Terp Theory: Concretization of Cannabis Hash and Lingering Skeuomorphs

Updated: Sep 27

In my studies of new media theory, I came across some fascinating conceptual ideas that pertain well too many aspects of recreational cannabis. In Katherine Hayles’ deep study of humankind and technology called How We Think, she identifies technological inventions that in turn change how we think. The easiest example is bipedal locomotion, which freed our hands and our minds to create tools. The technology of learning to walk on two feet changed our perceptions, allowing the cognitive capability to invent hand tools. Her theory goes that without discovering one technology, ie. bipedal locomotion, we wouldn’t possess the cognitive ability to invent tools. The tools created are then improved upon continuously from generation to generation suggesting a sort-of feedback loop between humans and the technologies created, taking place in our unconscious or non-conscious lives. This unconscious exposure to tech changes how we think and perceive the world and “demonstrates the interpenetration of living and technical beings.”

Luckily for cannabis, new technologies in one area have led to the groundbreaking methods of extraction that may have otherwise, remained unthinkable. The combustion engine (like cannabis extracts) combined numerous strategies and technologies, leading to inventions that were inconceivable before their time. Roads, highways, gas stations, auto-parts stores, car washes, etc., all resulted from the first cars. For cannabis, extraction allowed for products like cartridges, tinctures, topicals, and edibles to exist. The automobile itself is the perfect example of what Simondon calls, “concretization” as different technologies combine into a solution. Concretization of cars began with improving performance, horsepower, etc., before realizing new concerns like fuel economy and limiting emissions to reduce environmental damage. We can think of Teslas and other electric cars then as the perfect example of “concretization,” that Hayle’s claims “is at the opposite end of the spectrum from abstraction, for it integrates conflicting requirements into multipurpose solutions.” This pertains specifically to cannabis extraction sciences that have undergone several evolutions in their methods and technologies. I’m thinking here of solventless extractions that reached their limit in terms of quality, remaining stagnant for centuries until new technologies, like butane hash oil extraction, changed how we think about harvesting cannabis and thus, the extraction process as a whole.

Learning that terpenes and other cannabinoids are all crucial components of quality extracts, led to fresh-frozen harvest techniques, where cannabis is immediately frozen rather then dried. B.H.O. products extracted from freshly frozen harvests allowed a significant increase in the preservation of terpenes and cannabinoids, and these harvesting techniques eventually carried over into the solventless realm. Utilizing fresh frozen cannabis, solventless Hash made monumental leaps in improvement to re-gain the concentrate throne. As extracts underwent a process of concretization, earlier rosin techniques were also re-inspired. Instead of pressing whole flowers, rosin presses are instead used to press ice-water hash into hash rosin. Concretization goes a step further as many solventless rosin producers are creating a solventless sauce, mimicking the BHO diamonds of butane extracts by relying on similar processes of natural terpene separation. The advances in one area are repurposed into another. “At the opposite end of the spectrum from abstraction,” solventless 6-star hash is the pinnacle concretization of cannabis science, adapting and evolving, despite cultures incessant desire to live in the past. After a decade of butane extracts, old habits and ideas have proven difficult to break.

In order to heed the warnings of technological theory, examples of skeuomorphs show just how hard old habits die. This idea of skeuomorphs reveals our interconnectivity across time and space by linking the present to both the past and the future. Skeuomorphs can be defined through another automobile example of stitching leather. In previous decades leather needed to be handstitched, yet today’s cars still contain evidence of fake stitching, with some going as far as to create fake patterns and seams, with fake stitch-marks included. The seats are either glued or sewn internally, but these fake threads present an image of a "hand-made" past. This example of a skeuomorph shows traces of the past still lingering in the present, without serving a utilitarian need.

These Skeuomorphs are seen across the cannabis industry with glass blowers still making male connections on dabbing rigs. When dabbing techniques originated, the bowl-piece used to consume concentrates was made of titanium which expanded when heated. Since we blow-torch our dabbing nails, the heat causes the titanium nail to expand and shatter glass dab-rigs when inserted into a female connector. I’ve seen it happen. Rather than having the nail with a male connection, function demanded female fittings that could expand around a pipe’s male connector when hot. Jump ahead five years to today and titanium rarely exists, eliminating the need for male connections on dab rigs, yet they often remain. Even further back, we used to heat a loose piece of quartz shaped like an actual nail that was loosely inserted into male connections on dab rigs and then partially covered by a female glass hood or dome. This style is over a decade old, yet some glassblowers still include female domes on male rig connections, despite everyone switching to the preferred quartz shaped “bangers” with male connections. Calling a quartz banger a "nail" is another example of a skeuomorphic term that no longer describes or defines the improved object renamed a banger. These are three examples of skeuomorphs in the current market and there are plenty more.

The whole premise surrounding Indica and Sativa is a skeuomorph, and a left-over belief from the uninformed era of prohibition, despite current science proving otherwise. Scientifically indistinguishable between Sativa and Indica, most of the cannabis was bred underground, and hybridized time and time again. These terms are scientifically impossible to distinguish in the product or plant and yet, the terms remain prominent across the industry and displayed on packaging as a skeuomorphic marketing ploy.

These skeuomorphs remind us of what came before, and can often act as a comforting agent, something familiar even when we know its function is no longer of use. What does this say about cannabis and its incredible evolution? It's still too early to tell, but the information and advanced science has concretized the world’s best cannabis extracts into solventless 6-star hash and hash rosins. And there's another skeuomorph: solventless. Hopefully this term "solventless" will die soon, since it is only in reference or response to the solvent extracts ruling the market for the last decade. The term solventless is an ugly reactionary term, or skeuomorph, inadequate and awkward for labeling the best cannabis hash ever made. Hash extracted by ice and water is already the new standard and is finally catching on for its superior quality that customers are beginning to demand. Along with this acceleration of ice-water hash, I see a near future where extracts, edibles, topicals, and even crappy cartridges are made entirely without the use of chemical solvents.

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