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Can Cannabis Oil Go Bad?

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 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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ever wonder about whether or not cannabis oil can go bad? Learn about the factors that influence how long cannabis oils and concentrates last from Leafly.

Do Oil Cartridges Go Bad?

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So you’ve found a spare cannabis concentrate oil cartridge that you thought was long gone! It’s not unusual to stumble across a cartridge left forgotten somewhere.

There’s good news if it’s still the same color and the same viscosity (basically, no ‘sludginess’) as when you first obtained it. It might have lost some potency, due to the fact that it’s been sitting around for six months or longer. As long as there is no cloudiness, it should still be good to use.

But what if the oil has formed ‘sugar’ crystals, darkened in color, clouded, thickened in consistency, or now tastes really bitter (rancidity) if you try and vape it? As well as tasting a little unpleasant, you may also find that the potency has also decreased to the point that it’s very noticeable.

The oil in your oil cartridge has changed properties. Your oil has changed at the molecular level over time especially if it has been exposed to temperature changes, kept at or above room temperature, has come from a storage bottle with a large airspace above the oil, or has been exposed to lots of light (and heat), especially UV light – or a combination of any of these. There aren’t any processes that can restore your aged oil back to full potency. That’s one of the realities when dealing with plant based oils and why taking care to keep storage bottles and cartridges with care.

Potency from Plants

Cannabis oil is extracted from the flowering cannabis plant. If you extract any plant based oil, such as rose oil, olive oil, or another type, it has a limited shelf life. Plants can create many complex molecules that have unique properties and those extracted as an oil cannot sustain pure potency for an indefinite period of time. This is because the complex carbon based chain molecules that give an oil its unique properties can be easily damaged in a short time, especially if not kept in ideal storage conditions. Cannabis oil falls into that category that can have a short shelf life if not stored in the right way.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive component in cannabis oil that affects the brain and causes the mental and physical changes in the body that are psychoactively based. THC has its largest concentrations in the flowers, which are cured in order to get the maximum out of them. The flowers are the most delicate parts of the plant, just like the flowers in any other plant, so they have even shorter shelf life than if the roots, leaves, or stems were to be used.

What are the factors that can cause oil cartridges to go bad?

Four Factors Affecting Potency

So, oil cartridges will go bad over time and, if left long enough in poor conditions they can become unusable. But mostly, they may just degrade to the point that you will get much less effect from you oil than using a fresh cartridge and the experience amy not be the most pleasant if the oil tastes tainted.

There are four main factors that cause oil cartridges to degrade and lose their potency:

  • Heat
  • Light (especially UV)
  • Oxygen (oxidation)
  • Time

There’s no way to keep factor number four, time, from degrading your oil cartridges, so you should use them within the first four to six months of receiving them, but you do have control over heat, light and oxygen exposure.

Staying Cool

Heat and warmth will degrade the THC, or the CBD in the oil cartridges. It doesn’t have to be you deliberately heating the oil in the cartridge; it can often come from just being in a pocket or handbag. The natural body heat contributes towards degradation, thus shortening the life of the oil cartridges.

Keep in mind that if your oil is fresh and you have slightly warmed it to fill a cartridge, or it warms up in your car, if you use it a reasonably short time you should not notice any loss of potency. Heat partnered with time is the real problem here.

If you want the oil to last longer, then try to find a dispensary that sells separate syringes filled with hash oil. That way, you can store the oil in a dark, cool place like a cabinet or cupboard and only use what you need when you need it. The less heat that comes into contact with the oil, the longer it will stay at full potency.

Keep Out of Sunlight

When cannabis oil is exposed to high intensity sunlight, degradation at the molecular level happens. This is caused by a process known as chain scission where the molecules break apart into smaller pieces, and this affects the properties of the oil.

Sunlight actually degrades the THC crystals. This in turn causes a chemical reaction that changes the cellular composition of the THC to CBN. CBN is a cannabinoid that has a few of the same characteristics as THC, including medical properties and the ability to induce you to sleep. But the psychoactive effects of the THC are gone. Keeping you oil in a cool dark space is important.

Oxygen Causes Oxidation

Yes, the actual air you breathe can cause degradation in oil cartridges. The fatty acids present in the cannabis oil don’t interact well with oxygen molecules and will degrade. When it’s combined with both sunlight and heat, oxidation can wreak havoc on a new oil cartridge within just a few months.

How to Store Oil Cartridges

To prevent your oil cartridges from going bad quicker, your best options for storage include refrigeration and any dark, cool space away from sunlight, heat and eccessive temperature changes. You should also try and limit the air space in storage bottles to reduce the exposure to oxygen. Decanting a half emptied bottle into cartridges or a smaller bottle is a simple approach. The message is that you can’t stop time from degrading the properties of your oil, but you can slow degradation down by some simple and sensible storage practices that will give you the full potency for the longest period of time.

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Leave a Reply 21 comments

Greetings! I’ve been following your blog for a time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the good work!

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Hi Domenic,
Thanks for the nice comment from Houston! Great to get feedback like yours. Helps make the effort worthwhile 🙂

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Nice post! Thank you.

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Thanks for writing this. I learned alot

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

Leave a Reply:

Hi Julie,
If you don’t store shatter properly it can start to degrade and breakdown. It will lose its consistency, flavor and potency. Ideally you should store it in a cool and dry place for the long term. It needs to be protected from moisture, heat, oxygen and UV light. Direct sunlight is very bad for it, moisture plus heat is is a no-no.

If the shatter is warmed up it will cause the cannabinoids and terpenes to activate, which is what you want when you are using it, not when it is lying around cooking in warm sunlight. If the shatter has been badly stored, it may degrade into something like you describe, a material that has a texture and look similar to butter or to sugar crystals.

If you use this degraded form you cannot expect the same results from properly stored glass-like shatter and you may have to consider discarding it, making or buying some new material and also investing in a good storage container you can put in the fridge or a cool place, like a pantry space where the temperature remains even. The container will keep out the light and moisture and I would also include a silica gel RH control pack in the container to keep the storage conditions inside optimal. If you want to see a good container for use at home, see the post on Best Smell Proof Container for Weed and look at the Herb Guard product. It comes with an RH pack included! All the best.

You’ve found a spare cannabis CBD oil cartridge that you thought was long gone! It’s not unusual to stumble across a cartridge but do oil cartridges go bad? ]]>