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A History of Cannabis Concentrates

November 18, 2020 in General Education

With the ongoing innovations in better extraction methods for a safe and smooth cannabis experience, concentrates are rapidly gaining in popularity in the cannabis world today. In fact, cannabis resin extracts have been used for centuries. In this article I will discuss where resin concentrates originate, identify the first one every made and provide examples of some of the current extraction techniques.

The First Cannabis Concentrates

While it is not possible to pinpoint the exact origin of resin extractions, it has been documented that hashish was used in the Middle East during the 10th C. One of the earliest publications that mentioned hashish usage was in the Book of Poisons, written by Ibn Wahshiyya in around 904, where he discussed its toxicological properties.

  • The first concentrate, charas, thought to originate in Asia, especially India, Pakistan and Nepal, is made by rubbing fresh flowers with bare hands.
  • Sufi monks, who were regular hashish users, were responsible for its spread in the Muslim world.
  • The invention of dry sieving techniques in the 16thC allowed for more efficient and greater production of concentrates in less time. By the 17th C, there was a movement away from the dwindling charas production. It was replaced by the dry sieved hashish-producing areas in north Afghanistan, Turkestan and Lebanon, which became the biggest center for cannabis production.

17th-19th Century

There were no significant changes in cannabis concentrate production until 1839 when Dr. Walter O’Shaughnessy came on the scene. After years of scientific cannabis research in India, O’Shaugnessy developed cannabis solvent extracts, using alcohol, and published his study on their properties. When word of his invention reached the Western world, the medical community in Europe and the USA focused on cannabis tinctures.

The 20th Century

During WWII, the US government developed a solvent-based liquid THC acetate extract mixed with tobacco, as a “truth serum” to interrogate prisoners and civilians. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which predated the CIA, continued using cannabis during the 1940s and 1950s.

By this time, the dry sieved hashish techniques used in the Middle East and Asia were being replaced by modern farming techniques that included resin separation. The general process did not change; the trichomes were separated by size through the use of gravity. This was achieved through mechanization. The first western producers travelled to these areas, learned the techniques and used them to significantly increase production. They were able to meet the now enormous international demand for cannabis concentrates. Unfortunately, product quality was sacrificed for product quantity in most cases.

Meanwhile, on the west coast of the US, cannabis researchers were busy trying to develop new extraction techniques using different alcohols and different types of cannabis, including imported hashish.

Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking

In the early 1970s, D. Gold published his book, Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking. He claimed that through the process of isomerization that he was able to change CBD to THC. Isomerization is the process in which one molecule is transformed into another molecule with the same exact atoms that are rearranged through molecule rotation.

According to Gold, all you have to do is reflux a solution of solvent, acid and cannabis containing CBD or pure CBD which will convert to THC. It is then separated from the solution and purified. With reflux, a chemical reaction is heated for a specific time period. A condenser is used which continuously cools the vapor so that it returns to its liquid form.

It supposedly rearranges the CBN molecules into THC molecules which increases its potency and refines the concentrate. The final step in refining the concentrate is the use of an acid to carry out the isomerization.

1980s Through 1990s

The Ice Water Hash Method

There is some disagreement about who actually invented the Ice Water Hash Method, using only ice and water to extract hashish. There is agreement that the technique was popularized by Sadu Sam, aka Sam Skunkman, who took out an advertisement in 1987 in High Times magazine. For the sum of $10, he would send you his “secret recipe.”

Apparently, Sadu Sam told people that Australian cannabis breeder, Nevil Schoenmakers, shared the method with him. However, Nevil claimed an American researcher shared the technique with him.

In 1998, Mila Jansen who designed a dry sieve machine, Pollinator, marketed a kit of extraction bags called Ice-O-Lator, especially produced for the Ice Water Hash Method.

Seven months after that, Marcus “Bubbleman” Richardson marketed his own set of bags, Bubble Bags, under the company name of Fresh Headies. His eight-bag kit included different sizes which were instrumental in producing a better quality hashish product.

The use of this non-solvent method to make cannabis concentrates propelled the industry into developing many more extraction methods.

21st Century

By 1999, cannabis concentrate extraction techniques using the highly flammable solvent, butane, were being shared online. It quickly became one of the most popular solvents used for extractions, despite its dangers. Soon afterwards, Butane Honey Oil (BHO) became the favored solvent to use.

Extractors began purifying BHO with ethanol, creating what is now called shatter. They were able to create additional new textures from BHO called wax, budder, honey comb and moonrock. This was the launch of the “dabbing revolution” as paraphernalia inventors created a huge new line of equipment for dabbing; dab rigs including bubbler pipes, titanium, quartz and ceramic nails as well as electronic nails.

Rosin Hash

One of the newest and most popular extraction techniques is rosin hash, which uses heat and pressure to extract terpenes and cannabinoids from plant material and from other concentrates.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction

Supercritical CO2 is one of the most environmentally friendly extraction techniques in which the CO2 can be recycled. The FDA has classified it as safe for industrial use. The CO2 kills off the microbial bacteria, mold and mildew during the extraction process and it provides a higher yield of production than other methods.

Fractional Distillation

Fractional distillation is a process separating individual cannabinoid compounds which begin to vaporize at different boiling points. As the temperature is slowly increased, certain chemical compounds vaporize while others remain in liquid form. Chemists are able to separate and then isolate specific compounds as they vaporize.

Closed Loop Systems

These days, closed loop systems, which require a lot of expensive equipment but provide production and environmental safety, are mainly being used to produce cannabis concentrates. The solvents are sprayed inside the containment chamber and then recycled, returning it to the solvent tank by a vacuum pump. The solvent never comes in contact with the outside air.

The concentrate industry will continue to expand as better and safer extraction methods are developed.

Sources:
philosopherseeds.com, Origins of Cannabis Concentrates
cannabis-mag.com, THC In A “Serum of Truth” Oct. 28, 2016
dudegrows.com, Can You Turn CBD Into THC By Isomerization? Scotty Real, Nov. 24, 2019
blueforestfarms.com, What is Fractional Distillation of Hemp and Why Does It Matter? May 29, 2018

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