Cannabis distillate
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Cannabis Distillate: How It’s Made

You’ve probably heard of cannabis crystalline, wax, butane hash oil, and so on. Confused which is which?There are just too many cannabis products that can be pretty overwhelming for someone new in the game or who simply wants to learn about cannabis.

In this article, we will focus on one of the more popular concentrates – cannabis distillate.

Cannabis distillate in a nutshell

Cannabis distillate

Cannabis distillates refer to purified oil extracted through a distillation process of cannabis. Hence, they are touted as one of the cleanest weed products available. They are produced to contain a single targeted compound which could either be cannabidiol (CBD) or Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

During distillation, the raw cannabis plant undergoes an extensive process to zero in on a specific compound. As such, terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant compounds and impurities are removed from the distillate, which results in a high concentration of one cannabinoid.

The strong aroma in a cannabis plant comes from its high amounts of terpenes. Please note that these terpenes are not unique to cannabis; they are also present in many other plants. Similarly, flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds found in fruits and vegetables. In cannabis plants, they provide distinguishing features among different strains in terms of flavor and pigmentation.

Why terpenes and flavonoids are removed from the equation

While these compounds have therapeutic benefits, removing them makes it possible to produce viscous honey-colored fluid that characterizes distillates. They have up to 98 percent concentrated cannabinoids; otherwise, you will have less than 80% potency if you retain such compounds.

Since cannabis distillates are stripped of terpenes and flavonoids, they are odorless and tasteless. This feature makes them more versatile and allows their use in many applications.

As such, you will find cannabis distillates in the composition of several cannabis products like topicals, salves, pills, and edibles. You can vape them directly using a pen or a cartridge.

Types of cannabis distillates

The distillation process of raw cannabis and hemp plants is performed to increase either THC or CBD concentration. Hence, there are two types, namely: THC distillate and CBD distillate.

THC distillate

THC is a cannabinoid that gives weed its psychoactive properties. As a distillate, you can achieve nearly 100 percent purity of this compound, which recreational smokers would like from their pot.

To illustrate how distillation works, let’s say your favorite marijuana strain has 30 percent THC. If you take a concentrate from this same strain, distilling it can triple its potency.

A THC distillate used in medical applications will be beneficial for patients with inflammatory disorders, among other health issues.

CBD distillate

This type of distillate is the antithesis of the THC distillate. One is because it has no THC; therefore, it does not have psychotropic effects.

CBD distillate is produced from a distilled hemp plant which by itself has only negligible amounts of THC. This plant is a member of the cannabis family, making it a cousin of the more notorious marijuana plant.

Like THC distillates, this CBD product is considered one of the most powerful forms of CBD you can achieve.

CBD has its advantages without causing addiction, which THC may have on its user.

THC and CBD distillates can supplement pharmaceutical preparations by supplying enough of each to ideal ratios to address a specific ailment.

Although other cannabinoids such as terpenes and flavonoids are removed during their processing, they are recombined for a synergistic effect. But this time, you can customize the amounts according to desired proportions.

Cannabis distillate vs Cannabis Oil

Cannabis distillate

The end product of a cannabis distillation process is a translucent oily fluid that’s ready for use.

The term cannabis oil can be encompassing, though, as it could be any oil with cannabis in it.

Examples of cannabis oil would be BHO (Butane Hash Oil), crude cannabis oils like RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), Sativa seed oil, etc.

That said, cannabis distillates are cannabis oils, but the same cannot be said vice-versa.

So how does a cannabis distillate differ from cannabis oil?

The biggest difference would be the chemistry of these extracts. A cannabis distillate will have a minimum of 80 percent purity of a particular cannabinoid, while cannabis oil has much less than that.

While cannabis distillates leave no room for contamination, cannabis oil will not be as unadulterated given its production process. Cannabis oil usually involves butane and solvents, which are not exactly the best ingredients to enlist when aiming for the purest end product.

It is not to say that it is not worth using cannabis oils because there are occasions that their potency will be just enough for the needs and tolerance of the user.

Cannabis distillate vs Cannabis Isolate

Cannabis isolate, on the other hand, is a type of distillate that goes through further processing after distillation. It appears in the form of white powder that contains nearly 100 percent of a particular cannabinoid. In this regard, cannabis distillates serve as the intermediary product during the cannabis isolation process.

Having the purest compound in powder form makes for easy dosing of cannabis isolates. However, many argue that without other cannabinoids, they miss out on the entourage effect when you leave terpenes and flavonoids in the mix. They are believed to have more benefits than just having the purest form of one compound.

Steps in making cannabis distillates

The process of producing cannabis distillate entails the refinement of raw cannabis and is a complex one. Hence, it’s not a DIY project. A trained individual should ideally perform it with the help of advanced equipment in a lab environment.

These aspects are crucial if you want to have a clean, pure, and potent slate for one compound. You can use it as one of the primary ingredients of different cannabis products or add it with other cannabinoids depending on the intended use.

The following steps in making distillates are rigorous indeed. We will use hemp as an example to produce a CBD distillate, which will be the same process as a THC distillate sourced from a marijuana plant.

1. Extraction of resin from raw cannabis

In this initial step, the resin trichomes, which contain all the cannabinoids and other plant matter, need to be extracted from the hemp plant.

This extraction can be achieved using solvents or through manual methods such as sifting and rinsing.

Solvents like propane, pentane, and butane are commonly used during resin extraction. It results in crude oil that contains up to 80 percent of CBD.

A closed-loop process is followed, where it starts in a solvent tank. The resin is washed with a solvent to separate the resin trichomes. It will go to a collection tank and back to the solvent tank to produce oleoresin.

2. Removal of oleoresin impurities through winterization

At this point, oleoresin is extracted oil made up of multiple cannabinoid concentrates. However, this also means it still has unwanted plant material such as fats and other compounds. As such, the oleoresin has to undergo winterization to eradicate the unwanted elements.

Winterization is accomplished by adding ethanol to the oleoresin and placing the mixture in cold storage below freezing temperature for up to 48 hours. This procedure will cause coagulation of compounds, making it easy to remove the terpenes and other impurities through a filter press.

The filter sifts the fats and lipids as the cannabinoid and ethanol pass through. What remains is a product referred to as miscella.

3. Separation of ethanol

Since ethanol was used during the winterization process, you must take it out from the filtered cannabinoid. It is achieved through rotary evaporation, which is preferred by cannabis distillers because there’s little effort involved.

A rotary evaporator acts like a vacuum by extracting ethanol from the miscella. It is a more efficient tool by gently rotating to decrease the pressure at the bottom of the flask while increasing its surface area. The complete evaporation created by this device reduces flash boiling and the formation of solvent vapor pockets.

4. Decarboxylation

In their natural state, cannabinoids are acidic. Decarboxylation is performed to change this nature into a functional yet stable condition.

During decarboxylation, the filtered solution after separating ethanol is heated through baking, among other means to activate the compounds. This process will also reduce the distillation processing time.

In any case, you also incorporate decarboxylation even during distillation because of the high temperature used that is enough to heat the compounds.

5. Distillation

Distilling the cannabis compound is the final step in the purification of cannabinoids before they become cannabis distillates.

During distillation, the cannabis fluid is heated using a precise temperature to achieve an evaporation point. It takes place in an enclosed container, the resulting vapor of which is condensed into a liquid state.

Despite the prior decarboxylation and ethanol separation, any remaining impurities in the liquid are almost completely removed while distillation occurs. The terpenes and flavonoids are typically the first ones to go because of their low boiling points.

With distillation, you also avoid degrading the cannabinoids, given that the heating is done quickly.

There are different distillation techniques. One is rotary evaporation that we have briefly discussed in the third step of distilling cannabis. Below are the other types commonly used for purifying cannabis.

a) Simple distillation

The purpose of distillation is to separate elements that essentially produce a purified form of a particular compound. That goal is achieved using a simple distillation technique. It entails a single condensation cycle and is commonly used when separating liquid from a solid matter.

b) Fractional distillation

Also referred to as a short path distillation, fractional distillation lowers boiling points of cannabis compounds through vacuum pressure and thermal heating. This way, the

segregated compound is undamaged in the final product.

The difference in this type of distillation also lies in the number of distillation cycles that occur. And in this case, there are at least two cycles. An additional tool called a fractionating column also obstructs the gases from passing through easily.

A rectification process where the repetitive heating and condensation actions happen until all the vapor that breaks through the fractionating column accumulates in a flask.

This distillation method works best when the molecules present in the distilled material have similar boiling points. As such, it is the preferred technique when producing cannabis distillates.

c) Wiped film distillation

Wiped film distillation is a type of short path distillation but differs in terms of heat exposure and the ability to process batches continuously. Hence, it is ideal for high output or large-scale production, unlike a standard short path distillation which suits small quantities only.

During the distillation process, the oil gets in contact with wipers in the cylinder. It creates a film on the heated surface that gets renewed each time. A condenser works on the vapor, and receiving containers collect the end product. This strategy allows for the processing of large batches at a faster pace.

How to take distillates

Cannabis distillate

Since you have a cannabis distillate, now what? You’re ready to rock and roll with it!

Do the tried and tested method of smoking your joint by rolling a pinch of THC distillate on a small sheet of paper.

Or, you can get about two drops under your tongue and allow it to dissolve there as it reaches your bloodstream – no swallowing.

Reload your vape pen with a cannabis distillate either directly or by adding it to your cartridge, which will give you a good hard kick.

You will find yourself flying when you scoop some of that distillate into your bong or rig and start dabbing.

Take a dash of your distillate and mix it with your coffee, butter, smoothie, or drizzle a bit of it on your salad.


A little bit of your cannabis distillate will indeed go a long way. Hence, you shouldn’t go crazy and start peppering your drinks and edibles generously. Remember, it has a very high concentration of either CBD or THC, so you won’t need large amounts in one sitting, whether it’s for recreation or medication. You can, however, build it up as you ease into it. Always keep your usage in moderation.

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