Live resin and distillate are two ways to consume cannabis compounds, referring to different extraction processes. They can both create different chemical profiles, effects, and products, so it’s important to get your head around these factors first. Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you—take a look below to see a comparison of these techniques.
What is live resin?
Live resin is the result of a specific method of processing cannabis plants. It is obtained from some of the plant’s components, including flowers and sugar leaves. These are removed from fully-bloomed plants and immediately flash-frozen to conserve the more fragile compounds, such as terpenes and flavonoids.
Following this, the frozen plant matter goes through extraction to create a consumable product. This involves filtering the raw material through a solvent such as ethanol, which is then vaporized away to separate it from the extracted cannabinoids. Theoretically, this gives a profile that is as close as possible to the original plant, hence the name live resin.
As live resin describes the production method as opposed to a specific form, live resin products are available in a variety of consistencies. These usually refer to their structure and viscosity, such as “sauce,” “badder,” “wax,” as well as many others. They are typically opaque and are light yellow to amber in color.
What is distillate?
Distillate is another method of processing a cannabis plant into a usable product. Instead of freezing the plants as they are as with live resin processing, distillates begin with extracting crude oil from the plant matter. This can be done physically using rosin or sieving techniques, or chemically with butane, CO2, or ethanol.
The crude oil then goes through a refinement process called winterization. As cannabinoids all have different boiling points, the crude oil can be purified to remove all chemicals but the desired compound. This results in a concentrated cannabinoid isolate. Distillate products at this stage are typically viscous, yellow to tan-colored oils.
Like live resin, there are a wide variety of ways to consume distillates. These can include edibles, vapes, and tinctures, but there are many more options available.
How do the production aims compare?
With fairly disparate production methods, it’s clear that live resin and distillate processing aim to create varied products that appeal to different consumers. It’s up to you what type of experience you’re after, and the following comparisons should help you choose that.
By initially flash-freezing the cannabis plant matter and keeping it at low temperatures throughout the process, live resin aims to retain as much of the original form of the plant as possible for the consumer. This careful processing ensures that some of the more delicate compounds, such as terpenes and flavonoids, can be enjoyed in the end product instead of being lost in the production process.
On the other hand, distillates have the goal of maximizing the concentration of the desired cannabinoid. Therefore, unwanted compounds are removed to intensify the final product. This can be as high as 70-95% clarified cannabinoid and is considered the “purest” possible form. It’s beneficial for further processing into edible or sublingual products, as the known concentration makes it possible to calculate exact dosages.
How do the chemical profiles compare?
As described above, live resin aims to preserve the complete profile of the original plant. Therefore, the compounds in the final product closely resemble the chemical makeup of the cannabis strain it was derived from. Cannabis is known to contain over 125 cannabinoids, as well as hundreds of other components such as flavonoids and terpenes. Due to the presence of these compounds, live resin products have more complex flavors and aromas to appreciate, but the THC/CBD concentrations can be quite low compared to distillates. Depending on the cannabis strain, it may be anywhere between 5-50% for both CBD and THC.
Many distillates contain just one cannabinoid, typically THC or CBD. The isolation of these chemicals means that the concentration can be clearly established, which is useful for consumers who want to have a specific amount of these compounds.
However, some distillate products have other cannabis compounds (e.g., specific terpenes) added back in after the standard processing. This allows for the creation of a specific chemical profile for the final product, which appeals to consumers who want particular flavors or aromas.
How do the effects compare?
The effects of cannabis products are often described in relation to cannabidiol (CBD) and/or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two of the most well-known cannabinoids. Some studies have indicated that CBD and THC have some common effects, such as reduction of nausea and pain.
Separately, THC is mainly known for its psychoactive effect, which can include sensations of euphoria, intoxication, and anxiety. On the other hand, CBD has been suggested to have some anti-inflammatory properties, as well as helping to reduce some symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Live resin versus distillates
As live resin products are intended to resemble the original plant’s chemical makeup as closely as possible, the concentrations of CBD and THC are not amplified as they may be for other products. This produces a more subtle overall effect with a milder psychoactive “high.”
THC distillates will give a significantly more intense “high” effect than live resin products due to the increased concentration of the compound. With CBD concentrates, some of the pain-relieving and anti-nausea effects may occur more quickly and strongly when consumed as distillate.
However, an important aspect to consider is how the chemical components of cannabis interact with each other when consumed. Live resin products and distillates augmented with other compounds can also take advantage of the entourage effect. This principle outlines that the active chemicals in cannabis act together to influence how the body responds to them, which can adjust the overall outcome.
In particular, CBD can prevent THC from interacting with receptors in the body, which is thought to decrease some of the infrequent side effects of THC such as increased hunger and anxiety. Studies have also suggested that when CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids are consumed together (such as in a live resin product), it can provide better pain reduction and anti-inflammatory effects than CBD alone.
To summarize the different effects of these techniques, distillate products alone can create more intense overall effects depending on the isolated compound. In comparison, live resin products have more of an emphasis on aroma and flavor with subtle reactions. Depending on the mix of compounds, both live resin and distillate products may be influenced by the entourage effect to adjust the overall experience.
How does the cost compare?
While price points can vary between companies, live resin is typically more expensive than distillate products. This is because the flash-freezing process can be costly to carry out, even for high-volume producers, as it requires specialist equipment and knowledge to perform it safely and efficiently. The distillate method has also been used for much longer than live resin production, so the technique has been able to undergo refinement that makes it more cost-efficient over time.
On average, live resin extracts are around $50 per gram, with a range of $35 to over $100 per gram. By comparison, distillate products typically fall between $10-$25 per gram, although this varies significantly between locations, final product type, and during market shifts.
What is the best way to consume each of them?
Both live resin and distillate have the advantage of adaptability to a wide range of consumption methods and product types. However, their unique chemical profiles and effects make each best suited to certain ways.
As the production of live resin doesn’t involve high temperatures, it is necessary to heat the product to activate the compounds inside. The most popular methods of doing this are dabbing and vaping. Both involve vapourization of the live resin product, but this is achieved differently – heating a dab rig (often with a blowtorch) or using hot air for vapes. Once vaporized, the intricate flavors of live resin preparations can be appreciated by the consumer.
Products containing cannabinoid distillates can be found in just about every form, including oils, tinctures, creams, vapes, and gummies. One of the most popular categories for distillate addition is edibles, as the concentration of the active compound(s) is known and most of the flavor has been removed during processing. This makes it ideal for incorporation into edible products because it creates distinct effects without overpowering other flavors.
The bottom line
Live resin and distillate refer to two specific methods of extracting cannabis concentrates, each with different aims, costs, and effects. The right one for you comes down to what experience you are looking for.
If you’re after something that’s typically cheaper and causes stronger effects, try out distillate. If you consider yourself a bit of a cannabis connoisseur, enjoy the more complex aromas and subtle effects of live resin.
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