When you walk into a marijuana dispensary these days, you're likely to see a lot more than just premium bud, pre-rolled joints and weed-infused candy. Ultra-potent concentrates made from cannabis, once the cutting edge in stoner tech, have gone mainstream — now they're everywhere.
These concentrates vary widely in color, consistency and character depending on the method of extraction used to make them. For now we'll focus on a popular and easily recognized one: wax.
What marijuana wax looks like
As with the stuff you dig out of your ear, marijuana wax is a sort of orangey-yellow and, well, waxy. Some of it is on the dry side — soft, clumped together, porous — and this stuff is colloquially known as "crumble" or "honeycomb." The runnier, more oily kind of wax, meanwhile, is often called "budder." When it's especially flat and glassy, some might call it "shatter."
As you can see, wax comes in a few different guises — but at the end of the day, it's all the same type of extract.
How marijuana wax is made
When a dispensary budtender talks about "concentrates," they usually mean hash oil concentrates: a range of products that, by and large, are created through a process called butane extraction — which is why such substances are also known as butane hash oil, or BHO. While it's possible to make wax out of your weed with, say, a hair straightener, most industrial wax production relies on the butane method.
In this extraction technique, marijuana plant matter is placed in an elongated tube, where it mixes with pressurized liquid butane. The butane acts as a solvent, separating the bud from its THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound responsible for your marijuana high. The butane/concentrate mixture is then collected and subjected to intense heat and vacuum pressure so that the remaining butane boils off and evaporates, leaving behind only the sticky amber-gold wax.
Not exactly something we'd recommend trying at home, but pretty darn cool when you see the professionals doing it:
Why do people turn marijuana into wax?
If the weed experts, entrepreneurs and culture at large ever seem obsessed with a particular marijuana product, it's usually for a single reason, and this particular fad is no exception: wax is really strong. Which also explains why it's so pricey: One Sacramento dispensary, for example, charges anywhere from $25 to $40 per gram, depending on quality.
The most potent pot on the planet weighs in at over 30% THC, with most top-shelf bud at your neighborhood dispensary falling somewhere closer to 25%. Wax, by comparison, can clock in at 60% to 90% THC — eye-popping numbers even for the most jaded wake-and-bake warrior. That also means it's definitely not for novices. If a hit or two of regular weed gets you high, a heavy dose of wax can flatten you.
While other forms of marijuana consumption can get you uncomfortably (if not dangerously) stoned, reports of people overdosing on wax — and going to the hospital with complaints of hallucinations or feelings of impending death — are not entirely uncommon. Use with caution!
How to use marijuana wax
Let's say, after learning about wax is, how it's made and exactly what it can do to a person, that you're ready to try it. First, we recommend you for your bravery. Secondly, how the heck do you smoke it?
Welcome to the world of dabbing. Yes, it's more than a dance craze ruined by politicians: "Dabbing" is also how people do wax, so termed because when it comes to these concentrates, just a little dab'll do ya.
There are two main ways to dab. There's the dab rig, which looks a lot like a traditional bong. But you're not setting anything on fire. Instead, you use a handheld torch to raise the temperature of a special heating element until it's glowing red. After letting it cool for a few moments, you drop a dab of your wax onto the hot surface with a nail or similar tool, sucking the vapor through your water pipe.
Of course, it wouldn't be 2017 if we didn't have some more discreet and dabbing options — namely, portable vaporizers. There are all kinds of wax-compatible vapes on the market, but a new one worth checking out would be the sleek ELITE from Kandypens, which is drawing rave reviews this year. For $139.95, you get a full concentrate-vaping kit featuring two different choices of heating chambers — one ceramic, the other quartz crystal with titanium coils. And because both of these atomizers are fully sealed, you can use anything from waxy crumble to oily budder in them.
Should you prefer more versatility in your vaping experience, never fear. The PAX 3 — the latest iteration of the ever-popular PAX vaporizers, available for $274.99 — can handle either wax or herb. Switch out the regular oven lid for the heating chamber with their concentrate insert and you're good to go. You can even sync the device to an app to control your exact temperature (you'll want it on the highest setting for wax) and toggle between other settings depending on the flavor and vapor experience you want.
Actually, there's one last way to do wax — by adding it to your joints. Some of the strongest pre-rolled joints out there include bits and pieces of wax or shatter to give you that extra pop. You may not get as stoned as you do off a dab rig, but for the truly lazy pothead, it's a delight. And if you haven't smoked away your work ethic, you can roll your own, too:
So there you have it: An increasingly popular, super-potent marijuana extract that's dangerous to make and can be somewhat complicated to consume. But no matter the risk, you can bet people are chasing its rewards.