Cannabis Concentrates vs Extracts vs Separations

The terms “extract” and “concentrate” are sometimes used interchangeably in cannabis circles, even among extractors who produce them for a living. They’re not the same thing, though.

The main difference between a cannabis extract and a cannabis concentrate is the level of refinement: an extract has typically undergone a moderate level of refinement to isolate the cannabinoids and terpenes whereas a concentrate has undergone a high level of refinement and post-processing.

To confuse matters more, these aren’t the only two distinctions between concentrated cannabis products. Rather than focusing on just concentrates and extracts, we should really be talking about extracts vs concentrates vs separations, as the differences can have some profound implications.

Cannabis Concentrates

The term “cannabis concentrate” generally refers to the final product of the extraction and separation process: a highly potent form of cannabis that contains a higher concentration of the desired compounds than the flower itself. This can come in various forms such as oil, wax, shatter, etc. and—depending on the extraction method used—the final product can have different consistencies, colors, and flavors.

Additionally, the term “concentrate” can be used more broadly to refer to any product that has a higher concentration of the desired compounds than the flower itself, regardless of whether it was made through extraction or mechanical separation.

Cannabis Extracts

Extraction refers to the process of removing the desired compounds from the plant material using a solvent or mechanical method. This can include methods such as ethanol or carbon dioxide extraction, as well as mechanical methods like ice water or rosin pressing. The result of this process is an extracted mixture that contains a variety of compounds, including the desired ones.

In some cases, an extract may refer to a pre-refined concentrate that’s set to undergo additional refinement, like butane hash oil that has yet to be winterized. It already has the concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes, but it’s not quite ready for dispensary shelves.

Some people also use the term “extract” to refer to the final product of the extraction process, regardless of the product type. This is why you sometimes hear the terms “concentrate” and “extract” used interchangeably.

Cannabis Separation

“Separation” is short for “mechanical separation,” which is a big topic in the growing solventless market because it describes the action of detaching trichomes—e.g. from leaves/buds as opposed to dissolving them in a solvent. So you are physically separating the parts of the plant that contain the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other commercially viable compounds. In the context of cannabis, this can refer to methods such as chromatography or mechanical separation techniques like dry sifting or kief collection, which are used to isolate the trichomes (which contain the desired compounds) from the cannabis plant material.

Kief, also known as dry sift or pollen, is the powdery substance that collects at the bottom of a grinder or trim bin and is made up of trichomes that have been separated from the plant material. No solvents are required for dry sift extraction; it’s entirely a mechanical separation process. The result is a product that is slightly less potent than concentrates but still contains a higher concentration of the desired compounds than the flower itself. For a bit of context, dry sift usually falls in the 40-60% THC range, whereas many concentrates can hit 70-80% THC—powerfully potent either way, but a notable difference.

Ice water hash is also regarded as a separation because it consists of trichomes that have been separated from the plant and dried, whereas rosin is a concentrate since it has been further refined from those trichomes.

Understanding the Terminology

Understandably, the terminology can get confusing due to the amount of nuance and overlap. Rosin, for instance, may be classified as an extract prior to cold-curing and as a concentrate after the post-processing is complete. A batch of full-melt bubble hash for sale could be classified as both a separation (referring to how the trichomes were extracted) and a concentrate (referring to the final state of the product).

To confuse matters more, not everyone uses the terminology exactly the same way. Visit your local dispensary’s website, and you might find the wax and shatter listed on an “Extracts” page (even though they’re technically concentrates).

Here’s a chart to simplify things a bit:


Separation  Extract Concentrate 
Trichomes have been physically detached from the plant using agitation, gravity, filtration, cold temperatures, liquid CO2 (dry ice), etc… Trichomes have been isolated via liquid solvent extraction or heat & pressure—some post-processing is still needed. Trichomes have been isolated via liquid solvent extraction or heat & pressure, and the final product has been refined.
E.g. bubble hash, dry sift E.g. unrefined rosin and butane hash oil E.g. commercial-grade rosin, wax, budder, sauce, shatter, Rick Simpson Oil, etc…

To break it down even more, let’s say that you’re trying to produce a commercial-grade hash rosin.

  • First, you would transform flower into bubble hash (a mechanical separation)
  • Then you would further refine your hash into rosin (an extract)
  • Then you would cold-cure your rosin and package it for sale (a concentrate)

Again, there are nuances that go along with this, but you get the basic idea.

Marijuana Concentrates vs Extracts vs Separations – Why It Matters

Although the distinctions might seem trivial, it’s still important to at least understand the differences, as they can sometimes have legal implications. In California, for example, it’s a felony to conduct any sort of chemical extraction without a commercial license, but mechanical separation is allowed so long as you remain in accordance with all other applicable laws (like possession limits). But if you promote your separations as extractions, you could land in legal hot water. And thus, when in California, dry sifting with liquid co2 (dry-ice) is commonly referred to as just a separation.

As an example, you’ll commonly hear us use the term “separation” in relation to the Resinator OG and Resinator XL. Because the Original Resinator uses liquid CO2 as a freezing agent (and not high pressure or as a solvent), it isn’t subject to the same types of regulations that define the larger cannabis extraction process. It’s a much quicker, easier, and more affordable way to isolate trichomes via mechanical separation—and with far fewer legal headaches.

So when you’re considering the differences between marijuana extracts vs concentrates, remember that separations are also an important part of the conversation—and an important part of the process. Before you go, make sure to take a peek at our Micron Chart to get some ideas about what you can do with your refined cannabis oil or extracts.

TJ Arnovick

Cannabis extraction expert and founder.