Cannabis Concentrates 101

cold cure on a tool

Concentrates - A Growing Favorite

When people mention cannabis concentrates, most folks picture blow torches and complex glass rigs. Most of us can deduce that concentrates have high THC. Those who consume them do so to get the most THC they can in one sitting. This is true for some consumers. But, they are not the only ones using concentrates anymore. The number of Americans trying cannabis for the first time increases every year. According to Gallup’s annual Consumption Habits survey in 2023, 50% of Americans say they have tried cannabis. In the same survey, looking to find current behavior, 17% of people surveyed say they “smoke marijuana”. That is up from 7% of people in 2013. 1 More states are legalizing recreation. More groups are consuming in general. So, more people are trying concentrates. The National Library of Medicine wanted to measure this trend. In a 2021 survey, they found that 65.9% of concentrate users live in states where it is legal for any adult to consume, while 50.0% live in states without this status. 2

Why? Of course, as I already said, strong concentrates let experienced cannabis users get higher. They don't need to consume more flower to keep up with their tolerance. You could solve this problem with a quick break from consuming. If you don’t consume daily, you likely won’t even develop it. So what is it?

There are a few different angles that we can look at this from. For me, I enjoy the purity of a high quality extract. For thousands of years, cannabis smokers inhaled much more than just its psychoactive parts. You are also inhaling tiny particles from the burning chlorophyll. With concentrates, you only breathe in the cannabinoids and terpenes when you vaporize it well. We have not thoroughly studied the long-term health risks of breathing in these vapors yet. This is because of the current federal classification of cannabis. That being said, we have decades of research attributing negative long term side effects to inhaling plant smoke. Working with what we know then, it would be logical to reach for the concentrate first. You can achieve the same effect by inhaling a small amount of vapor. It contains only the specific phytochemicals you want, without burning plants or inhaling lots of smoke.

This is the principle I work with when discerning which cannabis product I want, purity. Less burning plant matter, more of the desired effect.



The Early History of Concentrates

The earliest form of cannabis concentrate known is called Charas. It was created by collecting the build-up of plant resin on worker’s hands. The resin built up after a period of time working with cannabis plants. This rudimentary technique is attributed to originating on the Indian subcontinent. Nearby, around present day Afghanistan a similar technique developed known as Hashish (or Hash). Farmers made traditional Hashish by pressing dried cannabis against a wooden sieve or screen. This separated off the mind-altering plant resins from the rest of the plant. The collected material is then pressed into a block. Pieces of this block of hash could then be broken off to smoke in a pipe. Hashish was the world’s only cannabis concentrate for hundreds of years. There is even a fable surrounding hash in Thousand and One Nights! As a specialty export, hashish made its way up to Europe as well. In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt. At the time of invasion, Egypt was a dry, alcohol free state. Napoleon’s men were used to getting drunk on their wine. They found hashish to be their new drug of choice. It actually got so bad, that by late 1800, one of Napoleon’s generals worked with a local elite to ban hashish all across Egypt! 3 This early prohibition was short-lived. It was one year later that the Ottoman empire invaded and brought the precious hashish home with them.

excerpt from -cannabis alchemy-

Alcohol Based Solvents

The Beginning of Modern Extracts

Hash was the only way to concentrate cannabis for a very, very long time. It wasn’t until the counter cultural movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that cannabis concentrates began their rise in the modern world. This era was ripe for development of new ways to concentrate cannabis. The fast pace of modern innovation and the growth of new amenities inspired smugglers. This, along with the rise of cannabis farms in the hills of California during prohibition, led them to make their cannabis more potent in creative ways. Their goal was to distribute the cannabis from the west coast to the east coast without attracting the attention of law enforcement. These circumstances gave rise to the world’s first ever solvent based cannabis extracts. The technique grew in popularity when “Cannabis  Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hash Making” was first published in 1973. In his book, D. Gold goes into detail on how to increase cannabis flower potency and how to use modern science to extract the oils off of the plant. In his book, Gold gives great detail on how a farmer could create a basic alcohol solvent based still to concentrate cannabis into “honey oil”. While revolutionary at the time, you would be hard pressed to find these extracts on the market now. This is because there are better ways to extract cannabis. They use different solvents and purer techniques to concentrate the plant without using solvents.

Bubble wash soaking

Bubble Hash

The Beginning of the Solventless Revival

The competition to create the best extract using modern technology had begun. What had begun as a convenience for smugglers had become a specialty product for growers to use to entice buyers. These early solvent-based extracts were cutting edge. But, those who have tried any alcohol-based extracts know they are hard to make and have a lingering flavor from the solvent. Very quickly minds across the globe got to work trying to find a way to elevate the quality of their extracts.

The guiding principle behind bubble hash was first discovered by Sadu Sam outside Amsterdam. Sam found that the trichome heads are full of our favorite mind-altering oils. These sank in water. But, the plant material they were attached to would continue to float. After sharing this key piece of knowledge with Mila Jansen, known as “The Hash Queen” online, things really started moving. Jansen combined the age-old technique of dry sieving and the knowledge she learned from Sam and developed a string of various products. The technique of Bubble Hash was born. Jansen created a working bag to soak and paddle the input material in and a collection bag to retrieve the hash in. The early bubble bags she designed invariably became the progenitor for one more individual to step into the scene. Marc Richardson (a.k.a. “Bubbleman”) had difficulty getting hash bags delivered from Amsterdam to his home in British Columbia. Due to this, he and his wife took it upon themselves to make their own. In doing so, they improved Jansen’s basic design. They added more bags beyond the first working bag and collection bag. These micron specific bags allowed the hash washer to dial in their hash collection range to taste. 4


Butane Hash Oil

Hydrocarbon BHO "explodes" on the scene

Two different dogmas of thinking branched off from the development of early solvent based extracts. We touched on how the bubble hash community sought a cleaner extract. What happened next would change how the world consumes concentrates. It would change it forever. In 1999 an online entity known only as “Indra” posted a blog on the cannabis website Erowid. They explained how anyone could buy a $4.50 can of camping butane and $2 of PVC pipe and fittings. They could use these to make their own cannabis extract at home. 5 The concentrate created is called BHO or “Butane Hash Oil.” This extract was more potent than what alcohol solvent based concentrates could make. The whole process happened in a fraction of the time with exponentially cheaper equipment. 

All this is happening while we are still deep in prohibition. So, someone who could only access low-quality cannabis from their neighbor could now make a better extract to consume. This seeded the beginning of vaporizing concentrates . Up until now, extracts had not been pure enough to vaporize without burning any leftover plant material. This ingenuity did not come without serious drawbacks. Butane is an explosive gas. Indra noted in their original blog post that this extract technique essentially creates a tube bomb that is slowly leaking. Stories began popping up on local news stations all over the country. They reported folks blowing up their garages trying to make BHO. This process is still just as dangerous today. Thankfully, legalization has led to change. Now, people buy BHO at stores, rather than making it at home. To this day, BHO remains the most efficient way to extract THC from cannabis.

Rosin being pressed


The Rise of the Rosin Press

The world has two basic ways to alter matter: chemically and physically. We have been making hash from cannabis for centuries. Then, we discovered alcohol distillation. Then, butane blasting. In the late 80s and early 90s, Sadu Sam, Mila Jansen, and Marc Richardson advanced our understanding. They showed how to better use physical processes to make high quality bubble hash. The next big leap for solventless extraction was the discovery of rosin. In early 2015, Phil Salazar noticed that when he smashed lower grade water hash on a hair straightener, the oils would separate off from the leftover plant material. 6 Being a big part of the cannabis community and an owner of a dispensary in southern California at the time; Salazar quickly shared his findings with the community. He later released his first rosin press a couple years later. The technique exploded from there. While still not as efficient as BHO, suddenly everyone was smashing nugs to extract the oils directly off of the plant.

Freeze Dried Hash

Freeze Dried Hash

Vacuum Freeze Drying Hits the Scene

Right as Phil Salazar first tried smashing air-cured bubble hash in 2015, Fletcher Watson was about to bring solventless concentrates into the modern world. Watson owns Archive Seed Bank. It is a cannabis company founded in 2006 with cultivation, manufacturing, seed breeding, and dispensaries. Watson was and is an advocate for the cannabis industry and always thoroughly enjoyed high grade bubble hash. Though an avid consumer, he saw shortcomings in its viability as a product in the recreational market. You see, air drying bubble hash leaves room for microbial populations to grow. This poses a health risk to the buyer. So, state governments tested these products to ensure they had few microbes. This made it extremely difficult to produce solventless bubble hash on a commercial scale. 

Watson wanted to bring his favorite product to market. So, he experimented with vacuum freeze dryers available to him. He dried the bubble hash to meet regulations. But, the freeze drying worsened its quality. So, he contacted the freeze dryer's supplier. He wanted to lower the unit's working temperature. Its standard operating temperature was about 120°F. He wanted to lower it to just above freezing. In 2015, Watson washed a harvest of Rudeboi OG. He ran the bubble hash through his custom vacuum freeze dryer. 7 The results were nothing but great. It used to take hours of labor to grate and sieve frozen hash. Then, it had to air dry and might fail regulations. Now, a machine could do it in 24-48 hours and is guaranteed to pass regulations.

The technique took over quickly. Soon, rosin made from vacuum freeze dried hash became the gold standard for all other concentrates. It's entirely solventless. It relies only on physical manipulations of the cannabis plant. They do not introduce impurities. This new found form of rosin became known as the purest form of cannabis concentrate.

CO2 Machine

CO2 Distillation

Here Comes the Legal Market

The cannabis industry has truly begun to mature in recent years. It was only in 2012 that Colorado and Washington first legalized consumption of cannabis for any law-abiding adult. Yet on November 7th of last year, Ohio became the 24th state in the union to enact similar measures. 8 America clearly is on the path towards the normalization of cannabis and established investment firms have definitely taken notice. During the years of medical-only legalization and in the early years of recreational legalization, only small companies in the few legal states invested in the cannabis industry. These small companies did not have access to traditional means of raising capital. So, most extraction tech had an air of DIY to it. This started to change. More states began to pass legalization reform. They encouraged investors to take the cannabis market more seriously. An example of this growth was the introduction of traditional chemical extraction methods. These methods need expensive equipment. Only now, with more investment, these techniques have come to the growing legal cannabis market.

CO2 distillation is the prime example of this. The technology was first proved in 1954. German Chemist Kurt Zosel found he could extract greases and oils using CO2 in a supercritical state. This means that, under enough heat and pressure, CO2 acts like both a gas and a liquid. It was later in the 70’s when Zosel used this technology to make the world’s first decaffeinated coffee. 9 

CO2 distillate is much more efficient than any other cannabis extraction method. It is the mainstay for cheap cannabis extracts. If you’ve ever purchased a vape cartridge for $15 dollars, you’ve likely tried it. Are there any drawbacks to  CO2 distillate? You bet. It is the most efficient way to collect THC. But, the process is so targeted that it leaves behind some other parts of cannabis. These other constituents are what curate the flavor and effect of well grown cannabis. Leave them behind, and you’re no longer creating a transparent representation of the plant.

Which is Right for You?

We have underlined the history of today's concentrates. Now, let's look at the pros and cons of each. Hash is a traditional favorite of folks who prefer the act of smoking, but want to increase the potency of what they’re smoking. It does this quite well as a simple solventless concentrate. There’s no solvent introduced, so there are no additional flavors when it comes to consuming hash. That being said, it is not nearly pure enough from plant material to vaporize. Alcohol-based extracts improve on this. They cut the leftover plant material to a minimum. Yet, they introduce a new flavor that can be unpleasant to some consumers. Hydrocarbon extracts are far more efficient than Alcohol extracts, yet they still have the issue of lingering solvents. CO2 Distillation is the best way to remove everything from the THC. It does so efficiently and without leaving behind unwanted flavors. Yet, at the cost of removing other desired constituents such as terpenes and flavorants. Finally, rosin made using vacuum freeze dried bubble hash captures all the phytochemicals that we want. This creates the highest quality extract available on the market. But, I would be lying if I didn’t say it is far from the most efficient manner of extraction. You can expect to lose some THC to the drain when making Live Rosin.


So which is right for you? Personally, I prefer Live Rosin. It is the most transparent representation of the plant and has the least irritable vapor. The effect is pronounced and I find that the difference between different varieties of cannabis is more clear. That being said, it is far too expensive of a concentrate to use for every product Cannabis Counter makes. Because of this, we also use CO2 distillate. It lets us offer budget-friendly options without straying too far from our goal of providing clean, organic cannabis products. Whether you choose to spend the extra money for a high end solventless concentrate, or you want to sip on a cheap cartridge without hacking up a lung. Trust that we have done the research and we have you covered.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration; and, the products mentioned on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Author profile

Jordan Reese

Jordan is a CC writer and cannabis enthusiast. He hopes to destigmatize the plant by helping his local community better understand it.