As the artist held his orb up to the sky, you might sooner guess that we were touring Saruman’s tower in Middle Earth than an extraction facility in Seattle. But this globe is no crystal ball orpalantir – it’s 3,000 grams of pure cannabis extract measuring up to a staggering 99% THC. Its creators at X-tracted Labs call them Dragon Balls (like in the popular manga, and I can only imagine that collecting seven of these would get you high enough to think you’ve summoned Shenron), and beholding them in-person is somewhat of a religious experience for any connoisseurs of oil.
Starting as a hydrocarbon, the concentrate – known as “The Clear” – is made using a careful extraction process that strips everything from the cannabis plant except its essential compounds known as cannabinoids. Journeying through chambers, coils, and glass beakers, the final product gathers in a round glass container like a thick, golden potion.
Its liquid gold appearance alone is enough to satisfy the senses, but the real magic behind these orbs is in their aroma and flavor. The alchemy begins with a thing called terpenes, or aromatic oils that naturally occur in many types of vegetation, cannabis included. These flavorful compounds not only provide aroma and flavor, they’re also known to modify the effects of THC and other cannabinoids to make a strain more uplifting, sedating, stress-reducing, and so forth. Most extraction processes, however, destroy these sensitive and volatile compounds.
Understanding the important role terpenes play in the cannabis experience, the professionals at X-tracted championed a technique of re-introducing terpenes after the extraction process to create customized effects and flavor profiles – profiles that can either mimic the naturalchemical fingerprints of specific strains or new profiles that emphasize specific flavors. To demonstrate, they pulled out a collection of cans with words like myrcene, geraniol, pinene – even a Golden Goat bottle which captured the terpene fingerprint of that particular hybrid strain.
“When we add natural terpenes, we’re simulating the effect profile of that strain,” co-founder Ryan Abernathy explained. “Part of why the Super Lemon Haze sativa makes you feel the way it does is because of all these different terpenes. So when you recreate that, you’re going to get similar effects. It’s not just because it’s a sativa.”
The veil over the question of what gives a strain its unique effects is slowly being lifted, and extraction technology is already beginning to package up those complex, nuanced experiences in the form of products like The Clear.
The Clear isn’t a CO2 oil mixed in with a propylene glycol solvent – it’s a distillate that is made fluid using terpenes. “Terpenes are in fact solvents,” Ryan said. “So once you add terpenes to this product, it becomes looser and thinner.” And there’s the difference.
Witnessing the production of a Dragon Ball was not only a feast for the eyes – it was a spectacle of the unique innovation and passion that’s defining and evolving this industry. Staring at the mystical Dragon Ball harnessing the sun’s light to illuminate its own amber core, I couldn’t decide which was more exciting: the idea that science and technology (as well as shifting cannabis laws) have enabled the creation of these chemically intricate products and medicines; or, the fact that there’s still a lot of mystery behind these orbs and all of the chemical constituents inside. It makes you wonder: if this is cannabis in 2016, what’s next?