Hash has come a long way, from the time early humans got hip to finger hash, to today where we can literally grow crystals of pure THC. The story of hash is a story of innovation and how we have figured out how to concentrate the flavor and increase the effects of our favorite plant – cannabis. In today’s world, hash making has become an art driven by science and discovery.
What is hash exactly? It’s a concentration of trichome heads that grow on cannabis flowers. These trichomes, which give weed its glittery appearance, are where the psychoactive THC lies as well as the terpenes and other compounds that give each strain of cannabis its unique smell and effects. Using an array of techniques these heads can be collected and concentrated.
These techniques have evolved over millennia, and now in the present day we are in the midst of a hash renaissance. Science and art have collided pushing hash into new realms of potency and flavor.
But how is hash made and how long has it been around?
The most ancient form of hash is called “charas”. It is easily made by rubbing the fingers and hands on fresh, still growing cannabis flowers. Next, you will collect the sticky resin by balling it up. Traditional Indian, Nepalese and Himalayan cultures still practice this technique today. If you’ve ever trimmed a bud, it’s easy to imagine how early humans naturally discovered charas in the wild as a result of handling sticky buds while picking out seeds to eat.
Before the flower crop is cut for harvest, the farmer goes out into the field during mid to late day, when the sun has warmed the plant’s trichomes to a sticky resin. They start grabbing buds, usually barehanded, working up the colas with a gentle repetitive squeezing motion. Soon their hands are caked over with a dark green, sometimes black, aromatic sap. This is scraped off or rolled into balls that are then smoked. And yes, that scissor and finger hash that builds up while you’re trimming would be considered charas.
The potency of charas can range from 40%- 60% THC depending on how it was collected. As we’ll see with other forms of hash, the darker color is in part due to more plant matter and impurities that are mixed up with the trichome heads. Since charas doesn’t involve any filtering or separation of the material, it ends up with tiny bits of plant matter, hairs, stigmas, dirt, pollen and whatever tiny bugs might have fallen on the flowers. On the upside, fresh charas is raw and unprocessed meaning it retains a concentrated and unadulterated terpene profile of the plant.
Nepalese Temple Balls
Expanding on charas, monks high in the buddhist temples of the Himalayas perfected the art of hand rolled hash. With extreme care and patience, charas is made slowly and any plant matter meticulously cleaned out. A time-consuming process, the result is the purest collection of trichome heads possible by human hands. The tacky, light to dark amber hued material is then rolled into balls, that are then rolled over a ceramic plate. This process gives the balls a reflective, glass-like sheen and hard, candy-like shell. These balls are usually cured and aged, sometimes longer than 10 years.
Nepalese Temple Balls can also be made with dried and sifted trichome heads. This preparation method will lend to a darker, sometimes black color due to the aged and processed material. Either way you find it, true Temple Balls will be stamped with the temple’s name, symbol or blessing. Their potency is higher than charas at around 50% – 70% THC. With such a high potency, monks use these as a tool for meditation to reach new levels of consciousness.
Unfortunately Temple Balls are quickly becoming a lost art. Shifting political pressures and cannabis regulations have made these once holy sacraments into legends of the past. Though rare, it is possible to find modern recreations at your local dispensary. Few hash makers would go through the painstaking process to create them, so coming across them is a blessing in itself.
Dry Sifted Hash
To the west of the Tibetan Plateau, in the deserts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the art of creating hash from sifting trichome heads from dry flowers was mastered. After grinding the dried buds into a fine powder, or beating the dried stalks with sticks, a cloth or screen is used to filter or sift out the trichome heads from the leafy greens of the plant. The heads make it through the screen but the plant matter does not. The trichome heads resemble a light sandy amber colored powder. This is called “kief”. Kief is then pressed into bricks and hockey puck sized disks using heat and pressure.
Different regions adopted different methods of preparing the plant material, sifting and pressing the kief into hash. Today, types of hash and the strains used to make them have made their places of origin legendary. Take for instance the strain Afghan Kush, which has been bred in Afghanistan for centuries to increase its trichome production. It is used to produce the famed Black Afghan hash bricks, known for its soft, kneadable texture and devastatingly powerful power effects. Pakistani hash, though produced from a similar strain, is prepared differently and is usually harder and bricked.
To the west, Lebanon’s hash has different colors and effects than that of Afghanistan. Red Lebanese gets its color from the ripened, ambered hue trichome heads harvested at just the right time. The effects are more cerebral than stoney and have a more euphoric quality to them. Lebanese Blonde is another type that’s effects carry even more of an upward mental shift. Turkish Brick is highly compressed, rock solid slabs of trichomes with a much lighter effect than most other hash, making it better for day use.
Moroccan Pollen is another popular variety, but don’t let the name fool you, it’s no pollen. Moroccan hash is well known for being almost or as strong as the Afghan variety, but has a more crumbly and powdery appearance.
Smoking Charas or Dry Sift Hash
Charas and dry sift hash are typically smoked in pipes or mixed with tobacco and smoked in hookahs. Due to their resinous nature, hash pipes have a tendency to clog very quickly. Also, when smoking hash from a pipe, it’s best to use a piece that doesn’t have a carburetor hole for a smoother, less harsh hit.
This old-world style of making hash was crafted over centuries using the techniques, knowledge and tools available. In the modern world with our advanced science and technology, hash has gone from craft to chemistry.
Hash from Hydrocarbons- BHO
The science of plant extracts and chemical separation has revolutionized the hash world. Using the techniques and science of subcritical and supercritical extraction new forms of hash and hash oils have been created.
Subcritical extraction is a process in which hydrocarbon gasses like butane and propane are pressurized until they turn into liquids and get extremely cold. This pressurized liquid is then allowed to flow through a chamber filled with ground up cannabis. The THC-laden trichomes then temporarily bind to the fluid hydrocarbon as it passes through. Coming out of the extraction machine the mixture is a foamy soup of hash and butane/propane. As the mix warms up to room temperature the butane or propane then boils off back into a gas leaving a pasty hash oil.
Depending on how it’s processed after this, different types of BHO (butane hash oil) can be made.
Shatter is a relatively unprocessed BHO that has been heated at high temperatures to aid in removing any remaining hydrocarbons in a process called “purging.” As it cools, it hardens but retains its tackiness in a strange brittle, glass-like texture that “shatters” when handled. When working with shatter, it’s an all-too-common mishap when a piece goes flying across the room never to be found again. Shatter is very potent, upwards of 70% – 80% THC, yet lacks flavor due to the heating process cooking off the terpenes.
Wax is BHO that gets heated and agitated or whipped up like a cream during the purging process. It’s in the same potency range as shatter, but it degrades faster. Depending on how high the heat is used to purge it, waxes can retain a better flavor profile than shatter.
Budder is made in much the same way as wax, but more agitation and lower heat is used. This method is popular because it doesn’t cook off all the volatile terpenes, leaving a more desirable flavor. This form of BHO is very popular among concentrate consumers due to how easy it is to handle (not to mention its terpene rich flavors and potent effects).
To get Crumble you need even lower heat and more agitation. It yields more terpenes and flavor than budder but has a consistency that keeps it from sticking to itself. This makes it tricky for some modes of consumption. Put crumble in your favorite vaporizing device to experience a highly concentrated terpene flavor explosion.
Live resin is one of the strongest types of BHO available. It’s made using “fresh frozen” flowers, meaning the flowers are flash frozen the moment they are harvested to preserve the maximum amount of potency and terpenes.
These frozen flowers are loaded into the extraction vessel and processed like BHO. The extracted oil is then left to sit under pressure for weeks, giving the THC time to crystalize. These crystals, commonly called “diamonds” or “isolate” can be upward in potency of up to 99.9% THC, pretty much the most potent form of hash available. The rich terpene “sauce” is extracted as well during the process and mixed back with the diamonds, giving live resin the appearance of jewels covered in a thick golden goop.
CO2 extraction is done in much the same way as BHO, though a lot higher pressure is needed to turn carbon dioxide into a liquid. This higher pressure ends up breaking down those sought after terpenes. While still very potent (60% – 80% THC) and clean, CO2 hash has more of a uniform flavor that lacks the essence of the material used to create it. CO2 can be whipped up into wax, made into a shatter, or come in a viscous oil form simply known as CO2 oil.
Smoking BHO and CO2 Hash
The most common method of consuming BHO and CO2 hash is with the use of a dab rig. A “dab” is one single serving of hash. After heating a glass or quartz bowl attachment known as the banger, hash oil is dropped in and instantly vaporizes. The dab rig is an elaborate, water percolating work of glass blown art that cools the vapors for consumption. Usually one good rip off a dab rig is strong enough to keep the average cannabis consumer happy for 3-5 hours.
Rapidly gaining popularity in the United States cannabis markets is what is known as solventless hash. This includes bubble hash, water hash and rosin. What makes this type of hash appealing is its lack of any harsh chemical solvents or hydrocarbons used in its production. Instead just plain old water or heat and pressure are used to separate the trichomes from the plant matter.
To make Bubble Hash you need ice water to freeze buds, making the trichomes brittle and easy to separate from the leaves and plant material. Unground cannabis is thrown into an ice bath and gently agitated inside bubble bags, which are bags with ever decreasingly sized mesh screens on the bottoms.
If the trichomes are smaller than the filter size, they pass through, getting collected at the point the mesh screen is too small to get through. At this point the pale tan to gold colored resin gland mush is scooped up and spread out to dry. The different size filters yield different grades of bubble hash. Usually between 120 microns and 70 microns is the size for the best quality bubble. Bubble hash gets its name not from the bubble bags, but from the fact that the hash bubbles vigorously when smoked.
Rosin is a newcomer to the hash stage and has quickly gained a foothold in the cannabis markets. It is created by taking cannabis flowers or bubble hash and squishing it between two heated plates to the point the trichomes separate from the plant matter. The THC-rich trichomes come oozing out of the bud in a light, butterscotch to cream-white colored sap. Getting just the right amount of heat and pressure to get a good yield without destroying the terpenes is a skilled art.
Over the past 10 years rosin production has fueled an entire industry of extraction machinery. The “rosin press”, a hydraulic press coupled with heated plates, is an extraction machine built to maximize yields with highly customizable controls. The modern hash maker just loads the machine, then squishes the cannabis flower with tons of pressure and adjusts the heated plates to just the right temperature for that particular strain. It’s an art as much as it is a science.
Smoking Bubble Hash and Rosin
While both bubble hash and rosin can be dabbed in typical dab rigs, they can sometimes leave more residue in the banger. Both are very potent, and range from 60% – 85% THC. Rosin does extremely well in vape pens with heating coils, it is also mixed with terpene oils and used to fill vape cartridges.
Some grades of bubble hash can be smoked in a hash pipe, or used to top a bowl. The highest quality bubble hash is so clean that it is translucent and out of a dab rig hardly leaves any residue.
With all these options the world of concentrated cannabis has something for anyone looking for stronger effects than flower. However consumed, be it a dab rig, vape pen, pipe, chillum or hot knives, hash carries more bang for your buck. Smaller amounts can be used to achieve the desired effect.
As we step into a future where cannabis is more widely accepted, artisan hash makers will become much more appreciated for their craft. Whether it be old world style Moroccan Hash Blocks or modern day 99.9% THC isolate, hash will be enjoyed for centuries to come.