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Cannabis THC Distillates: What are they?

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Cannabis Distillates: What are they?

Cannabis distillates are pure, odorless, tasteless, and super potent. With confidence the purity of a distillate can be said to be 99% all cannabinoid (THC or CBD). Since distillates are highly concentrated, only a small dose is enough to cause an effect. Distillates can be defined as cannabinoids that have undergone a series of separation and heating methods from a plant material or concentrate. Simply, distillates (e.g. THC distillates) is extracted from cannabis using pressurized CO2 and ethanol; then purified. Distillates are stripped off of all impurities including terpenes (chemical compound that gives cannabis its flavor and aroma) and other plant compounds. Sometimes, terpenes and other plant content can be added after, but ideally distillates are either pure THC or CBD.

Are Distillates and Oil (a.k.a Tinctures) the Same?

The name “Distillate” comes from the term “distill”. Distill simply means to purify a valuable compound through a vaporizing process. In a nutshell, a cannabis distillate is just that. In fact, it is more pure and potent than its oil cousins such as tinctures. Distillates do not have any impurities including terpenes and other cannabis compounds (unless added after). If you get a THC distillate for example, the product is exactly that – 99% pure THC!

Tinctures and distillate look exactly alike to an untrained eye – but, other than its liquid form, there are no other similarities between the two. Distillates are extracts and Tinctures are infusions. What does infusion mean in this context? Tinctures are made from soaking de-carboxylated cannabis in a solvent such as alcohol. The soaking removes all plant matter but retains the terpenes and therefore still have flavor and aroma.

How do you make THC Distillates?

cannabis extraction

Distillates are made from winterized, de-carboxylated and distilled cannabis extracts. In other words, the cannabis extract undergoes several processes including heating and condensation to separate the cannabinoids from the plant material.

how to make cannabis distillate

A popular first step in producing distillates is crude oil extraction, which can be performed via either physical or chemical extraction methods. Physical extraction methods include sieving and chemical extraction methods include butane oil or a special type of carbon dioxide extraction. At this stage the crude contains impurities that need to be removed further to make pure distillates. Another option is using cannabis trimmings or buds.

The next step involves the process called winterization. This process removes any byproducts from the crude extract. This includes removal of plant waxes, fats, lipids, and chlorophyll. Ethanol is added to the crude extract and incubated at a very cold environment for 1-2 days. The cold temperature causes the byproducts to coagulate and precipitate to the bottom. The crude extract is then put through a filter and ethanol is removed using an evaporator.

At this stage, the crude extract is not very potent. The cannabinoids that have been separated are either THCA or CBDA. These cannabinoids are in the inactive form. THCA doesn’t cause the “high” effect and CBDA does not cause the therapeutic effect. Thus, the next step is to apply heat to the crude extract to convert the THCA to THC and/or CBDA to CBD. This process is called decarboxylation. Decarboxylation is an important step! All cannabinoids in the acid form need to be de-carboxylated first in order for our nervous system to respond to these compounds. The decarboxylation process involves the removal of the acid component of the compound via application of heat, as high as 220oF or 104.44oC.

The final step of making distillates is the distillation process. This process involves both vacuum pressure and heat to separate the cannabinoids from the terpenes based on their unique boiling points and molecular weights.

The process of making a distillate is a laborious and expensive process. But if it is done correctly, the result is versatility. The way you can enjoy distillates are endless (which we will discuss in this article…if you continue reading J)

Solvent-free Distillates

Now…the extraction process discussed above uses Ethanol as a solvent to separate THC or CBD from the plant extract. The following steps that follow involve the complete removal of the ethanol using an evaporator. Assuming this step is done correctly and efficiently, the final distillate should not have any residual solvents remaining. Unfortunately, some distillates might still contain a few traces of solvent (Butane or Propane specifically) that might cause some consumers to experience effects that may or may not impact the overall experience.

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A solvent-free distillate has ZERO traces of solvent. Theoretically, solvent-free distillates are a safer and healthier choice than a concentrate that was separated using solvents such as butane or propane (Ethanol solvents are debatable). There are two methods that do not involve solvents during extraction: Short Path Distillation Process or Short Path Wiped Film Process.

Short Path Distillation Process

This process involves a heated flask, a vacuum, a fractionating tube and a condensing tube. The plant extract is put through the flask that is highly heated, it flows through the fractionating tube with the aid of a vacuum and directed to the condensing tube. For a clean distillation process, the cannabis material should be put through this process multiple times (recommended).

Short Path Wiped Film Process

This process uses melting points of cannabinoids as the main focus. It uses a compact feed vessel, a heated evaporated vessel, rotating wiper blade, an internal condenser and an additional evaporator (optional). Plant material is fed into the feed vessel, which is then directed into the heated evaporation vessel. The evaporation vessel contains the rotating wiper blade, which is used to distribute the plant extract on to the walls of the vessel. Within the evaporation vessel there is also an internal condenser that takes up the evaporated extracts and converts it into liquid form. This liquid is the distillate. Additional evaporators can be used to collect excess terpenes etc.

THC Distillate vs. Live Resin Concentrate

THC distillate: 99% de-carboxylated and distilled THC sap. It is pure and super potent. Can be both consumed and infused with food or drinks. The ways you can ingest THC distillate will be discussed in more detail below.

Live Resin: The THC percentage in resin ranges from 45 – 50%. It comes from freshly harvested cannabis that is frozen and kept frozen throughout the extraction process. The immediate freezing of the cannabis material after harvest preserves the terpene profile. Similar to THC distillates, live resin can be consumed via dabbing, vaping with a dap pen, or just from Topping your joint or blunt.

However it is important to note, that the THC percentage might not mean as much if you consider the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the process of cannabinoids and other compounds acting synergistically with one another to cause a greater effect than the compounds acting alone. We discuss this mechanism in greater detail in our article on Cannabis Terpenes.

How to use Distillates: Dabbing, Vaping (Cartridge), Edibles

Distillates are often vaporized. Handheld vapes, disposable vapes and refillable vapes are all effectives types of vaping THC distillates. In addition, distillates are by far the most popular products to dab (vaping on a hot surface). Edibles has it’s pros and cons – pro: can mix with other foods for flavor; cons: dosage control and bioavailability. Edibles take longer to cause effect, which ties with the dosage. Some people often times take too much or can’t track their dosage because of the slow absorption rate.

What are Distillate Syringes (Cartridge)?

Syringes are a new way of consuming distillates. Like any other distillates, it is purified, it is easy to use and refilling the cartridge takes very little time (less than 1 minute). It is cheap (e.g. 1g THC Distillate Syringe costs less than $40) and it is readily available to purchase.

What are Distillate Cartridges & Vape Pens?

Similar to the distillate syringes, pens can be found easily as well. Vape pens have a cartridge that contains the THC distillate, a heating source with a battery. The battery is used to charge the heating element; the heating element vaporizes the distillate. The cost of THC oil vape pens range around $40-$50.

Advantages of Distillates

  1. Already in the de-carboxylated (activated) form
    1. Raw cannabis requires heating before use. As you know, decarboxylation is an essential step because this is the only way our endocannabinoid system (ECS) can interact with the compounds. With decarboxylation, the cannabinoids can travel to our brain, activate our neurons and cause the “high” feeling. Without decarboxylation, our body would treat the cannabis plant matter like any other green vegetable – might have health benefits but won’t cause the “high” effect.
  1. 99% Pure
    1. The distillation process causes distillates to be very pure and potent. Depending on the compound you want to extract from the cannabis plant (either cannabinoids, terpenes or flavonoids), the end result following distillation would be close to 100% purity.
  1. High THC content
    1. Note: consider the Entourage Effect discussed above.
  1. Distillates are versatile and discreet
    1. If you need to take marijuana for medical purposes during the day, you don’t need to worry about drawing attention from the smell or obvious equipment usage. This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding advantages, but distillates can be ingested in many ways and are super discreet.

Asrinus Subha
Asrinus Subha
A plant geneticist with several years of R&D experience in the cannabis industry and agriculture. I can provide in-depth knowledge of basic scientific principles in the fields of cell and systems biology and cannabis science. Visit my website: www.writewithme.ca

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