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Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Distillates and live resins are both cannabis concentrates, but they undergo such diverse processes that they end up on opposite ends of the spectrum. As a result, the main difference between live resin and distillates is that live resins retain most of the plant’s original cannabinoids and terpenes. In contrast, distillates contain a high percentage of cannabinoids, mainly THC.
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What Is Live Resin?
Live resin is a cannabis concentrate made from fresh-frozen cannabis, blended with chemical solvents, and pressed into a full-spectrum oil. Full spectrum means live resin’s cannabinoid and terpene profiles mimic the plant. The resulting products are extraordinarily fragrant, flavorful, colorful, and THC-rich.
How It’s Made
The live resin production process starts right after harvest when farmers immediately freeze high-quality plants in frigid temperatures of at least 10 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). The freezing process is the key to preserving the plant’s chemical profile.
After 24-48 hours, processors remove the freshly harvested frozen cannabis flowers and use a hydrocarbon extraction machine to draw the compounds out of the plant.
Most manufacturers use a blend of butane and propane because these hydrocarbons are highly efficient at preserving terpenes. Extractors must remove residual levels before making the final product. Processors add heat to the tank to purge the oily mixture and then move it into a separate tank.
After purifying the extract, processors pour it into a processor to create the final live resin cannabis product. Some will agitate or whip the solution into a smooth, cohesive product known as badder or budder. Others leave the live resin oil in its original form: slightly wet with a sugary consistency due to the high terpene content. Live resin colors range from dark amber to light yellow and white.
Solventless live resin concentrates are terpene-rich, aromatic, and flavorful in any form or product. So, when trying to figure out how to smoke live resin, you have a few options and can smoke or vape these fresh flower extracts in different ways depending on your preferences, smoking devices, and accessories.
Dab rigs: Smoking live resin in dab rigs — also known as dabbing — is one of the most common ways to use concentrates. Dab rigs are similar to water bongs, except rigs are designed to vaporize dense concentrates instead of blasting them with heat. They typically have a chamber for water, a mouthpiece, a dome, and a dab bowl.
Vape pens: Vaping live resin concentrates in portable vape pens is the easiest and most convenient method. Lightweight, discrete, and simple to use, vapes also allow you to take smaller hits than dab rigs to control your dosage better. The key is to select a high-quality vape pen (as well as high-quality vape carts if the pen is reusable) with low-temperature settings so you don’t burn off the precious terpenes.
Joints or bowls: Dabbing and vaping are the best ways to ingest live resin. However, another option is to add live resin to your favorite cannabis flower and smoke this super-charged mixture in a joint. You can also add it to your bowl or pipe. Since the concentrate is sticky and wet, you’ll want to use a dab tool instead of your fingers to avoid a mess.
Whether you prefer saucy, buttery, brittle, or crumbly live resin, the consumption methods are essentially the same. It’s all about finding the texture and usage method that works best for you.
The most obvious benefit of consuming live resin products is that this extract holds the cannabis plant’s complete range of fragrant, therapeutic, and psychoactive compounds. Consuming full-spectrum live resin products allows you to take advantage of what’s known as the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is a theory that the original plant’s compounds work better blended together than isolated. You can find evidence of this theory in a study that found the terpenes alpha-humulene, geraniol, linalool, and beta-pinene mimicked THC’s pain-relieving properties.
The study also found the terpenes amplified the overall relief without intensifying the high. Another entourage effect example is CBD’s modulating impact on THC. Research shows that high-CBD doses — when taken with THC — counteract some of THC’s unwanted effects, like paranoia and increased heart rate.
Risks and Drawbacks
Live resins are all produced with chemical solvents — typically hydrocarbons like butane and propane. These concentrates are safe to ingest when the final product is properly purged and lab-tested for residual solvents.
To avoid consuming questionable solvents, it’s essential to research the live resin brand before you buy. All reputable cannabis companies publish third-party laboratory test results confirming their formulas are clean of residual solvents. If you can’t find evidence of these tests, look for a different product supplier.
Another potential risk of smoking live resin is over-intoxication and weed tolerance. Inhaling THC concentrations of 45%-90% means you can easily become too high to function if you’re not an experienced smoker. Regular consumption also means you can quickly become tolerant to high THC levels. As a result, you may find low-THC cannabis flower less desirable to smoke.
What Is Distillate?
Distillates are cannabis concentrates that typically contain one potent cannabinoid, like THC, CBD, CBG, or CBN. Unlike fresh-frozen live resin, distillates are made from dried and cured plants using high heat because preserving the terpene profile is not the goal. Distillates regularly contain around 90% potency or higher.
How It’s Made
Distillate is made in a series of steps:
Drying: Farmers growing cannabis for distillate production manually dry and cure their biomass by hanging the plants upside down or laying them on racks. Once this step is complete, growers cure the buds in airtight containers to purge them of bacteria and allow the cannabinoids to age and stabilize.
Extraction: After drying, processors extract the cannabinoids from the plant material using chemical solvents, like butane, propane, or ethanol, to draw the cannabis compounds out of the plant’s trichomes. This phase can look like live resin extraction, but the similarities between the concentrates end there.
Winterization: Post-extraction, distillate processors move to the winterization and filtration phase. Winterization uses cold temperatures to filter out undesirable plant compounds like chlorophyll, sugars, waxes, and phospholipids that can reduce the potency and discolor the final product. Filtration also ensures the formula gets stripped of residual solvents.
Decarboxylation: After winterization comes decarboxylation, which is essentially heating the mixture to manipulate the cannabinoid profile. Decarboxylation converts THCa — THC’s non-psychoactive acidic precursor — into THC, making the formula more potent.
Distillation: After extraction, winterization, and decarboxylation, processors finally distill the solution to its purest form. The fractional short-path distillation process uses heating and recooling to eliminate all residual solvents and separate the desired cannabinoids from the solution. Typically processors repeat this step several times until they reach the end result: a clear liquid, free from impurities, terpenes, and flavors.
In regard to how to consume distillate, like live resin extracts, you can consume cannabis distillates with dab rigs or by sprinkling them on top of bud and adding the solution to bowls or joints. You can also vape them by adding a distillate cartridge to a vape pen.
Unlike live resin, distillate usages extend beyond those three areas. For example, distillates work great in edible recipes because they’re potent and flavorless. You can also find distillates in topicals, sublingual oils, and suppositories.
Distillates are versatile products you can smoke or ingest in nearly any product type. If you’re a medical marijuana patient, you might prefer distillates because you know the formulas are pure, clean, and safe to ingest. You may also prefer the discreet, odorless, flavorless profile to live resin’s more grassy finish. Distillates’ exceedingly high concentration of cannabinoids is another key benefit if you’re looking for targeted relief from a health condition or just want to get very high.
Risks and Drawbacks
Distillates’ benefits may also be drawbacks, particularly if you’re an inexperienced cannabis user. For example, one hit of a 90%-99% THC distillate can be exactly what you need, or it could send you to an anxious and hypervigilant state. Regardless, consistently ingesting cannabis distillates will increase your tolerance fast, intensifying withdrawal symptoms if you take a day off.
Additionally, consuming distillates means sacrificing the entourage effect benefits of full-spectrum products. Some distillate manufacturers add non-cannabis terpenes to their final products to mimic full-spectrum benefits, but these are not natural compounds.
Similarities and Differences Between Live Resin and Distillate
Live resin and distillates are both potent cannabis concentrates produced through solvent-based extraction methods. Aside from these core similarities, live resin and distillates have very distinct characteristics.
Live resin extracts typically contain 4%-12% terpenes, while distillates contain a barely measurable terpene content.
Live resin is more potent than cannabis flower but provides a similar experience because it retains the original plant’s flavor, fragrance, and full-spectrum chemical profile. On the other hand, THC distillates are much more intense because they’re over 90% concentrated and void of balancing terpenes and non-psychoactive compounds. So, if you’re specifically interested in the live resin vs. distillate high, the distillate high will be more extreme than the high produced by live resin.
Live resin THC content ranges from 45%-90%. Live resin is also rich in CBD, containing up to 90% of the compound, depending on the original strain. Cannabis distillates contain 90%-99% of the primary cannabinoid, whether CBG, CBD, CBN, or THC.
Live resin products come in various textures, from glassy to sugary, that you can smoke in dab rigs, vape pens, joints, or bowls. Top products include:
- Vape Oil
Distillates are much more versatile due to their odorless, colorless, and purified finish. You can find distillates in:
You can also add distillates to:
- Dab rigs
- Vape cartridges
- Bowls and joints
How to Decide Which Is Best For You
When it comes to live resin vs. distillate, choosing the best option for you is a matter of product preference, experience level, budget, and desired effects.
When to Use Live Resin
Live resin is your only option if you want to smoke a more robust version of the original plant. Live resins taste and smell like the original strain. Additionally, they provide all the juicy benefits of full-spectrum products, ensuring you experience a balanced high with well-rounded therapeutic benefits. However, that doesn’t mean live resin concentrates are weak. They’re still relatively powerful compared to cannabis flower, so you’ll also experience a powerful high.
When to Use Distillates
Distillates are for you if you prefer pure formulas and record-breaking CBD, CBG, CBN, or THC levels. Distillates’ colorless, odorless, and flavorless profiles make this solution perfect if you’re not into cannabis’ earthy flavor and prefer edibles over other products. They are also more affordable options than live resins. Finally, distillates are your only option if you need a potent topical for muscle soreness or skin inflammation.
The Bottom Line
Distillates and live resin cannabis products are both concentrates that utilize solvents in the extraction process. Both are also potent products. However, the purity, taste, effects, terpene content, and usage are extremely distinct. When you compare distillate vs. live resin, it’s easy to see why you might prefer one to the other. There is no right or wrong, and the choice is yours.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is live resin better than distillate?
Live resin is not unequivocally better than distillate. When choosing between distillate and resin, the better choice will be specific to your needs. If you want a product that produces a similar high to cannabis flower, live resin is the better choice. If you want a product that contains a high concentration of one specific cannabinoid and that blends well in things like edibles, distillates are the better option.
Does distillate or live resin get you higher?
The high from live resin will be similar to the high that you get when you smoke dried flower. Distillates produce a more intense high, but it will not be as long-lasting.
Is live resin stronger than dabs?
Live resin will not necessarily contain a higher concentration of THC than other kinds of dab. However, live resin may deliver a more flavorful, fresher experience than traditional dabs, such as shatter, due to the retention of terpenes.