Thanks to their unrivaled purity and potency, THCa crystals or “diamonds” are growing in popularity in the cannabis community. This novel cannabis concentrate is the raw form of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA or also written as THCa), the main intoxicating compound found in cannabis flower.
But there are some misconceptions about what THCa crystalline is, its uses, and how it’s made. It’s also important to understand the difference between THCa and THC and the role of decarboxylation.
What are THC crystals?
The more accurate term for THC crystals is THCa crystalline or isolate. Pure THC is liquid at room temperature and can’t hold a crystalline structure. Instead, the crystals contain pure tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), the non-intoxicating precursor or “parent” to THC.
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis plants don’t directly produce THC. Rather, plant enzymes turn the “mother cannabinoid” cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) into THCa. Most cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, begin their life as cannabinoid acids.
THCa crystalline takes the form of white or semi-transparent crystals isolated from the cannabis plant. They contain up to 99% THCa, making them incredibly potent. They’re odorless, flavorless, and free of all other cannabis compounds, including terpenes. Sometimes crystals can contain small amounts of terpenes or other impurities trapped inside the crystalline structure, but generally speaking these are pure crystals of THCa.
THCa must undergo decarboxylation (the loss of the acid group through heat) to become the intoxicating THC we know and love. That’s exactly what happens when you light up a joint, although some decarboxylation occurs slowly as cannabis dries and oxidizes over time.
How can you use THC crystals?
THCa crystalline is a versatile cannabis concentrate that can be used in a wide variety of ways. One popular method is to dab THCa crystals directly with a dab rig, resulting in a powerful, fast-acting effect.
You can also break THCa crystals into a powder and add them to other cannabis preparations to increase their potency. For example, you could smoke or vape THCa by adding a bit of powder to a bowl, joint, or vape chamber. THC crystals can also be mixed with other concentrates, such as shatter, wax, or terp sauce.
Keep in mind that whatever method you choose, THCa crystalline has to be heated (decarboxylated) to turn the THCa into active THC.
How to make THC crystals
Learning how to make THCa crystals is best left to experienced cannabis extractors. Both solventless or solvent-based methods exist, but only the solventless method should be attempted at home. In reality the at-home solventless method produces more of an isolate and not the typical crystalline structure of THC diamonds.
For the solventless method, you’ll need a rosin press.
First, put the cannabis flower inside a rosin filter bag, cover it with parchment paper, and place it into the press, which applies heat and pressure to squeeze the trichomes and create a concentrate called rosin.
Note: this process is faster if you start with hash or kief due to the higher THCa content of these compared to flower.
Allow the rosin to cool until it has a wax, budder, or butter-like consistency. Next, place the rosin into a filter bag again, covered with parchment paper, and press to make the terpene-rich oil ooze out and separate. Repeat this process multiple times to leave behind a block of white or pale yellow THCa.You will want to begin with a heat temp around 100 F and build up to the high 100’s, ensuring not to surpass about ~180F, above which the decarboxylation of THC begins to happen much more rapidly. You will also want to increase your pressure gradually. 1
Meanwhile, the solvent-based method requires mixing cannabis extract with solvents like acetic acid, pentane, or hexane. Then, chromatography and a rotary evaporator are used to separate all unwanted compounds until only highly purified THCa is left behind.
Another related term, “diamond mining,” refers to the process of crystallizing THCa from a cannabinoid and terpene rich oil, or sauce. If done properly, some of the THCa present will crystallize and drop out of solution. The cannabinoid and terpene rich oil can be poured off, separating the THCa crystals. This process is typically done with hydrocarbon extract and relies on light heat and pressure to facilitate the crystallization.
Should you make your own crystalline THCa?
There are both pros and cons to making your own THC crystals.
The main advantage is that you get a refined cannabis concentrate that can be used in the wide variety of ways we discussed above.THCa crystalline is an isolated product, meaning as long as you take the same dose you should get a reasonably consistent experience.
This process requires expensive, special equipment and knowledge of cannabis extraction methods. It is also time and labor intensive.Another disadvantage is that you’re removing all the terpenes, which not only contribute to the beneficial “entourage effect” of cannabis but also the flavor. THCa crystalline is also incredibly potent, so while it can be handy and kick things up a notch, it’s easier to overshoot the sweet spot and you could end up a little more stoned than intended.
In fact, some cannabis users say that they dislike the intense and powerful psychoactive effects of purifiedTHCa crystalline because it lacks the flavor and fuller effects that you get from a full-spectrum extract containing multiple terpenes and cannabinoids.
That’s why dabbing THC crystals is more common among experienced cannabis enthusiasts looking for something new.
What about THCa diamonds?
THCa diamonds are yet another name for THC weed crystals. It’s not hard to see the appeal of the term; pure THCa crystals do resemble the valued gemstone.
Diamonds can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s also important to remember that diamonds only contain pure THCa and not THC, since the latter cannot form a crystalline structure.
Having said that, this phrase is typically reserved for the THCa crystals that form in sauce: a type of cannabis concentrate that combines THCa with terpene-rich oil, which also contains some cannabinoids. Sauce has a thick, syrupy consistency and a flavorful taste when vaped or dabbed.
THC crystals on weed: not the same thing
To add more confusion to the definitions, some people also use the term THC crystals for trichomes. Trichomes are tiny, hair-like structures that coat cannabis flowers and some leaves and contain the bulk of the active cannabinoids and terpenes.
While trichomes absolutely do contain THCa and other cannabinoid acids, they’re not the same thing as THCa crystalline, which is a man-made, purified, isolate product.
So when you hear someone talking about THC crystals on bud, what they’re really referring to are trichomes. But for what it’s worth, the THC within the trichomes of your herb is technically THCa, so perhaps diamonds and nugs are not all that different in the end.
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