Live Resin vs Distillate: What’s the Difference?
An average budtender will tell you that distillate is more potent while live resin tastes better. That might be the pertinent difference between the two extracts, but that’s hardly the end of the live resin vs. distillate debate.
What are all the ways the two extracts are different, and how do you choose whether distillate or live resin is right for you? Find the answers in this guide.
Types of cannabis concentrates: An overview
To truly comprehend the differences between live resin and distillate, it is important to start at the very beginning of the question by addressing what cannabis extracts are in the first place. The flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant begin to express microscopic, mushroom-shaped oil sacs called trichomes during maturation. These oil sacs contain the cannabinoids and terpenes that are used to make cannabis extracts.
The methods used to transform mature cannabis flowers into concentrates are remarkably varied, employing a wide spectrum of solvents and extraction technologies. We’ll explore all the different options in detail below as a way of setting the stage for distillate and live resin to compete.
Raw extracts & rosins
Raw cannabis extracts produced with minimal use of technology have been the norm throughout the majority of recorded history. From the hand-rolled hashish of the ancient Saracens to the bubble hash of the modern hippy, raw cannabis extracts are easy to make but offer low potency and purity.
These days, solvent-free yet high-potency types of cannabis extracts called “rosins” have become quite popular. Similar to other raw extracts in that they are not made using solvents, cannabis rosins offer a high level of safety and purity but are almost prohibitively expensive to make.
The next step up in terms of potency and technological sophistication are “winterized” cannabis extracts, which are relatively crude extracts that have been produced by removing trichomes from cannabis flower with a solvent and then lightly purifying the resulting material into a usable extract.
On the whole, the cannabis industry has moved on from viewing winterized extracts as viable consumer products. Winterized crude is, however, a critical intermediary form cannabis extract takes on as it is processed into distillate.
Distilling cannabis removes chlorophyll, waxes, and other waste materials. Any time you have come across a vape cartridge or dab gram that looks clear like honey, that means it has been winterized and distilled par excellence.
In the process of distillation, however, terpenes are lost. Distillates, therefore, often hit clean and provide a very powerful high, but they can fail to manifest the type of fullness of experience that some cannabis connoisseurs can come to crave.
Live resin extracts
If the process of producing distillate, the most potent form of cannabis concentrate, inevitably decimates the concentrate’s terpene count, how can terpenes be reintroduced into a finished extract, improving the flavor and effects? It is from this question that the type of extract known as “live resin” was born.
What is live resin?
There are many misconceptions about what live resin is and how it is produced, but quite simply:1. Live resin is purified cannabinoid distillate to which reintroduced terpenes are added
2. These terpenes were removed from cannabis flower frozen immediately after harvest
3. Through freezing, the degradation of the terpenes was arrested, preserving their purity
4. The live resin terpenes are then carefully reintroduced — preferably into the same extract from which they were originally removed.
Some live resin extracts are labeled “single-source,” which means that their live resin terpene extract and cannabinoid distillate originally came from the same cannabis plant. This distinction is not usually of relevance to anyone except cannabis gourmands, however, as long as painstaking care is taken to preserve purity and quality.
What is cannabis distillate?
Cannabis distillate, in comparison to live resin, is higher-potency but contains far fewer terpenes. On average, high-quality cannabis distillate offers 90%+ THC potency, but it may contain as little as 2-3% terpenes. These attributes make cannabis distillate more popular among high-tolerance users but less so among those who are focused on the flavor of the cannabis they use.
Live resin vs. distillate: Compared across 5 categories
Though intimately related, cannabis distillate and live resin extract are clearly different based on their origins alone. For the cannabis consumer, the experience a product provides is just as important as where it came from. Learn how live resin and distillate differ in terms of how you buy and use them:
In terms of total cannabinoid percentage, distillate is considerably more potent than live resin. At most, live resin can contain around 70% cannabinoids, and most live resin vapes contain 10-20% terpenes.
With far lesser terpene concentration comes more room for cannabinoids. Distillate can contain 95%+ cannabinoids, resulting in greater measurable effects.
Measurable effects and experienced effects are not always the exact same thing, however. Some users indicate that live resin feels more potent even with its reduced cannabinoid concentration.
The entourage effect could explain this phenomenon. It’s theorized that when cannabinoids are kept with their “entourage” of terpenes and minor cannabinoids, they have greater effects than they can achieve on their own, regardless of dose. Perhaps the reason live resin feels stronger is that the cannabinoids it contains are boosted by terpenes.
As a general rule, live resin will taste better than distillate due to its much-higher terpene concentration. A lot goes into the potency of cannabis concentrate, however, beyond mere terpene concentration.
An excellent live resin extract can be ruined, for instance, by containing distillate that was not properly winterized or distilled. Conversely, the terpenes included in distillate can sometimes be nearly as tasty as low-grade live resin.
That’s all to say there’s no guarantee live resin will taste good just because it’s live resin. Also, there’s no saying when a distillate cartridge from the right manufacturer might surprise you with its incredible flavor.
With cannabis concentrates intended for vaporizing, quality is the same thing as safety. It’s not only safety, though — the quality differences between distillate and live resin can also majorly impact your end experience as a consumer.
There’s no discernable difference between live resin and distillate as far as quality goes. Some would argue that live resin is inherently superior due to its preserved terpenes, but we would counter that it’s just as easy for distillate to be safely produced as it is for live resin to be made with substandard practices.
To determine the quality and safety of a cannabinoid extract you’re considering trying, you’ll need to research the product individually. Read the product description thoroughly, learn about the company’s extraction and manufacturing practices, and look for lab reports (COAs), which can shed light on what’s really in your extract.
Live resin generally commands a slightly higher price than distillate, but that’s hardly always the case. Some high-end distillate dabs and cartridges can sell for just as much as high-end live resin.
It all depends on the processes the manufacturer uses and how much they feel is fair to be compensated. Learn more about individual manufacturers to determine if they’re charging fair prices for their live resin or distillate cannabis extracts.
There was once a time when live resin was rare enough to be practically mythical. Nowadays, though, this flavorful type of cannabis extract is just as widespread as distillate, so you shouldn’t have any more trouble getting one type of concentrate over the other. Just keep in mind the federal law against THC, which is still upheld by a diminishing minority of states.
Which is better: Live resin or distillate?
It can’t be said whether live resin or distillate is objectively better. Some people will like live resin better for its flavor, but others will side with distillate for its potency.
Ultimately, the reliability of the manufacturer you choose will have a significantly larger impact on your results than merely the type of extract you select. The best distillates can rival live resin in their flavor, for instance, while some live resin extracts rival distillate in their experienced potency.
Live resin vs. distillate FAQ
Still not sure whether live resin or distillate is right for you? Further delineate the differences between the two cannabis extract types in the following FAQ section:
Is distillate or live resin healthier for you?
Live resin is more likely to be the healthier option between the two, but distillate can be just as high-quality as live resin. It’s a myth that live resin is “solvent-free” or “cryogenically extracted.”
These oversimplifications give the impression that live resin has not been through the same multi-stage extraction process as distillate, which is not the case. Live resin is just distillate with cryogenically extracted terpenes added.
Does distillate get you higher?
Due to its increased cannabinoid potency over other extracts, it’s only natural if distillate makes you feel higher. A lot more goes into the cannabis experience than just cannabinoid potency, however — terpenes and minor cannabinoids can also have a major impact on how high a cannabis extract makes you feel.
Why is live resin more expensive?
Live resin shouldn’t be any more expensive than other types of cannabis extracts given its widespread availability and roughly similar quality. Some manufacturers may still charge a premium just because their extract is live resin. The more likely explanation, though, is that there are quality differences between cannabis extracts that naturally lead to price discrepancies.
Why don’t people like distillate carts?
Distillate vape carts have gotten a bit of a bad name in comparison to live resin because there’s a general perception that their flavor is not as delicious. While this may often be the case, it should be remembered that this reduction in flavor is accompanied by an increase in potency, something that shouldn’t be overlooked especially among high-tolerance cannabis users.
Is distillate safer than smoking?
All factors considered, there’s no reason to believe that vaping cannabis distillate is any more or less safe than smoking cannabis flower. As long as the flower is high-quality and contaminant-free, there’s actually very little evidence that smoking cannabis flower is detrimental to your health.
Conversely, cannabinoid distillates can contain residual processing contaminants, which is never an issue with all-natural cannabis flower. Due to the inherent benefits of vaping over smoking, you’ll probably be better off as long as your distillate is high-quality, but there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason to switch to vaping distillate from smoking flower just on the basis of safety.