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Can You Judge a Concentrate by Its Color?

September 8, 2017 @ 9:06AM

We’re all guilty of this: in a situation where we have to decide between two concentrates at a recreational pot shop, if the price point and potency are basically equal, we often opt for the lighter, prettier-looking oil.

Seasoned connoisseurs like ourselves tend to overlook or entirely dismiss cannabis concentrates (shatter, wax, pull-and-snap, etc) that are darker in color; The reason we do this is because we’ve heard anecdotally that lighter colors are representative of greater potency, but if that’s true, why are there still dark colored concentrates testing higher in cannabinoids and terpenes than some of the lighter oils out there? Perhaps a less-than-scrupulous cannabis testing lab could be to blame, but the greater question is really whether or not there’s any scientific validity to the common belief that light colored extracts are genuinely “better” than darker colored ones.

Full disclosure: I'm not a scientist, just a mere budtender/ dabber/ marketing dude in search of the truth. While I don’t have any sort of firsthand extraction experience or chemistry knowledge to draw upon, I’d like to start by saying that extractors & scientists are usually the first to say that color, consistency, and opacity are all unreliable as indicators of overall quality when it comes to cannabis concentrates.

There are several reasons why a marijuana concentrate can turn out darker in color, and in some cases, that darker color may actually be due to favorable causes. The input material is a major factor for determining the color of the end product: “live resin” or “nug run” extracts made from fresh cannabis flowers are more likely to turn out a light golden color, however, if the trichomes on the plant are especially mature (developed), they go from being transparent to more of an amber color, so even a bud run extract can turn out brownish (and in this case, it’s actually due to the marijuana being higher quality).

At this point in the article some regular dabbers may be thinking, “I know color isn’t everything; transparency is what matters.” Unfortunately opacity, in addition to color, is another criterion for quality that may not be as accurate as previously believed. A clearer concentrate does not actually mean it’s higher quality than an opaque wax; What makes an extract “good,” according to Udoxi Scientific (An Oregon-based extraction laboratory), is the level of cleanliess. Outside of effect and flavor, any contaminants like pesticides and residual solvents will only be concentrated in the extraction process and need to be properly purged before they’re consumed.

Shedding some light on the myth that translucent concentrates are more pure than opaque ones, Ryan Abernathy of X-tracted Laboratories (aka Refine Seattle), told Leafly that his partners at Steep Hill Labs “have done over 10,000 tests, and when [they] test these concentrates, it’s more likely that clear shatter is going to have higher parts-per-million residual solvents (PPM).” To phrase that differently, it appears that translucent oil— particularly shatter—often contains a higher concentration of residual solvents (butane) than other extracts. This is not to say that clear shatter with 0 residual solvents doesn’t exist, just that clear shatter is statistically more likely to have higher PPM than other concentrates, and therefore less “pure” than other options.

Quality BHO and CO2 can range in color from dark amber to a light golden color. If a concentrate looks dark, it may be due to a number of reasons:

  • the material used may be older, or was in storage for a while
  • the trichomes in the weed may have been more mature (better developed)
  • the extract underwent a [proper &] thorough purging process
  • excessive heat was introduced during the purging process
  • the purged extract was left to dry for a little too long

As we’re on the same page now, there are two colors that you actually DO want to avoid when shopping for extracts: black, and green. Concentrates that are black in color likely haven’t been refined enough to be ideal for dabbing or smoking (they’re better suited to ingestion rather than inhalation), and the presence of a greenish color means that chlorophyll was extracted into the oil. Should you encounter wax or shatter that looks black, hold it up to the light and see if it shines through. If you see a translucent (albeit very dark) shade of amber in the light, go ahead and dab it up! If it’s solid black, take a pass.

In conclusion, color is not a reliable indicator of an extract’s overall quality, nor is transparency or consistency; Unless the oil is completely black or contains shades of green, the only way to determine the quality of a concentrate in a qualitative way is to ask our budtenders about who grew the cannabis, what pesticides were used in the grow (if any), what solvents were used in the extraction (if any), and if the budtender has tried the concentrate personally.




Article by Ramsey Doudar; an in-house marketing and social media strategist at Herbn Elements. Ramsey's perspective is influenced by 1.5 years of budtending, 5 years as a cannabis industry marketing professional, and 10+ years of being a super picky medical patient.