Cannabis Distillate is a newer production technique for distilling cannabinoids to create a concentrate from plant matter. Because this production technique essentially creates a cannabis extract with a pure molecular level, Cannabis Distillate is often called “The Pure.”
Touted as the next evolution in cannabis science, Cannabis Distillation enables extracts to grow in popularity because the process can create a tasteless, odorless, 99% pure THC concentrate. These extracts have tremendous medicinal and recreational potential.
Because it doesn’t have a flavor, taste, or aroma, Cannabis Distillate can be consumed in almost any form. Extremely potent, Cannabis Distillate is a base ingredient in many edibles and vape cartridges. It is also sold as THC oil and CBD oil for medicinal purposes.
Cannabis distillation is a superior process for creating potent THC and CBD extracts over traditional cannabinoid processes. Although it does have some drawbacks, cannabis distillation will advance the way we consume cannabis products.
Traditionally, there are two methods for creating concentrates from cannabinoid.
Wax and Shatter Method
The wax and shatter method is a chemical method for creating cannabinoid concentrates uses solvents, like butane, to extract the main components from the cannabis plant. A typical production technique of using solvents creates shatter and wax.
Using the wax and shatter method has a couple of drawbacks:
- The solvents leave residue in the cannabinoid concentrate.
- This process is very flammable and dangerous.
- Destroys the plant tissue.
The Hash method is a physical method for creating cannabinoid concentrates using pressure and rinse cycles instead of solvents. This method uses a rosin or sieving to separate the plant components to produce the concentrate.
Cannabis Distillation uses a unique process from other concentrates. Unlike the wax, shatter, and hash methods, Cannabis Distillation uses a natural physical way to separate and refine the molecules. This process involves extraction, winterization, decarboxylation, and distillation.
Once separated, the distillation process utilizes heat to vaporize cannabinoids, stripping the chlorophyll and plant matter from the cannabinoids. The distillation cooling system collects the pure cannabinoid vapor to create a clean, solvent-free, concentrated liquid.
Once the crude extract has been separated, it goes through a winterization process to purify the extract of waxes, fats, lipids, and chlorophyll. The pure extract is then mixed with ethanol and placed in a cold environment for one to two days.
In the cold, the impurities solidify and fall to the bottom of the container. The crude extract then goes through a filtration system to remove the ethanol, restoring the extract to its pure form.
Then the extract must be decarboxylated for the THC acid to interact with the human body effectively. This process raises the extract’s temperature to activate the cannabinoids and remove the carboxylic acid from the cannabinoid chemical compound. Once this is done, the THC concentrate and CBD concentrate can bind to the nervous system receptors to provide medicinal and recreational benefits.
The final process of distilling the extract uses vacuum pressure, heat, and evaporation to separate terpenes and cannabinoids. This separation doesn’t occur until the process reaches a boiling point. THC and CBD have different boiling points for extraction.
Once this step is complete, the extracts are ready for consumption. Although for CBD extracts, the concentrate might go through one more process to remove any traces of THC from the extract. CBD extracts that undergo this process are called Broad Spectrum.
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.
RSO vs. distillate
Many consumers often wonder what is the difference between RSO, or Rick Simpson Oil, and distillate. Named after its creator, Canadian engineer-turned medical marijuana patient and advocate Rick Simpson, RSO is a concentrated form of cannabis oil often used by patients to treat cancer symptoms and other ailments. RSO is thought to be a more “raw” form of concentrate as it retains more plant matter than distillate, which strips away some of it during the extraction process. It’s also an easier DIY method that results in a highly potent final product.