Wax, Rosin, and Shatter, Oh My! What the Heck is Hash?

cannabis concentrates

 

From CBD oil, to weed vape pens and medicated lotions — cannabis concentrates are growing in demand. Though humans have consumed hash — a concentrated form of cannabis — for hundreds of years, the era of hash is now. In fact, the cannabis concentrate market accounted for $3.73 billion in sales 2018. That number is predicted to triple in size by 2026, according to Zion Market Research. 

Cannabis concentrates may be trending because of their increasing availability on the legal market. But, consumers may also be drawn to hash for its potency. 

 

What the Heck is Hash Anyway?

Wax, rosin, shatter, and cannabis oils are all forms of hash. The process of extracting the kief from the cannabis flower results in the type of hash created.

Hash is made from compacted kief that is distilled into oil or wax, which is then smoked or eaten. Many cannabis smokers are familiar with the kief catcher at the bottom of the grinder that collects the golden powder that falls off the flower. Those trichome crystals, or resin, contain the terpenes and cannabinoids that give cannabis its unique properties. 

 

hash kief

Kief coats the bottom of a grinder. Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons/ James Kaliwae.

 

Hash is much more potent than flower. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the average THC level of cannabis flower is just over 15%. The average THC level of concentrates, depending on the extraction method, ranges from 39% to 80% and higher.

The effects of hash are similar to flower, but stronger. Hash is usually longer lasting and is well known for its sedative properties, according to Healthline. Studies show it effectively treats chronic pain and insomnia, but it may be too intense for those with anxiety. Of course everyone will tolerate hash differently, and consume it at their own discretion. 

 

So Where did Hash Come From?

Hash, or hashish, roughly translates to “grass” in Arabic and has been consumed for thousands of years, since at least the 11th century, according to a report published by the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Consumers usually rolled hash into balls and ingested or burned it as incense. 

Charas — or hand rubbed hash — is one of the oldest methods of extraction, which originated in the Himalaya Mountains and in Northern India. It is also one of the simplest. The live cannabis buds are rubbed against the hands or body until coated in a black-green tar. The resin is then rolled off the body into balls or cakes and left to cure, or dry out. 

Charas is used by the Shaiva, a Hindu sect, in their spiritual practices since before the first century, according to Psychology Today. Users typically smoked it with a chillum or clay pipe. They also mixed hash balls with milk and spices to create bhang, a popular drink in India.  

 

charas or hand rolled hash

Hand-rolled hashish balls, or charas, from Nepal. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/ Christopher Fynn.

 

Dry sift hash was also an early extraction method and employs the same mechanics as a modern grinder. It is made by shaking dry, harvested cannabis flower over a mesh screen in order to separate the kief from the plant material. The kief then falls between the mesh where it is hand collected and compressed. 

 

Changing Perceptions

The first literary accounts of hash are found in Arabian Nights and The Travels of Marco Polo. Folk tales like these were widely performed during the Middle Ages. For instance, Marco Polo depicted Hassan, the leader of a Persian sect of Shia Islams, using hash to incentivize his private army of assassins. 

Today the legend of hash eating assassins lives on. Modern myth suggests that the term “assassin” is derived from “haschishin” — the Arabic word for hash eater. However, it is actually a derivative of “hassassan,” or a follower of Hassan, according to the Alamut’s Etymology of Assassin.

The story suggests negative stereotypes about hash and cannabis have existed for centuries. Some societies characterized the haschishins as low class, out of control, and self-indulgent. Hundreds of years later, stigmas about cannabis users still exist but are slowly changing. 

Companies have modernized hash to make it more marketable to consumers. Before the 20th century, users typically ingested it as a pungent ball, sometimes mixed with peanut butter. The tar like substance was not as appetizing as infused gummies or as convenient as a dab pen. 

 

The Introduction of Solvents

As technology advanced, so did the extraction methods. Now, hash can be vaporized, dabbed, and infused into oils. The options for consuming hash are seemingly endless.

Since the late 1990s, the most common method for extracting hash is with a solvent, according to the journal of Chinese Medicine. 

Cannabinoids and terpenes are able to dissolve in certain solvents or solutions like alcohol, petroleum, propane, and butane. Therefore solvents help separate the trichome crystals from the rest of the plant. 

Of course these solvents are highly toxic when ingested. So manufacturers then filter out the harmful residuals through various methods  — leaving behind ‘pure’ hash like wax or shatter. Solvent extraction allows for greater control over the end product and can isolate certain terpenes and cannabinoids, like CBD.

 

hash oil, butane extracted hash

Golden brown butane “honey” hash oil. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/ Vjiced.

 

It is unknown who first attempted to extract hash with a chemical solvent. But one of the first resources for creating butane hash oil was published in 1999 by Erowid. It described a the “open blasting” method, a dangerous extraction process that most commercial extraction facilities do not use. 

However, it inspired the invention of the “closed-loop” system, which refined the solvent extraction method that most use today. 

Recently, CO2 is becoming the preferred solvent as it is safer for the environment and leaves behind no harmful residuals, according to the Medical Cannabis Network. However manufacturers still use butane and alcohol often because they produce greater yields at greater potency. 

Solvent extraction is difficult and very dangerous to try at home. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said it discovered 260 illegal hash oil labs in 2017. They found a quarter of the labs because they caught on fire. 

 

The Alternative: Solvent-less Hash 

Solvent-less hash is much easier and safer to make at home. Some consumers prefer charas, dry-sieve hash, and other solvent-less hashes because they perceive them as ‘cleaner’ due to the lack of contact with chemicals.

Users popularized bubble hash, or water-extracted hash, in the 1980s because it was easy to make at home. A man by the name of Sadhu Sam in Santa Cruz, California, developed the technique. He offered to teach it in an advertisement published in 1987 by High Times Magazine. 

One can make bubble hash by placing dried cannabis flower in a large screen or mesh bag in a series of smaller-screened bags inside a bucket. Ice water is then poured over the flower. The bags catches the large particles of plant material; and the resin collects at the bottom of the bucket. The water is squeezed out, creating a thick hash paste. 

The quality of bubble hash dependents on the size of the screen of the mesh bag. The smaller the screen, the better quality the hash is because it better separates the plant material. 

 

Bubble hash, water extracted hash

Water-extracted hash, aka bubble hash, by Wikimedia Commons/ Mjpresson.

 

Rosin is another solvent-less hash that is fairly easy to create at home. There are countless YouTube videos on how to DIY rosin using parchment paper and a hair straightener. It simply requires heat pressing cannabis flower onto an absorbent material. The resin melts off the flower and dries into rosin. The simplicity of this method is one of its biggest draws for small batch hash makers, reports Analytical Cannabis.

Bubble hash and rosin are also much safer to create at home than butane or propane hash oil. However, hand-rubbed and dry-sieved hash are usually the most flavorful since less terpenes are washed away during extraction. 

 

The Future of Cannabis Concentrates 

The demand for hash is met by innovation. Now there seems to be a cannabis concentrate available for every type of cannabis user — from the high to low tolerances, from smokers to edible enthusiasts. Consumers can choose between CBD-infused beauty products or terpene oils, and dab cartridges or resin-infused joints. The choices are endless. 

New extraction techniques are constantly emerging to supply purer, safer, and higher quality hash. Public interest in hash will only increase as legal barriers are removed and negative stereotypes about cannabis use are broken down.   

Whether its charas or shatter, humanity has enjoyed hash for a thousand years and probably will continue to enjoy it for thousand more.

 

Emerald contributor since January 2021
Kyah Luna is a queer writer and journalist living in New York City. She is currently a student at The New School and is passionate about plant medicine and social justice.

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