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Where Did Dabs Come From? A History of Cannabis Extracts

October 4, 2016
Solvent-based cannabis extracts, often referred to as hash oils or dabs, have completely dominated cannabis concentrate markets over the last several years. With the advancements in solvent extraction technologies and methodologies, new products are constantly circulating the shelves of dispensaries. Budders and shatters, once prized as the holy grail of hash oils, are now sharing retail space with new flavor-enhanced distillates and high terpene full spectrum extracts (HTFSE’s), products that were virtually unheard of just five years ago.

Compare Cannabis Concentrates

These processes, now being hailed as the future of concentrate manufacturing, owe credit to decades of botanical extraction advancements that preceded them.


The many types of solventless cannabis extracts

Cannabis concentrates are said to have been around (in some form) since the 1940s, adapting from the pre-20th century botanical extraction technologies that are responsible for bringing cannabis to the U.S. pharmacopeia throughout the 1800s. However, the revival and adaptation of solvent-based extraction practices as we know it today is somewhat new, taking shape only over the last several decades. Needless to say, the story of how hash oil came to popularity is a bit hazy and shrouded in anecdotes, but there are a few major players in the movement that are worth mentioning.

World War II and the MK Ultra Program

World War II and the MK Ultra Program

James Morley/Flickr Creative Commons

Infused concoctions involving extracted cannabinoids are nothing new and have been used for thousands of years. Over time, many of these recipes have evolved into the potent oral medicinals that once lined the shelves of U.S. pharmacies into the 1800s, before cannabis prohibition. Although these practices laid the foundation for solvent-based cannabis extraction, manufacturing a product intended for oral consumption through vaporization first appeared in the 1940s.

Confirmed and declassified World War II intelligence documents point to an agency, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), that incorporated a THC acetate “serum” into its controversial biochemical interrogation program. The man responsible for this program, George White, used hash oil-laced tobacco cigarettes, along with LSD preparations, to interrogate various prisoners and unsuspecting persons. These controversial techniques would later be used by White throughout the ’50s and into the ’60s under the the highly publicized CIA program “MK Ultra” (and yes, there’s a strain named after it).

Hash Oil in the ’70s

Andres Rodriguez/Flickr Creative Commons

In part 8 of D. Gold’s 1973 (2nd ed. 1989) book Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking, a brief overview is given on the preparation of a translucent cannabis “honey” oil. The solvents used pure alcohol and activated charcoal. After an evaporation procedure, the remaining byproduct described is a translucent amber oil that takes on the appearance of a dark honey.

Author Michael Starks elaborates on this methodology considerably in his 1977 (2nd ed. 1990) book, Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics Processing and Potency, with an in-depth overview of hash oil preparation. His analyses comprise of information pertaining to various solvents used, which include chloroform, ethanol, petroleum ether, and isopropanol, among others. Various extraction apparatuses and purification procedures are also described in detail, making this one of the earliest and most detailed accounts of the origin of modern hash oil.

Inventing the Closed Loop System

closed loop system for cannabis extraction

Erowid, a popular online psychoactive library that surfaced in the mid-1990s, put out an article in 1999 titled “Hash Honey Oil Technique,” offering arguably the first detailed description of butane hash oil extraction procedures to the Internet. The controversial methods described in the article would later be known as “open blasting,” a dangerous extraction method that exposes the highly flammable butane used.

Nevertheless, the process of feeding butane though a vertical column packed with ground cannabis would later inspire the invention of closed loop systems (CLS), which heavily refined this method by containing the highly flammable hydrocarbon solvents and then recycling them back through the system.

The Advent of Budder and Dab Rigs

budder and dab rigs
In 2005, a Cannabis Culture article was released online titled “Beautiful Budder,” where a Canadian man who uses the alias Budderking is interviewed about his proprietary hash oil “budder.” Budderking describes working with a colleague in the early ’90s out of British Columbia to create an amber glass substance by using a series of refinements involving alcohol.

After leaving an amber glass sample in a windowsill for a prolonged period of time, Budderking and his colleague witnessed their sample “buttering up.” Once they tweaked their findings, they were able to develop a product that made its debut on the shelves at Da Kine dispensary in 2003.

With this, Budderking also introduced a small unit designed to make vaporizing the concentrate easier, the precursor for what we now call dab rigs. This product would only be available for a brief amount of time, but word of the procedure quickly caught on and made its way to other markets, namely Colorado and Southern California.


The Best Dab Rig for You

Several years later in 2009, cannabis connoisseurs were beginning to create an online buzz in the forums about high quality solvent-based hash oils. By the next year, in 2010, hash oil products made their debut at the High Times Cannabis Cup, and shortly thereafter, dispensaries were beginning to carry early versions of budders, saps, and waxes at a much more fervent rate.

Cannabis Extracts Today

modern cannabis extracts
With the onset of medical cannabis and recreational legalization in more states, companies began to focus heavy R&D on improving extraction technologies. This led to advanced CLS systems, C02 supercritical extractors, and an array of organizations leading the way in creating safer and cleaner hash oil products. Since late 2012, hash oil enthusiasm has been on the rise and has not slowed down yet.

Hash oil has come a long way since its nefarious inceptions in the early prohibition days, and even longer considering the leaps and bounds that solvent-based cannabis processing has undergone in the last two decades. Thanks to those who have helped refine solvent-based extraction technologies, hash oil enthusiasm and the culture around it is burgeoning and will undoubtedly continue to secure itself as a dominating sector of the overarching cannabis market.


  8. Cannabis Alchemy (2nd ed.) 1977 and 1989. D. Gold
  9. Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics, Processing, and Potency (2nd ed.) 1977 and 1990. Michael Starks

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • Joe

    This is not good for legalization. Big pharma is capable of doing extracts safely in massive scale. That will turn marijuana into another synthetic pharmaceutical product to be prescription use only. Be careful what you wish for. By the way the FDA will have those to be research for decades before one of the big pharmaceutical buy a politician to support and gather there party to back the human testing. It is becoming illegal to do extracts do to the danger associated with the production by amateurs. Big pharma is counting on that.

    • Robert Burns

      The danger is via the unnecessary use of solvents not otherwise.

    • Brendan Clark

      This is actually already being done. There’s a pharmaceutical company that already exists and has products finished and ready to market. (Pills and injections) They’re trying to get it passed by the FDA as we speak. Look up MJ Biotech inc or MJTV inc

  • Brendan Clark

    You missed a little bit if very interesting bho history. The butane hash oil process was actually invented in Syria in the late 60s using isopropyl butane. Which actually came out much more of a reddish color. Then these techniques were vastly improved upon in the 70s through the processes you described, overall a very awesome detailed article with great info though! I’m definitely not criticizing just adding an anecdote for you to research into a bit

  • purplewidow

    wow… I could have sworn I was at Da Kine in 2002 maybe it was 03′ and had there budder when I was on vacation. I remember shortly after they got raided.. Well I just searched and found my old photo’s from the trip and have a few pics of the budder you are talking about from Da kine.. I remember they had a heated funnel system in back hat they used to fill the plastic jars and told me they wouldn’t sell the recipe for 25k.

  • Mo Jo

    “Cannabis concentrates are said to have been around (in some form) since the 1940s, adapting from the pre-20th century botanical extraction technologies that are responsible for bringing cannabis to the U.S. pharmacopeia throughout the 1800s.”

    Wuuuut? Leafly doing what Leafly does best: creating pseudo-histories! LOL!

    Solvent technology has been around since the age of Plato. There are Egyptian texts documenting how to use alcohol with maceration, infusion and percolation techniques to make hash oil and dabs that, when dried, were used as incense in the Temples. The Bible mentions how these techniques were used to make drops of gooey incense burned in the Jewish Temple that the scribes consumed to get high. In fact all of the incense from around 1000 BC to the era of Jesus was a mix of psychotropics, psychadelics, narcotics and stimulants and was designed to get you high when breathed, when drank and when eaten. The gift of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus was Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold – all three used as ingredients to make the super secret Temple incense that looked like little gooey drops of hash oil. The Bible mentions this oil as having the primary ingredient of “Kalamus/Calamus” also called “KANNA-BOSEN”. Bosen is a gooey oil that was allowed to dry into tiny beads that looked like dabs dried into hershey kisses. The Cannabis part I think we can all figure out for ourselves – the priests burned DABS pretty much 24/7 !!!

    Using Seperation technology to find and refine the “Philosophers Stone”, Alchemy was huge during the Middle Ages. Alchemists made “Elixers” using solvents. Adapting the centuries-old technology, Cannabis Concentrates and Extracts and Tinctures were created and sold informally at least since the late 1500’s, and they were sold commercially since at least the early 1800’s. By the mid 1800’s they were all the rage around the world, but they were killing people since they were “Panaceas” mixed with Belladona, Morning Glory, Opium and other dangerous and addictive ingredients. By 1872 the partition coefficient was refined followed by phase equilibrium. By the time 1940 came around, Cannabis concentrates had been around for CENTURIES.

    The danger of Leafly providing us with semi-ficticious histories is that they get passed around and it becomes extremely difficult for those of us that actually study and understand history to clean up their mess. And this complaint is not limited to Leafly’s repeated shoddy articles on Cannabis history, I am talking about Leafly’s history of the popular strains. Just two examples – Big Bud was created in the University of Washington cancer-research department. As repeatedly reported by the Seattle Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer and also the first Seed Bank Catalogues from Europe. The history advanced by Leafly however is radically different than the one we understood for decades. Another example – the University of Oregon created their own cancer-cannabis called “911”. Dr. Grinspoon got ahold of it, took it down to a Humboldt cancer-research facility, added this and that to it and they created “Trainwreck”. Today though, Leafly’s history of both 911 and Trainwreck veered off track, based on anecdotes they gleaned from the interweb.

    I’d suggest that as many as 50% of Leafly’s histories on strains is either somewhat correct or just wrong. Hence “Leafly doing what Leaf does best” – creating annoying pseudo-histories for our Cannabis! Sorry I’m just being honest!

    • Tonto

      You mention Leafly’s pseudo-histories, and then immediately tell a story about what the Bible shows as factual evidence of cannabis use in Temple service and Scribes getting high with zero biblical support such as any scriptural references, e.g. book, chapter and verse.
      Just because you say something “is so”, doesn’t make it “so”.
      The Wise Men weren’t “three”, their gifts were “three”. The unknown number of Wise Men gave their gift not to a baby Jesus but to the child Jesus. Before you parrot what you’ve heard told, do your research. Document your misinformation about Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold. The gifts have meaning but not what you have stated.
      I believe you are being honest in your posting but ill informed.

      • Mo Jo

        Hmmm. Tonto, if you are going to retort at least get it right. I’d say that immediately I mentioned the incense recipes from Egypt where nearly every single ingredient was a psychotropic, psychadelic, narcotic, stimulant etc. I mentioned this since it is largely understood by scholars that the Jews obtained their secret incense recipes mostly from the Egyptians. The question is “where did dabs come from” and I am pointing out what scholars understand – the Egyptian, Greek and Jewish incense of antiquity was created as gooey extracts using alcohol solvents, and then hardened into little hershey-kiss shaped drops or bars called “Talents”. Frex, king Ramses 3 had an inventory of 368,461 jars and 1,933,766 pieces of incense, honey, and oil (Erman, “Egypten,” p. 407). Incense is mentioned just as frequently in the Babylonian-Assyrian cult. According to Herodotus (i. 183), at the great yearly feast of Bel 1,000 talents (58,944 kg.) of incense were burned on his great altar. The Jewish incense was called “Azkarah” and so guarded that anyone who gave away the recipe was executed, and Josephus describes this incense as gooey dab-like drops that were burned in censures that were waved throughout the Jewish Temple. DABS! This recipe is mentioned in Exodus 30:22-33 and according to “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary”, the oil used to anoint sacred objects as well as the priests was to be made of four precious spices — myrrh, cinnamon, cane and cassia — combined with olive oil. So what was the “CANE” and what was the “CASSIA” is the question? The word “Cannabis” comes to us from Greek Kannabis from the Persian Kanab which came from the Scythians and Thracians. In “The Living Torah”, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes that some sources identify “fragrant cane” — “keneh bosem” in Hebrew was actually “cannabis” referring to the hemp plant so there is absolutely no doubt that the ancient incense had Cannabis as its primary ingredient! Some of the other ingredients were Nataf or Stacte (probably Storax gum or Balsam), Shehelet or Onycha (a fragrant part of a shell from the Red Sea), Helbenah or Galbanum (a species of gum), Lebonah (Franincense), Olibanah-tree resin, and according to Maimonides, the recipe also included Myrrh, Cassia, Kostos, Saffron, Cinnamon, Nard and more. There were around 13 ingredients typically used in the Dabs that the Priests burned constantly 24/7 in the Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Assyrian and Babylonian Temples, and the primary ingredient is almost always CANNABIS. The Ben Yehuda Hebrew-English Dictionary, written by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, defines the Hebrew word “kanabos” as Cannabis.

        Dabs have been around since at least 1500 BC. The ancients were using alcohol to make extracts, tinctures and concentrates all of this time and I’m not sure what agenda it serves to claim otherwise.

        • Ujváry István

          Apart from nice anecdotal reports is there any archeological evidence?

          • concernedofessex

            its not anecdotal…there are plenty of academic texts discussing this. For further reading i can suggest the Psychedelic Press volume xv11, Exodrugs -Part 2. Although written under the nom de plume ‘Reverend Nemu’ this 20 page article establishes well researched connections with incense and psychoactive substances including Acacia which is of course the plant with the highest concentration of DMT in the region. The article contains 3 full pages of reference materials. If they are not enough to stir a sense of fact based enquiry than i suggest you just give up.

    • Brendan Clark

      Theres no need to be so harsh. That is what telling history is. Every textbook you read in school was just as far off. Not to mention record keeping in ancient times was shoddy at best and there is lots of evidence of tampering and not to mention we cant properly translate only guess as no one speaks those languages for real anymore. It is just fine for people to glean small entertainment from leaflys sometimes incorrect info. Most people reading on leafly arent being scholarly about it. Just enjoying some light reading about ganja
      I’m with you though. I notice stuff they miss and falsify but thats not a big deal. I notice. I know. I move on and study the topic in even more detail for myself

      The other thing id like to say is. Where did you get your info? Was some or not all from the interweb? Idk where the hell you’d find all that in books

  • Here is an article I have published about dabs…

  • lovingc

    You left out the isomerizer I was using a set up with pickle jars and some commercial glass ware to do an extraction using ethanol . It was some of the best oil I ever made. I got the design and instructions from the back of a Dr. Atomic underground comic book.
    I bought the Isomerizer later and it makes good oil but it is a lot of trouble and time to use it. I never tried the isomerisation It involved too much handling the product in was that didn’t make sense.