Medical cannabis and extracts


Extracts are highly concentrated forms of cannabis. They are one of three new products arriving this December for consumer purchase, with the other two products being edibles and topicals. This article will explain what extracts are and how to consume them.

Medical cannabis can be consumed in the form of cannabis extracts.

An example of a cannabis extract

What are Cannabis Extracts?

In short, cannabis extracts are a highly concentrated and extremely potent form of cannabis. So how are extracts made? A chemical extraction process involving solvents is used to distill raw cannabis plant matter into its most pure extracted form. Specifically, Ethanol and CO2 extraction methods help retain the full spectrum of cannabinoids.

The result is an oil-like, amber-coloured substance, as pictured on the right. This process also ensures that vital cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are perfectly preserved.

The most notable characteristic of cannabis extracts is their potency. Extracts can contain anywhere from 50 to 90 percent THC. By comparison, dried flower includes 10% to 30% THC.

Cannabis extracts come in many forms, such as concentrates, distillates, shatter, wax, budder, and butane honey oil. For medical cannabis retail purposes, expect extracts to arrive in the form of small, convenient cartridges that are designed to fit with a pre-packaged vaporizing device, such as a vape pen.

What is “Dabbing”?

Cannabis extracts aren’t legal until mid-December, but that hasn’t stopped the black market from capitalizing on the popularity of unregulated extracts and the phenomenon of “dabbing.” Dabbing involves placing a small, sticky portion of the extract on a specialized dabbing rig and then heating it with a portable handheld blow torch.

Dabbing is considered a predominantly recreational cannabis activity. It is strongly recommended that medical cannabis patients do not attempt dabbing. This consumption method can be potentially dangerous as well as produce a considerably stronger effect that can likely result in unwanted reactions, such as confusion, anxiety, and panic.

As far as patients making their extracts – this is not recommended. The process of synthesizing extracts is dangerous and volatile and should only be carried out by industry professionals. Also, medical cannabis patients should not make any modifications to their vaporizers.

Patients should always procure their cannabis extracts from licensed producers and legal outlets. Extracts are made by using chemical solvents like butane that need strict regulatory oversight to ensure that the end products are not contaminated.

The Difference between Extracts and Cannabis Oil

Patients should know that there is a big difference between cannabis extracts and cannabis oil. Cannabis oils arrived during the first wave of recreational legalization along with products like dried flower and oral sprays. Extracts are part of the second wave of legalization that includes new products like topicals and edibles. Chemically disparate from oils, extracts are specifically designed to be consumed through vaporizers that are capable of generating the high heat temperatures required to vaporize extracts.

In summation, oils are strictly meant for oral ingestion and should never be vaporized. Cannabis extracts are only meant to be consumed through specific vaporizing devices.

What are the Benefits of Cannabis Extracts?

The value behind cannabis extracts is that they deliver purity and accurate dosing with a very rapid onset. Here’s a summary of the benefits of cannabis extracts.

  • Very rapid onset of effects
  • Less product needs to be consumed
  • Extracts deliver dosing that is consistently uniform and accurate
  • Vital cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN are well-preserved
  • Popular ways of consumption of extracts are done using a vaporizing pen. This is a very discrete and convenient process that makes consumption for medical cannabis patients very easy

How to Consume Cannabis Extracts

When cannabis extracts arrive on Canadian retail shelves, they will be paired up with specialized vaporizer pens and other offerings. There are several extract vaporizers readily available at varying price points.

If using a vaporizer pen, patients activate it by pressing down on the button, waiting a moment and then gently inhaling from the pen tip.

The act of vaporizing is much healthier than smoking since it does not involve using direct heat to release cannabinoids as well as harmful carcinogens. Instead, vaporizing uses indirect heat to release cannabinoids into a vapour that is then inhaled.

It’s always recommended to start low and go slow. When consuming extracts, the onset of effects is rapid, taking seconds to a few minutes to register. It is because of this reason that extracts are favoured by patients seeking relief for chronic pain issues and nausea.

Health Canada Regulations for Cannabis Extracts

In the lead-up to extracts going on sale in mid-December, Health Canada has outlined and finalized important criteria that govern THC amounts. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Cannabis extracts for inhaling having a maximum of 1000 mg of THC per package
  • For indigestible cannabis extracts, they are permitted to contain 10 mg of THC per unit and 1000mg of THC per package
  • The maximum package size is 90 mL for liquid extracts under 3 percent THC and 7.5 g for extracts over 3 percent THC. The packaging must also include a dispensing device if it is in liquid form.
  • Cannabis extracts for inhaling are also restricted to 1,000 mg of THC per package and are limited to 90 mL packages if under 3 percent THC and 7.5 g packaging if over 3 percent THC.