Cannabis concentrates are preferred by many patients, especially those dealing with extreme pain because they provide a much higher level of cannabinoids than flower, which in turn, can provide a higher level of relief and wellness benefits in some instances.
However, cannabis concentrates are not for everyone. Because of the increased potency, cannabis concentrates are not recommended for new consumers, or those coming back after a long layoff.
So what are cannabis concentrates?
The physical properties of the types of cannabis concentrates usually fits with the slang name given to that type of concentrate.
So for instance cannabis concentrates called ‘shatter’ have an almost glass type of consistency that shatters when handled or dropped on a hard surface.
Concentrates called ‘wax’ have a waxy consistency, and are more of a goo type of concentrate rather than a solid.
There are liquid concentrates, concentrates that have a ‘honeycomb’ type of consistency, and many other forms of concentrates on the market.
‘Dabs’ is the most popular, all encompassing slang term used for cannabis concentrates.
The slang terms can be confusing, especially because not all geographical areas use the same terms.
That’s why I prefer the term cannabis concentrates. Cannabis concentrates generally fall into two categories when it comes to how they are made – solvent and solvent-less.
The process of creating cannabis concentrates starts with raw cannabis trim and/or buds which are either ‘blasted’ with a solvent, such as butane or CO2, or made via a method that doesn’t involve a solvent, such as concentrates that are made using dry ice.
Here’s the extraction process of how cannabis concentrates are made when a solvent is used:
– The trim/bud is ‘blasted,’ meaning the cannabis is put in a holding container that is then hooked into a closed loop system.
– The solvent, often butane, cycles through the closed loop system, passing by the cannabis as many times as necessary to strip the cannabis of its cannabinoids and terpenes.
-After the blasting, the substance left looks like a funky liquid.
-This liquid is then warmed in a vat which vacuums off the solvent as it evaporates.
– Once this process is completed, what is left is an unfinished ‘slab’ of concentrates.
-This ‘slab’ is then placed into a vacuum oven for a final evaporation and cooking.
The finished product takes on various forms from waxy to a solid substance that ‘shatters’ when broken up.
What health related concerns should a person consider before consuming concentrates?
The biggest concern that almost instantly comes to mind when a person learns of how concentrates are made relates to the solvent that is being used.
Butane is bad for people right? How much of that butane is left in the concentrate? The answer to that question is not easy to supply, because it depends on various factors.
If the process is done correctly, there shouldn’t be enough butane in the concentrates to cause any concern: 500 ppm of the solvent seems to be the standard, which is equivalent to using a butane lighter to light a pipe bowl.
If you don’t know who/where your concentrates were made, residual solvent could be a valid concern.
However, if the product is made by a reputable company that tests their products, residual solvents are not a concern.
A much bigger concern for consumers are the other substances found in concentrates.
Just as the cannabinoids are concentrates in the final product, so too are any fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metal fertilizers, and anything else that was used during the cultivation of the cannabis.
In a regulated state, concentrates are tested for all of the previously mentioned items except one – heavy metals.
The widespread use of heavy metal fertilizers is not even on most consumers’ radars right now, but it’s something people should be extremely concerned about.
Cannabis has a tremendous uptake ability when it comes to nutrients, and as such, absorbs heavy metals very efficiently. That’s great for plant growth, but not for human consumption.
Even the tobacco industry regulates heavy metals. The cannabis industry does not, yet.
You can get around this by only consuming organic cannabis concentrates. Otherwise, you are rolling the dice.
More research is needed to better understand how cannabis concentrates interact with the body
A study conducted in 2014 looked at 357 individuals who were regular cannabis consumers.
The study “aimed to gather preliminary information on dabs users and test whether dabs use is associated with more problems than using flower cannabis” and concluded the following:
Analysis revealed that using “dabs” created no more problems or accidents than using flower cannabis. Participants did report that “dabs” led to higher tolerance and withdrawal (as defined by the participants), suggesting that the practice might be more likely to lead to symptoms of addiction or dependence.
This was the first study of its kind. The problem with this study, is that it relied on anecdotal stories from the participants, rather than facts or research.
The truth is that cannabis affects all of us differently.
Cannabis comes in an endless variety of chemical makeups, from indicas to sativas to hybrids, each with their own differing levels of CBD and THC, as well as cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
There’s a huge playing field here in terms of the cannabis itself as well as the ingestion method.
As more research is needed on the plant itself, so too is more research on concentrates needed.
The research community is still trying to catch up on basic research due to prohibition, so research that is specific to concentrates may be awhile down the road.
In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to know where your cannabis concentrates come from, and that the cannabis your concentrate is made from is grown using organic practices, without using heavy metal fertilizers, and passes lab tests related to pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, and other contaminant levels.
In doing so, you will be on the safe side, as long as you keep consumption rates within reason for your tolerance level.