Distillate is a cannabis extract in which the final product has been systematically stripped of all materials and compounds except one specific cannabinoid.
Distillate is the base ingredient of most edibles and vape cartridges, and typically lacks any flavor, taste, or aroma. It’s a potent cannabis oil that can be used on its own or infused in other cannabis products or goods. The most common forms of distillate on the market are THC oil and cannabidiol (CBD) oil. The name of the oil indicates the most prominent cannabinoid. In the case of CBD oil, CBD would be the most prominent cannabinoid. The name distillate refers to the cannabis purification process that removes and separates the cannabinoids, such as THC or CBD, into unique products.
Distillate is extremely potent, though it lacks the terpenes, or naturally occurring flavors and aromas, of the cannabis plant. One benefit of having the natural terpenes removed is being able to have complete control over the final product’s taste and smell. A drawback of removing terpenes is that without them, the final product may lack the therapeutic benefits commonly attributed to the entourage effect. Adding terpenes to distillate later in the process is possible, and many manufacturers do this, though it’s been theorized that any medicinal advantages are reduced by their initial removal.
Does distillate get you high?
Whether distillate gets you high depends on the precise cannabinoid you’re consuming. The main benefit is that by removing virtually everything except for the desired cannabinoid, the final product is incredibly potent. For that reason, if you’re consuming a THC distillate, you will probably get very high, as the resulting oil will be almost pure THC content. On the other hand, if you’re consuming a CBD distillate, you will tap into the therapeutic benefits of CBD but, because CBD doesn’t produce intoxicating effects, you will not get high.
Is distillate the same as oil?
Distillate is one of the most commonly made types of cannabis oil, often coveted by consumers for its potency. And because it has been stripped of virtually everything other than cannabinoids it is extremely versatile, capable of being consumed on its own or as the base of numerous other cannabis products.
While all distillates are oils, not all cannabis oils are distillates. A cannabis oil is only a distillate if all other materials and compounds, including terpenes, have been systematically stripped and removed. There are many other types of marijuana oils on the market that have not undergone that process.
How is distillate used?
Distillates can be consumed on their own using a dab rig or portable vaporizer. You can also vape them using a distillate cartridge and vape pen. Dabbing or vaping distillates yields a nearly odorless vapor, depending on whether it’s been flavored, with their effects typically being experienced instantly. Adding drops of THC distillate to flower in a rolling paper or bowl intensifies the intoxicating high without altering the flavor or smell.
As an alternative to vaping or smoking, you can make distillate edibles or topicals. In edibles, distillates provide the desired cannabinoids without any plantlike taste. For edibles prepared at home, the oil should be introduced with low doses, about 5 milligrams or less THC per serving, then slowly increase the dosage for the desired potency and taste. Distillates can be consumed on their own and dropped sublingually, or under the tongue. This type of oil can also work in topicals, which are applied transdermally, or applied to the skin and absorbed.
Distillates allow cannabis product manufacturers to separate the various cannabinoids and terpenes, then recombine them into specific ratios. For example, the starting material from a harvest of cannabis plants may not have enough naturally occurring CBD to produce a tincture to help treat anxiety disorders. With distillates, a more accurate CBD-to-THC ratio can be achieved.
Manufacturers also use distillates for producing cannabis edibles, both for the ability to portion the cannabinoids and terpenes into precise amounts, as well as for their flavorless quality. Cannabis butter is another common ingredient used for edibles, but it can add a dry, astringent taste. With distillates, manufacturers can have greater control over the taste of their infused edibles.
Cannabis distillation: a borrowed technology
A mature cannabis plant is known to contain hundreds of identifiable cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, each responsible for playing a role in interacting with our endocannabinoid systems. Through what is widely referred to as “the entourage effect,” these compounds interact with one another to give us the unique experiences we desire.
When it comes to creating cannabis concentrates, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are pulled from the vegetative material of the cannabis plant together though various extraction processes. In order to distill these compounds into their purest form, additional layers of refinement must be executed. This process is known as “fractional” or “short path distillation,” and it is known to produce single compound oils that can reach upwards of 99% purity.
Short path distillation
Fractionation and short path distillation in and of themselves are nothing new. In fact, these common methods have been used for many years, both in the early days of cannabis distillation research as well as in other commercial industries. The techniques have been adopted from the botanical oil extraction markets by cannabis processors to make various oil distillates—fragrance, essential oil, and cooking oil industries can be credited for piloting many of the same fundamental refinement principles that we see overlapping in today’s cannabis distillate manufacturing scene.
Short path distillation is essentially exactly as it sounds: it’s a technique where the distillate travels a short distance, typically from one flask to another, to separate compounds using alcohol and hyper-controlled temperature. Extract material is fed into a flask that’s gradually heated, and a vacuum pulls the ensuing vapors up first into fractionating tubing, then into a condensing tube. This process can be repeated multiple times to refine your end product. Short path distillation is great for creating highly concentrated THC and CBD distillates, as the truncated pathing avoids excessive compound loss during the extraction process.
How cannabis compounds are isolated to create distillates
In order to isolate compounds such as THC into a pure and viscous oil, there are multiple layers of refinement that must first occur. Given that THC as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes are volatile and have varying boiling points, they must first be separated from the cannabis plant via hydrocarbon or CO2 solvent-based extraction techniques. This process removes the valuable and volatile compounds from the plant itself, while many fats, lipids, and other compounds remain. This necessitates further refinement through a process called winterization, whereby a solvent such as ethanol is used in order to remove these undesirable compounds.
Apart from winterization, isolated cannabinoids must also undergo decarboxylation, by which the compounds are heated enough to activate their medicinal potential. Finally, the material is run through a short path steam distillation or rational distillation chamber in a series of multiple passes to purify the desirable compound (typically THC or CBD) to its isolated state.
Molecules such as THC and CBD have higher varying boiling points. Short path distillation uses vacuum pressure, steam, and heat to manipulate boiling points so that compounds are subjected to much cooler temperatures when they pass through. Depending on the distillation process, these volatile compounds can either be fractioned individually or simultaneously for collection.
Through this process, volatile compounds are separated by their molecular weight and individual boiling point, leaving less volatile and undesirable compounds behind. A distillate may be passed through this process multiple times to create an even more pure substance. What remains in a THC distillation is pure THC in the form of a clear and translucent viscous sap that resembles ultra-refined honey in consistency and hue.