What is hash and how do I make it?
This article is intended to be a resource for those new to hash making, and is a general survey of the techniques that can be used.
What is hash?
The drug produced by the cannabis plant is principally contained in multi-cellular structures on the surfaces of the leaves and flower parts called stalked capitate trichomes, or multicellular glandular hairs. These structures are shaped like water towers or mushrooms, a ball on top off a stalk. Light glistening off the surface of these translucent structures is what causes the "frosted" appearance of plant parts populated with such glands. The ball structure, or gland head, consists of a number of radially arranged cells which secrete cannabinoid containing oils. The oils collect beneath a waxy cuticle, which occasionally bursts, releasing the oil to form a sticky resin as it dries. This resin may make up the cuticle or the cuticle may be some other substance, the truth is apparently not known. The gland head structure contains the highest concentration of the drug THC, followed by the stalks. The tissues of the plant supposedly contain a small amount of cannabinoids, but it is minimal in my experience, or at least there is little THC content.
The stalked capitate glands are not the only surface structure on cannabis plants. Multicellular sessile or bulbous glands hug the surfaces of some leaves, and are said to contain cannabinoids. In my experience they contribute little to the drug content of the plant. Some authors apparently believe these structures to be juvenile or stunted stalked trichomes. Cystolith hairs are blunt, pointed objects which contain calcium carbonate crystals. They look like faceted traffic cones, and do not have a ball on top. Finally, the plant also produces unicellular hairs, which indeed do look like small hairs. Cystolith glands and unicellular hairs do not produce drug chemicals.
Cannabinoids are chemicals apparently unique to cannabis, consisting of THC, CBN and CBD, and a set of relatives with similar effects, THCV, CBV and CBDV. Many plants contain both sets of chemicals, and in common practice only the first set of abbreviations are used. THC is responsible for the "high" the plant produces, and there are several different versions of THC from different plants. CBN is said to increase the THC effect slightly, and CBD actually blocks the THC effect. CBD can be converted into THC by treating extracted oil with sulfuric acid, a step in the oil trade called "isomerization".
Hash is made by knocking the trichomes off the surface of the plant, by mechanical action typically, and by pressing the glands together into a ball or cake. Depending on the method used, the hash may consist of gland heads and stalks and various contaminants, such as the elements mentioned above, and small bits and pieces of plant tissue. Hash made purely from gland heads is very strong and compresses to a hard plastic-like lump with hand pressure. Hash with a lot of contaminants may require heat and pressure to compact.
The effect of smoking hash can differ from the parent plant, as the heads of the stalked glands may contain more THC in comparison to the side chemicals than the stalks and the tissues of the plant. Hash made only from the heads of the stalked glands is very potent, and can create an uplifting high similar to a vaporizer hit, though deeper and more persistent. As more stalks are added to the hash, the character of the high changes in various ways, though typically good hash has a strong initial rush and a mild, soft letdown. I have found that the varietal character of the parent plants is diminished in hash. The cystolith and hair trichomes add nothing to the high, but may add to the flavor. Essential oils are distributed throughout the plant, making up about 10% of the stalked glands by weight. The essential oil content of the contaminants is apparently not known.
Methods of small scale hash production
We’ll ignore the hash making methods used in cannabis growing countries for the commercial markets and focus solely on the home grower. There are three methods in common use.
The first is flat screening, typically using a silk screen frame with fine plastic fabric. Fine steel screens are also used in flat screening. The method involves rubbing cannabis trim across the surface of the screen, the glands and other contaminants dropping through the screen to be collected on a surface like a piece of glass. A flat screen can also be used with an electric motor rigged to produce a back and forth or vibrating motion.
The second method also uses screen, but in a rotating drum, typically motorized using a rotisserie motor or the like. A rotating machine takes less skill to use, substituting time for pressure in flat screening. A drum machine can remove nearly all the glands without depositing any plant tissue. That would be very difficult with a flat screen.
Finally, the glands can also be knocked off the plant by agitating the material in ice water. The glands sink to the bottom of the mixture and can be sieved, dried and pressed together. While this method requires only a blender and a coffee filter, it seems to produce more contaminants than screening, and the output can’t be controlled as well, if at all.
Before discussing each method in more detail, let’s talk about the preparation of the raw materials.
Skuff, or "shake" or bud trim, is leaves and undersized flower parts that are trimmed off cannabis flowers or buds. Unless glands can be seen on the surface of the leaves, they should not be collected as skuff, as all they can provide to the hash is contaminants. Sometimes a leaf will have a frosted appearance, but on closer examination the structures on the leaf turn out to consist principally of hairs, common on the stalks of fan leaves. The first tool needed in making hash is a magnifying glass to observe the plant surfaces. I find that a 16x "loupe" is sufficient for this purpose. Inexpensive 30x plastic scopes can apparently be found in toy stores.
In order to be ready for smoking, the THC oil must be dried. At the same time in order to allow mechanical skuffing, the plant material must also be dried. It is not necessary that the skuff be "cured" as buds are, because the vegetable material will not be used in any way. But I have found that the skuff needs to be thoroughly dried over a long period of time, at least a month, though I prefer two. Skuff processed before that time is not as potent as it should be, and the resulting hash seems never to dry properly to gain the potency back.
I have read many times that skuffing should be done in a cold, dry atmosphere and that the skuff itself should be crispy dry. For small scale skuffing, that is not only incorrect, it is also counter-productive, as it accelerates the expression of contaminants from the skuff. I used to believe in cold and dry until oldtimer1 taught me different; try it and see for yourself. The product of the first 20 minutes of skuffing on a drum machine should only be the heads of stalked capitate glands. Skuffing done in cold, dry conditions will prematurely kick out a lot of cystolith mineral trichomes. I recommend skuffing at low room temperature, in the 60’s say, and at normal humidity, although I’ve made excellent hash in somewhat colder and hotter conditions.
The skuff should also not be physically altered. A drum machine will remove nearly all the drug potential from the plant, regardless of the shape and size of the leaf parts. With large leaf pieces, like those produced by the buds of certain strains, a mechanical aid can be introduced into the machine, like a rubber ball. The ball will gently press the leaf pieces to the screen over time. Crunching up the skuff will only serve to introduce vegetable contaminants into the hash, and will release cystolith and unicellular hairs into the first product from the skuffing, a product which should be the most pure. Be gentle with the skuff.
Flat screens can be made from commercial steel fabric, usually available by special order in printing supply shops, or from plastic silk screen fabric. Fortunately, printing supply shops sell stacks of pre-made plastic screens in wood frames for a modest price, typically $15-25, depending on the size. Because the grade of the hash from a flat screen depends on the vigor of the handling, screens with smaller holes are better, in the range of 110 lines per inch to 137 at the high end. A 125 "mesh" frame is a good compromise. The silk screen material is attached by glue to the bottom of the wood frame, leaving a well on top with the wood pieces forming the sides.
Making good hash from flat screens depends on a lot of personal involvement. The method is simple. The frame is placed over a collection surface, like a sheet of glass or a mirror. I like to attach small wooden blocks to the bottom of the screen frame so that it can be used right side up, with the flat side of the frame on the bottom. That way the skuff is held within the walls of the frame as it is skuffed. The skuff is placed in the frame and is gently pushed back and forth over the screen with a pusher, like a credit card.
Making the best grade of hash can be done by applying almost no pressure to the skuff as it is moved around on the screen. There’s no way that a flat screen can produce as much of the top product as a drum machine, since a lot of the capitate glands will not be in contact with the screen unless pushed into it. The pressure of the tumbling skuff accomplishes that in a gentle fashion in a drum machine, but extra pressure applied by hand will cause contaminants to be expressed in flat screening.
Additional pressure on the skuff is best done by tilting the plastic pusher card into the skuff as it is moved across the screen. But there is a limit to how much pressure can be applied before vegetable material starts to break off and be passed through the screen. Some vegetable material is acceptable in the lowest grades of hash, but too much pressure will produce a light green product that does not provide the expansive rush expected from hash.
It is difficult, if possible, to extract all the glands from the skuff by flat screening. I’ve found that the exhausted flat-screen skuff is still quite potent, and is welcome by smokers who remember the good old days when you could sit and smoke Mexican grass for hours on end, a social event lost in modern times due to the uniform high potency of home-grown pot.
Although flat skuffing is not as productive or as easy to control as a drum machine, it brings gland hash within the range of anyone with a few dollars and some bud trim.
A drum machine tumbles the skuff inside of a wheel with fabric attached to the rim, like a squirrel cage. The key to the drum machine is the slow speed it operates at. Time replaces the pressure of flat screening, the longer the run, the more contaminants. But proper drum screening never introduces vegetable material into the hash, as it never handles the skuff vigorously enough to crumble the leaves. A drum machine can gently strip nearly all the drug containing glands from plant material.
Drum machines can be purchased from at least one supplier in Holland who calls their product the "Pollinator". The Pollinator may be a nice machine, but the price is very high considering how simple the machine is. A home-built machine can easily be made for a few dollars by anyone with a reasonable degree of home handyman skills, which is just about a given for cannabis growers. Here’s a link to an article I wrote that describes how I built my machine, and some pictures:
Here are the plans :
- The article describes the method for using a drum machine, and I’ll extract some of that material here:
"I start with a 137 mesh screen, the tightest I use. The first pass is for about 20 minutes, and that should just knock off gland heads. That material is collected and compressed by hand, and it's really special. A small piece, like a shrew dropping, provides a wonderful head rush, like the best vaporizer hit you've ever had. You can't do it too often though, or the rush effect is reduced considerably. Twice a week is about the maximum for me. I then run the 137 screen for about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. This grade of powder consists mostly of heads and stalks, compresses easily, and is premium grade hash, with a nice lift off and a mellow high.
"Then I might run the 137 mesh again for another hour, which produces a second grade of hash, with a fair amount of contaminants, cellular hairs and mineral trichomes. This grade also compresses easily, and has a nice taste. Finally I switch wheels to the 83 grade and run it for a couple of hours, sometimes with a rubber ball in the cage to work the material, especially if the skuff consists of large pieces of leaf. This grade usually compresses with some work, but sometimes it is necessary to mix in a few drops of water and heat the powder mixture in the microwave for brief periods, a little at a time, until it can be worked. I like the utility grade, because you can smoke more than a couple of shrew droppings, and who doesn't like to smoke hash?"
Who indeed? Obtaining a drum machine for yourself will involve some work, but it’s really worth the effort. Nothing makes hash as well as a drum machine.
The blender method
Here is a very clever method for extraction, which takes advantage of the glands sinking in water while the vegetable material floats. It isn’t at all clear to me why that should be, just another remarkable feature of a remarkable plant. This is from a post from Shiva on the subject:
" . . . The basic idea is that ice water makes the glands not sticky so they just have to be loosened from the leaf and then the glands will be suspended in the cold water, and will eventually sink as the glands are heavier than water. Here is the equipment check list: Blender . . . ice cubes, 2 2-liter coke bottles . . . 2 ft/length aquarium tubing or similar, funnel, 90-line silk screen (more experiments in the future) coffee filters and good trim leaf (wet might be best?). There are improvements that could be made in total recovery but . . . this worked out well. I yielded 4.5 grams of the good stuff with 1/2 a grocery bag of trim leaf.
"Process: Grab your blender, fill it halfway with trim leaf and add water and ice cubes. You don't have to have tons of ice, were not making a frozen margarita, we shooting for green, frothy, icy-cold smoothie, I blended each batch for less than a minute, when it looked like major turbulence had most likely loosened the good stuff I stopped ... probably 40 secs worth. Use the funnel and the 90-line silk screen to make a filter and filter your smoothie into the 2 litter Coke bottles. Squeeze as much liquid out of the filtered leaf in the silk screen filter.
"After you fill up your bottles . . . put [them] in the fridge to keep it cold, after 30 minutes you'll notice a nice blond looking substance on the bottom of your bottles. Grab your aquarium hose tubing a make a siphon to take the extraneous green liquid out of the bottle. I then repeat the smoothie making, silk screen filtering, and fill the bottles back up with new solution to let settle for another 30 mins and then siphon again. You want to siphon so you have less volume to ultimately filter ... I left an inch of liquid above the top of the resin collected on the bottom of the bottles. Grab your funnel and put a coffee filter in it, and now pour what's left at the bottom of your Coke bottles into the funnel. When the liquid has drained, Spoon glands into a glass dish to let dry. I used a heat mat to speed up this process ... I spread the glands out to dry them quicker and then pushed them together like play-dough. 4.5 grams of nice hash.
"The real trick to making blender hash is the ice cubes. I've also decided that dry leaves are easier to use. I was filling the blender about half way with leaves, and then the rest of the way almost to the top with ice, and then water up pretty high. I'd blend it up for about a minute and strain it. You want the blended leaf and water solution was very cold, otherwise the glands won't separate as well . . ."
Thanks, Shiva. Here’s a later post by Tumbleweed adding his perspective:
". . . I didn't rush the process at all, I actually found I needed to let it sit a little bit longer before pouring off the excess liquid. Also, if you kind of gently tap the bottom of the jar on the table, it seems to get some of the floaters to settle to the bottom. Afterwards, I just scrapped it off the paper filter and formed a little pyramid with it in my fingers and let it dry over night . . . . [What follows may be a post by someone else ]:
"It is really easy, you can't hardly mess up. First, put 16 oz or so, of water in a blender. Add a large handful of leaves, put in 3 or 4 ice cubes. Blend at medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes or so. Just make sure everything is chopped very finely. You should now have just under a quart of slush. Second, you will need a gold reusable coffee filter, I got mine at K-mart for about 6 dollars. Get a large mouth quart mason jar, and strain your Slurpee mixture through it. Once you have strained all the liquid through, run some more water through the leaf material to wash any extra trichomes through, go ahead and fill up the quart jar.
"After a few minutes you will notice a white collection at the bottom of the jar, this is the trichomes, let the trichomes settle to the bottom for about 20-30 minutes. Next, pour off the top 2/3's of the filtered green water, leaving the settled trichomes on the bottom. Add more ice water to get the green stuff out, and again let the trichomes settle to the bottom for about 20 minutes, repeat this step one more time. Pour off as much water as you can without pouring off trichomes, filter the resulting trichome/water mix through a paper coffee filter. The trichomes will not go through the paper, but the water will. When all water has gone through, you will be left with slightly wet, cold, mass of trichomes, they will be easy to work with and press. Hint: I use some toilet paper to absorb the water from the coffee filter as a last step, this helps it to dry fast. If I made this sound more complicated than it is, sorry. It's really easy and hard to mess up."
Thanks, Tumbleweed. The blender hash method isn't a controlled process, so you get what corresponds to a fairly loose mesh hash from a skuff machine, a little dark green color possibly, but certainly a fair amount of hairs and mineral trichomes. I'm not knocking it, mind you, it's basically the same quality hash I prefer to smoke most often. It's just that with the skuff machine screening you can control the output by varying the mesh size and the time the unit is running to get various grades of hash. And, I can’t speak for the blender, but a drum machine is nearly completely efficient at extracting the drug potential from the plant.
One of the methods above is probably best for small growers with a few ounces of skuff to deal with at a time. Commercial growers could build a large drum machine, but other methods, similar to that used in hash commerce, may be more suitable. Ganja Baron describes his method:
" First I rub [the skuff] hard through a wide mesh screen made from silk stockings. You will get a mixture of fine plant material and resin glands, which you put on a fine silk screen. You tap the screen lightly and the resin will fall through the screen, and the plant matter will stay on top. You can do this several times with the same material until you notice that the quality is not sticky enough after it has gone through the second process."
He goes on to discuss the usual method for pressing hash using heat:
"You take the powder put it in the cellophane bag, or fold a bag out of the cellophane. You can wet the cellophane at the edges to make it stick. Close the bag and distribute it evenly. The powder should be about a quarter inch thick. It doesn’t matter if the cellophane is put once or twice around the material. Fold it nice and evenly. With a needle you make a few holes into the cellophane bag about 1 inch distance to each other. Put the bag on the table. Wet a few pages of the newspaper and put it on top of the cellophane It should be wet but not soaking wet. A clothes iron is set at low to medium heat. Now put the iron on the paper and press it down for about 10-20 seconds. If the bag is bigger you have to move the iron and press it down again until you have plaited the whole bag. Take the newspaper off and turn the bag, which now has gotten a bit thinner and changed into a hashish loaf, put the wet newspaper paper back on and plait the other side. If you like it you can now take a bottle and roll it with force forth and back from both sides. Let the bag cool down for a minute or two and remove the cellophane. If you want that your loaf looks really nice you take a knife and straighten the edges, by cutting of the hashish at the sides where the loaf tends to get a bit thin."
"Opinions vary on the use of heat and pressure, some prefer loosely pressed stuff, others the dark stuff pressed with a bit of heat. I like this method because it produces nice looking, darker colored, easy to handle loafs."
Loafs of hash. Big growers make me jealous! Ganja Baron also suggests freezing skuff if the pot is of a type that produces chunks of glands stuck together, like Northern Lights. Pictures I have seen of some of the "Whites" shows long stalks that lay down and tangle over each other. Perhaps a gentle drum skuffer would have a problem with this type of pot as well.
I hope this survey has been useful. Thanks to many growers who provided indirect input, especially the ones I stole from directly, and to Michael Starks’ book "Marijuana Chemistry" for the botany (great book). And thanks, of course, to oldtimer1 who provided the inspiration to get me into the drum game.