Breaking down the complexities of manufacturing cannabis concentrates in advance of OIL Day on July 10th
International OIL Day, also known as “Dab Day” (and a holiday you’ve likely never heard of) is coming up on July 10th. Similar to 4/20, it’s more well-known cousin, the exact origins of the day are somewhat fuzzy. What we do know is that it dates back about a decade, which makes sense given cannabis concentrates have only been manufactured in earnest for a couple of decades (for more on the history of cannabis extracts, see this Leafly article). And the name? Flip “710” upside down and yes – you get OIL…how’s that for a stoner-inspired aha moment? But obscure or no, OIL Day is more than just an excuse to visit outer space using a dab rig. It highlights a celebrated and fast-growing boutique product category targeted towards serious cannabis connoisseurs.
Dab’s first Legal Debut: Colorado and Washington
In the past, cannabis oils were made illegally to satisfy consumer demand, which was problematic as it can be incredibly dangerous to manufacture concentrates without proper safety precautions. Volatile butane and ethanol compounds along with high-pressure techniques can create a very unstable environment. When solvents are used for extraction, there’s also the added issue of quality and consumer safety with regard to properly removing the solvents.
Enter the legal market. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis. With legal operations cracked open a new level of sophistication was possible, and American operators began to develop cutting-edge manufacturing processes. This inspired a new era of experimentation, product development, and the emergence of new tastes and consumption preferences.
With cannabis legalization came a whole new era of experimentation and product development for cannabis concentrates.
The Different Kinds of Cannabis Oils
There are numerous types of cannabis oils, concentrates, and extracts, and the language can be somewhat confusing. The key term here is “concentrate,” which really refers to any type of concentrated cannabis oil, of which there are a variety of types. The most common include hash, vape cartridges, tinctures, capsules, and dabbable oils. In terms of extraction techniques used to create them, they can generally be broken down into two main categories: solvent-based and solventless. Common solvent-based includes hydrocarbon extracts (most commonly BHO), CO2 oil, and distillate, while solventless includes things like dry sift, ice water or bubble hash, and rosin. For a deep dive into cannabis concentrates, see Leafly’s excellent 4-part series on concentrates here.
In the spirit of OIL Day, which tends to favor the dabbables, we’ll focus on hydrocarbon or BHO extracts, which can produce products like shatter, wax, sauce, and sugar. We spoke with Arturo Ledesma, Lab Manager and resident concentrates expert at NewTropic, about the most popular BHO extracts that NewTropic manufactures for clients.
“The most important thing is that if you start with a good product, you end with a good product,” says Ledesma, in reference to the importance of using high-quality cannabis biomass. Like many extraction experts, much of Ledesma’s training came through trial and error in the unregulated market, often in dangerous conditions.
I was a kid with access to the most biomass, with lots of opportunity to learn through experimentation, and I always had secret techniques. But as I grew up, I realized it did no good to keep the information to myself.
- Arturo Ledesma
Lab Manager at NewTropic
Shatter, just as the name states, is a brittle, semi-transparent concentrate that can shatter when broken, similar to hard candy. Shatter is one of the easiest methods of manufacturing concentrate as it requires little post-processing after extraction. It’s also one of the first processes that began the oil game in cannabis.
Sometimes referred to as crystalline, sugar is granular in structure with a small amount of terpenes which gives it a mild yellow to light orange hue. This is caused by allowing crystal growth to build with the terpenes. This process is accomplished by tweaking temperatures and pressures in post-processing, which are key components in making all extracts.
Sauce is an extract which is a mixture of sugar and terpene sauce. The process is created inside ovens with precise heat and temperature parameters to control separation. Sauce processing takes time and quality hinges upon preventing the loss of too many terpenes.
“All sauce creations are high in THCA, but there’s a certain art to preserving significantly high terpene levels to provide flavor.”
- Arturo Ledesma
Wax is a category of concentrates that comes in a soft, whipped form. It includes products like budder and badder that are moist and contain more terpenes, as well as drier forms that have been purged further, like crumble shown here.
Huge THCA crystals give form to this exotic and beautiful looking product that is nearly clear in color due to its high purity. According to Ledesma, diamonds are considered the most difficult to manufacture, and many cannabis connoisseurs consider them the creme de la creme of concentrates.
“A lot of time and precision goes into making diamonds…crystalize too fast and you’ll make sugar. When mixed correctly with a small amount of terpenes, you’ll have one of the finest extracts in the industry.”
- Arturo Ledesma
Live vs. Cured
One more important distinction between cannabis concentrates is whether they’re made using live resin or cured cannabis. Live resin is made by taking the fresh plant and immediately flash freezing it before extracting, which helps preserve the terpenes and full-flavor profile of the original plant. Cured cannabis, on the other hand, is made by drying and curing the plant before extracting, which is generally easier to do but loses terpenes in the process.
Live resin products are considered higher quality due to the flavor from the higher amounts of terpenes and normally command a higher price in the market. Some of the most common uses of live resin include sugar, badder, budder, and sauce. Most concentrates can be made using either process, although some forms, like shatter, are difficult to make using live resin because of its hard consistency and will use cured instead.
Dabbing According to Leafly:
“Dabbing is a modern form of cannabis consumption and its popularity suggests that the practice is not going anywhere. Using a tiny dollop of cannabis extract flash vaporized on a ultra-hot surface maximizes the amount of cannabis used and provides a stronger, quicker high, which can be beneficial to medical marijuana patients who need rapid relief.”
That might be more information on cannabis concentrates than you were looking for in advance of OIL Day, but if the holiday highlights anything, it’s that manufacturing concentrates is a complex and quickly-evolving field that requires serious technical skills. However, as Ledesma likes to say, “Cannabis extraction is more than just a science…it’s an art.” This 7/10, keep in mind the painstaking work that went into making your concentrate, all so you could enjoy a little dab.
Lab Manager at NewTropic