From hand-rolled to hot-dabbed, let's hash it out 

A beginner's guide to cannabis concentrate

Making hash, or concentrated marijuana, was a straightforward process for thousands of years. People simply rolled trim between their hands and peeled off the trichome, or resin, layer that built up on the palms. Or they used a dry sieve to separate the resin glands from the flowers and leaves, then pressed and cured it.

Then came bubble hash, an extraction process involving ice, water and porous fabrics. Trichomes sink in cold water, and after several rounds of sifting and pouring, form a film on the fabric that is then pressed and sometimes cured.

Recently, people have found ways to make even more potent hash by extracting the trichomes through butane, a freezing gas, then vacuuming them to purge out the solvent leftovers. (This is also called BHO extraction, standing for butane hash oil or butane honey oil.) You can purify it further and further, down to the essential oils, and modify it into nearly any form: clear, glassy and brittle; sticky, waxy and thick; or holey and tacky, almost like taffy. (For a general look at all the hash types, see below.)

Butane comes with a price, though. Flammable and heavy, it can stick around unventilated areas and explode if, say, the homemade hash is lit. This has happened enough, reports a February story in Wired magazine, to prompt the Federal Emergency Management Agency to post a warning on the dangers of butane extractions earlier this year.

"When did cannabis products start sounding like something out of Breaking Bad?" it asks.

So that's the bad news. The good news is, well, hash is also blowing up in a good way.

Bubbling up

Before we get to that though, let's start with the simple stuff. You're a newbie, let's say, and you know just enough about hash to pick something out at the counter. That's when the sticker shock sets in: Hash is pricier than bud, but that's simply because it's a lot more bang for your buck.

And it takes a lot of trim to make hash. The metrics vary widely, but 20 grams of cannabis can yield as little as a one gram of hash.

That little gram, though, is the good stuff. Steve Carl, a hash maker with Denver's Sacred Seed Pharms, says that in our market, you're looking at around 50 to 80 percent potency, or percentage of THC. (Straight bud, by contrast, is usually in the neighborhood of 30 percent.) And Sacred Seed products have been tested at up to 97 percent.

But don't go rushing up I-25 yet. As one of the few commercial hash makers in the state, Sacred Seed is a wholesaler, making hash for 12 centers around the state that send them trim and a work order.

The Green House on South Eighth Street gets all its hash from Sacred Seed, according to general manager Jordyn Amstutz, and sells a variety of types, from gelatin pills filled with 50 milligrams of hash oil, to bubble, scissor and three types of earwax, its most popular product.

The Green House sells a gram of scissor hash for $15, and other varieties for between $20 and $30. Those prices match up pretty well with those at Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana. Owner Don McKay's most popular product is house-made bubble hash, rolled in a modified, small concrete mixer. It's rightly favored: It won Best Hash at last year's Best Meds Winter Medibles Challenge, a statewide, patient-judged contest out of the Springs.

And the bubble hasn't burst, McKay says: "We can't make it fast enough!"

A dab’ll do ya

Now onto the new stuff: dabbing.

It looks more hardcore — Breaking Bad-like — than traditional hash. To do it you need a special kind of pipe, often called an "oil rig" or a "nail and dome," with an element made of glass, quartz or titanium. When that's heated with a torch, a piece of the hash is dabbed on the element and the vapors are inhaled.

The effect is highly potent — some have reported that one or two hits off a rig is equal to a whole joint. Jeffrey Hergenrather, M.D. and president of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, wrote in the Winter/Spring 2013 issue of O'Shaughnessy's: The Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice that "a single deep inhalation has a stronger and faster psychoactive effect than any other delivery method can provide."

All of which makes dabs somewhat practical for someone on a budget — or someone looking to get really baked. Locally, Club 710, a cannabis social club, advertises numerous dabbing parties on its Facebook page, including an upcoming Colorado Springs 4/20 EXtraDabaganza and Club 710 In-Dab-pendence Day Party set for July.

Dabbing may also be potentially healthier, Carl says, because you're not inhaling butane smoke from the lighter. (Of course, this is only true if you have a purged, well-made product.)

"We're trying to do some tests right now to determine how much butane you inhale when you're lighting a lighter," he says, adding that Sacred Seed works with Herbal Synergy, a testing outfit that not only tests for THC potency, but for residual solvent levels.

As for patients, there may be hope in dab hash, if for nothing else, its speed. According to Hergenrather, "medical users might benefit from dabs to relieve excruciating pain, muscle spasm, or intractable vomiting."

For the casual smoker, it's daunting to distinguish all the different types of BHO hash. Then there's hash made from isopropyl alcohol or CO2 extractions. Makers can also employ grain alcohol or ethanol, as Sacred Seed does, to wash out the remaining fats and waxes in the product, stripping it down the bare-bones essential oils.

"It's all basically made the same way, initially," Carl says. "And then it's how you get that last little bit of butane out, that really changes the consistency."

From boards to broad

Naturally, there's plenty of room for argument within all this. Of the hundreds of YouTube videos devoted to hash how-tos, many are commented upon with vicious arguments about the process, name and appearance of the final product.

And some feel that no matter how purged BHO hash is, it's still unacceptable. Wanda James, a co-owner of the now-defunct Simply Pure edibles said in a February 2011 conversation with Westword that not only is it hard to know all the chemicals in a solvent-extracted hash, but that even the tiniest amount could be toxic.

Of course, the industry has changed a lot since then. After all, Westword dispensary critic William Breathes recalls BHO hash living only in the realm of weed-geek message boards just three years ago.

"And now every dispensary carries grams of butter, shatter, earwax or whatever nickname they care to attach to it," he wrote last year. "[Not to mention], the overall quality has improved from a general viscous, used-motor-oil consistency to see-through amber glass made of chemically extracted cannabinoids."


Eight in spades

Here are some of the most common forms of hash. Generally, you'll find that the lower the melting point, the more pure THC (and greater effect on the user) the hash has.

Non-BHO varieties

BHO varieties

— Edie Adelstein

Pot Air Balloon

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