Cannabis Distillate vs. Distillation: What’s the Difference?

The cannabis industry has its own vocabulary that outsiders wouldn’t be expected to know. Unfortunately, some of the terms within that vocabulary are confusing. Take cannabis distillate vs. cannabis distillation. They are two separate things – one is a product while the other is a process.

Confusing the terms is a good way to wind up with a cannabis product you were not intending to purchase. So, if you are new too medical cannabis, recreational marijuana, CBD, etc., it really pays to do your homework. Knowing exactly what you are getting is important. You can read more about CBD in this article.

Cannabis Distillate: A Product

It is not unusual to find cannabis retailers selling distillate products. They usually aren’t called cannabis distillates. Rather, you will see them marketed as CBD or THC distillates. CBD distillates are more common. They are the most concentrated form of cannabis-derived substances.

For instance, a CBD distillate is a liquid product that contains up to 80% CBD. The remaining 20% can include other cannabinoids as well as terpenes and ancillary ingredients – like suspensions, for example. The key is that the desired cannabinoid exists in a product in an exceptionally high concentration. That is what makes the distillate unique from other cannabis products.

How Its Made

Cannabis distillate is made by first extracting pure oil from plant material. Again, we can use CBD distillate as an example. Pure CBD oil, also known as full-spectrum oil, is extracted through one of several different means. The oil is then distilled to separate unwanted cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. Distillation is amazingly effective in this regard because different compounds evaporate and condense at different rates.

Cannabis Distillation: A Process

Next up is cannabis distillation. This is a process for extracting the previously mentioned full-spectrum oil. Also known as crude, the oil contains all the compounds in the plant material. Cannabis distillation, as an extraction process, is accomplished using heat and pressure.

According to CedarStoneIndustry, a cannabis extraction and distillation equipment manufacturer based in Houston, steam is the primary component through which biomass is distilled. For that reason, the process is often referred to as steam distillation. It is a cheap process, but also an inefficient and inconsistent process. Very few large-scale processors rely on steam distillation.

How It Works

Steam distillation begins with a large tank that can be sealed and pressurized. Plant material is loaded into the tank before the tank is closed and buttoned up tightly. Next, the tank is injected with steam. The heat from the steam releases the desired compounds aided by pressure inside the tank.

As the steam leaves the tank it condenses. The heavier compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.) collect in a vessel underneath. You end up with crude oil with which you can do whatever you please. Putting that crude through a secondary distillation allows for separating out the various components.

  1. Don’t Confuse the Two

As for why any of this matters, it’s about not confusing the two. If you were looking at a product marketed as a CBD distillate, that does not necessarily mean that the crude oil used to extract the CBD was obtained through steam distillation. In fact, chances are that it wasn’t. Steam distillation isn’t efficient enough to produce high concentrations. The CBD was probably extracted through the use of a solvent or CO2.

Remember that CBD isolate is a product in the form of a liquid. It is a highly concentrated product as well. Distillation is a process utilized to both extract crude oil and separate components from that oil. With that settled, you probably won’t look at distillate labels the same way again.