How is THC Distillate Made?

by Doug

How do you make THC distillate?

With so many great products on the market, you may find yourself craving something new or hunting for that special something like your friend just shared with you over the weekend. 

The possibilities created with cannabis distillates have continued to be a growing trend, and from dabs to cooking up that batch of homemade goodness, it’s no wonder you have an interest in understanding what you’re using. 

What Are Distillates?

Cannabis distillation is a method of extraction and refining cannabis into its more purified forms. Distillates in their refined form are both odorless and flavorless, allowing you to add them into edibles, dabs, or use alongside other products for an added kick. 

Imagine if every time you picked up a pack of watermelon edibles, they tasted a bit different. The reality with using any plant is the slight difference in flavor from batch to batch. This is the importance of distillates: they give consistent flavor to make your favorite watermelon gummies taste perfect, every single time. 

This only becomes more important when considering your favorite extracts, allowing your dabs and resins to be strong, and keep that deep flavor you expect.

Distillates are void of all waxes and plant particles, making them a great go-to option for vapes, or used as a base for topical products. 

So, it’s oil?

Yes and no. Distillates are an oil, and they are used when making many oil products, but not all oils are distillates. These distillations are highly refined to produce a focused product, allowing you the option of a THC or CBD distillate, or a blended variety to meet your needs. 

This stripping of all unwanted products outside the specific cannabinoids creates a strong, highly focused product. 

How Are Distillates Made? 

In short, the process is relatively simple. Turn fresh weed into an oil, get rid of the unwanted stuff, and heat the remaining oil to specific temperatures to extract exactly what you want: a pure amazing product. 

Let’s break it down. 

Step 1: Cannabis Extraction

For many years, when people talked about oils and dabs they were referring to products made from cannabis extracts, and for good reason. While the extraction process can be done in a variety of different ways, the outcome is an oil with 60-80% purity of product. 

To put that into perspective, a strong strain of weed such as Super Silver Haze packs a massive 30% THC, while extracts are more than double that strength.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction

A common method of extracting oils is through what is known as supercritical CO2. This is a common method used when making items such as fruit extracts, barley for beer, and even some coffee and tea production simply due to the high yield and environmental benefits.

CO2 being supercritical means that it is right at the line of being a liquid and a gas. This allows the CO2 to pass through the buds, but also collect the oil from the trichomes. 

This is an extremely environmentally friendly, non-toxic method that not only leaves no toxins behind, but is also able to recycle the CO2 to be reused. With no toxins left in the plant, they are free to be used or disposed of in a green way with no risk to the environment. 

The CO2 is first heated as a vapor, which then passes through the bud to extract the oil. This liquid is then passed through an extractor that separates the CO2 from the extract. This is done in a high-pressure unit, and due to the low acidic value of CO2, is often passed over the batch multiple times.

Water Bath Extraction

Sometimes called ice-bath extraction, this process is considered to be a “pure” form of extraction as it uses no chemicals whatsoever, and instead you soak your buds in cold water. This soaking causes the trichomes to release, trichomes being the intricate crystallized hairs on the outside of the flowers holding the THC. 

Weed needs to be frozen instead of dried to be used in this process. If it were dried, it would begin to break apart and crumble, causing a variety of issues.

Trichomes are heavier than water, allowing them to drop to the bottom of the tank and simply be extracted. It’s important to gently stir the soaking buds — being too rough could cause other unwanted pieces to break free. 

It’s important to never use hot or warm water, as this could begin to activate the THC release or cause the bud itself to begin breaking down. 

Ethanol Extraction

Growing in popularity is the use of ethanol extraction, often due to the availability, safety, and use of ethanol. Ethanol consists of refined sugars from grains such as corn, and is considered to be both a renewable source and relatively safe. 

Ethanol has a tendency to pull all water solubles from the bud, even those you may not want. To avoid this, chilling the ethanol allows it to become less acidic and less likely to pull waxes and other unwanted components. 

To extract the THC from your favorite flowers, first soak the buds in ethanol. In many cases, this soak will occur many times as the tank is filled with ethanol, drained to a storage tank, and then filled once again. 

The ethanol will be separated from the mix later during the heating process, leaving no remaining ethanol in your distillate. 

Butane Extraction

Similar to the ethanol extraction, the idea of using chemicals for extraction allows you to break down the oils, and then remove the chemical from the mix. 

Butane Honey Oil or BHO is a method of extraction where the weed is soaked in butane to break down the oils, and all oils are extracted to a holding container. Once there, the butane will evaporate, leaving behind a pure product, with some setups applying a vacuum to assist in quicker evaporation. 

With the high flammability rate of butane, caution should be taken. 

Step 2: Winterization

Next is a step known as winterization, and involves putting your extracts into a freezing environment. This removes some of the unwanted substances such as waxes, lipids, fats, chlorophyll, and contaminants. These unwanted components such as fats are a major factor in creating a diluted product, making up 10-15% of the lost potency. 

In many cases, ethanol is used for the winterization process using 95% ethanol and 5% water chilled to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This mix will be placed in a chilled environment at below zero for 24 hours or more, and is run through a series of filters. Ultimately, the fats and waxes will begin to clump and be caught in the filters. 

It’s important to note that supercritical CO2 and Butane Honey Oil methods of extraction leave behind the waxes and fats. This is why although they take far more time to extract, they have remained a popular method excluding the winterization step. 

Step 3: Decarboxylation

Now that your product is nearly pure, it’s time to remove what’s known as carboxylic acids. At this point, your concentrate has THCA, which needs to be refined to receive the end result of pure THC. 

Without refining the mix, THCA has no psychoactive effects until heated to around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning when you’re smoking either with a vape or flame, you’re reaching the temp for THC, but for cold applications such as some edibles and oils that aren’t being heated, you would otherwise not have any effect. 

Generally, this is done around 220 degrees for 45 minutes and allowed to cool. This releases carboxylic acid, removing the A (i.e., the acid) and leaving you with THC. 

Distillation

Now that you have removed all possible unwanted contaminants from your concentrates, it’s time to actually distill the remaining oils to get pure THC and CBD. 

Distilling is the action of heating the batch to specific temperatures, allowing each component to steam off, and then collecting that steam. Of course, the process of distilling the oils is where distillates get their name. 

Think of this like water on a stove top. As it heats up, the water begins to evaporate in the form of steam. As this steam rises to the top of the container, it then begins to travel through tubing which allows it to cool back to a liquid, which drips into a second holding container. What’s collected is pure, 100% product. 

It’s important to control your heat source very precisely, since THC boils at 314.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and CBD boils at 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and working your way up the heat scale allows each to split precisely. 

In many setups, a cooling unit will be placed along the collection line to rapidly cool the steam back to a liquid to be collected. This chilling creates a low pressure and creates a minor vacuum effect, keeping the system moving quickly. 

Things To Keep In Mind

Now that you have accurately created distillates, it’s important to remember the potential for your products. 

Distillates have no smell or flavor — these have been removed. If collected along the way, they can then be turned into weed flavoring such as for candies, and weed scents for candles and incense. 

You now have a product that doesn’t need to be heated, and without any flavor, meaning you can add these distillates to anything. But keep in mind, as a pure product,  distillates are very strong so it’s good to add up to your end goal to get the strength you want. The last thing you want is an edible that is too weak, or way too strong, unless that’s your goal.

Remember that distillates are a pure, consistent product intended for home and industry use to make your favorite products the same every single time. Many lovers of the flower have found success in taking these steps at home, and while the outcome may not be as refined or may contain some fats or waxes, you end up with a strong product to be added into your favorite dish, and we mean any dish

With a knowledge of distillates, you can now pull from your favorite vape, or chew down on your go-to edible knowing that you have a high-end product every time. 

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