If it has been more than ten years since you’ve tried Cannabis, a trip to a modern-day dispensary might leave you a bit confused. Of course, you would recognize the green, leafy buds of the Cannabis plant, now referred to by budtenders as “flower.” But stashed beneath the glass and bright lights, you will also find a wide assortment of new products termed, “Concentrates.” These concentrates represent the fastest growing sector of Cannabis products, and come in a wide variety of forms, textures, and viscosities, such as honey oil, Rick Simpson oil, diamonds, sauce, wax, budder, shatters, sugars, and live resin (to name just a few). Each of these Cannabis-derived extracts contains refined and concentrated amounts of Delta-Nine Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes also in concentrated amounts. The resulting finished products are challenging the traditional notions of what is Cannabis and how it should be regulated.
Maryland law defines a medical Cannabis concentrate as “a product derived from medical cannabis that is kief, hashish, bubble hash, oil, wax, or other product, produced by extracting cannabinoids from the plant through the use of Solvents; Carbon dioxide; or Heat, screens, presses or steam distillation.” According to new rules recently published by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, an edible Cannabis product in Maryland cannot contain a concentrate or an infused product.
There are two main methods by which Cannabis concentrates are created — solvent-based and non-solvent-based extraction. A solvent is a liquid in which something is dissolved to form a solution. In extraction, a solvent is a liquid used to separate the psychoactive compound THC (and other cannabinoids and terpenes), from the cannabis flower. The most popular solvents used today are butane, carbon dioxide (CO2), propane and alcohol. In solvent-based extraction, chemical solvents are used to separate resin glands containing the psychoactive compound THC from the Cannabis flower. In non-solvent extractions, water, temperature and pressure are the predominant factors for separating compounds.
Dabbing is the most popular way to consume Cannabis concentrates. Often referred to as “doing a dab” or “taking a dab hit,” this method of ingestion refers to the vaporization and consumption of a Cannabis concentrate. On average, a concentrate consumer might ingest a few inhalations between 60-80% THC, compared to smoking cannabis flower which averages 10-25% THC. Not surprisingly, the increased potency makes dabbing more economical for most users–as less product needs to be consumed to reach optimal or desired effects. The effects of a dab usually come on stronger and quicker than smoking flower. Because of this, dabbing is often recommended for experienced or frequent smokers due to the high potency of the product.
The difference in flavor between concentrates and flower is also pretty dramatic. Cannabis extracts not only concentrate cannabinoids in the finished product (such as THC, CBD, CBN, etc.), but also increase the amount of flavorful and beneficial terpenes (such as limonene, pinene, and myrcene, to name a few). Concentrate vaporization permits a Cannabis consumer to more clearly smell the parts of the plant that contribute to taste, such as the aroma from the terpenes, which usually evaporate at very low temperatures. These highly volatile gases can easily become overwhelmed when combustible plant matter is burned (which occurs while smoking flower).
Concentrates in Maryland can be consumed by medical Cannabis patients without civil or criminal penalty–within their 30-day recommended supply. But they still cannot be consumed in public or by non-medical patients without criminal penalty. Possession in Maryland of a Cannabis concentrate in any amount, even below the civil penalty 10 gram amount, would constitute the misdemeanor criminal charge of possession of THC (a Schedule 1 Controlled and Dangerous Substance under Maryland and Federal Law), which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to a $ 5,000 fine.
Maryland Law defines medical Cannabis to include THC and exclude Hemp. But the defined term “Marijuana” is completely silent on the issue of whether THC is one of the prohibited products contained within it. As a result, if an arresting officer issues a citation or makes an arrest on an individual for simple possession of a Cannabis concentrate, the officer must make the unenviable choice of charging the defendant with a more severe crime based on their status as a non-patient (possession of THC) or with a crime that many State’s Attorney’s Offices refuse to prosecute (possession of Marijuana).
It is not surprising then that some states have tried to ban concentrates or at least reduce the maximum percentage of THC that can be sold in any concentrate or infused product. States such as Washington State, Arizona, and even Colorado have brought bills before the legislature to cap overall THC percentages in concentrates. These state actions have alarmed Cannabis activists. But they also demonstrate that there are more health studies that need to be conducted before we decide that concentrates are as low-risk as full spectrum flower or hemp.