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Cannabis Oil Distillate: A Different Kind of Concentrate

May 30, 2017
(CHBD/iStock)
A drop of distillate sits perched on the edge of a dabbing tool. Taut like a raindrop, this viscus and opaque orb glimmers as it rests within the concave folds of titanium. Encased within this golden drop of goodness is a semi-translucent, 99% pure decarboxylated and distilled tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) sap. Dollar for dollar, this morsel of oil is worth more by weight than just about any other consumable substance on the market, and for good reason: Cannabis oil distillates are arguably the future of cannabis concentrates.

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With unmatched purity and sheer versatility, distillate oils provide a clean and potent product with limitless application potential. However, understanding the refinement process by which distillates are made can be difficult, as many of the methodologies are proprietary and still in R&D or even patent-pending phases. Follow along as we review the inside scoop on how these super potent oils are processed, how easy they are to both consume and infuse with, as well as their potential in offering solutions in various niche markets within the burgeoning cannabis concentrate industry.

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.

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Fractionation and short path distillation in and of themselves are nothing new. In fact, these methods have been used for many years, both in the early days of cannabis distillation research as well as in other commercial industries alike. For example, the fragrance and essential 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. Steam distillation as well as fractionation are two common techniques that have been adopted from the botanical oil extraction markets by cannabis processors to make various oil distillates. These techniques work specifically for cannabis in the same ways they would for other botanical refinement systems ranging from fragrances to cooking oils.

How Cannabis Compounds Are Isolated to Create Distillates

(Asergieiev/iStock)

(Asergieiev/iStock)

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 winterizationwhereby 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.

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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 a clear and translucent viscous sap that resembles ultra-refined honey in consistency and hue.

Incorporating Cannabis Distillates in Products

The application and infused possibilities associated with cannabis distillates is staggering. Pure cannabinoid oils that contain little to no residual flavors or aromas are perfect for all kinds of practical applications. By breaking down cannabinoids and terpenes into their individual compound solutions, they can then be recombined into various formulas with complete control and precision, allowing processors to individualize concentrates with accuracy like never before. Furthermore, distillates can be applied many different ways, be it through oral, sublingual, or transdermal application, or even though vaporization and inhalation (e.g. dabbing). Raw distillates can even be used as-is or combined with other products to create powerfully medicinal combinations with broad applications.

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Given the sheer versatility of cannabis distillate oils, it’s no wonder this product is worth its weight in gold. Distillation may be relatively new to the current cannabis concentrate market, but rest assured that this well-developed botanical extraction technique is suited to set the paradigm for cannabis extraction and refinement. If you desire the cleanest, clearest, and by far the most potent concentrate available on the market, cannabis oil distillate may just be the perfect product for you.

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • Jeffrey

    Why would someone continue to use RSO when they can just use this? Just don’t vape it, there’s gotta be a lot of edibles made with this super refined material.

    • Jenner

      RSO can be made very easily and refinement is not iterated.

      • Two Bears

        You’re darn right!

    • Two Bears

      Jeffrey you simply have no clue what you’re talking about.

      These distillates are great if you want to get high or use cbd oil for pain.

      These distillates are useless for MMJ patients such as myself.

      Patients need the entourage affect of the 84 cannabinoids working together, and they have boiling points.

      Whats the point of stripping tge THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, and the other 80 cannabinoids apart and then putting tgem back together for medical patients when the patients can easily extract their medicine via RSO, QWISO, dry sift, make tinctures or use Rosin Tech.

      If they have to go to dispensaries they can buy BHO or C02 extracts tgat will provide the entourage effect.

      Distillates are great for two things getting high or extracting CBD for pain relief.

      I am sure that states without Medical Marijuana statutes are looking at distillates favorably. Allowing medical users pain relief without getting high.

      • Have to agree with a lot of this. Pulling out the terps, then adding them back like some do to try and recreate a flavor profile, like “blue dream” for example is akin to “natural flavors” being added to candy. Yes, terpene flavanoids extracted from a strawberry for example are “naturally” extracted, but the heat, pressure etc. do have an effect on them and adding them back doesn’t necessarily mean that strawberry candy really truly will taste like a strawberry. If producers continue to focus on just thc then we will end up with cannabis being just like that tomato that looks so good in the market but is completely flavorless when one takes a bite. (two cents)

        • Two Bears

          I will never buy a distillate.

          I will grow my own medicne then press into Rosin or dry sift.

          Cancer patients need THC to kill tumor or cancer cells and CBD for pain relief and relaxation.

        • Renay Watkins

          Rosin or vg juice and a magic butter or mightyfast herbal infuser and you can make your own vape tincture or distalates for pain and getting high just grow your own and knowbyour product there is a world of material out there online go look amd research its easier to make it in to vape juice with no smell and quitely medicate and noones the wiser even in states that arent legal

          • IchiBanCrafter

            You can simply use the Source by ExtractCraft to make your oil and integrate it straight into what ever carrier you wish to use for your vaping pleasure. Super easy, clean and healthy.

          • Renay Watkins

            Explain what is this source you speak of im interested if i can make my medicine easier then lovelrly is itbsomething the public can buy and use in a non legal state or country

          • IchiBanCrafter

            It is a personal size ethanol extraction appliance. It is made by a company called ExtractCraft (www.extractcraft.com). It makes clean extractions, not infusions. It is pretty awesome. There is a great user group on FB called “The Source by ExtractCraft User Group” as well were many users have formed a really great community.

          • Renay Watkins

            Mucho apriciato man thanks heaps ill be looking into gett8ng one to help me and ithers get their medacine

          • Mark

            Interesting. Never thought of that~

  • Steve

    Two Bears…… I’m a novice. Please explain. Why is distillate useless to paitents like yourself? Not trying to get personal, just trying to understand. You say these distillates are great for getting high (Yes they are) or for CBD oil. Why not just use CBD oil ? Less expensive. No? I understand there’s a lot more CB’S we’re utilizing in the distillate. I am pretty confused though on the whole entourage thing and getting the same effect from BHO CO2 ?? Like I said I’m a novice with great interest. Anything anyone wants to enlighten me on would be sweet.

    • Happy to try and explain, especially since there are some slightly contradictory statements in the article. First, to answer some of your questions – CDB or THC oil are a form of distillations, no matter what extraction process is used. Next, BHO and C02 are not the same, although on a certain level they are comparable. BHO, “butane hash oil” is an extraction that involves hydrocarbon solvents like butane, pentane, entane, etc. while Co2 is extracted via Co2, which is a less aggressive solvent so it yields less which from a commercial standpoint is why bho is more popular. Each solvent has its pluses and minuses in terms of yield, the range of cannabinoids, and terpenes it extracts, etc. The “entourage” thing refers to the way various other chemicals in the plant work in harmony so an extraction that refines out those other things, including the lipids, the terps, other flavanoids etc, loses those benefits. In other words, arriving at pure CBD or pure THC, while it sounds great from a sales perspective, isn’t necessarily the best. Ask anyone that has taken marinol, the synthetic pure THC, what they think of it. In terms of the health benefits, many of the terpenes play a role in binding the THC to the receptors in the brain, so they are important, also CBD and THC have a synergistic effect so they work best in harmony as well. Hope that helps – maybe not to answer all your questions – but to raise a few good ones at the very least.

      • Way to complicated an answer and while I’m not a newbie or even a craftsman I know that many of those distillates you are mentioning are not commonly used nor do they create some of the scenarios you bring up. You might want to check yourself regarding States that are producing these. (CA/CO/WA/OR)

        • Actually it is not that complicated and it addresses the questions raised in layman’s terms. You are misusing the term “distillates” I think in place of “‘solvents”, and yes, the solvents I mentioned are used frequently. I am in WA and have produced a variety of distillates and have been on the rollercoaster of what would or would not be allowed by the state so I actually do know what I am talking about, not only in WA but other states as well. Moreover, the actual methods of distillation discussed in the article are in some cases either very old or even ancient techniques of distilling herbal concentrates. If you want I would be happy to post detailed technical articles/links for reference.

          • Mark

            Your spot on brother~

          • Much appreciated! Thanks for chiming in. It used to drive me crazy when during the medical only period I would hear cancer patients asking about what to use and getting recommended bho… from companies that I knew didn’t care about how many ppm of residual butane tested in their samples… and their being offered the chance to re-test and not caring… because I was standing in line behind those same companies at the lab. So I apologize if I come off sort of preachy on the subject but I think people get completely misled and I think that leads to indignant denial when someone confronts the facts of reality. (but I promise to get off the soapbox now)

          • Mark

            Thumbs up!

        • Mark

          Jeff what Farrell says about it is true. Think about it. Make sure your not misreading what he means. Just sayin again~

      • Lori Bothwell

        Excellent answer!! I can tell you know your medical research, this is my passion. Let’s educate humanity on the medicinal benefits of whole plant medicine. It is the real answer to get everyone to a state of homeostasis .

    • Ja Cun

      CBD oil is more expensive than THC oil.

  • Henrik Zetterström

    So what is the difference between this and lab made THC?

    • Your Boy

      This is real thc just taken off the plant where lab made thc is a scientists best attwmpt at recreating it. Lab made products can kill you, nothing made from cannabis alone can or will ever kill you.

    • lovingc

      It is extracted from plant material, lab thc is chemically compounded.

    • jimbro44

      How they are produced, their origins and appearance. Other than that not much… unless I’m missing something.
      And also assuming of course, when purifying in order to get an isolate, that you’d get as close to 100% pure as possible.

      • lovingc

        That is the purpose of the fractionation with steam and vacuum it allows a precise end point and good control.

  • Mark

    Excellent-So where can I get some???

    • Charles Weaver

      Legal States.

      • Mark

        Charles. I don’t understand. What can I get? Substatute??

        • Vida Sawyer

          States where cannabis is legal…

      • Mark

        I know. Suck’s here. N.Y.S. suck’s in all ways~

  • Bobby Bittman

    Hooray for human ingenuity and all, but I’ll smoke as Earth intended, via glorious dried flowers. I mean, “solvents”? No thanks. I like the way weed is now – completely, wholly unrelated to any cancers.

    • kidnugz

      Inhaling any type of smoke is inherently bad for you bro and many of the chemicals created/released by burning and inhaling concentrated smoke have been linked to cancer….ingestion is the best way

      • On the other hand a 10 year study at Harvard showed no sign of Lung Cancer from frequent and new users. Now the 10 years is a dependable figure (Still shy of definitive) but the control group was at the 100 mark I believe which of course is the very beginning of what statisticians call an even or mean distribution. In fact the study showed anecdotally that it even increased the Marijuana users lung capacity. Sadly only private almost secret grants are allowed to do these studies because our Federal Government still is back in the Nixonian 70’s!

        • Eric LovesGwynne

          Well stated

        • Matt Gronendyke

          This is the type of thinking that is killing America… Studies tend to be wrong quite often, especially as time and technology move on. For example, a study done in the mid 90’s allowed for a drug that was supposed to treat diabetes, due to success in guinea pigs, that actually never worked on the guinea pigs, nor humans. It took over 20 years to realize that the study was flaw… This is what believing “one study” can do to a naive population. If I were you, I would delete the last post, because Kidnugz said it, inhaling anything that is lit on fire is not good for you. If you’re buddy pulled a piece of bark off of a tree and smoked it, thru and thru, would you believe him/her if they told you “its mother nature, its good for you.”?

          • Jbkorn02

            A year later… Still no negative effects found anywhere from cannabis. Whether it be smoking, eating, or vaping. Alcohol and tobacco can kill you fast but cannabis seems to do the opposite. So many things can be helped from cannabis or even just CBD’s but there are still a few people out there that think it’s a “bad drug” because it is on a list it shouldn’t be and has been lied about for generations.

        • David Weis

          One study…of 100 people over 10 years…while impressive, the fact it was Harvard, just says I wish it were UC-Berkeley? I digress, and to be clear I’m a MM patient of PA so I am pro “dry leaf” or whatever form works, however simply “Not a study makes an objective truth”…3 maybe?? Peace….

      • lovingc

        Not to cannabis smoke. If you know different cite sources.

        • teh_pwner

          thats a Bold claim for something thats been mostly banned from scientific study for the last half century

          • lovingc

            Try reading the research from Israel they have more research than the rest of the world.

          • But a ten year study at Harvard and a Pot Genius in Israel (Doesn’t share our laws about studying the drug) have done long term research 10 years on the Harvard Study and longer on the Israeli side and it’s not coming up as a genuine cause of Lung Cancer.

          • jimbro44

            There’s a 20 year one I have several links to, and the only major find was gum disease, which also would be hard to discern how much of its from smoking and how much of it’s from bad oral hygiene…
            Maybe it’ll let me.post one..

            https://www.google.com/amp/s/thinkprogress.org/amp/p/bff536456146

          • Billy Rippe

            and legal for the rest of our history

          • lovingc

            The doctor would catch it if it was causing problems. It is good to talk to your doctor about your cannabis use. There are possible drug interactions.

        • Mark

          I’m 62, started smoking at 15 or so, and my lungs, heart, and blood pressure are ALWAYS excellent. Just sayin. B good~

      • I saw a cop blowing that smoky line on a documentary about Pot and I wanted to jump right through the screen and say “When did it become the job of the police to police cancer? Do your job and do it with sensibilities!”

      • Commenter

        what about injections or topical lotions?

        • sandyh

          injections??????

      • Jbkorn02

        Vapor is not smoke…

    • chris habaybeh

      I agree where can I get some I remember reading one time about how bad the sun was for you where dose it end

    • Well many folks can’t tolerate the smoking affects and the distillation is with pure alcohol aka Isopropol and that alone creates the distillation watch “Weediquette” on the Vice Channel or Bong Appetite on the same channel as they cover/use a lot of these distillates.

      • darkaquarian

        I Love and watch both of those shows religiously esp. Weediquette

      • Sarijuana

        I’m not sure they are using distillate. They are using other concentrates that have not yet been distilled, like CO2 oil, BHO, and FECO. Fractional distillation is done after those other processes, and after ethanol winterization.

        • Well you took more chemistry than me maybe. But the infusions are mostly olive oil, canola oil, simple flavorings etc etc

          • J.James

            Distillate is not an infusion when they are done with it. The first step of stripping out all the plants oils and fats etc in to some thing thats like an infusion. which then has all solvents of any kind pulled out. then the thc is distilled out of that and is collected leaving every thing else behind. (that is a super simplified quick jist of the entire process in lay terms)

      • lovingc

        I all ways use ethanol no worries about ingesting the final product.

    • lovingc

      The solvents are not present in the finished product if handled properly. They drop out the “heavy ends” that are undesirable.

    • Steve Dabs

      Lots of people think weed is safer but it’s actually revered. Concentrates are safer. Especially when made with ICE and WATER. You don’t need solvents but if you want the cleanest and purest end product then solvents are the way to go. When you remove the plant material you’re making the end product safer to smoke. You remove all combustibles and other undesirables that come hidden within the plant matter itself. When scientists test marijuana against cancer they don’t use flowers they use cannabis oil which is solvent based, this is standard for most studies.

      • bigrob

        Not true, distillate is the safest product. By method of processing it literally removes all unnecessary compounds, decarboxylates the thca and makes it a pure product. You aren’t smoking any byproducts or carcinogens

        • Bobby Oddo

          No matter how many times you heat it, traces of alcohol will still remain in a distillate. Alcohol is horrible for you to vape or dab.

          • Dennis

            Traces of alcohol do no harm except maybe make the end product a bit harsh to vape. The pill form of THC, Dronabil, lists the inert ingredients in each pill. Listed there as an ingredient is isopropyl alcohol. In trace amounts there is no damage done.

        • Steve Dabs

          HELLO i said concentrates are safer.. Distillate is a concentrate. So you are wrong when you said not true. I accomplishments in the field speak for themselves, i have cannabis cup concentrate trophies on my wall to back that up.

    • greatnessIsaLIE

      Solvents are bad but mold, pesticides, and inhaling smoke from the plant matter is also bad for you. The distillation will remove all traces of any Solvents that were used. This isn’t shatter or wax. Shatter or wax will have a small amount of butane,but then again if you use a lighter to spark up joints or bowls then you already intake much more butane than what’s in concentrates.
      People have been smoking concentrates for thousands of years.
      All you need is heat and pressure and you can get solvent free concentrates.
      Water and ice will also produce solvent free concentrates.

    • Joshua Ryan

      One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in your comment or anywhere else in this thread, is that concentrates in a tincture or syringe form serve some purposes that smoking won’t. One of the biggest ones would be treating certain serious diseases such as cancer that require ingesting far more cannabinoids than smoking would ever provide. My 5 year old daughter is evidence of this. She has shrunk a brain tumor multiple times with the help of cannabis oil. It takes several hundred MGs and in some cases more than a gram a day to effectively kill cancer cells, which is why it would need to be ingested as an edible. I can’t stress enough though how important it is to buy quality, lab tested products that are free of molds, pesticides, and solvents. My wife and I had issues with this when we first started 4 1/2 years ago, and ended up starting our own company called CannaKids so we could ensure highest possible quality for our daughter and other patients. We also pulled together a team of nurses that can help with dosing support which is also extremely important to make sure you get the most out of your medicine. As an industry we still have a long way to go, but are certainly much better off than when we started!

    • Justin_Khase

      Sorry Bobby but your statement “wholly urelated to any cancers” strictly speaking is inaccruate. The problem is the resultant fiber that’s broken down during combustion. Those fibers can irritate lung tissue to the point of mutation, which, while it might or might not degenerate into cancer, still virtually guarantees some degree of COPD to say the least. BTW – “solvents” as you called them can be toxic or not depending on choice – CO2 derived oil at the “or not” end of the spectrum unlike even alcohol derived THC oil which regardless of purity will always leave trace amounts of alcohol.

  • Mark

    I second that!!~

  • lovingc

    I recognize the system as very similar to refining oil and other products in the chemical industries. It sounds like it requires a good lab and knowledgeable chemists to do the sampling and determining the end points.

  • Samantha Cook

    Visit AnnCannMed for your health prescriptions and medical purchases. Simple and straightforward website, with lots of information..

  • Silverado

    Pardon me but exactly how much is this going to cost say per gram? When I buy concentrates here where it’s legal in Washington state my dollar limit is about $30 per gram. (the last gram of cannabis Co2 oil purchased a couple days ago was a high CBD syringe full called Thunderstruck from Doseoil dot com. Total THC was 41.9% with total CBD’s at 27.6% and it sold for $20 fully taxed and out the door) And while that may sound low to some, in my experience and where I do business, I’d say the majority of by the gram prices of concentrates are at about $30 per gram and lower and the selection and strength is mind boggling. So as the price increases the amount sold decreases, of course. This may be the next best thing since sliced bread. But if the prices continue to rise on premium concentrates as the technology…progresses, pretty soon those will be the exceptions in the cannabis concentrate market to be purchased every blue moon and not the everyday go-to canna concentrate used on the way to wellness. Prohibitive pricing will see to that.

    • Arthur Tyler Shaw

      A local dispensary in San Diego, CA sells distillate tested at 98% THC for $30/ gram and they scoop it out of a mason jar filled with the beautiful straw yellow concentrate. I think that is the low end of pricing here. I am sure most places charge $50-80/gram

      • Silverado

        I just paid $29 for a full gram of cannabis distillate (Flavorless Clear that tests out at over 91%) at the same place that charges $50 for (some) premium ounces. Check em out on Leafly. Just do a search for “Elevation located in Shelton WA” and you’ll see their menu that’s updated almost daily. They are also advertising full gram cartridges of Co2 oil (with 6 or 7 different strains) that tests out over 80% from a local grower called Jackpot Seaweed in Raymond Washington.

  • Roy Sutton

    I only have a vaporizer with a small container for dabs. In the container is some organic cotton. The one time I did wax this way it was ok in the beginning but lost some potency over time anyway do you think I can use the distillate in this vaporizer?

  • Mihai

    So then would you even go about a heating process like dabbing if its already decarbed? Sounds like it’s more inhaler nebulization material. Safer but less deposition than dabbage though.

  • Michael Anderson

    I finally got my hands on some distillate. OH MY — OH MAN.. I have had all kinds of oils and concentrates before but distillate is different. VERY TERPY. Very terpy… Sauce is good if you ever get a chance to try it. Terp sauce + THC crystals.

    Anyways my favorites so far are CO2 Distillate, Sugarwax, and shatter.

    This distillate is hella strong though. A little goes a long way. 10/10 would recommend.

  • Are there full spectrum distillates or is RSO the only full spectrum concentrate?

  • apaulo smith

    Pattrick Bennet doesn’t know his asshole from his earhole about cannabis distillation. Number one is the distillate ment for smoking will not be decarboxilated its unnecessary for smokables and kills the flavor. And two they arent using fractional distillation (too much heat) or steam distillation ( too much water and not enough heat) they are doing a thing called vacuum distillation. nicely written but full of misinformation

  • melissa

    What’s the difference between cbd distillate and cbd oil? Is the distillate just more concentrated? Someone told me they are the same thing but people don’t seem to talk about it that way so I am confuzzled! 🙂 ty

  • kat

    I am trying to find the specific differences between Sativa,Indica and Hybrid

  • MsNooneinparticular

    I appreciate the work that goes into these articles, but WHY are all of them about the process of how these concentrates/extracts are made? Most of us will never endeavor to actually make them at home which is dangerous anyway (particularly the butane ones). I feel like that just encourages morons to try it when you hyperfocus on how to make these.

    What most of us noobs want to know is: how do these different concentrates compare in the EFFECT department? What about smell, taste, safety, potency, THC vs. CBD & other consumer-end info? Like, why would someone choose to buy a syringe of RSO instead of distillate? That kind of thing.