man exhaling smoke from his thc vape pen

THC live resin vs distillate: what should you choose?

There are several major differences between THC live resin and distillate:

One – distillate – prioritizes the strength and purity of the final cannabis concentrate. Taste and flavor are of no concern.

The other – live resin – focuses on retaining all of the flavors of the original plant. By doing so, it actually creates a more potent product. But it also creates one which requires activation by heat before it will have any medicinal or psychoactive effect.

In this article, we’ll find out about the live resin process and what makes it so special. We’ll also look at whether that additional quality is worth the additional price which most live resin products command. As well as the times when a distillate might actually be the right choice for you…

What is live resin?

Live resin is a kind of cannabis concentrate which is produced by cryogenically flash-freezing and processing the live cannabis flower. It is one of the most recent and highly regarded forms of concentrate to have been invented.

The science and theory behind this process are designed to safeguard the terpenes (organic compounds which are responsible for the cannabis’s aroma and flavor, as well as of that of numerous other plants and even some insects) and cannabinoids (the organic compounds such as THC and CBD) found within the plant.

This creates a concentrate which has:

  • Full flavor: the result of the above process is a very flavorful experience for anyone using it. Connoisseurs will be able to tell a lot about the way the plant was grown and raised and the unique characteristics of its particular strain, much like a fine wine.
  • Greater potency and medicinal effects: because it contains all of the parts of the cannabis plant, an entourage effect is created. This makes live resin more potent than other forms of cannabis concentrates such as distillates – even those which, in theory, contain more THC.

Live resin requires costly laboratory equipment and experienced personnel to create. This means it tends to reside at the more expensive end of the spectrum of cannabis concentrates.

Sometimes referred to as liquid live resin, many people who take cannabis for both recreational and medicinal reasons prefer it because of the higher quality of experience and potency it offers despite the slight increase in cost.

cannabis leaf close up

What is “full spectrum” live resin?

Live resin is often called “full spectrum” or “full plant” live resin because the entire plant – flowers, leaves, stalk, branches and all – is used to create it.

Are “resin” and “live resin” the same thing?

No. Resin refers to the trichomes which grow on the flowers and leaves of the female cannabis plant. The trichomes are the source of the compounds – the cannabinoids and terpenes – which give the cannabis plant its medical and recreational properties.

From an evolutionary perspective, they also shield the plant from UV light and deter insects and animals from making the plant their next meal.

Are “live resin” and “rosin” the same thing?

No. Rosin is a type of cannabis concentrate made by applying pressure and heat to the dried and cured flowers of the cannabis plant. The goal is to make the plant release the resin (see above – not “live resin”).

Sometimes referred to as “rosin tech”, the method used to create rosin is safe and cost-effective (especially compared with something like butane or CO2 extraction) enough to be done at home, if with likely very indifferent results.

Live resin extraction methods

Returning to live resin – the flash-frozen cannabis concentrate which retains the flavor and aromas of the original cannabis plant used to create it – let’s consider the unifying aspects of all live resin extraction methods.

The process itself was invented only recently. It is generally said to have been first accomplished by a group including William Fenger and “Giddy Up” of EmoTek Labs in Colorado somewhere between 2011 and 2013.

The main objective of the process is to protect the terpenes and cannabinoids in the plant from being damaged during the extraction procedure. Traditional extraction methods, which require heat, will damage or even destroy terpenes. Freezing the plant, however, does not.

The process for making live resin is essentially:

  1. Choose your cannabis and freeze it
  2. Choose a solvent (such as CO2, butane or ethanol)
  3. Run the solvent through the plant
  4. Use warm water (but not too warm) and then a vacuum chamber to remove the solvent

How do you use live resin?

You can use live resin in a number of different ways. The element which all of these methods have in common is heat.

This is because the live resin extraction process does not use any heat. This means that the process of decarboxylation – vital for activating THC and other cannabinoids, and which requires heat – has not yet happened.

Some of the most popular ways of using live resin include:

1) Dabbing

Live resin cannabis is the concentrate of choice for discerning dabbers.

Dabbing requires a certain amount of specialist – though not necessarily expensive – equipment and a little practice in order to accomplish correctly. But it’s also the method by which thousands of people prefer to take their cannabis concentrates.

This is primarily because – when you use a high-quality product and decent rig – the effects of dabbing are extremely fast and, again depending on the quality of the cannabis concentrate you are using, very potent.

This means you tend to need to dab less live resin to get more of an effect.

2) Vaping

Vaping is the preferred method of taking cannabis concentrates of huge numbers of people around the world. “Vapes” or vaporizers come in various formats. Some need to be refilled manually, while others have simple cartridges which make reloading easy.

You can buy live resin vape cartridges for your vape from numerous places, as well as vials of liquid if yours requires manual refilling.

As always though, there are different qualities of live resin concentrate in different cartridges. It is always worth taking the time it takes to be sure of the provenance of the cannabis used to make your live resin and the process used to create it.

woman enjoying a thc vape pen

What is distillate?

THC distillate is a type of cannabis concentrate created via a multistage extraction process. The goal of this process is to create an oil which is as close to pure THC as possible. 80-99% purity is not an unheard-of number in cannabis distillate circles.

By contrast to live resin, which is flash-frozen, the process of creating distillate uses a great deal of heat. The upside of this is that nearly all impurities in the cannabis plant are removed, resulting in a nearly pure product.

The downside is that these impurities include the very terpenes, which give the cannabis plant such intriguing aromas and flavors, and other beneficial cannabinoids – which together create the entourage effect which makes live resin so potent.

Some manufacturers add terpenes from other plants (remember that terpenes are found in all kinds of plants as well as some insects) to their distillate after it has been purified. The idea is to recreate the flavor the cannabis would have had. Unfortunately, this is rather like using flavorings to create fruit flavors. They can be very pleasant, but they taste very different to the original cannabis plant.

However, adding terpenes to a distillate will make it much better when used in your vape. A distillate extracted with CO2, for example, will be very thick and hard to vape otherwise.

How distillate is made – the process

The distillate extraction process relies on a combination of supercritical CO2 extraction (or butane or ethanol) and short path distillation, which uses pressure, steam and heat.

The distillation process removes unwanted chemicals and impurities. It works roughly like this:

  1. Choose your cannabis (keep it at room temperature)
  2. Choose a solvent (such as CO2, butane or ethanol)
  3. Run the solvent through the plant, keeping the solvent very cold
  4. Filter the plant out of the mixture
  5. Heat the mixture to remove the solvent
  6. Distill the mixture until you get a pure oil

Again, the major priority is that the oil you get out is as pure as possible. Terpenes, phytonutrients (including flavinoids) and so on are destroyed or burned off by the process.

The cannabis concentrates you will find in most vape pens or which are used in most dabs are not nearly as pure as distillate. Consequently, this is also the reason they have more flavor.

Are all “CO2 oils” or “butane hash oils” distillates?

No. Although you might be forgiven for thinking that because butane or CO2 are used in the creation process, it makes the final distillate a “CO2 oil” or a “butane hash oil”.

However, a distillate will have been run through the additional purifying distillation process.

Distillate vs live resin

By this point, the differences between distillate and live resin should be obvious:

Live resin

  • Cold temperatures used in the extraction process
  • Full aromas and flavors retained from original plant
  • Still needs to be heated in order to activate the decarboxylation process
  • Particularly ideal for dabbing and vaporizing because of the above reasons

Distillate

  • Heat used in the extraction process
  • No aromas or flavors retained from original plant
  • Already activated by the heat of the process
  • Particularly ideal for edibles because of the above reasons

Again, it’s worth pointing out that live resin needs to be heated in order to “activate” the THC in cannabis. Heat is necessary to transform the THCA present in the raw plant (which has no psychoactive effect) into Delta-9 THC (which does). This means it needs to be heated before it is consumed.

Distillate is already activated, which makes it popular with people who prefer to take their THC in edibles of any kind.

colorful smoke on dark background

The importance of the entourage effect in strength comparison

Many people would instantly point to distillate when it comes to a comparison of the most potent forms of cannabis concentrate. After all, we might be talking about anything from an 80-99% pure THC oil. You can’t get much more potent than that.

However, it’s important not to forget the entourage effect here. This is the term used to describe the way in which all of the many different components of the cannabis plant – cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, terpenes, phytonutrients and all – have a more potent effect when consumed together. When they all enter together in a single “entourage”, if you will.

The strength of this effect means that in a direct comparison of an average 90% pure THC distillate and a 45-50% pure live resin, the live resin is almost certain to create a noticeably more potent effect.

This is because all of the different elements of cannabinoids and terpenes and so on work together.

It’s also worth noting that live resin vape is no longer quite so prohibitively expensive as they used to be.

Is live resin worth it?

The fact that live resin tends to cost a little bit more than distillate leads most people to ask one natural question:

Is live resin worth it?

For most people, it’s a question of taste, their own health and the qualities they are looking for in their cannabis experience. The pros and cons of live resin can be summarized like this:

1) Cost

If cost is a factor, then distillate may well be your choice. Though it is important to remember that a small amount of live resin will likely go a long way because of the small quantities you need to take to achieve the same effect as larger quantities of other concentrates.

It’s also worth noting that live resin vape is no longer quite so prohibitively expensive as they used to be.

That said, distillate is almost always going to be much cheaper than live resin. This is because distillate can be processed very cost-effectively and is often made from parts of the plant which would otherwise be thrown away.

The advantage of this is that there is less waste and that a heretofore unusable part of the plant can now be used to create a highly useful product.

2) Potency and speed of relief

If you have a medical condition which means swift-acting relief is an absolute must, then live resin is worth at least trying.

The fast onset and potency it achieves via the entourage effect are more powerful than distillates which are labeled as having much higher THC or CBD levels.

3) Preferred method of ingestion

If you are intending to vape or dab your cannabis concentrate, live resin will almost certainly be your choice. Though some manufacturers add plant terpenes from things like citrus trees to their distillates after purification with some success, most aficionados will tell you that live resin provides a superior taste experience.

However, if you prefer to consume your cannabis in edibles, you will either need to activate the live resin before you use it or choose the usually by-design flavorless and odorless distillate.

4) Flavor and aroma

Tied to the above, in a live resin vs distillate contest of flavor, there is no contest. Any THC live resin for sale you can find will retain all or nearly all of the taste and aroma of the original plant. THC distillate preserves none.

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