How to Make THC Distillate in a Laboratory

image of THC distillate coming out of a dropper

There are a variety of cannabis products out there that provide consistent potency and purity for cannabis consumers. Among these innovative products is THC distillate, a solvent-free extract that contains up to 99% psychoactive THC and can be used for dabs, vape pens, edibles, and to top off joints and blunts. Medical consumers and recreational users can use these refined extracts to fill refillable vape cartridges or make edibles, more specifically.

If you're interested in taking a peek behind the scenes and want to learn how to make THC distillate, you’ll quickly find out it can only be done in a lab. However, let’s be clear: You should not try to make distillate at home. It’s a complicated process that can have dangerous results when not done by knowledgeable, experienced, trained individuals with the proper equipment. For a more precise, potent, and consistent THC distillate, a laboratory setting is needed. Many whole-plant extract manufacturers rent equipment and provide training to show you how to make THC distillate for your own personal use.

How To Make THC Distillate and What Equipment Is Used? image of multiple flasks with different liquids in a laboratory

Distillation, otherwise known as molecular separation, removes everything except for the cannabinoids. Depending on the extraction manufacturer, distillation techniques and equipment will vary, but all end up with an extremely potent product. When it comes to distillation, there are a few ways laboratories can approach extraction, some of them may even end up adding terpenes to the final odorless product, if you use advanced filtration techniques.

Some THC distillate manufacturers can provide turnkey setups that include multiple components to separate cannabinoids and other molecules for consumption. The most popular distillation method is short path distillation that includes four glass pieces and a heating mantle. Glass components used include a boiling flask, a short path head, a receiving cow, and receiving flasks. The mantle heats the boiling flask as the purified vapors enter condenser paths to recondense into a clear or amber color. Using chillers, vacuum pumps, cold traps, and condensers, extractors can remove THC and CBD, as well as other terpenes and flavonoids.

Cannabis Extraction Methods

There are many methods of extracting cannabinoids from raw cannabis material. The most popular include solvents like carbon dioxide (Co2), ethanol, propane or butane. Many laboratories prefer using Co2 because of its efficacy and relative safety compared with using other solvents. Co2, however, isn't the most affordable solvent.

Laboratories that employ Co2 pressurize the molecule to its supercritical state. Co2 converts to a liquid that passes through cannabis material to extract cannabinoids. Ethanol can also be used for extraction since it doesn't require high pressure and can remove more than cannabinoids when using whole-plant extracts.

Winterization and Decarboxylation

After the raw cannabis material is extracted, the crude oil needs to be winterized. This raw oil consists of chlorophyll, waxes, lipids, fats, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Winterization is essentially the removal of fats, lipids, and waxes in the cannabis plant by precipitation. During this process, freezing ethanol is mixed with the extract. A micron filter removes the waxes, fats, and lipids. After it's been chilled for about 24 hours, the ethanol is filtered leaving a refined cannabis extract.

Before beginning the distillation process the cannabis product, the cannabis extract needs to be decarboxylated, or exposed to heat to activate ingredients. If you want to learn how to make THC distillate, decarboxylation is extremely important. During decarboxylation, acidic precursors like THCA are stripped of carbon dioxide and converted into the psychoactive parent molecule THC. The process works similarly with other cannabinoids like CBDA into CBD. Crude cannabis material is heated to 100-140 degrees Celsius to encourage decarboxylation.

Short Path Distillation image of a flask with boiling liquid in it sitting over a burner

For most distillation methods, you'll deposit your crude material into the heated flask. When putting together distilling equipment, grease is necessary for joints that attach to other glassware to keep everything contained. Keck clips connect each different piece of glass for a streamlined process. A receptacle or variation of it, also known as the receiving cow, should be positioned so that the extract drips into it.

During short path distillation, raw oil is heated in a flask under vacuum. Commonly, a magnetic stirring hot plate is used in conjunction with the short path apparatus. In short path distillation, crude oil is exposed to heat and a deep vacuum. To begin, heat is introduced through a mantle in order for the THC cannabinoid and terpenes to evaporate. The vacuum ensures there is no oxygen in the flask and THC can boil quicker and at a lower temperature. Oxygen and high temperatures promotes oxidation and degradation of the material.

Wiped Film Distillation

Wiped film distillation is another form of short path distillation. For this technique, crude oil is poured into a heated vertical cylinder. What makes this method different from short path distillation is the rotating wipers in the cylinder container. These rollers spread a thin film evenly across the heated cylinder. During this process, the product is vaporized and collected in a long and slim condenser. In this condenser, the vapor is cooled and condensed by using recirculating liquid. A collection flask receives the condensate and residue of the extract. Experimentation during these processes is vital to optimizing workflow and achieve the perfect THC distillate.

Fractional Distillation For Pure THC Distillate

To purify the product even more, turn to fractional distillation attachments or complete turnkey extraction units. Fractions are a fancy name for chemicals. Each fraction has a different boiling point known as volatility. A long column in between the heated feeding vessel and the condenser can be added to separate other components including terpenes for later use in the product. Located in the center, the condenser provides a short path for vapor to travel to just like in short path distillation. An additional external condenser attachment can collect terpenes and any other materials that are left so that they can be reintroduced back into the product. A cold trap is used to maintain low and chilled levels to store these terpenes.

Depending on the final product, one may want to perform more distillation rounds to ensure they’re ensured they know how to make THC distillate. More distillation rounds mean more substances and impurities are removed from the final product. When distilling cannabis compounds, extractors use the following boiling point temperatures for fractional distillation:

  1. THC 157 degrees Celsius
  2. CBD 160-180 degrees Celsius
  3. Terpenes 130-170 degrees Celsius
  4. Flavonoids 170-200 degrees Celsius

Extraction methods have refined from crude and dangerous forms to state-of-the-art proprietary technology used by professionals. The most up-to-date systems are closed loop and automated. Again, this process should not be attempted by just anyone. One wrong turn can mean dangerous results for you and anyone nearby. Leave extractions to the professionals.