Q&A: Live Resins & Distillates
Jordan Lams offers a crash course on these popular concentrates.
The world of cannabis concentrates is vast, with options for just about every cannabis patient. Concentrates such as hash and oils found in capsules and tinctures are increasingly popular methods of ingestion for treatment. There are plenty of reasons, among them: Concentrates are efficient (less product is required to reach the desired effect), and high-quality products typically are easier to dose.
While statistics concerning use aren’t available, media coverage suggests that live resin and distillate are particularly favored concentrates. Made from frozen leaf and other raw plant parts, live resin is a waxy, somewhat “boutique” form of cannabis that tends to preserve more of the flavorful, aromatic, temperature-sensitive terpenes of the original plant.
Honey-thick distillate is a more refined product that’s almost entirely pure cannabinoids. When the product is high quality, distillate’s purity can lend itself to more precise dosing and almost any method of administration, including edibles, tinctures, and sublingual and transdermal methods.
All that said, when it comes to the best form of concentrate, it’s all about the patients and their conditions, says Jordan Lams, CEO of Moxie, a cannabis company with distribution in multiple states that primarily produces concentrates and is best known for its live resin. CRx talks with Lams to get the scoop on how live resin and distillate are made, their unique traits, and their role in treatment for cannabis patients.
CRx: What is live resin and how is it different from other concentrates?
Lams: The only difference between live resin and another concentrate is that live resin is derived from flowers that were frozen when they were still wet. As opposed to the biomass going through the drying and curing process immediately upon harvest, it’s frozen, so it freezes all the water weight and all the compounds that were in the plant as it was alive vs what would get modulated into or what’s lost in the process of drying and curing.
For instance, some terpenes are lost through the drying process and others are oxidized and degraded. Sometimes that’s a negative thing, but sometimes it can actually even be a positive thing; in certain strains, the real character of the flavor and aromatic profile doesn’t come out until you’ve dried it and cured it. And that’s very subjective, too; it can be preferential based on the person or the strain.
CRx: How is live resin made?
Lams: [After freezing], you can use any extraction process, and the end product could still be considered live resin. A couple of the ones that we [at Moxie] do primarily are hydrocarbon extraction as well as solventless extraction. These methods are completely different—different processes, different solvents, and a fairly different end product, but the end product still will be considered live resin, assuming that the input material was that fresh, frozen biomass.
CRx: So the biggest difference with live resins is the terpene content?
Lams: Absolutely. Terpenes are but one segment of the flavor and aromatic compounds, but of all those compounds in aggregate are very volatile, which means that they are lost very easily. Even at room temperature, some terpenes and other compounds are lost naturally.
The idea with live resin is that you’re freezing the plant to trap all those compounds in before you extract, whereas if you were to dry and cure, you lose them; even just storing them, they get lost. The idea is minimal degradation of those flavor and aromatic compounds.
CRx: Is there an added medicinal benefit to preserving those terpenes?
Lams: I don’t know if I’d say “added” benefit; I think I’d say “different” benefit. Similar to a flavor standpoint, there’s subjectivity to whether you prefer something that’s live resin or something that’s been dried and cured, and that may change based on the strain. The medicinal application can be affected as well. I think it can be better or worse based on the condition and based on the person with the condition.
Two people with the same condition, such as cancer, might not respond the same way to a live resin product. It’s not necessarily about the exact compounds, it’s about the way you react to them. This is kind of what cannabis stands on as an industry; it’s a paradigm shifter away from “one set of compounds for one ailment for everyone who gets sick” and toward a process of personalized health care through discovery and trial and error using compounds that are actually safe to go through trial and error on, unlike many other medications.
CRx: How is distillate different from live resin?
Lams: The best way I can put it is if live resin is trying to be fresh-squeezed juice that’s made from the best oranges and squeezed right in front of you right before you drink it, distillate would be the orange juice concentrate—not necessarily because it’s more concentrated in flavor or potency but because it’s a commodity product. Whereas live resin’s quality is dictated based on the quality of the input materials—almost exclusively, it’s all about how good the actual cannabis going into the process is—with distillate, it’s far more process oriented. The quality of the distillate is relative to how well you extract and refine vs the quality of the material going in.
Distillate is a commodity in the sense that people are producing it on the largest scale with the lowest-cost input materials and processes that they can utilize. It uses trim [excess trimmings from the marijuana plant, including leaves], which in the past was trash in a lot of farming settings. Distillate has a much broader set of applications than live resin but only has a little bit of the profile left over from the input materials—there’s a mix of major and minor cannabinoids, all of which have been activated, and everything else besides the cannabinoids has been stripped off.
CRx: Walk us through distillate production.
Lams: It’s pretty simple, just like any other extraction, but the process depends upon the processer. Generally, you extract the cannabinoids off of the biomass/plant matter, and then you go through a series of refinements to break down the cannabinoids and separate them from the plant matter (such as chlorophyll and other byproducts you don’t want). Then, through a process of distillation, you distill off the flavor and aroma compounds, which usually in this type of material are not desirable compounds as they don’t smell nice.
After that, the cannabinoids are activated and then distilled off. Then you go to the distilled cannabinoids and pull a fraction of cannabinoids off, and that’s your distillate. It looks just like really thick olive oil or honey; it’s a clear yellow to amber solution, and it’s as close as you can get to pure cannabinoids. It will have that relative [THC:CBD] ratio of the input material, and that can vary too based on your process.
From there, you can infuse terpenes from live resin or from other botanical sources to make flavors and new aroma profiles. It’s excellent for making edibles because it’s highly measureable and consistent, so you can see exactly what the percentage by volume potency of THC is and use that to formulate very accurate dosing in an edible or a sublingual.
CRx: Could that specificity of dose be beneficial for cannabis patients?
Lams: Certainly in determining accuracy of dosing. However, there are schools of thought—which I totally buy into—that you lose some of the “magic,” for lack of a better term, that is cannabis [in using and producing distillates]. And there are schools of thought that believe that the more you alter it, the more you get away from that super, super high level of efficacy that most consumers of cannabis talk about. I don’t think it strips benefit away entirely; I do think it changes it. But from a measurability standpoint, it really is the best thing.
Moreover, depending on what you’re using the medication for, distillate may actually provide better relief. To give you an example, if you’re using cannabis as an antiemetic, ironically, actually smoking the flower, anecdotally, seems to have the highest level of efficacy, whereas vaping or extract would have a lower level of efficacy. And it probably goes without saying, but eating cannabis when you need it as an antiemetic isn’t the most effective thing either because it’s fairly tough to digest as a fat-soluble compound.
More than anything, the question is, what’s the right tool for the job?
CRx: What’s the best way to ingest distillate or live resin?
Lams: Distillate can be used by itself and dabbed or used in a vape, or in ingestibles and topicals as well. It becomes an ingredient in almost anything. There’s not really any direction in which you would not be able to use distillate. With live resin, the most popular form is through vaporization, and that would be through dabbing or through a vape pen.
CRx: How can cannabis practitioners guide their patients toward the highest-quality distillate and live resin?
Lams: Reliability and trust is best determined through the retailer and the brands the retailer carries. Because of the nature of cannabis and how difficult it is to cultivate and how many different strains there are, finding consistency is tricky. There is an inherent need to experiment, but you want to experiment among brands and businesses that have consistency within the marketplace, because once you figure out what works for you, you need to know that you can get it again.
A person who’s trying to find what’s right for them needs to go to a reputable retailer with really high-quality and well-trained staff. That’s first and foremost. But the reality is, you can’t trust that this strain is going to do that [from other people’s experience]—we don’t have that data. The data we do have doesn’t suggest that everyone has similar effects; in fact, people are almost split 50-50 on the way it affects them. That’s why that trial and error of trying different strains—that process of self-discovery—is just so important.
— Hadley Turner is an editorial assistant for CRx.