That moment when you come across a long-lost vial of cannabis concentrates is pregnant with emotional response. While fumbling through your hiking knapsack, you come across a familiar container that has been untouched now since that trip to the lake last summer. Since then it has been safely tucked away in your knapsack in the top of the closet.
As your eyes scan the conditions of the small stash, you are delighted to see no mold growth. Unfortunately, the contents don’t look anything like the rich translucent glass-like “shatter” you had taken on that summer trip and has seemingly transformed into yellowish sugar crystals. Your expectations hang in limbo as you wonder if this hash oil has expired or if it could still be as potent as it had been.
The longevity of your concentrates will depend on a variety of factors that include, not only the production process and quality of your product but also the types of packaging applied and how it has been stored since the initial package was opened. Some of these products can stay fresh and potent for interminable periods (in the right conditions), and others will lose all potency to degradation within weeks.
How do extraction methods impact cannabis?
Certain types of shatter take on a sugary consistency as their terpenes are lost. The substance left behind has a much higher concentration of THCA.
The best way to determine the quality of any final products whether it is a fine wine or cannabis concentrate is the quality of the source material from which it was derived. You can’t expect to obtain superior products from low-grade raw materials. Low-grade cannabis doesn’t contain the same sophisticated cannabinoid profile and will result in a lower grade product even with the help of advanced extraction methods.
Terpenes are always deteriorated during the extraction process. The loss of these organic compounds will affect the efficacy of the product as a medical treatment and can also alter the flavor and affect the shelf life of the final product.
Some extractions methods are designed to preserve these healthy constituents as much as possible, especially in the production of dabs. Those concentrates that will be used in topicals, edibles, sublingual tinctures, sprays, hair products and more may not need to emphasize the preservation of terpenes.
There are many different types of cannabis concentrates including butter, shatters, saps, crumbles, and distillates. There are also sifted mechanical products like ice water extract (IWE), kief and dry sift. The variances will determine the specific characteristics of each of these products in extraction methods.
The point of extraction is to remove the concentrate from the rest of the plant products. Impurities that must be eliminated from the product include plant materials, fats, and lipids as well as other possible contaminants. Some extraction methods shun the use of solvents. Therefore these products tend to contain higher quantities of fats and lipids as they can be especially difficult to remove mechanically.
Solvent extractions are used in the production of resins which contain a full array of terpenes, flavonoids and plenty of cannabinoids. Many products will also provide a fair share of fats and lipids. To create an even more purified product, these can be sent through a secondary solvent filtration process called “winterization.” This stage removes more of the lipids and fats from the oleoresins for higher concentrations of cannabinoids.
On the downside, winterization has been known to cause terpenes to degrade, and this has been disparaged by aficionados of exquisite flavor and aromatic profiles and also alters the final consistency of the product as well. Nevertheless, this final stage is essential to producing stable cannabis concentrates in the form of “shatter” which has a glass-like structure. Saps, sugars and other products that contain higher terpenes are also made this way.
What’s the shelf life of concentrates?
No matter what type of cannabis concentrate you are storing the most significant threats will be the same: air, light, heat and time.
As mentioned, concentrates can come in a variety of consistencies including butter, waxes, sugars, and stable glass-like shatter. The different structures arise from the differing ratios of cannabinoids, lipids, terpenes, flavonoids, and potential impurities. But, they all share a high content of THCA or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid.
THCA’s molecular structure is formed like a lattice and can be stacked on top of each other to form a crystalline structure. Nevertheless, the other molecules present, agitation and ambient temperatures can also alter the structures and consistency of the product.
For shatters to retain their crystalline form, they must have all or most of the impurities and other molecules removed. When these additional substances remain in the glass-like shatter, they can alter its structure in different ways. One common effect is called “buttering” and is a result of having the product agitated or exposed variances in temperatures.
When there are higher amounts of terpenes or even the cannabinoid CBD in a concentrate, these substances can emulsify the crystalline properties of pure THCA. Concentrates that are higher in these additional molecules will take on different consistencies. The temperatures and extent of agitation can determine what consistency will result as well as the number of terpenes, CBD or impurities in the concentrate. Most often a sappier consistency is the result of higher CBD.
Another natural result is called “sugaring out” in which the terpenes are lost from the concentrate leaving a substance very high in THCA. While the experience may be altered, this sugary transformation is not an indication that your prized concentrate has become degraded beyond use. Instead, it merely means that THCA is attempting to crystallize with the absence of terpenes. You may still dab and receiving the full effects of your product, the only thing missing is the terpenes which contain aromatic properties and alter the consistency of the concentrate.