Cannabis extracts or concentrates are cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant utilizing methods that generally involve the use of a solvent, although recently carbon dioxide extractions have become popular.
An extract is the generic term used to describe any oil that has been processed to concentrate the cannabis plant’s chemical compounds.
Advancements in extraction technology have enabled the use of other solvents such as carbon dioxide and pure hydrocarbons.
The result is a highly potent oil of varying consistencies generally used for vaporization and dabbing.
They are significantly more potent than regular cannabis with some forms of shatter containing over 80% THC content; however, the extraction of cannabis extracts is a potentially dangerous process.
There have been serious accidents involving explosions that have occurred due to mistakes, carelessness or complacency that people have made during the extraction process.Fox news sensationally reported,
“Parents, listen up: A drug popular back in the 70’s is making a very big comeback, and your teens are taking notice… However, as you’re about to see in the special video report from FOX 29’s Thomas Drayton, cooking up this high can be a recipe for disaster. Weed oil, known on the streets as ‘honey’, comes from the dangerous process of turning marijuana plants into oil”.
Flowers of the most potent cannabis strains contain approximately 30 percent cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis.
In addition, the flowers also contain an amount of plant material that contains few cannabinoids.
This plant material has almost no medicinal value. Correctly produced cannabis extracts contain around 75 to 90 percent active ingredients making them far more suitable for the medical user, in part due to their direct effect.
The Albany University, State University of New York, recently performed a study on dabbing which is a term used to describe the method of smoking cannabis extracts.
The term derives from a traditional method not commonly used today whereby a large nail is held at the end of a tube of glass pipe and heated until glowing; a small ‘dab’ of cannabis extrsct is placed on the end of a thin glass rod and then touched to the hot nail.
The smoker inhales the vaporized concentrate through the glass pipe.
The data collected showed that there is no evidence of more harm caused by dabbing cannabis extracts compared to smoking cannabis buds.
The present study aimed to gather preliminary information as to whether cannabis extracts users were increasing any potential health risks to themselves.
In addition to test whether dabs use is associated with more problems than using flower cannabis.
Researchers asked 357 participants about their history of cannabis use and how they identify as a cannabis user.
Also whether or not they consider themselves to be a recreational user or a medical patient. Mallory Loflin reported:
“We were happy to see that demographically the sample was well representative of the U.S. population at large, normally marijuana studies attract a much larger percent of men than women. Surprisingly, we had women responding to our ad about as often as men”.
This isn’t surprising given the higher dose concentration with dabs. Explaining her interpretation of the study, Mallory Loflin had the following to say;
“The results suggest dabs might lead more readily to a dependency-related syndrome than flower cannabis, but there’s no evidence that its use is interfering in people’s major domains of life more than what we see with the use of flower cannabis”.
Study participants were recruited online from major cities in each region of the U.S. Loflin, author of the SUNY study explains. “The survey was completely anonymous, and the only requirements to be involved were that you had to report some history of dabs use and be over 18 years old”.
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 .
The report is available to view at Sciencedirect
Cannabis Extracts – Dabbing
This method of smoking cannabis extracts has become increasingly popular in recent years.
It is not a new phenomenon; it has been around for decades but with the advent of more advanced extraction techniques and the availability of high quality cannabis concentrates there is renewed interest.
A dab is a small, concentrated dose of cannabinoids.
Carbon dioxide extracts are far superior to butane but the equipment required is prohibitively expensive and beyond the scope of most cannabis extract producers.
A modern ‘dab rig’ is essentially a glass chamber filled with water with a stem where a glass, quartz, titanium or ceramic nail rests.
All nails have their merits, glass heats quickly but ceramics have better heat retaining qualities.
However, they don’t last as long and tend to crack eventually; quartz retains heat evenly, but the most commonly used are titanium.
These are inserted into the neck of your water pipe and the nail or bowl heated using a small blow torch.
Judging the temperature of your bowl or nail is important if you wish to preserve and vaporize as much of the cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
The small amount is collected for smoking using a thin metal dab tool; these can be purchased or improvised dental tools work well.
The tool is used to hold the small ball of concentrate and it is touched against the inside of the pre-heated titanium bowl as you inhale.
The ideal vaporization temperatures for cannabis extracts are between 300°F (148°C) and 400°F (205°C).
THC vaporizes at a temp of 315°F (157°C) so any noticeable glow after heating with your blow torch indicates that your nail is too hot and your dab will burn.
Titanium loses heat fairly rapidly; soon after the faint glow disappears your nail should be at the optimum temperature for vaporization.
This allows us to vaporize a choice of dabbing extracts ranging from soft, sticky, viscous oils, potent waxes through to shatter, which is translucent, amber, brittle extract; when stabilized individual dabs can literally be snapped off the thin glassy slab.
Shatter involves a little more processing and purifying as you remove everything that blocks the crystallization process. Unfortunately there are no results yet on the long term use of dabbing.
Because there is not enough scientific literature, Loflin explains that researchers are unable to begin clinical trials just yet.
However, the results indicated from this survey are encouraging and she agrees that further analysis is necessary.
In his book Cannabis Alchemy- The Art of Modern Hash making (1973) D.Gold gives a brief outline on the preparation of cannabis honey oil using pure alcohol as a solvent and activated charcoal that is used to purify the oil after extraction,
He describes the end product as a translucent amber oil that has the consistency and appearance of dark honey.
Gold expands on this further in later editions of his book Cannabis Alchemy.
Michael Starks elaborates on this methodology in his work, Marijuana Chemistry-Genetics Processing and Potency (1977) with a more detailed description of hash oil preparation.
Starks lists various solvents that can be used in the extraction process, including some very unstable chemicals that would not be recommended today such as chloroform, ethanol, petroleum and ether.
Various extraction apparatuses and purification procedures are described and Starks goes into great detail on the background and origins of the extraction process, making this one of the earliest and most detailed accounts of the origin of modern hash oil.
Today the science of extracts has become more sophisticated and although there are many other slang names for them tends to focus on the main three extracts namely Shatter, Budder and Oil.
Shatter is a clear, solid 80% plus form involving a second extraction process to remove fats, lipids and waxes with less terpenes.
Budder retains more terpenes but is less potent with THC content around 70%. It has a creamy consistency from being whipped.
Oil tends to be the least refined. It is a sticky liquid that can be hard to handle. This form, also known as honey oil or butane hash oil, can retain a full flavor profile, however, THC levels tend to be less.
Cannabis Extracts- Vaporizing pens
Dabbing using a dab rig is more often associated with recreational users and vaporizer pens are often used by medicinal users as they are more discreet and give a smaller more controlled dose when required, without the need for dab rigs and blow torches.
Using a hand held vaporizer in conjunction with cannabis extracts has a slightly different effect and the dosage can be more controlled.
A hand held vaporizer or vape pen is similar in principle to a type of e-cigarette.
They range in size from a standard pen to a slightly larger box size vaporizer that is not strictly a vape pen but works on the same principle.
They utilize a battery powered heating element called an atomizer to vaporize the cannabis extract. E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine that is generally mixed with propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, which are the main ingredients in the E-liquid.
The first modern vaporizer pen was designed by Chinese pharmacist and inventor Hon Lik, and they actually vaporize liquid into a gaseous state using high-frequency ultrasonic vibration.
This allows the user to inhale pure vapor without the harmful toxins found in smoke.
Most people have heard of electronic cigarettes by now. Vape pens look and work very much the same way and could easily pass as a high-end electronic cigarette.
E-cigs contain a battery-powered heating element called an atomizer that vaporizes liquid nicotine. Just like e-cigarettes, vape pens incorporate the same technology.
However, instead of nicotine, vape pens work with concentrated cannabis oils, waxes or dry herbs.
The cannabis oil holder is usually called a tank if refillable, or cartridge if it’s intended for single use only. It’s also typically combined with the atomizer as a single unit.
Tanks are usually polycarbonate plastic, but glass and stainless steel tanks can also be found.
The heater in a vape pen is called an atomizer that converts liquid to tiny airborne droplets.
Atomizing is generally referred to as vaping. Vape pens use rechargeable lithium ion batteries batteries to power a tiny heater that reaches 400 degrees in mere seconds.
Vaporizing pens and hand held vape units are discreet, easy to use and are an ideal starting point if you wish to try using cannabis extracts medicinally.
Read more about cannabinoids and cancer treatments here at cannabis cure.
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