What is Cannabis Kief?

By Gooey Rabinski | October 28, 2015

Thousands of years ago, before cannabis concentrates like BHO or live resin, there was kief. Also known as dry hash or dry sieve and sometimes spelled as “keef” and “kif,” kief is basically just a collection of trichomes — the sticky, often shimmery, sugar-like crystals — from the flowers and leaves of cannabis.

The trichomes are the small resin factories that produce both cannabinoids and terpenes. Like hash, kief is one of the most organic, low-tech method by which the essence of the cannabis plant can be captured.

Kief, which means “pleasure” or “intoxication” in Arabic and was, according to legend, attributed to this primitive cannabis extraction by the Moroccans, is traditionally lightly pressed into cakes or bricks for storage or distribution. However, unlike hash, kief isn’t fully pressed and rolled to the point of rupturing the trichomes.

Most concentrate connoisseurs who value the quality and potency of their kief will store powder unpressed, in a sealed jar or bottle (to prevent oxidation), disturbing the delicate powdery substance as little as possible until smoked or vaped. Some dispensaries produce slim bricks of pressed kief that resemble a candy bar, such as one in San Francisco, pictured below. This could arguably be labeled hash because of its form and texture. Technically, there’s a fine line between kief and hash.

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In fact, many varieties of old school hash are simply pressed kief. This pressing process causes the trichomes to rupture and commingle their resinous innards, which begins to cure on the outside to form the traditional bricks or slabs of hash that are famous from countries like Lebanon, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

The nice thing about kief is that it isn’t just more THC or an extraction of a particular cannabinoid or terpene. Instead, it is a collection of everything produced by the trichomes. Except for what is lost to drying and curing and the method employed to consume the kief, kiefing preserves the contents of the trichomes from what is normally lost to standard extraction techniques. (High heat methods, like butane lighters, often destroy terpenes, which are extremely volatile molecules that don’t hold up well to heat or oxidation.)

Many popular modern extraction methods, such as Butane Hash Oil (BHO) and CO2, often cause damage or destruction to delicate terpenes and even some cannabinoids. Only live resin preserves the contents of the trichomes like quality kiefing or simply smoking or vaping flowers, although there are several new and proprietary — and surely soon to be patented — processes by which the full spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids can be preserved.

Great for Patients

Kief is perfect for patients who wish to smoke their medicine, but prefer to get as much THC and other good cannabinoids and terpenes as possible with as few tokes as necessary. Patients suffering from nausea and pain can also gain quick relief while inhaling considerably larger volumes of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids than would be possible if smoking or vaping only the flowers of the plant. If one subscribes to the theory of the entourage effect, more whole plant goodness in the form of additional cannabinoids and terpenes can only be a good thing.

The potency and ease of consumption of kief make it appropriate for those who want to quickly medicate and get on with their day. Cannabis newbies and those with little experience with concentrates should heed the extract advice of “start low, go slow” if uncertain about how much kief to consume. However, kief, like regular cannabis flowers, is easily titrated (dosed) based on its rapid onset (roughly 2.5 minutes).

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Often, large cultivators will donate or sell on-the-cheap their harvest trim to cannabis collectives or patient groups who then kief it. After kiefing, efficient operations will also use the kiefed trim to make edibles or another extraction, wasting no part of the leaf trim.

Smoked or Vaped

Kief is just as flexible as its mother cannabis in terms of how it can best be consumed. It is popular sprinkled on top of ground cannabis buds in joints and bowls or simply smoke by itself. It can be vaporized with little or no special equipment. One should note that kief, because it is much finer than ground flower, will burn more quickly. Often, patients and consumers who have been blessed by herb, kief, and honey oil (BHO or CO2 oil) will create a “triple decker” of flower and kief topped by cannabis oil. For those who desire or need quick relief or euphoria, a triple decker is a classic way of achieving the coveted “one-hit wonder.”

Despite the huge popularity of concentrates like BHO and live resin, kief harkens back to the earliest days of human use of the herb. The powdery, sugary crystals from good strains of properly dried and cured cannabis flowers can be extremely potent and offer between 30-60 percent THC (flower typically offers 8-30 percent THC). Kief can also be infused into edibles and cannabis confections, although most fans of kief would never use it this way, instead enjoying a smooth toke from a joint, bowl, or vaporizer.

Kiefing Trays & Grinders

Despite the millennia-long history of kief, there are many modern devices designed to help one collect and consume this yummy cannabis concentrate. Common are thick three-chamber kiefing grinders that include a fine stainless steel screen designed to allow to pass through only the nearly microscopic trichomes and little or none of the plant mater. Such grinders store the kief in a separate compartment from which it can be scooped out after days, weeks, or months of use (depending on one’s consumption habits).

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Kiefing trays are devices used by ganja gardeners to manually separate the trichomes from the leaves and plant matter. Most employ a very fine industrial-grade screen above a black metal or glass plate designed to collect the trichomes and make them easy to retrieve. Professional cannabis cultivators often employ large scale automated kiefing machines that agitate a considerable quantity of trim or leaves in a drum that features openings to capture the kief as it falls from the plant matter.

Photo credit: GooeyRabinski.com

Gooey Rabinski

Gooey Rabinski is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana.

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