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Concentrate Shelf Life: How Long Does Cannabis Oil Last?

July 17, 2017
Finding a long-lost cannabis concentrate is a bittersweet moment. Your discovered concentrate was left stranded in a pair of jeans that had been stuffed in the far reaches of your dresser, untouched since that last camping trip. For about a year, it’s been sitting in between some parchment paper, waiting for you to unearth it.

The good news: no mold. The bad news: it doesn’t look like the translucent and golden “shatter” you once had. What’s before you now looks like a collection of off-yellow sugar crystals. Has this hash oil gone past its shelf life? Can you still enjoy it?


How long is my cannabis good for? Leafly’s guide to storing cannabis

How long a cannabis concentrate lasts depends on a number of factors ranging from the quality and classification of the starting material used to the packaging and storage of the final product. While some extracts and infusions can experience quality degradation in a very short time span, others may stay fresh and useable indefinitely.

The Impact of Extraction Method on Concentrates

The Impact of Extraction Method on Concentrates

(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Over time, some shatters will sometimes “sugar out” as their terpenes degrade away, leaving a substance with a higher concentration of THCA behind.

The golden standard in any extraction methodology is that the quality of the end product will always reflect the quality of the starting material. “Gold in, gold out; Garbage in, garbage out.” There’s a direct correlation between the quality of the starting material and what remains post-extraction. Inferior products containing compromised cannabinoid profiles will, in every case, result in an inferior extract.

Terpenes will almost always experience degradation of some kind during extraction. The loss will not only affect the flavor and medical efficacy of the final product, it could play a role in that product’s shelf life as well. Some products, such as those purposed for dabbing, utilize extraction methods intended for terpene preservation. Extractions meant for infusions such as for edibles, topicals, and tinctures  however, may not necessarily need to utilize these terpene preservation methods.


Cannabis Oil Distillate: A Different Kind of Concentrate

Concentrates come in a variety of forms, ranging from extracts like saps, shatters, crumbles, butters, and distillates to sifted mechanical varieties like kief, ice water extract (IWE), and dry sift. Their attributes, such as consistency, viscosity, and clarity, are all byproducts of their extraction method.

The basic principle of an extraction is to remove the many impurities from the starting material, which include plant matter, fats and lipids, and other foreign contaminants. Many fats and lipids in solventless concentrates remain because they are more difficult to mechanically remove.


What Are Cannabis Oil, Shatter, and Wax Extracts?

Solvent extractions, on the other hand, produce “oleoresins” that contain a combination of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes, as well as other impurities such as fats and lipids, in many cases. Through a secondary solvent filtration process called “winterization,” these fats and lipids may be removed from a product, leaving behind a more purified substance.

The process of winterization is known to cause some terpene degradation that could compromise both the flavor profile and the consistency of the final product. However, this process is necessary for the production of super stable hash oil products such as glass-like “shatters,” as well as high terpene-containing saps and sugars.

Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and Concentrate Shelf Life

Terpenes, Cannabinoids, and Concentrate Shelf Life

(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

The greatest perceived enemies of any concentrate, be it a wax, shatter, sap, or any cannabis oil-infused product, are all the same: light, heat, air, and time.

Concentrate varieties range in consistency from stable shatters and viscous saps to butters and sugary waxes. Each variety contains a different combination of molecules (e.g. cannabinoids, terpenes, lipids , impurities), but most carry a high concentration of the cannabinoid tetrahydracannabinolic acid (THCA).

The geometric structure of pure THCA is comprised of lattices stacked onto one another, forming a crystalline structure. However, THCA in a concentrate mixture will crystallize differently, depending on variables such as the ratio of other impurities present to agitation and temperature.


What Is THCA & What Are the Benefits of This Cannabinoid?

For instance, “shatters,” known for their super stable glass-like consistency, are typically monocrystalline in final form, meaning they exhibit many properties consistent with amorphous solids (they have softer melting point ranges and appear less rigid in molecular structure) when exposed to varying concentrations of terpenes, impurities, or even other cannabinoids like CBD.

In order for shatter to maintain a glass-like physical structure, it must go through further filtration to remove these impurities. If left in a product, these other components can do many things, one of which is to cause a “buttering” effect in a concentrate when agitated or brought to varying temperatures.

When terpenes or even other cannabinoids such as CBD are present in a concentrate, they can also act as emulsifiers (a mixing or solvating agent) to the crystalline THCA. A concentrate that is richly saturated in both THCA and in terpenes can take on different consistencies depending on how the product was agitated and at what temperatures that product was exposed to. These varying phases that concentrates exhibit (e.g. polycrystilline to amorphous) are largely influenced by the many impurities that prevent THCA from crystallizing.

Impurities can include anything from elevated levels of terpenes to fats, lipids, solvents, as well as the presence of other cannabinoids. For example, concentrates high in cannabidiol (CBD) will appear sappier due to the distinct structure of its molecule. 


How to Assess THC and CBD Levels in Cannabis Strains and Products

Over time, some shatters will sometimes “sugar out” as their terpenes degrade away, leaving a substance with a higher concentration of THCA behind. Although this process may compromise the experience a hash oil product may have once given, it’s not a final indicator that the product is unable to be used for vaporization (dabbing). Rather, it simply means that the molecular structure of the oil has changed as a result of the terpenes degrading out of the concentrate.

“Sugary”-like hash oils that were once “shatter”-like in consistency is our visual observation of what happens during terpene degradation, when THCA no longer has to worry about terpenes getting in the way of crystallization.

Cool, dark, dry, still environments (refrigerators, freezers, low cabinets, freeze driers) are best for promoting longevity of your cannabis concentrates.

The greatest perceived enemies of any concentrate, be it a wax, shatter, sap, or any cannabis oil-infused product, are all the same: light, heat, air, and time. All of these elements facilitate the degradation of terpenes and cannabinoids, and will hasten the process by which some of your concentrates and infusions change.

Cool, dark, dry, still environments are best for promoting longevity, and when exposed to as few environmental contaminants as possible, some of these products will last a very long time without changing or losing anything.

Optimal storage options include refrigerators or freezers, low cabinets, or a freeze drier. These will help to eliminate the variables that tend to break down extracts. Over time, the cannabinoids (and, in some cases, terpenes) will inevitably change in some ways, regardless of condition. THCA will eventually degrade to cannabinol (CBN), a process which creates an “amber-ing” or darkening effect. Shatters and other dabble oils with higher terpene profiles may also sugar up, just like the one you found in your dresser.


How to Store Cannabis Oil, Edibles, and Other Products

At the end of the day, that sugary shatter isn’t going to be a deal breaker. While your concentrate may not taste quite the same or give you that “full spectrum” feeling, a nice dab will still do the trick as those THCA crystals will still pack a punch.

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • FlunkedAgain

    IF ” For about a year, it’s been sitting in between some parchment paper, waiting for you to unearth it.”, you got your money’s worth; flush it, and buy something that’s fresher.

  • Two Bears

    It all depends on how its stored.

    Tinctures have the shortest.

    Rosin the next

    Hash the next

    Then shatter

    • pamela younger

      Thank you Two Bears – the more consintrated the longer shelf life. Topical CBD ointments in cocoa and coconut butter? In theroy the oils /fats should provide good stable shelf life stored in dark glass, air tight sealed like any canning or preserving method.

      • Two Bears

        I bought a big supply about 14 months ago because i was noving off grid in the middle of nowhere so i could grow my own medicine. I have Crohns and MMJ is the only thing that makes life bearable. Without MMJ I had 2-3 flares a week. With MMJ i can go months between flares. Only 3 flares in last 14 MONTHS!

        How i kept it. A container with a very tight lid and kept in a fridge. After moving off grid i made a zere pot refrigerator that cools via evaporation. It keeps my medicine about 25 degrees cooler than ambient temp. I still have several grams i bought 14 months ago. Only two got too soft to vape in my wax atomizer so i made them into tinctures.

        I still have 9 grams in good condition. 3 are from 14 months ago. The other 6 are from 9 months ago.

        I knew i may not have time to grow my medicine in 2017

        • pamela younger

          Really appreciate your feed back. Amazing results and clever zere refrigeration is good to know. Inspiring treatment results !!! Consistancy and stability are priority and concern. Many clients request treatment cbd/thc. Finding consistant reliable product with stable shelf life is a challenge. So pretty much i CAN NOT reasonably expect to stock product easily and expect consistancy for client treatment unless it is in jel caps or ointments. Thank you for your time. All the Best to you 💚

          • Two Bears

            Pamela. I live off grid in Northern AZ.

            About two months ago it got very warm and for a week or two i stored my meficine in a neighbors fridge. And started looking for an off grid way to store my meficine.

            I read about the zere pot.

            I got a standard flower pot, sand and an empty koolaid container.

            Put sand in bottom and set koolaid container on sand and filled the empty space between containers wih sand.

            About 9AM I soak a towel and fill the sand between conyainers with water.

            In my RV it gets 103-108. My medicine in the koolaid container. The wet towel goes over the zere pot.

            I didn’t know how well the pot would work so i put the remote for an outdoor thermometer. My zere por never got over 82 degrees so i got my medicine from my neighbor. And used my zere pot ever since.

            If you set the zere pot outside where the wind can blow around the pot the stuff in the inner container. Can go 40 degrees below the ambient temp.

            Where i live there are four dogs and five kids running around so setting up an outside zere pot is NOT an option.

          • pamela younger

            You are the best Two Bears 🙂 Thank you so much

          • Two Bears

            You’re welcome.

            Cannabis LITERALLY gave me my life back.

          • pamela younger

            Your testimony is Sooo heart felt and helpful. So many people are sick – cannabis/hemp holds great promise 💚💚💚 im pushing super hard on instagram , reaching out to everyone in social media promotion of HEMP and cannabis for good health, economy/farming and air/soil/planet ….Cannabis/hemp CAN restore ALL to America… 💚😊 im hopeful – politicians are foot draging – im also trying to keep the recreational smokers respectful until everything is streight up legal – in hopes of CLEAR medical applications vs Clear recreational.. So much needs to happen for dosages and application – latica vs sative etc you know exactally what im trying to say… i need a real tech crash course on this one – lol have a good evening 🙂 thx again

          • Two Bears

            Once you know the truth about Cannabis its impossible to remain silent.

            For years when i heard “Medical Marijuana ” i laughed and said Sure. A bunch of old hippies wanting to get high and relive the good old days.

            Then 4 years ago i met reality. One evening i four years ago a neighbor heard me scream from the pain i had to put up with. Crohns id one of tge things close to hell on earth.

            I was in adult diapers for uncontrolled diarrhea, and with pain you dont want to imagine. I had flares every 2-3 days. Couldnt go anywhere, and didnt feel like doing anything.

            There was a knock on the door and Sandy slipped me about two grams of pot.

            I have asthma and didn’t want to smoke it so i put it in rum snd made a tincture.

            All the time i used the tincture i had no God awful pain and also no flares. Sandy got pot for both of us and i paid her back until i could get my MMJ card and could legally buy my own.

            I have been experimenting with micro dosing. And found that my body only neefs 10-13 milligrams of cannabinoids daily to keep my gut health from bouncing between two extremes.

            That tiny micro dose about 1/100th of a gram got me out of Depends, got rid of the pain. And stopped 95+% of the flares. My most recent flare was2/13/2017 almost 6 months ago.

          • Winston Churchill


          • Shelly Conrad Ray

            What percentages of THC/CBD were in the strain used? Thank you for that mgs dosage;I have some form of IBD that they said at first was Crohn’s, then IBS, ridiculous. The inflammation was causing horrific pain. I have been using a 1:1 THC/CBD thick extract in a syringe (NOT true RSO form that is up to ideally 90% THC for cancer, so people know). Coltyn Turner from CO is in remission 2 1/2 years now I think, gives speeches;He was taking THC with CBD in capsule form.

          • Two Bears

            i tried straight CBD. it helped but was only able to go 8 weeks between flares.

            so I started getting moderate THC (17% or so) with high CBD then I started going 4-6 MONTHS between flares.

            Coltwin uses 60 mg of 2:1 THC and CBD.

            his mother reported that when they appeared on Hash Church

          • ProgressiveVoice

            One of the truly nice things about mmj is that the patient, after seeking advice from at least 2 sources, basically determines his or her own dosages. Start with the most you can handle before feeling the “high” at 3x/day. Every few days, increase the dose a little. Stop increasing when it helps. Et cetera. YOU judge for yourself. It helps one get in better synch with one’s body, which increases one’s ability to heal one’s Self.

          • Phyllis Knight

            I just received my first sample of Hemp oil, directions are so little I cannot read them, need to understand dosages for beginner.

          • Thomas Cooper

            I have a bigg slick silicone and i hold 30 grams of rosin and it’s stable and just like wine it just gets finer lol

          • Thomas Cooper

            Rso oil

    • Sunspot

      Tinctures store the longest bruh, wtf are you talking about? Ethanol in an opaque bottle in the freezer is going to outlast anything else preservation-wise.

  • fire lion

    All those words when you could have just told us some numbers. Sheesh

    • psyflyjohn

      Maybe he gets paid by the word…

  • Jude Emmanuel

    So…I still didn’t get the answer I’m looking for lol. If I get oils, the kind you put in a pen, how long will they last? Shelf life wise, without use? Sorry for the beginner question.

  • Tom Clarke

    new too the idea of concentrates, i have been thinking liquid pre loaded in a pen of some sort i assume, but i don’t know how to buy it having only bought flowers. how do you know the difference and strength .and how much is the average cost i see 4 and 500 and 800 numbers associated with the menu”s ive looked at. considering trying it because of a much younger friend only buys so many pre loaded pens and he says they give about two hundred hits and only activate when u put it in your mouth no button to hold. an and all insight would be appreciated, very confused. and can’t seem to find an explanation on how to purchase and what to liquid, hash ect

    • Jeff Mck.

      I recently, the last 3 months, have begun treatment with medical mary jane and have found that it has been a Godsend. I have tried a vape pen and find it to be the best way for me. It is simple, and pens are easily charged and used. “Truelieve” and “curaleaf”are just 2 dispensaries near me in Tarpon Springs Fl. I will rejoice when they legalize all use of cannabis.

  • Justin Mackeracher

    What a long bullshit article saying literally nothing. Provides no information whatsoever, don’t bother reading.

  • Sunspot

    Jesus what a crap article that literally says nothing about the topic it is supposed to discussing

    • Sebastion Fitzgerald

      Right? It’s just a simple fucking number as the answer, not a full fucking article

  • YttriumPDX

    The question implicitly asked in the title is not actually answered in this article.

  • Chris Edwards

    Great article, it answered some of my questions. It would be nice to see some degradation graphs for the different types of extracts. I’m sure that it would take a considerable amount of time and lab work to produce that info.