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Cannthropology: Bubble Hash Backstory

How a cadre of Cannabis icons brought bubble hash into the stoner zeitgeist in the 1990s.

Before rosin was all the rage, the most popular form of “solventless” concentrate was water-extracted “ice” or “bubble” hash (so named because it bubbles up when smoked). But unlike charas and dry sift, which were known about for millennia, bubble hash didn’t really enter the stoner zeitgeist until the 1990s — thanks to the entrepreneurial endeavors of a cadre of Cannabis icons. 

Sadu Sam’s Secret

Original “Sadu Sam’s Secret” ad (High Times, Aug. 1987).

By most accounts, the history of bubble hash begins with two of the most notorious Cannabis breeders of all time: Holland’s Nevil Schoenmachers and David Watson, aka “Sam the Skunkman” or “Sadu Sam” from Santa Cruz. Legend has it that during their interactions in Amsterdam sometime during the early 1980s, Nevil shared with Sam the secret of how to separate resin glands (trichomes) from Cannabis by agitating it in cold water. He’d allegedly learned this method from an “unknown American” from the Emerald Triangle, who Sam reportedly suspected may have actually been a Canadian named Montreal Mike — an acquaintance of theirs who’d visited the top hashish capitals on the fabled Hippie Trail. 

In any case, Skunkman decided to cash in on this valuable new knowledge. He self-published a little manual entitled “Sadu Sam’s Secret” that provided step-by-step instructions for the “hash washing” technique: crushing buds up into a container of cold water, shaking or stirring it briskly, letting it settle, then pouring it through a coffee filter. He then designed a small ad that offered an “amazing natural and organic resin separating technique” using “only 2 common household items” for just $10 and began running it in High Times’ August 1987 issue. 

Though many stoners who ordered Sam’s booklet undoubtedly learned the method, it would take nearly a decade for water hash to really take off—thanks in part to the 1998 book “Hashish” by Sam’s pal, botanist/author Robert Connell Clarke that included the technique, and a valuable new tool from the infamous Hash Queen of Amsterdam. 

Ice-O-Lation Innovation

Hash Queen Mila with her Ice-O-Lator kits.

By the mid-1990s, Mila Jansen was already renowned in the hash community for her invention of the Pollinator — a portable clothes drier-like machine that tumbled the resin glands off of Cannabis (for more on Mila, see Cannthropology from July 2022). Thus, when a Swiss inventor from Laytonville, California, named Reinhard Delp attended the High Times Cannabis Cup in November 1997 seeking to market his new hash-making device, it was the Hash Queen he reached out to. At a private meeting at her house, Delp demonstrated to her his patented Ice-Cold Extractor: a funnel-shaped stainless-steel drum filled with ice water that used pressurized air to separate mature resin heads from the flower. 

The extractor schematic from Delp’s patent.

After signing a contract with Delp to sell his machine, Mila later showed it to two of her friends: a hash smuggler named Eldon and an entrepreneur named Mark Rose. Allegedly, after seeing it in action, Eldon pointed out that the same result could be achieved with just a couple of nylon bags with different screens (Mila denies this claim, saying the idea was hers). Rose then reportedly came up with the name “Ice-O-Later” (since they were using ice to isolate the resin glands) and later inked a deal with Mila for his company ACME Nepal to manufacture their re-envisioning of Delp’s invention. Mila’s Ice-O-Lator bags premiered at the 1998 Cannabis Cup, kickstarting a long run of award-winning Ice-O-Later hashes over the next several years. 

Despite their product’s success, their partnership barely lasted a year; Mila split with Mark, retained ownership of the brand and apparently shifted production to Turkey. And although the Ice-O-Lator bags were a revelation in the field, like any prototype, they had their limitations: reportedly allowing some unwanted plant material into the hash and losing more mature trichome heads into the wash. Luckily, these issues would soon be addressed by an enterprising young Canadian who was about to make some serious waves in the world of water hash. 

The Bubbleman Cometh 

Marcus “Bubbleman” Richardson

A hemp grower/entrepreneur hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Marcus Gary Richardson began smoking Nepalese, Moroccan and Afghani hash smuggled in through Montréal and Vancouver in his late teens. It wasn’t until attending the 1995 Cup that he’d first tried bubble hash, courtesy of his mentor-to-be, Rob Clarke.

“It blew my mind,” Richardson remembers. “It just completely changed my life.”

In 1997, Richardson moved to Vancouver, where he started growing for the newly-opened BC Compassion Club and became a big player in the Cannabis market there. That is, until one day in 1998, when he was arrested at a roadblock with around 16.5 pounds of weed and $6,000 in cash — leading him to rethink his career as a Cannabis cultivator: “It was devastating to me. I was really good at it, and I didn’t know what else I could possibly do. And so, my wife just said, ‘Is it possible you can do something with Cannabis that maybe wouldn’t get us put in jail?’”

After a friend showed him the Ice-O-Lator system, Richardson had a flash of inspiration; at the 1999 Cup, he decided to approach Mila with an offer to buy 1,000 sets of bags and become her official distributor in Canada. Unfortunately, that meeting did not go as he’d hoped. 

“She was having a very bad day,” Richardson recounts. “We did not have a good conversation.” 

He returned home crestfallen, thinking he’d blown his big opportunity. But then, his wife suggested an option he hadn’t considered:

“She said, ‘Why don’t we just make our own bags?’” he recalls. “I looked at her like she was from another planet. I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know how to sew!’ And she’s like, ‘Well … I’ll learn.”

A full set of Bubbleman’s Bubble Bags.

But if Richardson was going to create his own water extraction set, he wasn’t about to just make a knock-off of the Ice-O-Lator bags — he’d need to improve on the concept. So rather than just two bags with screens of different micron sizes, he offered three. By March 1999, Richardson had started a new company called Fresh Headies and launched his new ice extraction system, called simply “Bubble Bags.” For the product’s slogan, he borrowed a phrase first coined by Skunkman that he’d learned from Clarke years earlier: “If it doesn’t bubble, it’s not worth the trouble.”  

Richardson began selling his Bubble Bags on the internet, which, at the time, was still a novel thing that not many people were taking advantage of — that is, except for the clandestine Cannabis community, of course. 

“For the first time, thousands of people were gathering on websites such as Cannabis World, Cannabis Culture and Overgrow, and talking about things that were very secretive for many decades prior,” he explains.

Through one of these online forums, Richardson was contacted by Mila’s former associate, Mark Rose, who offered to be his manufacturing partner. Together, they then sourced top-quality materials, such as resilient, specially-coated parachute thread and superior silkscreens from Switzerland. Richardson also gradually expanded the set to eight bags, including the 90- and 120-micron screens able to produce the “caviar of bubble hashes:” 5- and 6-star-rated full melts. As a result, Bubble Bags became the new industry standard for making water hash, and Richardson earned a new nickname: “Bubbleman.”

Trouble in the Bubble

Kyle Kushman’s “Bubble All the Way” article (High Times – Dec. 2002).

Unfortunately, though, Bubbleman’s successes drew disdain from those whose ideas he’d developed upon. In 2001, Delp sued Richardson for patent infringement — a legal battle that would last nearly a decade before being settled out of court.

“I worked out a deal and paid him six figures for the lease of his patent,” Richardson claims. “So I know how to do business the right way.”

Sadly, Delp passed away in October 2017 without receiving proper public recognition for his invention or the revolution it helped spark. 

Even worse, Mila told everyone that Marcus had ripped off her intellectual property (even though, according to him, she herself had “borrowed” the idea from Delp). 

“People thought I had stolen the idea from Mila,” Richardson laments. “So for a very long time in the community, I was looked down upon.” 

She became further aggravated in December 2002 when High Times writer Kyle Kushman — unaware of their schism or who Mila even was at the time — published the article “Bubble All the Way” that sang the praises of Bubbleman’s product with no mention of where the concept had originated and included photos (provided by legendary breeder Soma) that she believed were of her bags rather than Bubbleman’s. As a result, the Hash Queen called them out in person at the Cannabis Cup that year — interrupting Kushman’s live “Grow Show” seminar to voice her grievance publicly. Despite Mila’s animosity towards him, however, Richardson says he harbored no hard feelings towards her. 

“In her defense, I would’ve hated me as well,” he acquiesces. “She’s a strong woman and a legend in the community, and I respect that. I respect that she was fighting for what was hers, and I respect her hustle … all I wanted was for everything to be good.” 

Thankfully, these two luminaries have since come to peacefully coexist in the international hash community that they helped create.

Full-Melt Future

Mila with protégé Nikka T.

With the explosion of butane hash oil (no pun intended) in the 2010s, bubble hash might’ve fallen by the wayside had it not been for the next wave of extract artists who innovated dabbable new forms of water hash by using fresh frozen flower and more complex equipment, enabling them to freeze-dry extracts and manipulate them into textures desirable for dabbing. Perhaps the most notable of these water hash wizards is Essential Extracts founder (and Mila protégé) Nick “Nikka T” Tanem, who coined the term “solventless.” After traveling to Amsterdam in 2003 to apprentice under the Queen herself, Nikka T brought the skills he’d learned back to the US — helping to set the standard, and the stage, for the next decade and beyond. 

Today, there are countless concentrate companies across the globe producing some of the finest quality solventless hash that’s ever been made — each of them another ripple in the ice water, another aquatic echo of the stupendous splashes made by those original entrepreneurs of extraction and forerunners of full-melt.


About Bobby Black

Bobby Black is a marijuana media icon. He spent 21 years at High Times magazine as an associate art director, senior editor, and columnist. He is currently the Content Director of California Leaf and Competition Director of the Leaf Bowl cannabis competitions. He is also the Executive Director of the World of Cannabis Museum project, host/writer of the cannabis history podcast/column Cannthropology, and co-founder of Higher Way Travel.

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This article was originally published in the July 2024 issue of All Magazines.

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