How to Make THC Distillate: Everything You Need to Know

THC distillate is a highly-concentrated cannabis preparation that has grown in popularity in the recreational and medical cannabis markets.

cannabis distillate next to a nug Source: iStock

Have you ever wondered how distillates are made? We’ll go over the steps to make THC distillate and learn a little more about this new, potent cannabis product.

What is THC Distillate?

THC distillate is a highly-concentrated cannabis preparation that has grown in popularity in the recreational and medical cannabis markets. THC distillate goes through a refinement process that is similar to that of CBD extract.

It can reach over 99% potency and, like other cannabis concentrates, THC distillate emits less odor than dry flower when heated and produces stronger effects with less product.

How is THC Distillate Made?

Want to know how to make THC distillate? Distilling THC requires expensive and advanced equipment and is best performed in a controlled, professional laboratory setting.

Due to the high startup cost and difficulty involved, it is generally a more safe and economical choice to leave this one to the professionals.

The process involves several levels of extraction and purification to yield a product that is highly-refined, pure, and potent. 

Step 1: Crude Extraction

The first step towards creating THC distillate is to separate the resinous trichomes from the bulk of the cannabis plant material. This extraction of crude material can be accomplished using either physical or chemical methods.

  • Sieving is the process of physically separating trichomes by sifting the dried and cured plant matter over a fine mesh screen. This is one of the traditional methods for extracting resin to make hash. The benefit of this method is that it is chemical free, but it requires more physical labor and causes more impurities from the plant matter to enter the crude product that must be removed in the next stage of refinement.
  • Butane can be used as a chemical-based solvent to extract cannabis oil. The resulting product is known as butane hash oil, or BHO. Using makeshift tools and attempting this method at home is not recommended, as it has resulted in a number of mishaps involving personal injury and property damage. It’s best to only source high-quality, lab-tested BHO from a licensed dispensary. Commercial extractors use a closed-loop system with a variety of safety measures to mitigate the risk of igniting the highly flammable solvent.Plant material is ground and soaked in butane, then added to a holding tank and pressurized to extract the resinous cannabinoids. The butane is collected in a recovery tank to be recycled later.
  • Supercritical CO2 extraction has become the preferred method for professional distillers due to its versatility. When heated and compressed into a supercritical state, carbon dioxide(CO2) retains some of the properties of both gases and liquids. Its gaseous properties allow it to reach into all the small spaces of the ground plant matter while its liquid properties act as a solvent to extract the raw cannabinoids. Supercritical CO2 is considered a cleaner alternative to butane and other chemical methods because there is no residual solvent—residual carbon dioxide evaporates as a gas at room temperature. It also acts as a sanitizing agent, killing bacteria and mold and prolonging shelf life. 

Step 2: Winterization

The process of winterization serves to further purify the cannabis concentrate by separating the cannabinoids and terpenes from the remaining plant matter. Winterization removes impurities including:

  • Fats
  • Waxes
  • Lipids
  • Chlorophyll 

The concentrate is mixed with ethanol and kept at extremely low temperatures(anywhere between -20°C and -60°C) for up to 24 hours.

The solvent combined with the cold temperature causes the impurities to separate from the cannabinoid extract.

Once these waxes and other plant byproducts are removed, the extract is filtered and sent through a rotary evaporator to remove the residual ethanol.

Step 3: Decarboxylation

At this stage of the refinement process, the extracted cannabis compounds must be converted to active cannabinoids in order to interact effectively with the human body.

Decarboxylation is the process of removing carboxylic acid from the acidic precursors to cannabinoids, including THCA, CBDA, CBNA, and so on.

When THCA is exposed to the proper amount of heat over time, it converts to the active cannabinoid THC, which produces strong psychoactive effects.

To activate the THC, the cannabis concentrate is decarboxylated at around 225°F(107°C) for up to 40 minutes.

Step 4: Distillation

The final step in creating THC distillate is to isolate specific cannabinoids and terpenes from the rest of the extract. Each cannabinoid has its own unique boiling point and molecular weight.

Using vacuum pressure and heat, distillers can isolate the individual compounds and distill them at up to 99% purity.

In its raw form, THC distillate is tasteless and odorless. Makers of THC distillate may combine THC with other cannabinoids and strain-specific terpenes to enhance the flavor profile and bring about more balanced effects.

What is THC distillate used for?

THC distillate is as versatile as it is potent, and it can be consumed in a variety of ways. 

  • Dabs – THC distillate is a highly-refined cannabis concentrate and can be used in the same way as other concentrates like wax, shatter, or bubble hash. Simply heat up your dab rig and dab as usual, keeping in mind that THC distillate can be over 99% pure THC. Start with only a very small amount. 
  • Vaping – THC distillate can be vaped from a vape pen or other vaporizer product. When purchased from a reputable source and extracted with supercritical CO2, vaping with THC distillate can be a cleaner option compared to butane hash oil. 

There are also a number of dab-free and vape-free ways to consume THC distillate. Distillate has already been decarboxylated during the refinement process, meaning it does not require heat to become active.

Some may choose to make their distillate into a tincture and take it sublingually, allowing the cannabinoids to absorb under the tongue.

Decarboxylation also means that THC distillate is ready to use for all kinds of edibles from green smoothies to a chocolatey space cake.

We recommend you leave THC distillate-making to the professionals, but we hope you enjoyed learning more about the process. Consider picking up some THC distillate on your next trip to the dispensary.

The cost per gram can be higher than other cannabis products, but the potency, purity, and versatility of THC distillates can make it well worth the price.

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