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Guide to Cannabis Extracts

Guide to Cannabis Extracts

Marijuana extracts, or dabs, are a potent and versatile way to get high. It comes in many different forms that yield various end products depending on the quality of materials used and extraction method.


A cannabis extract, or concentrate, is anything from wax, crumble, shatter, BHO (Butane Hash Oil), rosin, and alcohol based tinctures or any other usable form of cannabis which has undergone an extraction process. Solvents used in solvent-based extraction methods range from butane, CO2 , ethanol, hexane or propane. The main chemical constituent sought by extraction is THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol, and some extracts contain up to 80% or greater THC.

Since the FDA has found that there is no medicinal benefit of THC, there are also CBD (cannabidiol) extracts which typically can contain up to 4% CBD and help with things like seizures, depression, lack of appetite, mood regulation, and can also help with sleep apnea, somnambulism, and insomnia.

Cannabis extracts are commonly known as dabs, and come in many forms with names like full melt hash, hash, trim run, nug run, honey oil and bubble hash. The quality of dabs is normally determined by how fresh the beginning material is, and thus how blonde the end product turns out to be, with the brighter colored and more transparent end results fetching more of a pretty penny when sold from dispensaries. Smell is also a big part of what determines quality, with fruity or citrus smells preferred. You don’t want it to smell like the solvent.

Extraction Methods

The two methods used in extraction for cannabis labeled marketable and usable by the end consumer are solvent-based and solvent less. If a solvent like butane, hexane, propane or CO2 is used then the extract is said to be solvent based. If water, gravity, or a hopper or tumbler is used to separate off trichomes then the extract is called solvent less, meaning that when it is consumed by the end user there will be no residual remains of solvent in the final product. Obviously, the solventless approach is the way to go as far as less potential adverse health effects due to residual chemicals. The essence of the plant is what is sought, and a rich, aromatic terpene profile can be more attractive than the scent of flower alone.


Cannabis trimmings are put into a glass tube or other holding container that is airtight from the front and open at the back end. Butane gas is passed through the densely packed plant material and what remains is a mixture of the original plant material as well as the oil sought. This mixture is allowed to dry with the butane evaporating off, and what is left is then sifted to obtain the final result: Butane Hash Oil. BHO is more potent than cannabis flower, and is also more marketable to potential customers. As it is nearly impossible for all of the butane to evaporate off, BHO oil is known as one of the more dirty or impure concentrates, with a little residual butane always remaining in the finished product. As long as proper care is taken that the evaporation period is long enough the amount of residual solvent is decreased. There are people who blow themselves up trying to make this stuff, so either be prepared with the proper safety equipment and precautions and consult a pro, or don’t try this at home.

PHO or Propane Hash Oil:

Propane hash oil is made in much the same way with propane substituted for butane, only with propane instead of butane, there is no residual solvent, it has a relatively small load ratio, and it can be recovered quickly, making for faster production. Since it is highly flammable, a sparkless room and other safety gear are a must. Maintaining a high pressure at the evacuation end of the extraction tube with propane is a must, with 80 or higher PSI being sought.


Don’t want any solvents at all, or the vapors from petroleum or its derivatives? Try CO2 oil! When CO2 is frozen it turns solid, making dry ice! When using dry ice to obtain CO2 and allowing the pressure of sublimation to push the gas through a condensator, compressor, separator, heating chamber, and finally to the business end or extractor bottleneck. CO2 extractors freeze and compress the gas into a supercritical cold liquid state. This is dry ice. Because of the lack of heat used in the extraction process, CO2 is ideal for extraction without denaturation of isolated compounds, namely THC and CBD. The pressure is first raised when the CO2 gas is run through the compressor, condensator and separator; then the temperature is raised up above freezing by a heater. The room temperature gas is then passed through the end of the extractor making high grade CO2 hash oil.


Using alcohol to extract Hash Oil is simple and yields relatively more than BHO, propane, or CO2. First the alcohol, which should be above 91% and should NOT be grain alcohol, is poured into a receptacle with cannabis wrapped tightly in a coffee filter. The cannabis is allowed to sit in the container and is gently swirled around or agitated until the resultant liquid becomes a bright green color. Then, the coffee filter is squeezed out without being torn, and the liquid is placed in a glass baking pan in front of a fan in a dustless room until the alcohol evaporates off leaving a sticky, green, clean burning substance known as alcohol extracted hash oil. As an added bonus, instead of using cold alcohol in the beginning, a little bit of dry ice can be added to room temperature alcohol with the “teabag” of cannabis trimmings floating around being agitated by the bubbling of the dry ice in the alcohol, and then the rest of the process can be followed to the T and will yield the same end result.

Isolate Dry Sift

This method, also called dry hash, in essentially kief. It is trichomes removed from dried cannabis Flowers by pushing them back and forth over a series of screens with a flat glass pane beneath. This produces clean hash with a nice terpene profile and doesn’t contain any residual solvents at all, since none were used in its manufacture. Dry sifting is ideal for making hash in colder climates, as the colder temperatures allow for the crystalline trichomes to be more easily pushed through the screen without becoming sticky or gummy, and clogging the screen itself. Although this process is a bit screen intensive, and requires for the screens to be washed after being heated time and again, it is a viable way to make a versatile hash powder that can then be pressed and melted into tasty dabs.

Ice Water Hash

Ice water hash, also called bubble hash, is a more rudimentary way of pressing cannabis trichomes into hash bricks. Several layers of micropore filters, similar to the screens used in the production of Isolate dry sift hash, are used to push trim and broken bud material through, being thus agitated with ice and water and allowed to soak for a period of 2 hours or more. The trim is then pushed through the various sized of micropore bags, leaving excess water in the holding reservoir and varying grades of hash sticking to the screens on the bottom of micropore bags. Normally up to 12 bags are used varying in sizes between 275 and 40 microns. Each bag will have a different grade of hash within it. The hash is then scraped off the screens with a spatula and placed on clean parchment paper to dry.


Rosin hash is made by separating the concentrate from the plant matter through heat and pressure using what is called a rosin press. Rosin is dabbable and tastes great, but does not contain harsh solvent residues, and therefore it is one of the healthier options for those who wish to consume marijuana products medically or recreationally. First a piece of slick sheet or parchment paper is used to enclose the cannabis flower material, then it’s squeezed between the heating pads of a hair straightener that has been preheated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Firm pressure is required for a minimum of 30 seconds. The beginning material is then removed from the paper and either saved for further extraction or processing, or discarded. The leftover material is already activated THC, so it can also be used to make tea or edibles. There should be rosin stuck to the outside of where the nug used to be, which is then sealed within plastic. This type of dab is clean and does not contain excess solvents.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this guide sheds some light on the various ways that cannabis extracts are created, and what quality and potency can be expected from the resultant extract. Most of these extraction methods are for well-versed professionals. It’s not wise to attempt these techniques on your own without previous knowledge and experience. The safest methods above are dry sift and rosin. If you’re keen to try extracts, those would be the only ones to try at home.

Remember that knowledge is power, and use your power wisely. Happy dabbing!

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