One of the absolute best things to come out of ganja's quasi-legalized status here in Colorado and other medical marijuana states is the abundance of concentrates now available. It used to be that getting hash in Colorado meant knowing the grower or running into just the right person in the parking lot of a Red Rocks concert. Not anymore.
Today, it's not a matter of finding hash -- everyone has it -- but finding quality hash. And Colorado is quickly becoming the mecca for master concentrate masters. For every hash-maker out there, though, you'll get a different set of instructions on how to achieve the best results. Thankfully, many are willing to share their knowledge in online forums, at monthly hash meetups and even on Facebook - pushing the progression of concentrate making with group thought, so to speak.
At their core, all hashmaking methods somehow involved stripping the psychoactive materials from the plant, filtering the results and condensing them into a potent, putty-like substance. Beyond that, it becomes and art and we have tapped two recognized cannabis concentrate artists in the Colorado scene for their insight into hash making, the art of extraction and what makes great concentrates.
SELECTA NIKKA T Nik is well known not just in Colorado but across the world for that matter for his skills; fortunately, he's been very open with his knowledge of hash, and gives tips and pointers to anyone who asks. I met up with him a few months back, just as he was getting his company off the ground and starting to work with dispensaries as a third-party hash processor. Though he's based out of the PinkHouse Grows team of Pearl Co., Cherry Co., and Teapot Lounge, any shops can hire him out to turn their leftover trim into amazing smokable product.
Nik grew up in Northern California, where cannabis farming is about as much a part of the local economy as the vineyards producing the Golden State's wines. By the age of 16 or 17, he says he was experimenting with hash making, always trying to get a better product than what he was seeing people produce around him." Growing up, I just saw so much black, gooey hash. It was fine then, but I knew there could be more purity."
Just as every stoner since the 1970s has wanted to do after high school, Nik went to Amsterdam where he lived for a while and learned about cannabis extracts from the legendary Mila Jansen. One of the most important hash makers of our time, Jansen is credited with perfecting both automated dry-sieved hash and ice-water hash extraction in the first half of the '90s. Many of the tricks and traditions Nik was taught by Jansen are not included in any of her books or lectures; she picked them up on her travels through India and Holland.
When Nik returned to the States, he settled in Boulder and attended the University of Colorado while perfecting his hash craft with Colorado herb.
Lately he's been pushing the limits of what ice, water and some nylon screens can produce with his Solventless Wax -- a term coined by local ganja Internet blogger Paul Tokin to describe the melting, oil-like qualities of the ice-water extraction that are usually found with chemical extractions. "The main trick is controlling variables," he says. "I've always been very, very particular and obsessive-compulsive, and that's what has helped me with my hash game a lot." Page down for Nik's tips for better hashmaking: Here are some of Nik's general guidelines for five-gallon ice-water extraction bags (Bubble Bags, Sean's 1000 Watt, ProBags. Etc.):
1. Slow things down. This process takes way more time than most people tend to give it. Take time to get all zen about it and think about what you are doing with each step of the process.
2. The better your herb, the better your finished product. Avoid fan leaves, stems and, really, anything you wouldn't put in your pipe. Nik suggests using sugar leaves and says he gets better results with that than he does using actual buds. 3. Fresh, wet trim that has been frozen is better than dried trim. Dried trim tends to break up more and leave a lot of plant material in your hash. Dried trim can be used, but less agitation is needed.
4. Use purified water and purified ice. The fewer things you have in your water, the less you've got in your hash in the end and there's a lot of gnarly stuff in regular tap water -- from calcium to fluoride. By the same token, make sure the buckets you're using are clean and free of any dust or residue you wouldn't want to end up in your hash.
5. Keep your water temperatures low, between 32 and 34 degrees. This ensures that the trichome heads are breaking. To do that... 6. Use a ten-pound bag of ice for every gallon or so of water. Seriously. Add a couple more pounds to the mix constantly to keep the temperature down. 7. Keep agitation to a minimum. Some people use a drill with a paint mixer; this is too much, Nik says. He suggests mixing by hand with a ladle -- and advises you to remember that the ice will be doing a lot of work.
8. Agitate the ice-water/ganja mix in one bucket and pouring the final product through the screens in another. This will avoid over-agitating in the bags and potentially damaging them. Don't force the water through, either. Instead, let it filter through naturally to avoid damaging your bag and sending plant matter through.
9. Carefully spoon the hash-water mix out of each bag, avoiding any pressing of the material. You want to dry this out properly, making sure not to leave any water behind that could create mold or mildew. Older books will tell you to rub the clay-like material over a colander screen to break up the hash.
10. After the hash has dried, give it a few weeks to cure -- just as you would the buds that it was made from. A few weeks in an airtight jar with an occasional refreshing of air will help bring out the smells and flavors of the strain.
While Nik specializes in ice-water extraction, Daniel de Sailles is an expert in butane hash extraction. There are dozens of shops and infused-product manufacturers making butane hash oil, also known as BHO, wax, budder, shatter, oil, honey oil and even earwax. That last moniker is appropriate considering the texture, but it's also a really disgusting name that needs to be ditched for more positive associations.
No matter what you call it, this is one of the most potent forms of marijuana concentrate out there. While ice-waterextraction hash can reach up to 50 to 70 percent THC levels, butane extracts push that level into the high 80s and even 90s in overall THC by weight. This can be accomplished because THC (and other cannabinoids) are soluble by alcohol. Back in the day, did you ever have a friend put his stems in an overproof clear grain alcohol like Everclear for a few weeks and then dab that on your bowls? This is essentially the same thing. (If you answered "no," then you need cooler friends.) With butane, however, the idea isn't so much to soak the herb in the solvent, but to spray the butane over the hash and then process what remains.
It sounds easy -- and in a way, it is -- but the process can also be infinitely more dangerous than making ice-water hash.
For starters, you're dealing with a highly volatile liquid that boils and turns into an even more volatile gas at room temperature. Mix any sort of flame source with it, and you've just put yourself in the burn unit of your local hospital for an extended stay that most likely won't be covered by your insurance. Indoors, combustible solvents and idiocy have often mixed to create explosions, resulting in fires like the one that tore through the home of a Breckenridge caregiver in 2009.
The second danger comes from improperly purging what you make. Leaving the wax wet with butane means that you are inhaling that butane when you light it on fire and smoke it on top of your bowl or in your hash pipe. Granted, it's probably no more than you consume every month by lighting your bowl with a Bic lighter, but this is all supposed to be about medicine -- which means it's about being healthy, too. And this is also where things get a bit sensitive, depending on whom you talk to. The overall idea is to use heat to remove any small bubbles of remaining extract, but how to go about that has evolved and changed over the last few years.
We caught up with local BHO hashmaker and founder of Top Shelf Extracts Daniel de Sailles -- or Big D, as his friends call him and his hashmaking crew of Tom Zolezzi and Madison Smith He and his team of Tom Zolezzi. Working with Broadway Wellness, Top Shelf Extracts won second place at the 2011 High Times Medical Cannabis Cup. Since then, Big D and his team have moved on and are working with several shops around town.
If you ask Big D and his team about the dangers of BHO, they'll admit that a few idiots have given the process a bad name. DeSalles is also critical of most of the wax he sees around town, saying much of it has been poorly purged. "If it's crackling or popping when [you smoke it] in any way, then it's not clean," he explains. "If it stings your nose like a chemical fume, it's not clean. If it's soupy or oily, it hasn't been purged right. It should burn smooth and smell clean, like the flowers."
Though he didn't reveal as many tricks as Nik did about his trade, Big D and his partners did divulge some important basics for making BHO. (We need to make this very clear: We aren't endorsing anyone blowing themselves up by attempting this legal -- in Colorado -- method of making medical hash. Really, don't be an idiot.)
1. Take your time. As Nik says, it's important to do things right, not fast.
2. Use a thick, custom-blown glass tube. Plastic is just too questionable, and glass can be cleaned and reused again and again. Lots of glass shops around town sell these extraction tubes.
3. Use dry trim. Remove all fan leaves and stems, leaving only sugar leaves. Pack your trim into the tube tightly, but not so tight that fluid can't move around and get into the buds. Cap the bottom with two unbleached coffee filters. With custom glass tubes, you can secure the filters on a lip on the open end with zip ties.
4. Complete steps 5, 6 and 7 under a professional, scientific vent hood. These remove any chance of a spark or flame coming into contact with the lit gas -- much like if you were outside, away from any electrical outlets or fires (hint, hint). If you can't find a vent hood, you probably don't own an MIP (Marijuana Infused Product business). (Once again, let us be clear: Do not do this while smoking ganja or cigarettes. Essentially: don't be an idiot.) 5. Use high-grade solvents. MIPs like Top Shelf Extracts have procured medical-grade butane for their extraction. Very few commercial butane producers come anywhere close to that level. If you had to use some off the shelf, 5x filtered from brands like Vector is about as good as you can get.
6. Use a clear glass pan to collect the extracted fluid. The pan should sit in a larger pan full of extremely hot (and inflammable) water. Once the THCinfused fluid hits the pan, it will begin to boil and evaporate.
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7. Indirect heat is your friend. After the first water bath goes lukewarm, change it out with more hot water (heated on a source far, far away from the extraction) and refill the bathing dish. Repeat this step several times until the liquid has been removed and you are down to the tar-like residue stuck to the pan itself. By now the dish of oil should be far less volatile.
8. Transfer the pan, now covered in gooey resin, to an electric heating pad. Big D suggested ones sold at plant nurseries to keep new seedlings warm. The heat gives the resin a taffy-like consistency and makes it easier to whip up with a razor blade. Start by cutting vertical and horizontal lines in the bottom of the pan to stir things up and release any trapped bubbles. 9. When it has stopped visibly reacting to the heat and movement and turned to a creamy consistency, let it settle and cure. As with bubble hash, here is where patience is a virtue. "When it doesn't do anything anymore, stop. Just let it sit," Big D advises. 10. Over a day or so, the mixture will continue to dry out and cure. The more solid the hash becomes, the more purged it is. You want it to reach the consistency of Play-Doh left open overnight. Some people use a vacuum pump to further purge their wax, though Big D says that extra step isn't always needed and that you can purge just as well without one.
William Breathes is the pot pen name for our medical marijuana dispensary critic and all-around pot nerd. Read all the latest in our medical marijuana news on Mile Highs and Lows, and watch for his latest dispensary review coming at 4:20 today.