What is the difference between distillates and extracts? How are they produced and what are the potential benefits/drawbacks to these concentrated cannabis products?
Distillation and extraction are two of the most common methods used for isolating the pure chemical compounds of a variety of different everyday items. And with the recent boom in the retail and medical cannabis industry in the past decade, it should come as no surprise that both forms of THC and CBD isolation are growing in popularity.
The key difference between distillation and extraction is that distillation follows heating of a liquid mixture and collecting the vapor of the liquid at their boiling point and condensing the vapor to get the pure substance whereas, in extraction, a suitable solvent is used for the separation process (like with BHO). So basically a bunch of science shit. Either way, I know that if any of my friends walked into a distillate production facility it would probably remind them of a Breaking Bad set.
There are a variety of ways in which you can ‘extract’ and isolate the THC and CBD that come from the cannabis plant. Butane hash oil (BHO), rosin, live resin, shatter, crumble and molecular distillates are all popular examples. “The applications for distillates in the cannabis and hemp markets are literally endless,” said Nenad Yashruti, co-founder of Root Sciences. “From the medical patient to the recreational consumer, concentrates of this purity, potency, and consistency will be the cornerstone of future cannabis consumption.” The THC distillate itself can be made into dab, shatter or a fine oil used in vape cartridges or edibles.
All you really need to know to understand distillates is that they isolate the cannabis plant down to its most pure form without plant matter, solvents or additives (with the exception of terpenes, which we’ll get to later), and it can contain up to 99%+ levels of THC. Super key when we discuss a person using cannabis medicinally. The high potency THC/CBD levels that this alcohol distillation produces is oftentimes exactly what patients need. The resulting distillate is free of impurities, and when vaporized produces no smell and no flavor, which definitely has its positives and negatives. Because of decarboxylation, using distillates to make infused edibles is fairly commonplace. This is key to allowing patients access to specific alternative methods to smoking. Using distillates to make edibles is both cost effective while also producing highly potent products.
For many people though, the smell and taste are half of the enjoyment they get out of smoking cannabis. In fact, we could go so far and say that that is one of the first defining factors when they make a purchase…does it smell and taste dank? That’s where terpenes come into play. Terpenes are fragrant oils that give cannabis its aromatic diversity, they’re what make it smell dank and contain no psychoactive ingredients. Natural terpenes are extracted during the distillate process and added back in near the end of the process to give the distillate extract its notable “cannabis aroma”. But does that mean that a Tangie distillate can still be classified as Tangie? Or is it some sort of science abomination? We’ll have to do a lot of testing to really get to the bottom of this.