What Are Cannabis Oil, Shatter, and Wax Extracts?
Shatter, wax, honeycomb, oil, crumble, sap, budder, pull-and-snap…these are some of the nicknames cannabis extracts have earned through their popularity, prevalence, and diversification. If you’ve heard any of those words before, they were likely used to describe BHO (butane hash oil), CO2 oil, or similar hydrocarbon extracts. This list of descriptive subcategories might lead you to believe that there are stark differences between each one, but the division between glass-like shatter and crumbly wax is more superficial than you’d expect.
For those of you who are new to the concentrates game, a cannabis extract is any oil that concentrates the plant’s chemical compounds like THC and CBD. This is achieved through a variety of extraction processes and solvents, the most common being butane. Advancements in extraction technology have enabled the use of other solvents like carbon dioxide and pure hydrocarbons in a process that utilizes pressure in a safe closed-loop system. The end product is a highly potent oil of varying consistencies most popularly used for vaporization and dabbing.
What is Marijuana Shatter?
Shatter, with its flawless amber glass transparency, has a reputation for being the purest and cleanest type of extract. But translucence isn’t necessarily the tell-tale sign of quality – the consistency and texture of oil comes down to different factors entirely.
The reason shatter comes out perfectly clear has to do with the molecules which, if left undisturbed, form a glass-like appearance. Heat, moisture, and high terpene contents can also affect the texture, turning oils into a runnier substance that resembles sap (hence the commonly used nickname “sap”). Oils with a consistency that falls somewhere between glassy shatter and viscous sap is often referred to as “pull-and-snap.”
What is Marijuana Wax?
Cannabis wax refers to the softer, opaque oils that have lost their transparency after extraction. Unlike those of transparent oils, the molecules of cannabis wax crystallize as a result of agitation. Light can’t travel through irregular molecular densities, and that refraction leaves us with a solid, non-transparent oil.
Just as transparent oils span the spectrum between shatter and sap, wax can also take on different consistencies based on heat, moisture, and the texture of the oil before it is purged (the process in which residual solvents are removed from the product). Runny oils with more moisture tend to form gooey waxes often called “budder,” while the harder ones are likely to take on a soft, brittle texture known as “crumble” or “honeycomb.” The term “wax” can be used to describe all of these softer, solid textures.
The Complex Art of Cannabis Extraction
There’s a reason cannabis extraction is now as big a part of competitive Cannabis Cups as flowers; the knowledge and care that goes into extracting oils is as complicated as the art of growing the plants they are derived from. Every step of the extraction process demands a balance of art and science, beginning with the selection of starting material and ending with the purging and storage process. This simplified explanation of oil consistencies is only a scratch on the surface of this emerging craft, and it’s exciting to imagine how much further science and technology will carry its potential.
Distillate vs. FSO: Differences
THC distillate is the honey-golden, transparent, highly viscous product of taking full-spectrum cannabis oil (FSO) through a distillation procedure that uniformly heats the FSO and removes virtually all terpenes and other plant compounds such as pigments (chlorophyll, anthocyanin) and secondary metabolites. Depending on the cannabinoid profile of the starting material (high THC strain vs. high CBD, for example), distillate can be highly concentrated in THC and contains all other cannabinoids (CBD, CBN, CBG, etc.). THC/cannabinoid distillate contains no terpenes or other cannabis plant compounds. Natural terpenes can be added back to make the distillate strain-specific and flavorful. The distillate is fully decarboxylated and can be directly consumed.
Full-Spectrum Cannabis Oil (FSO)
Full-spectrum cannabis oil (previously called “RSO,” but this is an outdated and inaccurate term) contains all the original compounds you would find in the natural cannabis plant – except for waxes and fats which are removed through the winterization process. FSO has been argued to be a “more medicinal” product over distillate as it still contains terpenes, pigments, and other natural phytochemicals found in flower which tend to be more effective for pain and anxiety relief. These compounds interact during metabolism to create an “entourage effect” whereby the metabolism of THC and other cannabinoids is modulated and synergized in the body. This can be thought of as THC being “tamed and controlled” in the body to produce different effects than THC would provide on its own. Decarboxylation uses heat to remove a molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) from non-psychoactive THCA molecules to produce psychoactive THC. This also converts CBDA into CBD. THCA and CBDA are still of medicinal use to the body without being decarboxylated, but THCA will not produce a psychoactive “high.”
Written by Michaela Dolly of PhytoRemedies Inc.