Humans have been using cannabis for millennia to cure our ailments and enhance our quality of life. Despite the legal challenges to cannabis use in many areas, this amazing plant continues to be one of the most potent medicines we have. The beneficial properties health of cannabis are immense, and the side effects are far fewer than most modern pharmaceuticals.
While it is of course possible to gain the medicinal benefits of cannabis simply from drying the herb and smoking it, as many people do, there are also tremendous benefits to be gained from consuming various forms of cannabis extracts. Cannabis extracts are simply the super concentrated beneficial parts of the plant. By using cannabis extracts, you can gain the medicinal benefits of the plant without, for instance, the health-harming effects of combustion in smoking. Certain cannabis extracts are even legal in areas that do not yet allow for medical marijuana use, making these extracts an invaluable resource for people who depend on cannabis for their health and well being.
Types of cannabis extracts
There are a wide variety of cannabis extracts, which are made in different ways and have different amounts of strength and purity. These are some of the most common extracts:
• Dry sift (also known as dry sieve)
• Butane hash oil (also known as BHO)
• Supercritical CO2 oil
• Cannabis oil (also known as Rick Simpson Oil)
• CBD oil
The methods for making these different kinds of cannabis extracts vary, and therefore the methods for consuming them also vary from extract to extract. In addition, some of these extracts have greater and lesser amounts of THC, the compound that gives the high feeling.
The THC controversy
Much of the controversy surrounding marijuana centers on the THC compound, which is produced when the cannabis plant is dried and/or burned. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the compound that makes you feel high when you consume cannabis products. It is also part of what makes cannabis so powerful for pain management and calming anxiety and depression.
THC is not the only medicinal compound in cannabis. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also an important compound with medicinal properties from the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a high feeling, and therefore some people who are opposed to using cannabis find the CBD extract by itself to be acceptable for medicinal uses. CBD is legal for use in some states where medicinal marijuana is still illegal (http://norml.org/laws).
However, CBD is only one of 113 cannabioids known to be present in cannabis, which means that if you only use CBD you may be missing out on other beneficial properties.
Methods of making cannabis extracts
The cannabis plant produces several psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds in its juice, oils, and in crystalline structures that exist on the outside of the leaves and buds. If you want to experience the benefits of cannabis without smoking or eating the plant directly, you will be using an extract that has been produced using one of the following methods.
Kief is a mechanical extraction of the crystalline structures on the outsides of the buds. These are separated from the plant matter using sieves and by hand. The quality of kief depends on how much plant matter remains and how carefully it is separated out.
Dry sift, or dry sieve
To make a purer extract, kief is then sent through a series of progressively finer sieves to completely filter out all plant material. What results from this process is known as dry sift. This can be used to make high quality hash. Hash made from top quality dry sift will completely melt when it is exposed to heat, leaving no solid residue.
Hash is a clean and all natural method of extracting the active compounds from cannabis while leaving behind the ineffective plant material. Hash can be produced by pressing kief or dry sift together. It can also be produced by using ice water to separate the trichome heads from the rest of the plant material. The trichome heads are the parts of the plant that actually hold the essential oils of the plant, which is what contains the medicinal and psychoactive compounds.
Butane hash oil (BHO)
Butane hash oil is made using butane as the solvent, rather than ice water or any mechanical methods of separation. Butane is an extremely effective solvent, and BHO can have THC levels of up to 90%. This makes BHO a super popular form of cannabis extract. However, low quality BHO can have traces of butane, pesticides, or other chemicals still in it, which can be bad for your health.
Supercritical CO2 Oil
Supercritical CO2 oil combines the high effectiveness of butane with the zero-toxicity of ice water extraction. Carbon dioxide becomes a liquid when it is highly pressurized, and thus it is called a supercritical gas. To make this kind of cannabis extract, liquid carbon dioxide is pressed through a high pressure environment with the cannabis, which results in the active compounds being released in an oil. The carbon dioxide is then evaporated out, leaving a completely pure, high potency extract with no danger of toxic remnants from the extraction process.
Cannabis Oil (Rick Simpson Oil)
Cannabis oil, also known as Rick Simpson Oil, is created by crushing the dried cannabis plant with a solvent, which could be naphtha, butane, isopropyl alcohol, or even just pure water. After the plant is thoroughly crushed, the mixture is poured through a filter and then the solvent is boiled off, leaving an oily substance that is a similar consistency to thick grease.
Rosin is a cannabis extract that is created simply by using heat and pressure. You can even make your own, using an iron and parchment paper. In the quest for high quality extracts that do not contain any potential toxins or chemical remnants, rosin is one of the leaders.
Are cannabis extracts right for me?
One of the huge benefits of cannabis extracts is that they can be consumed sublingually, vaped, or even eaten directly. You do not have to smoke them, though some people do. Inhaling smoke can cause damage to your lungs, no matter what plant you are smoking, because compounds released by the combustion process itself are carcinogenic (http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/2005-02/1109562409.Me.r.html). In addition, it can be much more convenient to take cannabis oil sublingually than to roll and smoke marijuana. Per ounce, you also get a lot more benefit from a cannabis extract than from the dried herb alone. These reasons by themselves are enough to look into cannabis extracts, not to mention the enhanced flavor and super concentration of THC that most extracts have.