Medical Marijuana Oils, Concentrates, and Extracts—Oh My!

Medical marijuana oils, concentrates, and extracts are umbrella terms that refer to any product derived from medical marijuana flower that is processed into a concentrated form. Tinctures, capsules, vape cartridges, hash, and “dabbable oils” like shatter and wax are a few examples. Compared to raw flower, these products often offer more refined aromas, flavors, and effects, as well as precise dosing.

The process to transform medical marijuana into a concentrated form involves isolating its most desirable ingredients, while removing excess plant material and other impurities. Think of it like orange juice concentrate—the fruit’s stem, leaves, peel, and pulp are filtered out for a purer substance that maintains the smell, taste, and benefits of the fruit. This may seem like a simple task, but it’s actually a complex process that requires careful attention and a skilled workforce to be completed safely and effectively.

Compared to raw flower, these products often offer more refined aromas, flavors, and effects, as well as precise dosing.

Let’s dive deeper into the processes that produce quality medical marijuana oils, concentrates, and extracts. Most products are made by one of two options: solvent (chemical) and solventless (physical) extraction. Each method is equally effective, and will result in an assortment of products, some of which you may find work better for you than others.

Solvent Extraction

Solvent extraction is a chemical process in which solvents or “substances that have the ability to dissolve another substance” are used to breakdown medical marijuana and extract its essential oils, cannabinoids, terpenes, and other desirable compounds into concentrated forms. Many different solvents are used in the medical marijuana industry, and the most common two (and those used by Calypso) are butane and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Butane Extract

Butane is a hydrocarbon, an organic chemical compound that’s been used in food extraction for decades. As a highly flammable substance, butane can be dangerous to work with, but it’s argued to be one of the most efficient solvents for plant extraction. For medical marijuana products, butane is added to fresh, frozen flower or cured (properly dried) buds and isolates the plant’s medicinal compounds. The resulting product is Butane Hash Oil or BHO, which can be crafted into various textures and consistencies.

Note: Before BHO is packaged and delivered to a dispensary, it is mechanically “purged” to eliminate any residual butane from the product, so it is safe to consume.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extract

CO2 is another chemical compound—one we naturally exhale—that’s considered among the highest quality solvents and particularly effective at extracting flavorful terpenes and cannabinoids from medical marijuana. In the extraction process, high pressure and heat are used to transform CO2 into a “supercritical” state where it’s simultaneously a liquid and a gas. Combined with medical marijuana, the result is a raw extract that can be fashioned into different forms or can experience distillation to improve its purity and potency.

Distillation or distillate is another extraction method that helps to further refine the final product and isolates the essential compounds of medical marijuana. Pure distillate is virtually flavorless and actually requires terpenes to be reintroduced for a unique and tailored taste.

Solventless Extraction

Solventless extraction is often considered a more artisanal approach to producing medical marijuana products, as it requires more expertise and time to complete. The process itself involves a mechanical or physical means (like heat or pressure) to remove and collect medical marijuana trichomes—the sticky, hair-like glands that contain the plant’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and other medicinal compounds. Two common types of solventless extraction are dry sift or dry sieve, and ice water hash or bubble hash.

Dry Sift or Dry Sieve Extract

With this process, dried flower is rubbed or rolled over a sieve (a fine mesh strainer) that helps separate the plant’s trichomes. The result is also referred to as “kief” and looks like a crumbly off-white powder, which can be pressed into other textures and consistencies like hash and rosin.

Ice Water Hash or Bubble Hash Extract

Hinted by its name, ice water hash or bubble hash extract involves cold water to separate the plant’s trichomes. Medical marijuana flower is tumbled through ice water, filtered through a fine mesh strainer, then dried before it’s consumed. Depending on how long the drying process is, the final product can have a range of consistencies.

Now that we’ve covered how medical marijuana oils, concentrates, and extracts are made, let’s take a closer look at the world of medical marijuana extracts. Online or at a dispensary, you might find the terms “extracts” and “concentrates” used interchangeably. It may be helpful to remember that all extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts. Extracts are a specific type of concentrate that use solvents (chemicals) to draw out the desired substances of a plant. Familiar examples of this include vanilla, peppermint, and other flavor extracts you might use for cooking.

All extracts are concentrates, but not all concentrates are extracts.

There are many varieties of medical marijuana extracts, which have names like budder, sauce, and sugar to reflect their texture and consistency. These attributes are determined by how the extract is formulated and processed. Below is a simple breakdown of a few popular extracts that Calypso offers.

BudderSmooth and creamy, like butter, with a wet terpene gloss.Extracted with butane, the resulting cannabinoid and terpene mixture is whipped over heat
SauceGooey like marmalade, rich with terpenes and clusters of THCa crystals.Extracted with butane, cannabinoids and terpenes are left to “crash out” or naturally form THCa crystals in a cool, dark place with controlled pressure. THCa crystals separate from the mixture and are recombined in a certain ratio for desired consistency.
SugarWet and grainy, like sticky sugar, sparkling with small THCa crystals.Same process as sauce. Smaller THCa crystals are recombined in a certain ratio for desired consistency, usually with less terpenes.
DiamondsClear, crystalline chunks consisting of pure THCa.Same process as sauce and sugar with more controlled pressure. THCa crystals grow larger and remain separated from terpene-rich mixture.

Consumption Methods

When we consider the different ways to consume medical marijuana oils, concentrates, and extracts it’s important to remember these products are more potent than raw flower. Medical marijuana flower often has a THC content that ranges from 10% to 25%, while concentrated forms can reach 80% or more. Therefore, dosing is important. Remember to “start low and go slow” to find the amount that works best for you. Even small doses may help you achieve a desired effect.

Medical marijuana flower often has a THC content that ranges from 10% to 25%, while concentrated forms can reach 80% or more.

Concentrated forms of medical marijuana can be consumed in a variety of ways and you’ve likely already tried a few. For example, have you rubbed a topical into your skin, swallowed a capsule or inhaled a vape? Some patients who prefer extracts use what’s called a “dab rig” to heat up a small amount of product and inhale the vapor for the immediate onset of effects. These are just a few examples and the ideal method for consumption depends on the type and texture of the medical marijuana product. Be sure to consult your dispensary pharmacist or budtender as to the recommended method of consumption and dosing for any concentrate you choose.