Materials & Use

What is Shatter? What You Should Know Before Trying

Gabi Antunes

Sep 12, 2019

Cannabis concentrates are a category of products that are becoming immensely popular in states with legal medical and adult-use cannabis programs. However, “concentrates” are not a monolith as the singular name suggests. There are many different types of these extracts, one of the most popular being shatter. If you haven’t encountered shatter before, you might have a lot of questions about what it is, how it’s made, and how it is used. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about shatter.

What is Shatter?

Shatter is a type of cannabis extract named for its appearance, which resembles broken pieces of glass. It is generally hard and translucent, often appearing in an amber color. It is concentrated, making it a potent cannabis derivative that contains elevated levels of the cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) found within the plant from which is was extracted. Concentrates in general are about three to four times more potent than dry cannabis or industrial hemp flower.

How is Shatter Made?

Shatter is made through an extraction process that draws out the compounds found within a cannabis plant. The resulting refinement process can produce shatter or other types of concentrated extracts, depending upon which method an extractor employs.

Solvent extraction begins with the introduction of a solvent like butane, for example, to strip away the compound-rich trichomes on the plant. The solvent also draws out compounds from inside the plant material, resulting in a solution that contains the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the plant.

Next, the solvent must be removed to leave behind just the concentrated extract. To do so, extractors generally subject the solution to heat and pressure to evaporate whatever solvent they used in the first step. The resulting concentrate is often named for the process by which it was extracted. For example, if butane was used as a solvent, the final product is referred to as “butane hash oil” (BHO).

Shatter can be a variant of BHO or it could be produced by another method altogether. The term shatter is largely based on the appearance, texture, and density of the concentrate rather than the process by which it was made. This is also the case when it comes to extracts like budder, crumble, or wax.

What makes Shatter Different from Other Cannabis Extracts?

In terms of compound profile, there isn’t much of a difference between shatter or another extract derived from the same cultivar. Both will contain very similar proportions of the compounds found in the source plant in concentrated amounts. The difference largely is in appearance, texture, density, and consistency.

There are some key differences between shatter and other concentrated extracts, though. For starters, shatter can be more difficult to create because it requires even cooling at the right temperatures in order to settle into its very stable molecular structure. Due to that stable structure, shatter also tends to last longer than some of its softer cousins, like budder. However, the trade off is that shatter can be more difficult to handle due to its brittle nature and tendency to break apart into many tiny shards.

The difference in molecular structure is due to the lack of agitation that shatter goes through as it cools. Concentrated extracts like budder, for example, are whipped to agitate the molecules as the extract cools. This results in the soft, unstable structure of these extracts. Shatter does not undergo any agitation, instead drying in a stable sheet that is later broken apart into pieces.

A Brief History of Shatter

The history of shatter and all concentrated extracts is relatively young. While they technically fall under the umbrella of “concentrates,” along with long-standing materials like hashish, concentrated extracts are the products of the much newer process of solvent-based extraction.

Solvent-based extraction emerged as a modern technique in the late 1990s. Canadian cannabis company BudderKing is often cited as the first to market budder and shatter. It wasn’t until 2003 that these concentrated extracts were first available in legal dispensaries.

Despite the short history of concentrated extracts, they rapidly became an immensely popular way to consume cannabis-derived products. Today, consumers turn to cannabis concentrates because of their potency and versatility. And with the major increase in demand, it is no wonder that concentrated extracts can be found in most any legal dispensary.

How is Shatter Used?

Shatter is most frequently used by dabbing or vaporizing it, although it can also be used as an ingredient in edible products, in states where cannabis is legal. Shatter can also be mixed with dry flower; however, its dense, brittle construct makes this a less common usage of the extract as compared with softer concentrates.

  • Dabbing: Dabbing is a method of inhaling a partially-vaporized, partially-combusted concentrated extract. Dabbing shatter involves the use of a dab rig. Consumers use a blowtorch to heat a metal “nail” inside the dab rig until it is red hot. Then, a small amount of shatter is applied with the help of a dab tool. The shatter will vaporize and combust on contact with the heated nail, creating a gaseous mixture of vapor and smoke that can then be inhaled through the mouthpiece of the dab rig.
  • Vaping: The emergence of electronic portable vaporizers has made the complete vaporization of extracts a reality. To vape shatter, consumers place a small amount in the chamber of a vaporizer. Some devices are made exclusively for the use of concentrated extracts, while others like the PAX 3 can also use dry flower; every device has its own methods of loading material, which is usually explicitly listed in the device owner’s manual. Electronic vaporizers allow for the even heating and 100% vaporization of shatter, unlike the use of conventional dab rigs.
  • Edible ingredient: Believe it or not, concentrated extracts can be used as ingredients in cooking or baking cannabis-infused edible products. Shatter must undergo a process known as decarboxylation prior to use as an orally ingested ingredient to activate the cannabinoids within it. Decarboxylation occurs when the material is exposed to heat at a relatively low temperature for some time, turning the cannabinoid acids into their active forms. Once decarboxylation takes place, shatter can be added to foods and baked goods to create potent edible products.
  • Flower: Finally, shatter can simply be sprinkled in with dry flower and smoked in combination. Adding concentrated extract to dry flower increases potency.

Regardless of how cannabis consumers use shatter, its potency and unique molecular structure make it a favorite concentrated extract among many in states where it is legally available.

Shatter is a Versatile and Unique Cannabis Extract

Shatter is widely popular among cannabis consumers for its versatility of use and its levels of potency. The translucent amber-gold color of shatter also makes it an aesthetically pleasing choice. When it comes down to chemical make-up, shatter isn’t much different than wax or any other extract. In fact, up until one step in the refining process, one could just as easily become the other. However, the way shatter is left to cool without agitation produces the photogenic sheet of translucent concentrated extract that we affectionately call shatter, a unique cannabis-derived product that can be used in a variety of ways.