Solventless Concentrates 101
What are Solventless Concentrates?
A solventless concentrate (also called solvent-free) is a collection of trichomes or cannabinoids and terpenoids made using physical processes (e.g. ice, water, pressure) rather than with chemicals (hydrocarbons). The current nomenclature in the industry is that extracts are made using hydrocarbons, and any extract made using ice, water, heat, or pressure are classified as solventless concentrates (in that no hydrocarbons were used in the process). All extracts are concentrates but not all concentrates are considered extracts especially those made with ice and water or heat and pressure. Therefore, the two main categories of cannabis extracts are hydrocarbon extracts and solventless concentrates. Within those two categories, many more descriptive terms exist that tell you about a product within each category, such as shatter, wax, or honey oil.
Solvent-based extracts are made using hydrocarbons such as butane or ethanol as solvents strip the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant away. Hydrocarbon extraction processes come with their own potential risks not only with a potentially unsafe work environment for the person who is making them but also for the end consumer who may be about to partake in a product that may have residual solvents. Hydrocarbon extracts do have a few abilities that solventless do not. First, processors of these extracts can turn the failed crops, powdery mildew, pesticide-laden cannabis, and low-grade flower or trim into an array of beautiful looking cannabis oils. This is much more difficult with solventless extractions such as ice and water, so the quality of the cannabis flowers usually used for solventless concentrates are of a higher quality and have passed quality tests.
Solventless concentrates are made using mechanical or physical separation either by screens, ice water, or pressure and low heat with no additional chemicals added. At Earthwolf Farms, we first process our organic cannabis flowers using ice and water to create bubble hash, the most basic solventless concentrate you can get. The bubble hash is then freeze-dried or lyophilized. We package just on time which means we package as we get orders for our products. We would like to address one issue with just in time packaging for solventless concentrates as unlike cannabis inflorescence, solventless concentrates like traditional hash or kief or bubble hash age well in a dark cool place, so the most recent package on dates do not necessarily tell you much about the quality of the cannabis product.
A solventless concentrate is a collection of cannabinoids produced using physical means rather than chemicals. All cannabis products such as our EarthWolf Farms Live Rosins are tested by accredited and licensed third party laboratories for cannabinoids, terpenoids, microbial and chemical contaminants, as well as pesticides and heavy metals to ensure their safety for human consumption.
Figure 1. a. Trichome macro of a plant at EarthWolf Farms. You can see the trichome heads, and these are the factories producing and storing cannabinoids. The stalks also play an important role in trichome production and contain cannabinoids and terpenoids, however at a much lower concentration than the trichome heads. b. a collection of trichomes which when pressed will feel very sticky.
Types of Solventless Concentrates
- Dry Sift – Also known as Kief, this type of dry, powdery concentrate is collected from dried cannabis flowers through first pressing the cannabis through screens of various micron sizes. The cannabis flower if dry is ground up either by hand or a mechanical grinder then it is spread onto a screen, and with hands, it is gently pressed against the screen, allowing the passage of the trichomes through the screens and the biomass remains on top screen for waste collection. The result is a dry product containing trichomes and stalks along with some chlorophyll depending on which screen micron size is used.
- Pressed Hash – Hash is traditionally created with its own mechanical process of separating the sticky resin from plants and working them into bricks for preservation and storage. There are several regions in the world where hash was traditionally made by hand and these hash products were terroir specific e.g. Afghani Hash or Moroccan Hash.
- Bubble Hash – Bubble hash is made with either dry or fresh frozen flower in an ice water extraction bath with gentle agitation. Once the trichomes are separated from the plant material through a series of micron specific mesh bags, they are collected and then freeze dried or lyophilized. We make our EarthWolf Farm bubble hash using organic fresh frozen cannabis flowers that are hand bucked then processed using WT-300 from Whistler Technologies.
- Rosin – This is the ultimate solventless concentrate as it is a collection of pure cannabinoids and terpenoids. Rosin can be made from flower, dry sift, or bubble hash (inputs), and if made from fresh frozen cannabis flowers that were first transformed into bubble hash, dried, then pressed, it becomes live rosin. Essentially, the input (flower or bubble hash) is placed in food safe nylon micron specific bags which is then placed in between two plates where heat and pressured is applied, squishing out the cannabinoids and terpenoids, leaving the flower material (if pressing flower) or trichome stalks and cuticles (if pressing bubble hash) behind in the nylon bags.
Figure 2. Pictured above is God’s Space Needle Bubble Hash, a collection of trichomes that were mechanically separated using an ice and water extraction chamber, followed by being freeze-dried then packaged in glass jars for distribution.
What are the benefits of Solventless Concentrates & Why choose them?
One of the most important advantages of Solventless concentrates such as bubble hash or live rosin is that they give a true representation of the original plant profile (phytocannabinoids and terpenoid representation or of cultivar). To make a great bubble hash or live rosin product, you must use healthy cannabis flowers of high quality and freeze them upon harvest. This also means that the cannabis flowers must pass all microbial and chemical contamination specifications or tests (e.g., salmonella or lead respectively) before they are processed using ice and water to get bubble hash, and then into a variety of other solventless products. A cultivar specific solventless concentrate product contains more than just the cannabinoids normally found in extracts including terpenoids and flavonoids, representing the true essence of the cultivar itself without plant contaminants.
The second advantage of solventless concentrate is that they do not require specialized equipment or specialized personnel to run the equipment, keeping the operational costs low which then translates into the final product price.
Lastly, no chemical used means there are no residual solvents that would remain in the product. As per the cannabis regulations, we still have to test all our solventless products for residual solvents so there is another layer of assurance that is provided to patients or customers who are cognizant of their health.
Quality Cannabis in = Quality Hash out = Quality Live Rosin or other products derived from hash
Are Solventless Concentrates Healthier?
When compared to cannabis hydrocarbon extracts, solventless products come out as a winner for those who are looking to avoid any potential solvent residuals in their dabs. Yes, of course, the cannabis extracts on the legal market have been tested to have minimal solvent residuals but for those who are more cautious and do not want to take any risks or are immunocompromised in any way, they can choose solventless concentrates especially since they can be vaporized in health care settings.
Figure 3 – Live Rosin shot taken at EarthWolf farms. This photo is taken when the live rosin is warm, when cooled, it does become brittle if it contains other minor cannabinoids. Live Rosin is always recommended to be dabbed at room temperature.
Solvent-free Concentrates or Hydrocarbon Extracts – Which is better when dabbed?
When the concentrate consumers get together there is polite debate over what is the best, hydrocarbon extracts or solventless concentrates? People in the solvent loving camp will argue that they like the taste and the high THC while people in the solventless loving camp will tell you that their products taste better, are more natural, and have a fuller spectrum profile of cannabinoids and terpenes as found in the plant they came from and give them a different experience
People in both camps will also tell you that there is a distinction between a THC isolate dab and organic, live hash rosin from bubble hash. The experience between the two is similar but not the same. The THC dab will often hit a little more cerebrally and might make one feel a spacy, one dimensional high and is not exceptionally long-lasting. The live rosin dab will also hit you in the head, but it might also come with other pleasant side effects such as a fuller high with giggles and body relaxation.
How are Concentrates Better Than Flower?
While people who have been flower smokers for years are often loyal to their consumption methods, incorporating concentrates into frequent inhalation methods might help strike a balance or fulfil needs in the picture of long term, regular use. Flower smoking includes inhaling plant biomass, chlorophyll, and contaminants with biproducts that can be irritating to the respiratory system.
Smoking a whole joint has been said to be equivalent in potency to doing one dab but most people will tell you that the two experiences are not the same. Smoking a joint is slower and fully enveloping taken over five to ten minutes while a dab is done in 30 seconds and hits you all at once. Vaporizing solventless concentrates allows you to skip the plant matter and get straight to the trichomes where all the most desirable plants compounds can be found.
Make Better Infused Edibles and Tinctures
A common observation among people who are experienced edible consumers is that infused food made with THC distillate or isolate when compared to a solventless hash product is that the two experiences are unique in their own way. Once again, the THC distillate/isolate edibles provide a one-dimensional body buzz and often leaves the consumer feeling dehydrated.
On the other hand, a hash edible gives a fuller body experience and allows for deeper relaxation, calm moods, and an overall happy feeling with a gentle come down. While everybody’s experiences are unique according to the needs of the endocannabinoid system, the consensus when talking to long time cannabis consumers of edibles is that they prefer the ones made with hash and whole plant options over solvent-based extracts.
For all the home cooks who like to make their own edibles but have not tried cooking with Hash or rosin, consider trying also make for a better tasting and easier to cook with than flower and because they are tested for potency and are able to dose out a serving size more accurately.
Figure 5 – Live Rosin similar to bubble hash can be used as inputs for edibles and have a pliable texture when at room temperature.
Are Solventless Vape Carts a Better Choice?
The quick answer is yes. It is currently hard to find a solvent-free vape cartridge on the market although they are starting to pop up.
What are Vape Pens currently made with? Usually, they are made with a distillate, often from the source material of flower that cannot be sold or used due to contaminants or is too low grade. This issue of not knowing what the starting material was like in lower grade extracts is the reason in some decerning, hash-loving circles, distillate is called “Hot Dog Water.”
While vape pens may be one of the most popular products in the legal cannabis market, they also come with limitations and potential cautions. There have never been any long-term studies done on the inhalation of extracted terpenes, such as those that are added to distillate vape pens to give them back some of the flavors that were totally lost in the processing of that oil. And yet people who use them often consume an average of 1-4g of them a month. These people deserve high-quality options and knowledge of long-term effects.
Thankfully, options are now available for all consumers who demand the best in their cannabis products and prefer a healthy, solventless lifestyle.