It’s a whole new world out there, and you get to choose your own adventure.
The spread of legalization has resulted in a broader user base, more consumption, and unprecedented innovation. While this is a dream come true for people who’ve been consumers for years, it’s intimidating for a newbie trying to navigate all the options.
Individual states are still working out the regulations, so there’s not a lot of transparency in the labeling, making educating yourself even more challenging. Even if you could get more information from the label, consumption is purely an individual experience.
One of the questions that pop up time and again is, which is better – loose leaf or concentrates?
And while this is strictly a matter of preference, we can tell you that depending on your needs, there will be a clear choice for you.
Here, we compare nine differences between concentrates and loose leaf to help make your choice a little easier.
- CONCENTRATES CAN BE CONFUSING
You thought the variety in loose-leaf strains was overwhelming!
Concentrates come in all sorts of names, like shatter, BHO, CO2, rosin, wax, crumble, honey oil, dabs, tinctures, and the list goes on. Some of them are suitable for vaping, while others are not. And that just adds to the confusion, right?
It might be helpful to know is that “concentrate” is more of an umbrella term, and words like shatter and CO2 refer to characteristics describing the texture, consistency or extraction method.
The Verdict: if you like simplicity of choice, you might want to stick with flower strains you’re familiar with. But if you’re ready to branch out, there are many methods to try!
- CONCENTRATES ARE MORE POTENT
Numbers don’t lie.
Dry herb potency ranges between 10 to 25% while extracts generally start at about 50% and can go up to 90%. The higher the potency, the more difficult it can be to dose correctly when first starting out.
Get it wrong, and you run the risk of being stuck on the couch for a while until some of the effects start to wear off.
Dry herb, on the other hand, provides a subtler experience. You’ll still reap all the benefits but without the unpredictability.
It can also take more time to learn how to get the dosage just right with concentrate. If you plan on socializing or you’ll be far from home, it might be better to be safe than sorry and stick with loose leaf if you’re still unsure of a concentrate’s potency.
The Verdict: If you don’t want to puff away all night, you might prefer concentrate. A recent study shows that more than 75% of the active ingredients in a dabbed concentrate will make its way to the user. A couple of inhales on a dab rig will have you set for a while. However, that same study found smoking the flower burns off around 75% of the active ingredients before they can be inhaled. If you prefer to keep your dosing slow and steady, dry herb may be more suitable.
- CONCENTRATES ARE MORE PURE
Until legalization takes effect at the federal level, there’s no way to get dry herb that’s certified organic. This means every time you inhale, you might be ingesting pesticides, environmental contaminants, and residual solvents. Note: there are organic growers out there, so we recommend going organic if it’s available in your area.
What’s a residual solvent, you may ask? A full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. But, in short, it’s what’s left behind when the flower is processed for consumption. There are dozens of types of these solvents, and some are known carcinogens like benzene.
Because this industry isn’t subject to regulation and testing standards like with other medicinal products, it can be a bit of gamble to know what you’re consuming. This is especially true if you don’t purchase from state-legal dispensaries. While there are testing labs to check for things like mold, insecticides, and herbicides, not all of them are thorough. They’re also not federally regulated like so many other products sold for consumption.
Further, these labs don’t test for everything. For example, we have yet to find a lab that tests for the pesticide Avid, a known neurotoxin that damages the nervous system.
Concentrates, on the other hand, isolate the oil and strip out the offending plant material.
Or do they?
Since the process involved in making a concentrate involves extracting flowers by the pound, it makes sense to conclude that some of those pesticides might make their way into the final product. And because it’s so concentrated, some people believe they have more toxins than the flower.
A lot of extraction processes use butane, CO2, or even propane. At the end of the extraction process, these solvents are removed by evaporation, but it is possible for residual amounts to remain.
However, that’s not the case with all concentrates. For instance, rosin is a solventless extract made from basically putting the flower under heat and pressure. Other solventless concentrates include budder, freeze-dried products, bubble hash and certain types of shatter.
The Verdict: You might not have considered this dark side before. If you’re worried about ingesting neurotoxins, we recommend exclusively seeking out organic growers and concentrate products made from organic flower. Go for bubble hash, rosin, or live rosin. Fire in = fire out.
- WHAT ABOUT YOUR LUNGS?
When the plant material heats up, it creates a black tar that’s also getting into your lungs. Oils and other concentrates can do this, too, but at a much slower pace.
If you use an induction heat vaporizer, it keeps your material at a temperature that resists combustion. You still get the compounds you’re after without the black lung.
The Verdict: Vaporizers like the Loto Legend make concentrates vapable without burning the material. With it, you can enjoy all the benefits of the flower without the negative effects of combusting and inhaling dried leaves.
- A MATTER OF TASTE
Traditionally, flower provided more flavor than a concentrate. This is due to a natural phenomenon called terpenes. These are like pheromones, but for plants. In nature, they have specific purposes, often to repel certain animals and insects.
The terpenes are what give plants their signature aromas. The floral smell of lavender, for example, is due to its terpenes.
That being said, plant material loses its potency when exposed to heat, so the extraction process can strip away much of the flavor. People who love tasting what they inhale, whether it’s an earthy tone or a floral note, will likely prefer herb over concentrates.
However, in response to this shortcoming, some concentrate producers reintroduce terpenes, resulting in even more powerful flavors than what you’d get with the natural plant. New processes where they take fresh cut plant matter and immediately freeze it before extraction has allowed for the perseverance of terpenes and concentrates can have incredible flavors.
The Verdict: If flavor is important to you, you might prefer loose leaf. But, new concentrates like live resin and live rosin have a terpene profile that cannot be found in traditionally dried flower. For better taste with concentrates, make sure to use low temperatures.
- THE ECONOMICS
Dry herb vapes are generally more expensive, though easier to acquire. The initial pricing can fool you, though. Wax is pricier per gram, but because it’s stronger, you use less.
The price you pay will vary drastically based on the state you live in, the dispensary you visit, and the exact product you decide to buy. But, as a general rule, you’ll pay more for flower, and it won’t last as long.
The Verdict: If you’re looking for more bang for your buck, go with a concentrate.
- THE CONVENIENCE FACTOR
There’s not a lot to say here because the comparison is fairly obvious. Using a prefilled cartridge is user-friendly and super easy. It’s practically idiot proof. If you’re not using a prefilled cartridge though, you might find that shatter and BHO can be messy to work with.
The flower can be problematic to keep fresh, and it has to be handled before consuming. It’s not going to take more than a minute or two, but if you are in a rush or can’t be bothered, this could be an inconvenient annoyance.
The Verdict: There’s no clear winner here, it’s more of a matter of preference. If you’re on the go when you vape, you might favor concentrates.
- DO YOU LIKE RITUALS?
There’s a big difference between handling a flower versus a cartridge. The flower is more of a purposeful, hands-on experience. Many people view it as a ritual and cherish the process.
Others might think that sounds time-consuming, and they prefer a one and done approach. Load the cartridge and go, right?
The Verdict: For the traditionalist, dry herb seems more authentic. But there’s also something to be said for embracing the future and that aforementioned convenience factor.
- DO YOU NEED IT FOR MEDICAL USE?
This gets a little tricky. If you have a medical condition you want to treat, please consult with your doctor before following anything we say.
You’ve probably heard that it’s better to get your nutrition from food than from a vitamin, right? You already know that even though a vitamin can give you a higher dose of a nutrient, there are synergies that occur by consuming the entire food.
The same principle is true with these plants. Each one can produce over 400 different compounds. When concentrate is made, only the “necessary” parts are extracted, but using the whole plant can have benefits that we aren’t yet aware of.
We do know, however, that the terpenes we discussed earlier play a major role in the medicinal properties. Since those are stripped out in the manufacturing process for concentrate and added back in artificially, it could be argued that diminishes some portion of the medical benefit compared to the herb.
The Verdict: By consuming the whole plant instead of just a piece of one, you are potentially more likely to get medicinal benefits.
SO, LOOSE LEAF OR CONCENTRATES?
Even with the pros and cons laid out, it can be difficult to choose between concentrates and flower. Around the labs, we have a strong preference for rosin and wax, which work great with the Loto Legend.
Still, unless you have a strong affinity to one or the other, why not add both to your repertoire? As long as you have a vaporizer that can handle these two distinct materials, we think you’ll enjoy the variety.
For the best desktop vaping devices for each, the Loto Legend lives up to its name with magnetic induction heating to offer a one-of-a-kind dabbing experience for concentrates. When it comes to vaping loose-leaf herb, the Volcano has been the industry standard for years and is still a great option.