Processing Medical Cannabis
The medically valuable cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, and the accompanying terpenoids such as Myrcene and Linalool are found in the resinous crystals of the cannabis buds and leaves. These crystals are called trichomes.
When preparing medical cannabis, the goal is to preserve these trichomes in as intact a shape as possible and not to break or knock them off of the bud of the plant.
Freshly Cut Raw Flower
The raw cannabis plant’s flowers, leaves, and stems may actually be picked fresh off the plant and consumed. The flowers contain the highest concentration of trichomes.
This means you can eat the plant (add it to a salad, for example, or juice the raw plant with berries and fruit) to receive certain medical effects. When consuming the plant in the raw form, psychoactivity is greatly reduced. Even with the reduced psychoactivity, you will still be receiving the therapeutic effects from the raw cannabinoids and terpenoids. For example, THCA, the raw form of THC, possesses anti-cancerous, anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmotic properties. Watch this Documentary on Juicing Cannabis for more information.
Most people are familiar with the dried and cured buds of the cannabis plant. Medical grade cannabis that is lab tested can be used for treating a number of debilitating ailments. In addition, the cannabis should be screened for harmful chemicals, nutrients, plant growth regulators (PGRs), or carcinogenic radioactive sprays and that there are no bugs, fungus, or bacterial infestations affecting the plant.
Medical grade cannabis flowers are also given a proper flush throughout the growth cycle to ensure that the flowers are free from nutrients and chemicals that may make for a “harsh smoke.” Additionally, they are properly cured to ensure that any chlorophyll or other plant chemicals break down properly so that the flavor is pleasing.
Typically, the best medical cannabis has a good collection of trichomes, smokes cleanly, has good flavor, and provides significant medical benefit - easing pain, helping with sleep, increasing appetite, reducing inflammation, enhancing one’s mood during depression, and so on.
Cold Extracted Cannabis
There are various methods of extracting the trichomes without heat so that the cannabinoids and terpenoids remain in their raw, acidic forms. THCA and CBDA, for example, are collected and suspended without decarboxylation.
- Kief: This is plant matter and trichomes that fall off of the raw plant. It is a loose collection of cannabinoids and terpenoids that may be smoked, cooked, or ingested raw. A common example of where to get Kief is at the bottom of a grinder that has seen extensive use.
- Slurry: This is a cold extraction of cannabis using olive oil or alcohol. It is usually ingested raw. It involves steeping and soaking raw cannabis flowers and or hashish in either alcohol (most common) or olive oil. It differs from a tincture in that its consistency is semi-liquid, and it contains some of the granular plant material.
- Hash (Hashish): The word Hashish comes from the Arabic word meaning grass. Extraction usually involves cold water and ice. Hash has evolved over the years, and today, another type of hash, Bubble Hash, is made using an extraction process that involves water, ice, and micron specific bags for filtering and extracting the trichomes contained in the flower. The result is a set of micron and grade specific hash that is often cleaner and more potent than Kief. When cured and dried properly, the resulting product is a beautiful powdery collection of trichomes. Hash and Bubble Hash are typically smoked or vaporized, but also may be eaten. This can be in either the raw or cooked (decarboxylated) form.
- There four types of Bubble Hash (in order of increasing purity):
- a. Bubble - this type initially bubbles when exposed to heat.
- b. Full Bubble - this type continues to bubble throughout the heating process.
- c. Melt - this type turns into a gooey oil when exposed to heat.
- d. Full Melt - this is a collection of almost pure trichomes that fully melts when exposed to heat leaving very little to no residue.
Essential Oils are typically consumed by using a Vaporizor, but they may also be utilized in making cannabis edibles.
- There are several types of Essential Oils:
- a. Crumble/Honeycomb - the consistency is dry, loose, and easily crumbles into smaller pieces. Larger samples often have small holes in them and resemble a “honeycomb.”
- b. Budder - this is more viscous, sticky, and resembles a gooey butter.
- c. Shatter/Glass - the consistency looks similar to hard candy and cracks when handled.
- d. Sap - has a sticky texture and consistency that resembles honey or molasses.
- e. Taffy - this is slightly firmer than sap but not as brittle or as hard as shatter; it almost resembles taffy candy.
Heat Extracted Cannabis
- Edible: Cannabis can be infused into virtually any food or drink. Usually the cannabis (flower, hash, or essential oil) is dissolved by heating in fats, butter, or oils that can then be used in any cooking recipe.
Some edibles may be made with specific dietary needs in mind (vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc.). They may be made with specific strains with the aim of achieving specific therapeutic effects. Dosing, however, can be difficult as metabolizing the cannabis takes longer and goes via the liver.
- Oil: Slow heating cannabis into oil. Products like Full-Extract Oils or RSO (Rick Simpson’s Oil), are made using alcohol to extract the cannabinoids and terpenoids. The alcohol is then cooked off, leaving a thick oil. Other methods of making cannabis oil involve slow cooking the medicine into olive or coconut oil.
- Tea: The practice of steeping leaves from various plants, including cannabis, into hot water and then drinking it has been around for thousands of years. This has been done in multiple cultures, and the simplicity of making tea out of cannabis leaves and or flower can be a relaxing, soothing, and therapeutic experience. It is harder to dose the amount of cannabinoids and terpenoids being consumed, but adding milk or cream can increase the amount being dissolved into the liquid.
- Tincture: These are a liquid suspension of cannabinoids and terpenoids, typically in alcohol or glycerine. Before cannabis prohibition, tinctures were the most common way of consuming cannabis as medicine. Sometimes other medical herbs and botanicals are added to the tincture, making for a medicine with a wide range of effects.
- Topical: These are creams, lotions, salves, and patches that are useful for many skin, muscle and joint ailments such as general aches and pain, inflammation, psoriasis, arthritis, and even skin cancer.
Creating topicals is a simple process - the cannabis (flower, hash, essential oil) is heated at a low temperature into an emulsifier such as beeswax or coconut oil. Other herbal remedies may also be mixed in during the process, making for countless possible products!
- Suppository: Although not available everywhere, cannabis suppositories can be a helpful means of administrating cannabis when smoking, vaporizing, or oral digestion is not possible. Absorption is quick and bypasses liver metabolism. Suppositories are usually made with cocoa butter.