How Distillate is Made - RxLeaf
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How Distillate is Made

Francis Cassidy
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Distillate is good medicine and there’s no reason to be intimidated.

Gone are the days of pitiful selections of withered buds from a stranger on a dark corner. These days, those medicating with cannabis can consume it in countless high-quality forms. You can choose to eat it, drink it, smoke it, or apply it topically. We have edibles, pipes, bongs, joints, vapes, creams, tinctures, and dabbing rigs. Some are convenient and cost-effective, but, in truth, few are perfect for everyone. There is one method of administration, however, that commonly ticks all the boxes. Distillate oil is a flavorless, odorless, discrete, and extremely potent method of administration that offers patients an adaptable way to medicate.

What is Distillate?

It’s a potent form of cannabis oil that can be consumed by itself or infused. THC and CBD oil make up the majority of distillates available on the market. Both are available in high concentrations. Technically free from impurities, distillate oils are ideal for vaporizers, tinctures, edibles, or dab rigs.

Unlike other popular concentrates, extraction techniques for distillates don’t use solvents. While most processes do a good job of removing solvents, trace amounts often remain. Studies show that when it comes to solvents such as butane, even minor amounts can be a cause for concern, as these can create pneumonia-like symptoms in the lungs.

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The Extraction Process

Distillation relies on heat to vaporize cannabinoids from the original plant material. Two principle extraction methods produce distillate, namely Short Path and Short Path Wiped Film techniques.

The Short Path Wiped Film Process

Without solvents to perform the extraction, short path distillation techniques work with the melting point of cannabinoids. In the short path wiped film technique, you pack plant material into an evaporation vessel. Inside the vessel, a rotating wiper spreads the plant material onto the heated vessel walls. The wiper’s constant movement ensures that the plant material is exposed to heat for just a limited time, which helps ensure minimal degradation.

An internal condenser is placed in close proximity to the vessel wall and thus provides that “short path” to collect the extracted vapor. The wiper constantly moves the plant material down through the vessel, before it’s collected in the condenser as a liquid. The beauty of this process is that heavier plant materials — like wax and chlorophyll — don’t evaporate. Instead, the wiper forces these into a separate container, thus ensuring the actual distillate is extremely pure.

The Short Path Process

Short path distillation is similar but with the notable difference that there isn’t a wiper to spread the plant material onto the vessel wall. Instead, plant material is fed into a heated flask under a vacuum. This vacuum draws the vapor into the fractioning tubing and separates the different compounds before they hit the condensing tube.

Distillate’s Expected THC and CBD Percentages

The notable THC or CBD content draws patients to distillate. When it comes to cannabis extracts, distillate oils generally have the highest cannabinoid concentrations. They commonly fall in the 90-99 percent range. As a result, high quality distillates can be expensive. But with that comes a potent medicine; one which can have its effects modulated with minimal dosing.

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Uses for Distillate

As a pure and potent concentrate that’s easy to dose, distillates offer many advantages over alternative methods of administration. Depending on how people medicate with it, cannabis consumption can sometimes be seen as intrusive. But it’s the tasteless, odorless nature of distillates that allows patients to consume these in places where other forms of administration aren’t appropriate.

Dabbing

Dabs have become a popular way of medicating with cannabis. With a dabbing rig, patients vaporize the distillate on a hot surface. This method provides an efficient method of administration with little waste.

Using Distillates in Edibles

The odorless and flavorless nature of distillates makes these ideal for combining with food. Patients can easily add a dropper to food or a beverage for a potent hit without a lingering plant flavor that spoils the taste.

Smoking distillate

Those who want to add to the potency of smoked flower will often add a little distillate to their rolling paper. It increases potency, while also improving the quality of the burn.

Vaporizing

Vaporizing is one of the most common ways to medicate with distillate oils. As a discrete method that’s free from the traditional cannabis odor, you can vape distillate almost anywhere. One thing to bear in mind, however, is the type of wick in your vaporizer. Ceramic coils are preferable. These deliver the purest flavor available. As such, these maximize the taste of any terpenes present in the distillate, all without the burning taste.

The Drawbacks of Distillates

The main issue associated with distillate oils in the destruction of terpenes during the extraction process, as these compounds have a lower boiling temperature than cannabinoids. But when it comes to modulating the potent medicinal effects of the cannabis plant, terpenes are crucial. Known as the entourage effect, it’s the full spectrum of the plant’s terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids that help render its medicinal properties. Many extractors get around this inconvenience by adding the terpenes back in after the fact.

An additional concern is absorption efficiency. Cannabis flowers, in addition to the psychoactive compounds, also contain essential fatty acids that aid in the absorption. A 2016 study at the University of Nottingham uncovered that “oral co-administration of lipids enhanced the systemic exposure of rats to THC and CBD by 2.5-fold and 3-fold, respectively” when compared to lipid-free formulations. With these essential fats stripped out in distillates, the science suggests that absorption rates may be compromised.

Another factor is the cost of quality distillates. While true, you must also bear in mind that distillates are a highly potent form of cannabis and only require small doses.

Regardless of the drawbacks, distillates can be incredibly effective, convenient medicine. If you haven’t tested these extracts, and need a potent dose of CBD or THC, it’s certainly worth experimenting. Just remember – start with a small dose, and go slow.

Francis Cassidy

Francis Cassidy is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics. With a particular focus on the cannabis industry, he aims to help ensure the smooth reintegration of cannabis back into global culture. When not writing, he's to be found exploring his new base in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow his other works including his photography on his blog thestrayphotographer.com

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