Education

A Beginner’s Guide to Consuming Cannabis Concentrates

July 16, 2022

Concentrates are an increasingly popular way to consume cannabis, in part because of their superior purity, flavor, and potency over other methods. However, to the uninitiated, the world of concentrates may be an overwhelming combination of new products, new equipment, and new language.

Here, we will demystify the wide range of cannabis concentrates for beginners by reviewing the most common forms of concentrate, how to consume them, and the benefits of each.

Types of Concentrates

Wax

Wax is a common oil-based concentrate which is produced by stripping the plants with solvents to collect the essential oils. The result is an amber mixture dense with psychoactive compounds and flavorful terpenes. The solvents are later purged from the mixture.

two orange chucks of cannabis wax
Wax is a great introductory concentrate to try for consumers.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Waxes, along with other concentrated cannabis oils on this list, are colloquially referred to as “dabs,” and are consumed via vaporizing – or ”dabbing” – from a pipe called a “dab rig.” So to recap: dabbers dab dabs from dab rigs.

The benefit to dabbing wax, as opposed to other forms of concentrate, is that wax is common enough to be found in most strains and is easy for beginners to handle with a dab tool. It is a great introduction to the form and function of concentrates, all of which are slight variations on this common extract.

Shatter

Shatter begins similarly to wax: by being stripped from the plant with hydrocarbon solvents, typically butane or supercritical CO2. But shatter tends to be refined at a higher temperature, and agitated less (stirred, rolled, etc.) in the process. The result is a “single-phase substance” which is a chemistry term for any homogeneous solution

Essentially, what makes shatter shatter is that the molecules in the solution are rigidly aligned in a single unit, as opposed to wax or sauce which are “multi-phase substances” that are softer or even separate substances, respectively.

A piece of golden yellow cannabis shatter with holes like swiss cheese being held by a silver metal dab tool
Shatter get’s its texture from the high temperatures it is created under.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Shatter is a popular option among novice and veteran consumers alike because it is potent and relatively easy to handle due to being semi-solid. Pieces of shatter can even be rolled between the fingers and molded around joints in a trend known as “twaxing.”

Sauce

Between soft wax and brittle shatter is sauce. Sauce is the result of THC crystallizing around itself and separating from the rest of the extracted oils. These remaining oils, rich in terpenes and flavor, pool around the THC crystals, giving sauce its name.

Macro shot of yellow diamond shaped crystals floating around in a light yellow liquid
Sauce can be more difficult to handle because it is in a liquid form.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Sauce may be thin with large crystals soaking in a pool of oil, or it may be thicker with many smaller THC crystals in a consistency closer to applesauce. What you can count on is that sauce will always be a little messier to handle than wax or shatter, so treat yourself to a proper dab tool.

The chief benefit of sauce is the concentration of flavorful terpenes, which gives sauce a more prominent aromatic and flavor profile.

Live Resin

Most cannabis concentrates are extracted from buds that have been traditionally dried and cured, but live resin is not. Instead, live resin is extracted from plants that have been trimmed and flash-frozen, usually in liquid nitrogen, then sent immediately for extraction. This deep freeze suspends the cannabinoid and terpene profiles of the living plant in a cryogenic state, and the complete chemical profile is then extracted for a full-spectrum concentrate. Live resin is consumed via vaporizing, similar to other concentrates on this list.

Golden yellow live resin getting scooped out of a clear cannabis concentrate container
Live resin is made from freshly frozen cannabis right after the plant is harvested.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


To be clear, once the plant is cut and frozen, it is well and truly dead, so there is nothing alive in live resin, rather the name refers to the chemical profile of the fresh, living plant. Live resin has not suffered the natural degradation of any cannabinoids or terpenes in the drying process, so it is currently the most complete expression of a given phenotype that can be extracted with hydrocarbon solvents.

Rosin

Rosin may be the most complete cannabis concentrate available, offering the full-spectrum experience of live resin with a flavor that is unparalleled–and it’s extracted without the use of any additional chemicals.

Rosin is a popular choice for consumers seeking a solventless concentrate option.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Rosin is produced by applying heat and heavy pressure to cannabis buds, effectively melting the oils off the surface of the plant and squeezing it free (a similar process is used to produce violin bow rosin, which is how cannabis rosin shares its name). Commercial rosin presses may apply up to 1,000 lbs of pressure to a quarter ounce of cannabis flower, but rosin can also be extracted at home using a hair straightener and parchment paper (and a firm grip).

Though rosin is relatively simple to make, prices often remain high out of demand for what has become a premium product in the concentrate case.

Isolate

Typical cannabis concentrates are a combination of major and minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that give those concentrates a full-spectrum of effects along with bold aromas and flavor. But THC isolate is made by further extracting the THC from the rest of those chemical compounds. The end result is a nearly clear crystal that has very little odor or taste, and reaches up to 99% purity.

A bottle that is filled with white cannabis isolate that is half poured out with a cork lid and cannabis leaves beside it on a wooden table
Isolate is found in a crystal form that can reach up to 99% THC.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


What is lost in the full-spectrum of potential effects is traded for a pure, potent infusion of THC. Isolates make dosing a breeze since 1mg isolate = ~1mg of THC, and they may offer a more reliable, clear-headed high.

Hash

Hash, from the Arabic hashish, is the simplest and most ancient cannabis concentrate composed of the cannabinoid-rich resin glands called trichomes that cover marijuana plants. The most common form of hash is kief, or dry sift hash, which falls to the bottom of most herb grinders. Another form is bubble hash, which is stripped from the plant in ice water and tends to bubble when smoked.

A log of hash that is dark brown in color
Hash is the most ancient form of concentrates.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


The simplest way to consume hash is by smoking it, including sprinkling dry hash into joints or over bowls. Some forms of hash, such as “full-melt” bubble hash can be vaporized because they burn away with almost no residue, but most other forms of hash still contain higher levels of plant matter that may burn or stain certain pipes.

Moon Rocks

Moon rocks are not a traditional cannabis concentrate but rather a combination of concentrates. Moon rocks begin with dense buds which are then covered in hash oil, then rolled in kief. The result is a sticky, potent piece of cannabis.

Two cannabis nuggets that are covered in a tan dusting of kief
Moon rocks are easier to smoke from a bowl as they can be quite sticky from the hash oil.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


Moon rocks can be challenging to consume because the oil makes them sticky to handle. For this reason, they are usually smoked out of glass pipes which are easier to clean. Many consumers also use dab tools when splitting the rocks apart. Putting moon rocks through an herb grinder will clog the grinder with sticky shreds of flower.

Because moon rocks offer potency on top of potency, they are typically not recommended for beginners. When you do try them, remember to go low and slow to avoid overconsumption.

Conclusion

Approaching concentrates for the first time can be intimidating or overwhelming to new consumers, but most concentrates only represent different forms of the same material. The best way to learn about them is simply to buy some and try it.

A reasonably priced wax is a good introduction for most consumers, but if money is no option, live resin and rosin offer the best representation of the flavor and full-spectrum effects concentrates have to offer. 

Remember to always begin “low and slow” when trying potent concentrates. You can always take another hit, but you can’t take one back.

Check out our concentrate selection at Firebird:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Form of Concentrate for Beginners?

There is no singular “best” concentrate for beginners, but each offers pros and cons for new consumers. Shatter is among the easier concentrates to handle because of its semi-solid state, but it’s also among the most potent. Live resin and rosin tend to be less potent but offer superior flavor (note: a “less potent” concentrate is still pretty potent, so be careful).

What Should I Look for When Buying Concentrates for the First Time?

First-time buyers should look for a manageable material at a reasonable cost. Shatter is a forgiving consistency because it can be handled as a solid, but wax is a good introduction to the material as well. First-timers are also encouraged to select a strain they’re familiar with to minimize unfamiliar factors in the process.

How Big of a Dab Should a Beginner Take?

As small as possible to begin with. Concentrates, particularly hash oil concentrates, are the most potent form of cannabis available, reaching 90% purity. Even most vape cartridges hover around 70%, so many of the concentrates on this list are in a league of their own. Remember, once you’ve smoked you can always smoke more, you can’t smoke less.