Cannabis concentrates, oils, and extracts offer many unique benefits that you won’t find smoking flower. From easy, precise dosing to clean and refined flavors, concentrates focus on the ingredients in cannabis that matter most. In this 4-part series, you’ll learn the fundamentals of concentrates, explore product options, discover how extracts are made, and more.
In the first three parts of this series, you’ve learned the basics of cannabis concentrates, how they’re made, and the various types of extracts available. Now, we’re diving deep into the finer details that’ll help you grow into an expert of extracts.
Read on to learn more about achieving high-quality extracts with nuances that only a concentrate connoisseur can truly appreciate.
Jump to section:
- How starting material affects concentrates
- Full spectrum vs. isolates
How starting material affects concentrates
The overall quality of a concentrate ultimately depends on the cannabis from which it is derived. In other words, the source material being extracted defines the ceiling of quality and complexity. For this reason, many concentrate products will indicate the quality of the starting material, which we’ll explore below.
Trim run refers to concentrates that began as trim from a cannabis harvest—specifically, the loose leaves that are still covered with cannabinoid-rich resin. What would otherwise become waste is turned into great—and often affordable—concentrated products.
Trim is a popular starting material for hydrocarbon and distillate products because extractors can efficiently strip away the less desirable traits that trim might possess.
Nug run concentrates are extracted from cannabis flowers (“nugs”) that are grown specifically for extraction. Sometimes these are the smaller buds from a harvest (“mids”) , and other times extractors will use whole plants and large colas.
Products labeled as “nug run” are generally the result of hydrocarbon extraction and are considered higher quality. The resulting products are most often geared toward capturing strain-specific chemical profiles.
Live resin and other products labeled “live” (like live rosin) are concentrates that have been extracted before the cannabis plant has been dried or cured. Terpenes—the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its flavor—are so volatile, they’re known to dissipate even at room temperature. Working with a freshly harvested plant gives extractors the best chance of capturing robust terpenes and flavors.
To preserve these fragile terpene profiles, extractors will freeze and store freshly cut cannabis until it’s ready to be extracted.
Full-spectrum extracts vs. isolates
A cannabis concentrate can either be full spectrum, containing a vast array of different compounds, or an isolate, which is a precise formulation of a single ingredient.
Both have unique merits, but they provide wildly different experiences.
Extracts labeled as “full spectrum” provide a mix of cannabis’ natural chemical compounds. These extracts often provide complex combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes in the natural ratio that the plant produces them. This results in robust flavors and nuanced effects.
Isolates are pure cannabinoids like THCA and CBD in crystalline or powdered form. These solid, stable cannabinoids are isolated, with all other chemical compounds removed.
Instead of providing the full chemical profile that full-spectrum concentrates express, isolates consolidate specific compounds and offer consumers the highest potency and purity of an individual cannabinoid.
Isolate products make dosing more precise, offer a pure base ingredient to use in other cannabis products, and allow consumers to customize which compounds they consume.
Diamonds are faceted, crystalline formations of isolated THCA. When THCA is isolated, the molecules collect and stack together, forming crystals.
Most products labeled as diamonds, rocks, stones, and gems refer to isolated THCA that has been formed within a raw extract, meaning no additional solvents are added to encourage crystallization.
Instead, the terpene fraction, the portion of the extract that is rich with terpene oils, acts as a naturally occurring solvent. Over time, the solid cannabinoid molecules separate from the liquid terpenes and leave behind rigid cannabinoid structures that look similar to quartz.
Occasionally you’ll see diamond-like products labeled with acronyms like HCFSE, short for high-cannabinoid full-spectrum extract. This means the product is nearly an isolated cannabinoid, but still retains a portion of the original terpene profile.
Sauce, sometimes called “terp sauce” or “the terpene fraction,” refers to a runny, terpene-rich concentrate. As cannabinoids and terpenes separate from one another, extractors are left with solid cannabinoid compounds and a watery mixture of the aromatic terpenes.
Sometimes sauce products are labeled with the acronym HTFSE, short for high-terpene full-spectrum extract. That means it’s a terpene-rich concentrate that still maintains a well-rounded cannabinoid profile.