This post will address the different terms we use, what they mean in different contexts, what they may imply when used by others, etc.
The flow of content is based on the sequence of the various stages of processing of the cannabis plant, starting off with the basics of the plant itself.
Please feel free to comment on any additional information that I should include! Cheers.
The cannabis plant comes in two varieties: Marijuana and Hemp. Cannabis of the type marijuana, we smoke for medicinal/recreational purposes. The hemp variety is harvested for raw fibers and CBD (cannabidiol) predominantly. Hemp produces cannabinoids that are free of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) for most parts. Marijuana produces a more diverse set of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Sativa vs Indica: The global efforts to study and improve the cannabis plant has led to a better understanding of the different cannabinoids. As a general whole we have come to deduce the two basics (building blocks) of marijuana profiles: Sativa and Indica. Sativa type plants inherently have cannabinoid profiles which causes users to experience effects that are uplifting, euphoric and head-high in nature. Indica type cannabis plants have cannabinoid profiles that generally brings upon effects such as sedation, pain-relief, or mental relaxation upon consumption.
Over the ages, humans have crossed (bred) various sativa and indica varieties of the cannabis plant to produce what we call ‘hybrids’ this day and age. Hybrids are created to offer the best traits of the parents involved. Over time, master growers often execute complex breeding programs which result in the creation of either unique strains, or fortified iterations of existing strains.
Cannabinoids: the active components of the cannabis plant, such as THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, THCv, etc. They are crystalline in nature. On a molecular level, they have a carboxyl molecule attached to them, so they’re not necessarily bio-available (able to bound to our receptors). This carboxyl molecule can be easily removed by a process called decarboxylation – which will be discussed later. Not all cannabinoids give you the “high” effect – only THC is known to be psychoactive. Ironically, CBD is a compound with proven anti-psychotic, anti-inflammatory properties. Each cannabinoid has a purpose, both independently as well as combination with other cannabinoids. A lot of these effects and relationships between cannabinoids have yet to be discovered. While we’re actively studying the effects of THC and CBD on their own, and in combination with each other, there are other cannabinoids such as CBN (which we know helps induce sleep on its own) which have yet to be studied in such depth.
Honestly, countries like Israel and Netherlands have already been conducting these studies, therefore being in possession of most certainly very valuable knowledge.
Terpenes: aka ‘terps’, are the compounds produced by the cannabis plant which give it its unique aromatic and taste (when the herb or it’s extract is consumed orally). They are composed of chemicals referred to as terpenoids. The terpenes produced by the cannabis plant have mostly been identified and labelled, with a few more yet to be given proper identification.
All these compounds of the marijuana plant, cannabinoids and terpenes, are ingested through one of two ways: 1) smoking/vaporizing of the herb, or it’s extracts, or 2) orally ingesting the extracts via edibles or tinctures. Technically there is a third way: topical applications, but there’s very little efficacy in this method and therefore will be not discussed in this article at the time of writing.
Extracts: There are a variety of names of the various shapes/forms of extracts. In summary, what makes each type of extract different is the different combinations of different amounts of terpenes and compounds off the marijuana plant. Depending on what method is used for extraction, which method(s) may have been employed post-extraction/processing-stage, the extract’s form can vary. The contents of an extract always start off as full-spectrum, which then can be processed even further to isolate the different terpenes and cannabinoids.
Full-Spectrum: This type of extract contains all the cannabinoids and terpenes (and at times, other compounds) off the cannabis plant. There are therapeutic properties of the cannabis plant that can be attributed to the unique profile of these active compounds off the cannabis plant. This unique profile of each cannabis plant is a reflection of the plant’s strain, it’s genetics. This is where we realise how important the regulation around strains is, because each strain has a unique identity that needs to be preserved, respected, and not polluted by mis-breeding or mis-labelling. Each strain has a unique set of cannabinoids it produces, a unique set of terpenes – therefore a unique set of recreational/medicinal effects.
Distillate/Isolate: This type of extract is a single compound off the cannabis plant, that has been separated from the full-spectrum extract through methods such as fractional distillation. Click here to read more about fractional distillation.
Shatter: it’s an extract, most often full-spectrum. It’s called shatter because ‘it shatters, like glass’ – while this may be only true if the shatter is kept cool. Good shatter is ‘winterized’ which means it’s free from plant lipids (fats), therefore very stable (will remain the same properties after long periods of time). Of all the full-spectrum extracts, shatter generally contains the least amount of terpenes, as terpenes are very oily (liquid when not frozen).
Butter/Budder: This type of extract starts off the same way as shatter, all the way to the end, but just before the last stage of processing (i.e. purging off the solvents used) the extract is ‘whipped’ to create a multi-layered blend of all the compounds, therefore resulting in the crumbly texture post-processing.
(Live) Rosin: This type of extract is obtained through squeezing the cannabis plant under immense amounts of pressure, between plates of sorts, which are usually heated as well. This type of extract is usually preferred by connoisseurs as it’s obtained in the most natural way, free of solvents or carriers. Rosin, when done right, is free from undesired compounds such as plant fats, chlorophyll, or fibers. Generally it is preferred to use fresh material for this type of extract, producing what we call Live Rosin (since the starting material was nearly ‘alive’ at the time of extraction).
“Sauce”: This is a novel, newer form of extract which was made to imitate full-spectrum experience: using distillate or isolated compounds such as combining THC and/or CBD (as crystals, ie crystalline form) in a solution of terpenes formulated to mimic different strains of cannabis. While this type of extract seems to be very ‘exotic’ in nature, it does not bring forth *all* the beneficial effects of consuming cannabis as it’s not a full-spectrum extract of the plant.
Decarboxylation: This process is the removal of the carboxyl molecule from the cannabinoid molecule. This occurs when the cannabinoids are exposed to a temperature which may vary slightly depending on the density of the cannabinoids present.
This is called a decarboxylation chart. On this graph you can see how the desired THC content is reached by heating the buds on a specific temperature and keeping them there for a certain period of time. As this chart was based on a strain that can have a maximum of 15% THC content, you can see that the easiest way to reach that amount is by heating your cannabis herb for about 7 minutes on 300°F (148°C), or for 20 minutes on about 250°F (121°C).
If the cannabinoids were present in a much greater density, for example an extract, then one would follow the same path of exposing the extract to a certain temperature (generally 220°F) for a specific amount of time (generally 20 – 25 minutes), which would slightly vary depending on the amount of extract present and vessel in which it is contained.
Activated extract: This is what you would call an extract that has been subjected to the decarboxylation process. This type of extract is best used for edible products such as candies, baked goods, tinctures, capsules, etc., but can still be used in any way a normal extract would be. Due to decarboxylation, the consistency of the extract changes – generally becoming more oily/liquidy.