Dear Stoner: I’ve noticed something called “distillate” next to the wax and shatter in dispensaries. Employees try to explain it to me, but it’s hard to follow. WTF is it?
Dear Rip: The future, man. Also called “the clear” by some dispensaries and extraction companies, distilled THC is one of the most potent forms of cannabis out there, but it’s created by a process unknown to most.
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Distillates are made through a process called molecular distillation. Commonly used to make acetone, gas or diesel fuel from petroleum, molecular distillation is just starting to emerge as a cannabinoid extraction method. Distilling hash requires taking winterized concentrates — butane or Co2 hash oil refined with alcohol or ethanol and then chilled at extreme temperatures — and then distilling them to concentrate the THC further. Think of it like distilling wine into brandy: You’re taking an extracted substance and refining it even further for higher purity.
Commercial extractors use a machine called a “wiped film evaporator,” which takes advantage of the different boiling points in cannabinoids to thermally separate them. First, the wiped film evaporator separates the cannabinoids from the terpenes by boiling the concentrate at a high pressure but at a relatively low temperature.
The process is repeated to remove any impurities, such as leftover solvents or lipids, in the concentrate. The result: a clear, odorless concentrate virtually free of solvents.
Distillation can take BHO or Co2 oil with a 70 to 85 percent THC potency and refine it to upwards of 95 percent. As noted earlier, terpenes are killed off in the process, meaning the concentrate is devoid of smell or flavor. But terpenes can be extracted from cannabis just like CBD or THC, so most extractors will infuse distillates with extracted terpenes so that dabbers can get all the potency without losing the Cookies, Diesel or OG flavors.
Some purists and old-school tokers don’t appreciate the separation and reintroduction of terpenes, but it’s a small price to pay for eliminating solvents and maximizing potency. All of this makes for one pricey dab, though. Dispensaries charge upwards of $100 a gram for distillates and over $80 for a half-gram vaporizer cartridge. But remember the $90 grams of wax in 2010? Let’s hope distillates follow suit.
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