Hash or hashish, from the Arabic word for “grass,” is one of the oldest known cannabis concentrates and likely predates any written documentation of its use, dating back to at least 900 AD.
Today, dry sift hash and bubble hash are two increasingly popular concentrates that are highly regarded for their versatility by producers and their cost-effective potency by consumers. Hash is produced for many different uses, including vaporizing and smoking or as a way to infuse cooking ingredients or foods such as cannabutter and other edible products.
Dry sift hash is made through mechanical movements. Producers use specialized micron screens designed to sort and break off the glandular trichome heads that produce and store the cannabis plant’s active compounds. The resulting product is a fine powder that is rich in desirable compounds and ready to turn into hash through the careful application of heat and pressure.
Dry sift hash is a truly solventless concentrate since no solvents are used at any point throughout the production process. This is not the case with other concentrates you may see advertised as “solvent-free” which often have some amount of residual solvents leftover from the extraction process.
Bubble or ice water hash became more popular in the late-90s thanks to advancements in equipment that helped innovators learn how to make hash a different way.
This method combines gentle agitation with dry ice at a temperature of roughly -109 Fahrenheit. The combination of subzero temperatures and friction work to carefully break off the trichome heads which are then sifted through screens to filter the plant material from the active compounds. When performed by hand, it can be a labor-intensive process that borders on an art form, as you must be able to collect the desirable compounds without too much undesirable plant material slipping through.
Any excess plant material that makes its way through the screens will often impart a green color with bubble hash indicating less potency, as opposed to the more golden-amber hue found in dry sift hash. However, advancements in extraction machinery over the last few decades have made it much easier to produce bubble hash efficiently with maximum potency.
Trichomes Are Your Friend
Trichomes are very small, mushroom-shaped outgrowths or appendages that cover the surface of female cannabis plants during their blooming stage — they can also be found on other plant species throughout nature. They are the most desirable portion of the cannabis plant, largely responsible for the smell, flavor, and effects that differentiate strains in terms of type and quality.
While most people consider a cannabis cultivator someone who grows cannabis plants, what the best cultivators are really doing is carefully developing their trichomes. In fact, many growers inspect their plants with a handheld microscope to see the color and translucency of the plant’s trichome heads as one of the key indicators to know when to harvest marijuana crops. That’s because it’s these hair-like glandular trichomes that contain the desirable array of more than 400 chemical compounds that give the cannabis plant its psychoactive and therapeutic properties.
There are three different types of glandular trichomes: bulbous, capitate sessile, and capitate-stalked. In nature, the aromatic and psychoactive compounds produced by these three trichome types act as a defense mechanism to deter pests from consuming the plant. They differ in size which is important to know for processing, which is accomplished through a variety of micron screens.
The smallest bulbous variety is 10 to 15 micrometers in width and can be found on the entire surface of the cannabis plant. The slightly larger and more dense capitate sessile trichomes feature both a head and a stalk and are usually around 25 micrometers in width.
At 50 to 100 micrometers wide, the significantly larger capitate-stalked variety can be seen with the human eye. Capitate-stalked trichomes feature a stalk, basal cell, and a large gland head where cannabinoid and terpene synthesis occur. The head is coated in a waxy outer cuticle layer that acts as a protective skin.
As the female cannabis plant matures, the trichomes change color from relatively clear to a milky amber hue. However, plants with deep purple coloring on their buds and leaves may also produce trichomes with similar colors.
The capitate-stalked trichomes have the highest concentration of resin and are therefore the most desirable for extraction. At every stage of the cannabis growing and manufacturing process, great care is taken to develop and preserve this delicate part of the plant.
Pictured: Micro shot of trichomes extracted with the Alchemist 215 Trichome Extractor
Turn Trichomes Into Profits with Bi-products
Trichomes are easily damaged through the improper application of solvents, heat, light, air, and physical agitation. The great care and expense that goes into cultivating high-quality cannabis with trichomes must be observed throughout the entire production process to ensure there’s no significant loss of valuable chemical compounds during the final stages of processing.
Whether your final product is dry sift hash, kief, infused joints, cannabutter, edibles, e-liquids, or rosin, any effort that goes toward mitigating damage during the production process greatly increases yields and profits at the same time. This is where precise machines and carefully executed automation are playing a significant role in helping manufacturers capture as much value as possible from a high-quality harvest.
Limiting the potentially damaging contact through a solventless automation process is one of the easiest, most fool-proof ways to preserve these delicate and desirable compounds once they’ve left the farm. Manufacturers interested in turning their trichomes into valuable end products and bi-products should look to purpose-built industrial trichome extractors to help ensure they’re keeping as much of their trichome harvest as possible.
These solvent-free extracting machines can fit up to 10 pounds of trim with a yield of 15% to 25% by weight. They work as stand-alone units or with the optional addition of pulverized dry ice, sifting through 180-micron screens with other size available options to maximize the yield and produce the highest quality products possible — turning trim into gold as the saying goes.
These modern trichome extractors are easy to operate with minimal training, greatly reducing the chance of human error damaging anything throughout the process or costly overhead to run a large-scale processing plant.
The best machines available today are made by hand from food-grade stainless steel to greatly reduce the chance of introducing microbial growth to the final product. They also help reduce processing time, meaning manufacturers don’t have to let their products sit on the processing floor to dry out before they can be consumed or safely packaged and shipped for retail distribution.
With minimal human contact and a consistent application of movement through the screens, the right extractor can ensure that high-quality plant material can always be transformed into a profitable product.