Strain: Girl Scout Cookies
“Sugar” is the word used to describe shatter that has begun to resemble the consistency of wet sand while not completely drying out into crumble. Many have speculated that this could be strain-dependent while others have suggested that this results from shatter “sitting around for too long” or from residual butane escaping the shatter. While legitimate experimental data doesn’t yet exist on the subject, I believe the real answer to be a combination the previous suggestions.
I think sugar results from a natural separation of volatile components (butane and terpenes mostly) from non-volatile components. Different strains contain different concentrations of various terpenes and non-volatile molecules which explains why some strains naturally “want” to sugar up more than others. This process is accelerated by the vacuum purge which effectively increases the volatility of all components within the extract. Regardless, “sugaring up” suggests some degradation of the final product (which is why it generally tends to be priced cheaper than regular shatter of the same variety)
BHO generally comes in two forms, shatter and wax (or crumble). Shatter tends to have a consistency ranging from sticky sap to a very stable, hard resin at room temperature and can have an appearance anywhere from a dark brown to a nearly translucent. Wax on the other hand, tends to be completely dry and crumbly and is sometimes referred to as “honeycomb” because of its resemblance. While both are made using the same solvent (butane) and a vacuum purging process, there are several factors that account for the difference between the two forms of concentrate.
As one might expect, wax/crumble is purged for longer at higher temperatures resulting in a drier more “completely purged” product that has less residual butane complexed within. However, butane isn’t the only compound that can be purged at 100°F and -29 mmHg. Under such a vacuum, the boiling point of all liquids are depressed.
More Than Just THC
When butane is used to extract THC from raw plant material, it also picks up a medley of other compounds including terpenes, plant fats, and chlorophyll (via micelle formation). The concentrations of these compounds vary as you move from the top of the cola to the roots of a marijuana plant which is why “trim run” and “nug run” extracts of the same plant can appear completely different. It should also be noted that n-butane is actually slightly water soluble at room temperature and can pick up some polar species which tend to make for darker, harsher concentrates (this is why dryness is important for both solvent and raw plant material).
While plant fats and chlorophyll are undesirable (and tend to burn, leaving ash behind), terpenes are the compounds that contribute to the smell and flavor of marijuana and some have been known for centuries to possess medicinal and practical value. Many of these compounds are volatile (meaning they start to evaporate) around room temperature so their concentrations begin to decrease as soon as a plant is cut and killed. The key to making the most pleasant, flavorful extracts is maintaining a full terpene profile while decreasing the butane content below the 3ppm taste threshold.
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