5 Things to look for in a marijuana concentrate

Published Feb 23, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / MysteryShot

A new and exciting menu of cannabis products have recently hit the market in Canada, but due to a lack of availability before this point, few fully understand what they’re getting at their local dispensary. THC oil, BHO, and other marijuana concentrates that can be used as dabs are some of the latest trending options among consumers, but the majority of these options are purchased from the black market, and even those that aren’t, may not always be exactly what is promised by the budtender on staff.

Since there are so many cannabis concentrates out there, the specific features that you need to look for in some cases may differ, but once you have a good understanding of some of the most important visual cues, it is a whole lot easier to spot a high-quality product that isn’t filled with additives that might include potentially hazardous ingredients.

What to look for

Our goal here today is to give you a few basic guidelines to go by when making future purchases, so that the next time you make it to your dispensary, you know exactly what you’re doing, and below, you will find the five most important indicators of quality, purity, and potential additive.

1. Color

Cannabis plants are typically a vibrant, bright combination of blue and purple hues, but the most distinct color you will see most is green, and that leads many unknowing consumers to believe that concentrated versions might be green or a darker black. This is solidified for some upon discovering BHO, a cannabis concentrate that is of relatively poor quality and processed with a hazardous butane.

Unfortunately, even the highest quality BHO, will still contain some of the irritating solvent, which is why it is viewed as a low-quality product and not offered in legal dispensaries at all. Seeing a bright green in dabs like shatter, or in THC oil for vape pens, means that the plant materials were processed a bit too long, extracting some of the green colors, but the highest quality and purest cannabis concentrates will never be green.

Instead, the majority of cannabis concentrates including terp sauce, shatter, budder, honey oil, wax, and crumble, are typically a bright yellow, semi-transparent color that is impossible to miss. It should look almost like honey, only more vibrant and easier to see through. Really pure versions of products like THC crystals and budder can even appear to be a slightly off-white color, but there should never be any brown or black present in a good quality marijuana concentrate.

Another cannabis concentrate that is often made containing unnecessary ingredients is hash, but this one is relatively easy to spot by looking for one thing, which is the presence of green plant materials, particularly if you have a kief hash because kief consists of only the trichome heads which should all be a yellow or beige color. No matter what kind of hash you look at, it should be a solid, pure color, and if there are bits of green in between, then it’s definitely not a properly made product.

2. Solvent-free label

A lot of cannabis concentrates are made using a harsh solvent to extract the powerful cannabinoids, but they almost always leave behind a residue that can be irritating to your lungs and health, especially if you’re inhaling it on a regular basis. Whether you are buying a disposable vape pen, vape carts, THC oil, or the thicker dabs, you need to be on the lookout for products that come with a solvent-free label.

3. Quality testing


Unfortunately, just about anyone can print up a sticker that makes claims of solvent-free processing, and that’s what brings us to number three on this list, quality testing. In the case of legal cannabis concentrates in Canada, quality testing scores must be provided to governing agencies to ensure that the proper procedures are taken to avoid contamination from anything that might put a consumer's health at risk.

Most licensed dispensaries willingly post this information for potential customers to read freely, and that is important to establish a sense of trust surrounding such a new cannabis product, but sadly, not everyone is so forthcoming, and that is especially true when it comes to unregulated black-market products. If your request to see quality testing scores for a concentrate product is denied, then you might want to shop elsewhere, because as much as visual cues can assist, the only way to know these things for sure is with the proper testing.

4. Smell

Do you know that wonderful smell that is distinct and easily recognizable that emanates from a flourishing and maturing cannabis plant? Well, that’s all thanks to an element that the plants produce called terpenes. These natural oils carry specific scents and most of them are aromatic in nature, offering their own mini bar of benefits to those who smell them.

What most consumers don’t realize, is that those deep aromas should be present even in the majority of cannabis concentrates, with very few exceptions to the rule. A concentrate like THC crystals will have no smell, but most oils, shatter, terp juice, THC juice, wax, budder, and everything else that lies in between should include a condensed version of the bouquet.

Unfortunately, a lot of the most commonly used processing techniques, particularly by private consumers, use solvents which destroy this delicate plant feature, so even if it’s labelled as solvent-free, if it doesn’t smell like a mother plant at its peak, then chances are, you don’t want to know what is inside of it, and it's probably a good idea to find a different supplier for future purchases.

5. Texture

Texture can often be one of the most noticeable indicators of quality, but that is only the case if you know what kind of consistency is normal within a particular product. Some cannabis concentrates are thin like water, while others are thick and will shatter just like glass from a small drop on a hard surface. Each one is significantly different from the next, but if you have purchased or researched the product beforehand, you’ll have a much better idea of what to expect.

If you ever open a cannabis concentrate only to find an unrecognizable substance inside that doesn’t look anything like others that you have tried in the past, then it might not be worth the risk to buy it. Generally, when solvents and additives remain in a marijuana concentrate, it will be much more watery than normal, and could also leave behind a slimy residue. If you see any of these things that look outside the norm, then you might want to pass on the option to buy them.

Even if you were to follow every instruction that can be found online, there is still always the possibility that you might receive a tainted product, and this is not always an intentional act. Sometimes, there is a mistake in the processing, transporting, or at some other stage before the products make their way onto shelves for consumers to purchase, which is why it is so important to know what to look for, even if you do buy all cannabis products through a legal and licensed vendor.

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