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Strong Medicine 

Concentrated cannabis — hash, kief, and oil — has special purposes.

Wednesday, Dec 15 2010

Six months on, and they're still talking about it. Before HopeNet was San Francisco's longest continuously operating dispensary, the South of Market mainstay earned a reputation among medical cannabis patients — but in a good way. This character trait was on display at High Times' San Francisco Cannabis Cup in June, when HopeNet was kindly asked by the New York–based event sponsors to cease and desist.

So what happened? HopeNet had a hash bar, use of which was available free to any event attendee. The hash was too much for some unexperienced patients, who became overmedicated after a few hits.

Concentrates pack a punch because they're composed entirely of the active ingredients in cannabis: the resinous glands at the tip of a bud known as trichomes. Trichomes have stalks as well gooey heads, both of which are best visible under magnification. Whether or not you see them, the trichomes host hundreds of active cannabinoids, including psychoactive THC, muscle-relaxing CBD, and the myriad others that scientists are still studying. A hit taken of a concentrate is bereft of the plant material, sort of like the difference between taking a shot of whiskey and a big gulp of Everclear.

Concentrates do have medical value. "Seriously ill patients use concentrates for reduced chronic pain, nausea, and vomiting while experiencing a general euphoria," says Kevin Reed of the Green Cross, who estimates that one-quarter of his customers regularly use concentrates. People with debilitating pain need larger doses in order to sleep, so for them, an intense, immediate hit of hash is what they need to stop hurting and grab a few hours of sleep before the pain wakes them up again. A cannabis user accustomed to the effects of buds builds up a tolerance over time. Thirty years of joint smoking means something stronger is needed to get the same effect.

That said, concentrates are strong stuff. "They can be very intense, and it's easy to go too far," says HopeNet's Steve Smith, who notes that while no one has died or experienced any long-term ill effects from hash-smoking, "you can become very uncomfortably high." That's why it's good to know what you're getting into, and why.

The Rolling Paper is happy to present this quick guide to concentrate basics. Concentrates come in a plethora of colors, forms, shapes, and sizes, but all fall into one of three basic categories: kief, hash, or oil.

What it is: The dust at the bottom of a bag of pot, or the fine powder that just fell out of that loosely rolled joint. Kief is the trichome stalks, broken off the plant and collected into what looks like dust or sand to most people. It can be collected from the bottom of a trimmer's tray, or buds can be filtered through a silk screen. Remember the form of a trichome? Kief is roughly 75 percent head, 25 percent stalk, HopeNet's Smith says.

Examples: Sour Diesel Kief at Ketama ($30 a gram), Super Gu Kief at Green Cross ($25 a gram).

What it is: Simply put, hash can be processed or crushed kief. Cultivators can also turn a bag of trim or sweet leaf into hash by separating the plant material from the good stuff using some kind of solvent, be it cold water or CO2. Whichever way you hash it, because plant material is soluble in water, the process removes more material than kiefing, meaning you can get even more resinous trichome heads than stalks in your finished product.

Examples: Ganesh Wafer hash at SPARC ($25 a gram), Purple Something (ask for pricing) at HopeNet .

What it is: The finest of the fine. Oil is psychoactive cannabis and nothing but — no plant matter or carbon-based material other than resinous, THC-laden trichome tips. In the old days, chemical processing using a solvent like butane was needed to make oil — but using a solvent carries an automatic federal prison term under the Controlled Substances Act. So the pure oil is extracted using a water-based process, which is time-consuming and costly. "We're researching ways to extract the oils using supercritical CO2, steam, and vacuum distillation," Reed says. The finest, purest concentrates, like Earwax and Amber Glass, are forms of oil. A little goes a long way.

Examples: Frosty Oil at Green Cross ($50 a gram), Honey Oil at SPARC (ask for pricing and availability), Earwax at Green Door ($40 a gram).


What it is: A normal-looking fattie, but rolled using a paper covered in hash oil, spread evenly over the paper before rolling.

What it does: An immediate, powerful high for novices that delivers a concentrated hash dose in joint form, with flavor and taste from the flowers used.

Where to find it: HopeNet, $50 each (and well worth it).

What it is: The mother of all tokes, a mendo (for Mendocino County) cigar is a joint rolled not using papers, but pressed kief. What, you say? Yes: instead of rolling papers, an eighth of an ounce of kief is rolled into a cigar paper of sorts.

What it does: Do you need to ask?

Where to find it: Good luck — you're on your own.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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