If you spent your 4/20 crumbling up buds, rolling them up in papers and puffing away, you're going the way of dinosaurs, according to industry insiders.
"Nobody smokes flowers anymore," Emerald Cup founder and Mendocino marijuana entrepreneur Tim Blake dismissively told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in a recent interview, during which he estimated that concentrates — things like hash, shatter, rosin, oil, wax and honeycomb — will make up 90 percent of the legal pot market by 2030.
Judging from the recent data already available, Blake may not be far off. Burgeoning legal markets have tracked a remarkable spike in concentrate sales in the last couple of years, with the potent marijuana products now making up roughly half of all cannabis sales in Colorado, having doubled in popularity in the last year, according to a report in the Cannabist.
Enthusiasts report that concentrates — with THC concentrations of up to 90 percent, compared to the 20 percent boasted by the dankest of "flowers" — deliver a cleaner, more potent smoke, resulting in a stronger, more immediate high. As Blake told Bloomberg, "When you've tried extracts, you go and smoke a joint and it tastes dirty."
The world of concentrates has grown vast, stretching from the millenniums-old hashish to the relatively new advents of solvent-based extraction, resulting in products like CO2 oil and the butane-fueled shatter, wax and honeycomb.
Frenchy Cannoli, a Mendocino man renowned globally as one of the industry's top "cannabis resin consultants," is a traditionalist, or "old school," as he puts it. That's not to say Cannoli doesn't see tremendous medical potential in solvent-based extraction methods — he says they have the potential to "go into another domain" and create a product that's nearly pure THC, which could be fantastic for treating very specific symptoms. But Cannoli said he doesn't touch the stuff, himself.
Why? He feels much is lost in the quest for huge THC content, including part of the high.
Cannoli said that while most people get caught up on THC as an indicator of potency, marijuana is really a complicated plant. He said studies support the theory of an "entourage effect," meaning that a complex web of components — including THC, cannabinoids, terpenes and terpenoids — make up marijuana's psychoactive properties.
Traditional hash making uses dry sieves to remove the resin glands from the marijuana plant, and then uses heat to press that powdery substance together. This retains and concentrates the same compounds one ingests when smoking marijuana flowers. But with popular butane and CO2 extraction techniques, most everything but the THC is lost.
In Cannoli's mind, this often results in a monotone smoke and a less enjoyable high. Counter to popular opinion, Cannoli believes the less-THC-potent hash will actually get you more high than its new counterparts.
"You smoke a half a gram of hash, my friend, and you don't move for a long time," he said. "And if the hash you have is good, aged hash, you're going to spend the day where you are."
Colorado, which has kind of become the Kool-aid test for all things recreational pot, is currently grappling with the question of how potent is potent enough. A proposed ballot initiative and a proposed amendment to a bill in the state Legislature seek to cap the potency of marijuana and marijuana products at 15 or 16 percent THC. (According to the Cannabist, the average bud sold in the state comes in at 17.1 percent THC, with concentrates at 62.1 percent.)
But the horse is out of the barn, and it seems a prohibition on concentrates would just create a booming concentrate black market. It seems that we — individually and as a society — need to answer the question, how high is high enough?
Unfortunately, with national rates of heroin use and prescription opiate use skyrocketing, and a marijuana industry doing all it can to push the potency envelope, it looks like we've answered the question: There simply is no high enough.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at cannabis concentrates. Next week's column will look at butane extraction process, its popularity and its dangers.