produced a few months back, though the convenience of not having to borrow my girlfriend’s hair straightener still compels me to purchase rosin instead of making my own.
It takes a lot of input material to produce rosin to scale, so that combined with the extra labor makes rosin more expensive to produce than BHO or CO2 extracts. You can typically find rosin for $30 to $60 a gram; more affordable rosin is likely produced using buds or trim, and high end rosin is often made using hash or keif.
Pros of rosin:
- No solvents used
- Whole plant dabs (full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved)
- As flavorful as BHO (when fresh)
- You can safely make your own at home
Cons of rosin:
- More labor intensive (and therefore more expensive) to produce
Ice wax, for all intents and purposes, is essentially the same thing as bubble hash; it’s a dabbable, solventless concentrate produced using only plant matter and cold water. The major difference between bubble hash and ice wax is that bubble hash uses trim, but ice wax utilizes fresh, frozen plant material (like the “live resin” process) for maximum potency and flavor. As mentioned with rosin, the major benefit of ice wax is that it’s a solventless whole plant extract.
In order to make ice wax, a producer combines fresh, frozen cannabis plants and cold water in a nylon bag, agitates the mixture to separate the trichomes from the plant material, then sieves it though more nylon bags with increasingly smaller holes (measured in microns). The concentrate is ready to melt correctly when the particles of hash are around 70 to 120 microns, at which point the processor allows the wet ice wax to dry for 5 to 7 days before packaging.
By the time the product is on the shelves at a retail store, the microns are converted to a 'star system' for ease of understanding; top quality ice wax should be around 5 or 6 stars. It’s normal for the particulate to stick together at room temperature, though should you encounter ice wax that’s still in a powdery form, it will be easier to work with if you place it inside a folded piece of parchment paper and press it together from the outside before dabbing the pressed ice wax.
Pros of ice wax:
- No solvents
- Full spectrum dabs (whole flower concentrate)
Cons of ice wax:
- Even more labor intensive (more expensive) to produce than rosin
- Can be difficult to work with the consistency (you may need to press powder before dabbing, which is more labor on your part)
Now that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons of various extracts, you can approach concentrates in a retail setting with more confidence. And wouldn’t you know it, we happen to carry all of these types of concentrates at our Seattle dispensary! What a coincidence!
Article by Ramsey Doudar; an in-house marketing and social media strategist at Herbn Elements. Ramsey's perspective is influenced by 1.5 years of budtending, 5 years as a cannabis industry marketing professional, and 10+ years of being a super picky medical patient.