The Patient’s Guide to Using Cannabis Concentrates
At the ‘highest’ level of THC potency are cannabis concentrates. Not all states have legalized concentrates, but the majority now have. And different concentrate products can be found at your local licensed dispensary.
You may not have tried cannabis concentrates, but heard of them. If you have a medical marijuana card, they may be an option for you, particularly if you (or a loved one) suffer from debilitating conditions, such as intractable pain, Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease, and more.
What Are Cannabis Concentrates?
As the name suggests, cannabis concentrates are in the upper echelon of potency in medical marijuana products. While the average potency of most products sold in the United States is approximately 15%, cannabis concentrates can well exceed over 80% THC content.
Is There a Difference Between Concentrates and Extracts?
Technically, both concentrates and extracts are the same thing. However, depending on the state and the dispensary, there may be a difference in the formal definition of the two.
Many people state that extracts are cannabis oils collected using solvents. For example, Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is extracted using alcohol. Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is extracted using butane gas, and cannabis wax extracts are made with a supercritical Co2 process. Some studies express concern over residual solvents and their effect on the human body.
However, concentrates may be manufactured in other methods (such as dry sifting, ice water, or hot press) without solvents. Creating concentrated medical marijuana products like rosin or kief.
Are Cannabis Concentrates Expensive?
Medical marijuana products are priced according to THC potency. Understandably, cannabis concentrates are priced higher than other lower-potency products. The more THC content, the higher the cost to a patient. But why?
One of the advantages of cannabis concentrates is that “just a dab will do.” The quantity that a patient may use is far less when THC levels are higher. Because of their high potency, concentrates can be highly effective at moderating symptoms.
How Do You Use Medical Marijuana Concentrates?
Compared to other types of medical marijuana, concentrates can be complex to use if you are dabbing. However, there are other ways to consume marijuana concentrates that are easier to administer.
The three main ways to consume cannabis concentrates are:
Using Dab Rigs
Conventional dabbers look similar to a bong. They are glass pipes that have a piece called a “nail” where you place a small amount of concentrate, incinerate, and inhale. The difficulty is controlling the incineration so that you do not get too much smoke in the pipe.
Today there are easy-to-use electronic dab rigs. They look like handheld vape pens. You simply fill the chamber with your concentrate, click a button, and inhale. No external flame source is required. Electronic dab rigs use cannabis more efficiently with less waste when you vaporize concentrates.
Adding Concentrates to Your Cone or Pre-Roll
Whether you buy your pre-rolls from the dispensary or roll your own cones, you can add concentrate oil to the outside of your joint. Or, you can add some inside the pre-roll as well. While cannabis concentrates lose much of their terpene content during processing, many dispensaries replace it by adding terpene extracts.
Cooking With Concentrates
If you are interested in making your own cannabis-infused foods, concentrates can be used. It eliminates the need to decarboxylate your medical marijuana (to activate the THC). And you can use a smaller amount of cannabis because it has a higher potency. A little goes a long way.
What is the Average Potency of Medicinal Cannabis Concentrates?
Concentrates have high levels of THC, but there are a variety of potencies to choose from at most dispensaries. On average, cannabis concentrates have 50% to 69% THC content, but in some states, that average can exceed 80%.
In 2023, there are only two states that have placed a cap on cannabis concentrates. Vermont and Connecticut limit THC content in concentrated cannabis to 60%. In those states, it is illegal to manufacture or sell cannabis concentrates that exceed 60% potency.
What Types of Marijuana Concentrates Are Available?
There are a variety of cannabis products to choose from if you want to take a break from the plant material and try using concentrates instead. The type of concentrate chosen will reflect how you plan to consume it.
The six main types of concentrated cannabis products are:
1. Badder or Budder
Easy to spread, or harder to separate? That is the only difference between badder and budder concentrates. Badder is a sticky, whipped consistency that is light and easy to spread on a dabber or fill an e-rig with the concentrate. Budder is more like butter that is in the refrigerator; it is thicker and harder to separate to use.
2. Cannabis Caviar
This type of concentrate is actually cannabis bud, which is usually soaked in hash oil and then coated in kief. Cannabis caviar is enhanced to increase THC potency for patients who prefer smoking whole flower.
This type of concentrate can also be found under the names crumble wax or honeycomb. It is dry and powdery and crumbles easily (hence the name!). Crumble is predominantly made using solvent extraction processes.
Shatter also goes by the name butane hash oil or BHO. This category of concentrate is processed using butane to remove all the terpenes and cannabinoids from raw marijuana. It is a very potent form of hash oil, not often chosen by patients as it has no active cannabinoids or terpenes.
Live resin cannabis has an average of 20% to 50% THC content. However, distillate concentrations are much higher, averaging 60% to 95% THC. The process of molecular distillation involves heating cannabis extracts to the vaporization point, causing decarboxylation.
After the THC is activated, the evaporation is decondensed and collected to be sold as a highly potent concentrate.
6. Dry Sift Kief
Have you noticed some fine powder in the bottom of your grinder? There is a reason why cannabis flower grinders are built with screens and a separate chamber on the bottom. That is to collect kief, which you can use in a variety of ways. Kief is ideal for making your own cannabis tea or supplementing the THC content of your bowl or blunt.
When Do Patients Use Medical Marijuana Concentrates?
Some patients that use medical cannabis may find that standard potencies do not work well for their needs. If a patient is a long-term daily user of medical marijuana, they may build up a tolerance to cannabis over time. And that can make it harder for cannabis to assist with moderating symptoms.
Here are some of the common reasons why cannabis concentrates are used by patients:
Severe Intractable Pain
Chronic pain is a debilitating condition. And cannabis tolerance can impede the effectiveness of standard potency medical marijuana. However, the right concentrate may provide the relief a patient needs to improve their quality of life.
Hospice or End of Life Care
Several conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease and Stage IV Cancer are progressive; patients will not recover their health. Compassionate care means providing a patient with whatever aids their relief and frees them from feelings of anxiety and depression. Patients in hospice care may be approved to use medical cannabis concentrates.
Moderate to Severe Epilepsy or Muscle Spasms
Clinical-grade cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to reduce symptoms of muscle spasms for people living with Epilepsy. Other patients may experience severe muscle pain following a seizure.
A combination of cannabidiol and concentrates may help reduce the frequency or severity of seizures and provide pain relief. Both CBD and THC work together to combat inflammation. Inflation is the precursor to neuropathic, joint, and other types of chronic pain.
How to Use Cannabis Concentrates Safely
Many doctors suggest using cannabis concentrates sparingly. And only if standard potencies are not effective for your wellness needs. Some clinical studies suggest that long-term frequent use of cannabis concentrates can affect cognition and contribute to mental health disorders. With heavy users, there is a potential risk of developing psychosis.
Once you start using cannabis concentrates, you can rapidly develop a tolerance for cannabis. If you are a medical marijuana patient, cannabis concentrates are the highest level of potency you can get. With the increased use of concentrates, is the potential to also develop cannabis hyperemesis. That is when your body cannot tolerate any cannabis without severe nausea, vomiting, and other immediate side effects after consuming it.
Talk to your doctor about your symptom management goals. Find out if cannabis concentrates are the right choice for you. And if you do start using concentrates, aim for the lowest levels of THC possible. That can help reduce your risks of developing any harmful side effects from high concentrations of medical marijuana.
I am a Chief Marketing Officer at DocMJ, a leading provider of medical cannabis health services to qualified patients. I have over 20 years of experience in healthcare marketing and communications, with a proven track record of delivering impactful and compliant campaigns that educate, inform, and empower patients to make better choices for their health and wellness.