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Cannabis oil distillate concentrate: pure THC

June 26, 2020

A drop of cannabis oil 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 sap: pure THC.

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.

What is THC distillate?

With unmatched purity and sheer versatility, THC 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.

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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.

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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

(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.

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 pure THC in the form of a clear and translucent viscous sap that resembles ultra-refined honey in consistency and hue.

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.

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CO2 oil vs. distillate

What’s the difference between distillate and CO2 oil? With CO2 extraction, carbon dioxide is used to separate components. This method allows for greater customization, as pressure temperature and solvent ratios can be modified to create a wide range of products (shatter, wax, sap, crumble, vape oil). CO2 extraction can also retain more of the product’s terpenes than distillate, as many terpenes have different boiling points.

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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.

Can you eat distillate?

Distillate oils 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 pure THC 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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