Cannabis wax is the soft, opaque golden concentrate made of extracted oils from the cannabis plant. It can have a soft viscous texture (budder) or a slightly firmer but crumbly texture (honeycomb or crumble). Cannabis wax can be an incredibly potent concentrate containing as much as 90 percent THC, so low-tolerance consumers should be wary of using too much.
How Cannabis Wax is Extracted
There are many ways to extract cannabis, but they are all variations of this process: cannabis plant matter is exposed to a chemical solvent (butane or ethanol are commonly used) or a natural solvent (water, ice, CO2, freezing temperatures) that separates cannabinoids (and sometimes terpenes, too) from the plant matter. The extracted cannabinoids are then purified of the solvent, and the remaining substance is the concentrate.
The actual process is far more complicated—and even dangerous—than this simple explanation captures. Amateur extraction artists using butane, for example, have been known to accidentally blow up entire sections of their homes. For that reason, it is best to purchase concentrate from a reputable brand rather than attempting the process on your own.
How to Consume Wax
The three most common methods of consuming wax are through vaporization, dabbing, or edibles.
Vaporizers can be portable or larger complex pieces of equipment that heat up cannabis concentrates just enough to convert cannabinoids and terpenes into an inhalable vapor. Unlike combustion methods, vaporizers do not ignite the cannabis. This leads to a greater bioavailability of cannabis in each inhalation, and consequently, a more potent high. Additionally, the heat from a vaporizer is far cooler than the scorching temperatures reached through combustion methods, so consumers are less likely to experience the adverse respiratory effects triggered by exposure to the smoke from high heat.
Dabbing is quickly gaining popularity in spite of its intense reputation and set up because of the method’s efficacy in delivering immediate and potent relief. This complex consumption method requires the use of a blow torch, nail, and dab rig. The consumer heats up the nail (a small plate of metal connected to the dab rig, a glass pipe from which the cannabis is inhaled) with a blow torch and then places a small amount of wax onto the now extremely hot nail. The conductive heat converts the cannabinoids into a combination of smoke and vapor that can be inhaled.
Finally, wax is a frequent ingredient in cannabis edibles. Unlike flower trim, wax is almost entirely purified of plant matter. While it will add a cannabis-detectable flavor to the dish it is infused with, that flavor will not have quite the intensity of the chlorophyll-rich dishes made with ground cannabis flower.
Medical Benefits of Concentrates
The THC content of most cannabis flowers falls within the range of 5 to 30 percent. Cannabis wax, on the other hand, can contain close to 100 percent THC. While the assumption may be that concentrates are most appealing to the recreational side of the market because of the products’ intense potency, the use of concentrates is also up among those who use cannabis medicinally.
A 2018 American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse study by Professor Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg found that “those who used for medical purposes or lived in states where use is legal were more likely to use concentrates frequently.” Cavazos-Rehg discovered that the most common conditions concentrates were used to treat were pain/inflammation, anxiety, and insomnia.
These symptoms are often chronic and debilitating interruptions in a patient’s life. THC can provide immediate and long-term relief. In fact, a 2019 Scientific Reports study by Professor Sarah Stith found that “only higher THC levels were independently associated with greater symptom relief [whereas] CBD potency levels were generally not associated with significant symptom changes.” Despite the massive attention that CBD has been given for its medicinal attributes, this recent study makes the claim that THC is more important than CBD when it comes to symptom relief. Stith’s findings provide valuable insight into why patients seem drawn to high-THC concentrates.
The Drawbacks to Cannabis Concentrates
Cavazos-Regh’s study enumerated the negative effects of concentrates as identified by frequent concentrate consumers. The following were the most common reasons patients did not like concentrates. Some patients found that concentrates were:
- too chemically processed
- inaccessible or too difficult to make
- increase tolerance too much
- lack sufficient research supporting their use
- lack sufficient research exploring their long-term health effects
Patients also expressed discontentment with the side effects of concentrates. The most commonly reported adverse reactions to concentrates included confusion, heart palpitations, lung pain, and severe paranoia.
Another potential drawback to the frequent use of concentrates is its association with cannabis use disorder. A 2018 Addictive Behavior Resorts study by Professor Cinnamon Bidwell found that “concentrate users endorsed higher symptoms of cannabis use disorder and use higher strength cannabis even when using non-concentrated forms.” Bidwell concluded that the “frequent use of concentrates may be associated with additional risks over and above frequent use of flower forms.”
While Stith’s study made the remarkable conclusion that THC plays a more important role in the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis than CBD, she also found that concentrates were less likely to produce positive effects and that higher concentrations of THC were associated with negative side effects. Her study determined that cannabis flower, not concentrates, was “generally associated with greater symptom relief than other types of products.”
The frustrating reality is that the market has zoomed past the science, and that may or may not be a dangerous debacle. The popularity of concentrates has exploded over the past few years which means that an increasing number of people are consuming much higher concentrations of THC than researchers have yet to determine is safe. This is not the fault of inept researchers. Rather, it is yet another consequence of prohibition. It is exceedingly difficult for researchers located in the United States to legally access concentrates for their research since these products are federally prohibited. Until the long-term effects of cannabis concentrates are better understood, consumers should proceed with caution.