Extracts vs. Concentrates :  The Big Difference

Crumble. Budder. Batter. Dabs. Oils. Rosin. Shatter. Wax. Hash.

You may recognize these forms of cannabis extracts and concentrates from your local dispensary products list. There are so many cannabis products on the market today that some confusion is inevitable. One of the points of confusion is over the distinction between cannabis concentrates and extracts. While the terms “concentrate” and “extract” are often used interchangeably, the differences between the two are actually very important.

Extracts are made using solvents to chemically extract the THC, the CBD, or the terpenes.  Some of the solvents commonly used to create cannabis extracts are butane, propane, carbon dioxide and ethanol.  Concentrates, on the other hand, are made through mechanical processes that isolate the resin heads.  Concentrate processors create products such as hash using fine screens, “bubble hash” using water, or rosin using heat and pressure.

Regardless of these distinctions, concentrates and extracts have emerged over the last couple years as the fastest-growing category of the legal cannabis market.  Consumer point-of-sale tracking service data shows that consumers, particularly those in adult-use markets, are gravitating toward this stronger, discrete, portable product category.  Once these items were fairly rare and were considered a specialty item.  Now, concentrates and extracts make up over 27% of all cannabis products sold in all categories.

Waxes and shatters are an extract commonly known as butane hash oil (BHO) — a term that refers to the butane solvent poured over the cannabis buds. Once the solvent has extracted the THC, cannabinoids, and terpenes, the resulting slurry is “purged” in an oven or vacuum at room temperature to remove the hydrocarbons.

Live resin is also an extract and a type of BHO. The difference between shatter and live resin is how the cannabis flowers are handled pre-extraction.  Shatter is made from cannabis flowers that have gone through the typical drying and curing process.  Live resin is made from fresh flowers that have been flash frozen after being harvested. The result is a sticky extract that preserves more of the natural terpene flavor profile.

Other extracts such as THC oil, use carbon dioxide as the solvent to strip out the desired THC, cannabinoids, and terpenes.  The carbon dioxide is then used to chemically strip the THC, the CBD, and the terpenes from the trichomes of the original plant matter. The resulting liquid THC oil is commonly used to create vaporizer cartridges.  Although THC is created using carbon dioxide as a solvent, nevertheless it is still considered an extract.

Rosin on the other hand, is considered a concentrate.  Rosin is made by applying heat and pressure to the cannabis buds, kief, or trim to remove the plant resin.  The resulting resin pressed from the plant is a concentrate with a consistency ranging from a butter to a viscous sap.  Because no solvent is used during the extraction process, the rosin contains many of the aromas and terpenes present in the plant itself.

Regardless of whether a product is considered an extract or a concentrate, the resulting cannabis byproduct created by such a chemical or mechanical process is still considered to be illegal to possess or sell both under Maryland law (if you are not a registered medical cannabis patient) as well as under federal law.  But does the law treat a concentrate or extract the same as the whole cannabis plant?  Strangely, the answer is no.

Under Maryland law, cannabis is still known as “Marijuana,” which is defined as “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether or not the plant is growing . . . and each compound, manufactured product, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant.”

Under federal law, the Controlled Substances Act defines “Marihuana” as “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.”

But Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is also listed as a prohibited substance under both Maryland law as a controlled and dangerous substance and under federal law under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  As a result, police often charge defendants with possession of extracts or concentrates under the prohibition against possession of THC rather than the prohibition against the possession of Marijuana.  This alternate THC charge deprives Maryland medical cannabis patients of their rights under Maryland law.

This legal peculiarity means that a card-carrying Maryland medical cannabis patient who is stopped while in possession of a cannabis concentrate or extract that they were legally permitted to purchase from a dispensary could result in the crime of possession of THC rather than possession of Marijuana.  Even worse, by definition the legal safe harbor granted by Maryland’s medical cannabis laws for possession of Marijuana by a registered medical cannabis patient would not apply to the patient charged with possession of THC.

At the very least, Maryland needs to harmonize its laws to permit medical cannabis patients to possess extracts and concentrates without the fear of incurring a criminal charge.  This legal impediment represents yet another hurdle in the normalization and regulation of the cannabis plant.

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