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More about Distillate

What is Distillate?

D istillate 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.

What is a Distillate Pen?

In today’s market, you can easily find vape pens that contain pure distillate oil. These products feature a cartridge filled with THC distillate , a heating element, and a battery that powers the heating element. As with any vape pen, the heating element vaporizes the oil inside the cartridge, and the vapor is then inhaled through the mouthpiece. Because it contains such a potent form of extract, these vape pens tend to be very strong.

How is Distillate made?

Distillates are, in essence, cannabis extracts that have been purified and processed to separate the cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, into precise amounts. They’re made from cannabis extracts that have been winterized, decarboxylated, and then distilled.

WARNING: THE MANUFACTURING OF DISTILLATES AND OTHER CANNABIS CONCENTRATES SHOULD ONLY BE PERFORMED BY PROFESSIONALS AS THESE PROCESSES CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND ILLEGAL IN MANY JURISDICTIONS.

For safety and health reasons, producing distillates should be left to professionals with proper equipment and in safely controlled environments, as the setup and materials require precision and accuracy.

The process typically starts with crude oil extraction, which is any process where the cannabinoids are separated from the cannabis plant material. A crude extraction involves either a physical means of separation or a chemical means of separation. Physical separation techniques, such as sieving or rosin, tend to yield concentrates containing more plant impurities than chemical-based extraction methods, namely Butane Hash Oil (BHO) or supercritical fluid carbon dioxide extraction. Whether the cannabinoids are separated by physical or chemical means, the crude extract produced contains impurities that must be removed before the oil can be separated into its individual cannabinoids.

The next major step in producing distillate is called winterization. It is a method to purify the crude extract of byproducts: plant waxes, fats, lipids, and chlorophyll. The crude extract is mixed with ethanol. The solution is then placed in a very cold environment for 24 to 48 hours. The impurities coagulate in the cold temperature and precipitate, or separate, falling to the bottom of the container. This is similar to baking a chicken: the excess grease and juices drip down into the pan and thicken when cooled. The crude extract and ethanol solution is then passed through a filter. After filtering, the ethanol is removed. Ethanol can be removed using a variety of techniques, such as a rotary evaporator or a falling film evaporator.

The extract at this point wouldn’t be very potent. THC, for example, is the well-known compound and active cannabinoid that produces an intoxicating effect. However, it’s tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), that’s found at this stage. THCA doesn’t produce an intoxicating effect. THCA becomes THC after heat is applied. This process is called decarboxylation.

THCA isn’t the only cannabinoid that needs to be decarboxylated in order to interact effectively with the human body. All cannabinoids in their acid form must first be decarboxylated. In fact, there is no THCA in distillate because it’s always decarboxylated.

Decarboxylation is the process of removing the carboxylic acid from a cannabinoid’s chemical compound. A cannabinoid is decarboxylated when it’s heated to the point of eliminating the carboxylic acid. By removing that acid group, the cannabinoid can readily interact within the body and bind to the receptors in the nervous system — specifically, the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid type 2 (CB2) receptors.

The point of decarboxylation depends primarily on time and temperature. For example, THCA begins to decarboxylate into THC when it’s exposed to heat at 220 degrees Fahrenheit, or 104.44 degrees Celsius, or to an open flame. When producing cannabis edibles, extractors will decarboxylate cannabis oil, then mix the resulting concentrate with other ingredients to infuse foods, confections, and beverages with active cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.

The final steps for making this cannabis oil involves the actual cannabis distillation process. Using vacuum pressure and heat, individual cannabinoids and terpenes can be separated from the decarboxylated extract according to their unique boiling points and molecular weights. In a vacuum environment, where the pressure can be strictly controlled, the boiling point of can be achieved at much lower temperatures to help prevent the loss of potency.

A runny, translucent oil devoid of the waxes or undesirable compounds from the original plant. Distillate is desirable due to its potency and versatility.

What is Cannabis Distillation & How is it Used in the CBD Industry?

If you spend any time around the marijuana industry, it won’t take long before you run into cannabis distillation. Often cited as being the next frontier in cannabis extracts, distillates are making waves. This process is allowing marijuana extractors to isolate cannabis compounds, most often THC, into nearly pure concentrations.

Flipping over to the CBD side of things, it probably won’t surprise you that the same techniques are being used on hemp extracts. There are some interesting and novel uses for distillation which we cover below. Dive in with us as we talk cannabis distillation, what it is, and how it’s used across the CBD industry.

What is cannabis distillate?

Cannabis distillate is an extract that has undergone a distillation process to isolate and separate individual components, most often cannabinoids. Commonly this process is utilized to isolate either CBD or THC. The final product in these cases is an extract that is stripped of terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant compounds leaving a high concentration of the desired cannabinoid.

Distillates look similar to very pure honey or, in the case of isolated CBD, become a white crystalline substance. Because the terpenes are removed during the process, a pure distillate will be devoid of aromas or flavors. A high CBD distillate may crystalize while high THC distillates will not. These concentrated extracts are commonly dabbed directly, used in vaporizers, or added to edibles or other products.

While the ‘pure’ nature of distillates are desirable for their potency, they are generally more ‘pharmaceutical’ and don’t take advantage of the ‘whole-plant’ cannabis approach. This prevents the chorus of effects that the wide range of cannabis compounds are studied to provide via the entourage effect. Some distillates add back in terpenes to combat this issue.

How is distillate made?

Distillation is a process that takes place in the final stages of creating an extract. First, the cannabis must be grown, the flowering tops harvested, dried, and processed into a crude extract. From there the extract is winterized to remove fatty acids and other unwanted plant materials and decarboxylated to activate the compounds. Finally, distillation takes place.

Distillation works due to the differences in boiling points of various cannabis compounds. Through careful heating under pressure, the extract is heated to the precise point where the desired cannabinoid(s) vaporize.

Common cannabinoid boiling points:

  • THC: 157 C
  • CBD: 160 C to 180 C
  • CBN: 185 C
  • CBC: 220 C
  • CBG: 220 C
  • Delta-8-THC: 175 C to 178 C

The vapor travels a short distance where it condenses and is re-collected. One of the most common and effective types of distillation used in the cannabis industry is ‘short path distillation’ which gets it’s name from the short distance a vapor has to travel before condensing.

What is fractional distillation?

Original: Theresa knott, Derivative work: John Kershaw

As discussed above, through precise temperature control during distillation, specific compounds can be isolated from an extract. This includes terpenes, flavonoids, and of course cannabinoids. These compound-specific distillations are referred to as ‘fractions’ – referencing to them being a fraction of the whole extract.

This practice, known as fractional distillation, allows for many possibilities in the creation of a customized end-product. For example, fractional distillation can be used to separate all cannabinoids and terpenes and then add them back together to create specific blends. This same process can also be used to remove specific compounds, like THC, from the final extract.

The concept is not without it’s drawbacks though as the extra processing is costly, requires expertise to perform safely, and it has been theorized that this distillation and re-combining process reduces the medicinal benefits found in an unadulterated, whole-plant blend.

Potential drawbacks & criticisms

While distillates are all the rage, the process doesn’t come without industry criticism. Beyond the simple fact, that distillation takes an extract further away from the natural whole-plant state, there are technical considerations that must be weighed.

Distillates often wear the badge of ‘pure’ or ‘concentrated’, but this does not automatically qualify distillates as a safe product. During distillation, an experienced operator is required. As Dr. Edward F. Askew points out in Cannabis Industry Journal:

“The temperature and vacuum controls must be adjustable and accurate for all parts of the distillation apparatus. Failure to control the temperature and vacuum on any part to the apparatus will lead to:

  • Thermal destruction of the distillate
  • Oxidation of the distillate
  • Impure distillate”

The process of distilling requires a high-quality, clean hemp extract – there are no shortcuts here. Any chemical compounds that are soluble in the vapor produced during distillation will make it into the end product. This means that pesticides and other contaminants found in refined oil can end up in the distilled product.

This means that the same rules apply to distillation as they do to extraction. Manufacturers need to source high-quality hemp and process it with the right equipment operated by trained, honest individuals.

Is CBD distillate the same as CBD oil?

The availability and accessibility of CBD have greatly outpaced education, and thus there is confusion abound. The misuse of extraction and spectrum-related terms across the CBD industry is widespread. It’s a common point of customer confusion and one that is often fueled by low-quality online education.

Below we walk you through the various types of extracts and spectrums available in the hemp CBD market:

Types of Extracts

  • Crude extract – is an extract that was created by processing hemp flower into an unrefined, raw extract most commonly using ethanol or CO2 extraction.
  • Refined oil – is a crude extract that has undergone winterization, decarboxylation, and potentially other processes like liquid chromatography to further refine the oil.
  • Distillate – this yellow oil with a honey-like consistency has undergone distillation to isolate or remove specific compounds from refined oil. Distillates are generally 80-90% potency with the remaining content being other cannabinoids and plant materials.
  • Isolated CBD – These isolates are up to 99% pure CBD and come in the form of white crystals. Most commonly isolated CBD is created through distillation, but can also be created via chromatography. If distilled, these isolates are technically distillates, though they are commonly referred to as CBD isolate.

Types of Spectrums

  • Full-Spectrum – refers to an extract containing the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids reflecting the ratios found in the original hemp plant. These extracts are created by refining a crude extract. No other processing is necessary, though sometimes these extracts are diluted or modified through combination with a distillate.
  • Broad-Spectrum – refers to an extract containing the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids reflecting the ratios found in the original hemp plant minus THC. These extracts can be created through fractional distillation and re-combining everything but the THC. They can also be created through a superior process called chromatography which keeps the extract fully intact, stripping only the THC from the final product.
  • CBD Isolate – refers to an extract which has been distilled or undergone chromatography to strip away all but the cannabidiol molecule itself.

Full-spectrum CBD distillate is a common misnomer that is used to describe a refined oil. While similar in appearance, these extracts have not undergone distillation as there is no need to perform this processing.

How is distillation used in the CBD industry?

Distillation is widely used in the CBD industry for a few primary purposes.

To Create CBD Isolate

By far the most common application for distillation in the CBD industry is to isolate CBD itself. This white, crystalline powder is popular due to its low production cost and versatility in use. Isolate can be sold as a standalone product or can be used as an ingredient in products like tinctures and capsules. While isolates can be produced via chromatography, distillation is far more popular due to its low cost.

To Create CBD Distillate

The yellow honey-looking distillates that rule the marijuana market are found in the CBD world too. Though less common, they are sold directly to consumers and in bulk to manufacturers to be used as a tasteless, odorless ingredient in products ranging from tinctures to edibles.

To Create THC-Free Broad-Spectrum CBD Oil

Finally, distillation is used to create broad-spectrum extracts that are free of THC. Through fractioning and re-combining cannabinoids and terpenes with the exception of THC, distillation to create broad-spectrum extracts is perhaps the least common use across the industry. This is because this process is time consuming, costly, and degrading to the final product.

Broad-spectrum product manufacturers look to chromatography as a superior THC-removal process because it removes the THC without requiring full fractioning that distillation does. Here at Big Sky Botanicals, our THC-free products are created using liquid chromatography, not distillation. Learn more about how our products are made here.

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Cannabis distillation is a processing technique used to isolate compounds like THC and CBD. Learn about distillates as they relate to the CBD industry.