By Carter Spurling
Cannabis distillates have gotten significant attention in the marijuana industry since early 2017. Concentrates demand a premium price in dispensaries around the country due to their distinct benefits over traditional bud and flower, such as the ease of vaping and incorporating into cannabis edibles. As the CBD industry gains traction, the appeal of distillates is similar: consistency, purity, high concentrations of active ingredients, and suitability for a wide range of final products.
Distillation involves separating the chemical components from a liquid mixture by controlled boiling and condensation. Distillates are very pure, already decarboxylated and typically have a very high THC or CBD content. While the benefits of distillation are plentiful, there is a key drawback. With the purity gained in the CBD extraction process, some natural benefits from the plant are lost.
Hemp and marijuana plants contain beneficial chemicals aside from the cannabinoids - such as terpenes and flavonoids - that have different boiling points than the CBD, CBN, THC, etc. So in the process of extracting the cannabinoids, the terpenes and flavonoids are often destroyed. Fans of old-school cannabis have long favored the unaltered plant, and more recent science shows they might have been on to something when it came to terpenes and other interactions provided by the natural plant. Hemp and marijuana plants aren’t just rich with psychoactive compounds, they also have essential fatty acids in triglycerides that help in the absorption of cannabinoids into the body, increasing their bio-availability and contributing to therapeutic effects.
A 2016 study at the University of Nottingham, UK found that “oral co-administration of lipids enhanced the systemic exposure of rats to THC and CBD by 2.5-fold and 3-fold, compared to lipid-free formulations”. In more simple terms, it means that edibles should contain fats to maximize their effectiveness. The hemp and cannabis plants have their own fatty acids for this exact purpose. Cannabis butter cooks have known this for ages, but the science is now being evaluated and validated.
Unfortunately for these added benefits, the end product has no measurable amount of terpene substance, and this is one of the biggest limitations of distillation. The cannabis terpenes are pretty much lost in the extraction process due to the amount of heat used. But extractors are starting to introduce terpenes into the process after extraction to create specific and desired effects and flavors.
This customization has led to some debate within the industry. Most distillation extraction methods basically destroy the natural cannabis terpenes throughout the process. It’s been argued that extractors who opt to add foreign terpenes back into the product are altering the raw product and its original make-up. However, proponents argue that distillates enhanced with natural plant terpenes balances the benefits of distillates with the boosting effects provided by terpenes. Many companies are taking advantage of the terpene add-in option though due to the large consumer appeal and ability to add new and exciting flavors and targeted effects to their concentrate experience that are consistent and repeatable.
Interested in exploring terpene-enhanced distillates for your product? Check out the United Natural Hemp Extracts Synergy Series!