Rosin vs. Resin: Here’s Why People Get Confused

live resin in a jar
Courtesy: Shutterstock

If you've heard people talking about rosin, it's easy to get confused. The word "rosin" has multiple meanings – and only one of them is a marijuana product.

And if people are mumbling, things get even more confusing trying to distinguish between rosin vs resin. Because rosin sounds a lot like the word "resin," which is something else entirely. Resin, like rosin, can even refer to multiple things – and multiple marijuana products – depending on the context.

You don't want to end up buying the wrong kind of rosin (or resin), so let's clear things up.

Not sure which kind of rosin people are talking about? First, take a look around. Are you at a bluegrass festival? Or anywhere near an orchestra? If so, people may simply be talking about rosin, the powdered sap residue that looks like drugs, but is actually used by some string musicians to keep their musical gear at the correct level of stickiness. Violin players will "rosin" their bows. (In this context, "rosin" can be used as a verb, as well as a noun.) Some banjo players put rosin on their fingers, to keep their picks snugly affixed to their fingertips.

Fun fact: This sort of rosin often resembles a crushed-white-powder sort of drug. This can result in musicians having interesting interactions in airports, as they to explain themselves.

The Fiddle Player's Rosin vs. Cannabis Rosin

tree resin

The rosin associated with certain string instruments is made by heating the resin produced by pine trees, also known as tree sap. When the sap's liquid terpenes are burned off, this turns the liquid into a solid, which is crumbled up and used by musicians. (This kind of rosin is also used in other products, like adhesives.)

Today, this process is basically the same one used to make a new type of cannabis product. This THC-rich product is also called rosin. It's made by extracting the cannabinoids, (like THC and CBD) and terpenes (or flavor compounds) using heat and pressure.

Basically, rosin is made by squeezing cannabis or cannabis-derived products, like hash or kief. Some consumers make their own rosin at home by using a hair straightening tool (also known as a flat iron), a beauty product you can buy for about 30 dollars. According to these DIY rosin makers, you simply put your cannabis product in some parchment paper, heat up the press, and squeeze. A tiny amount of golden syrup drips out. You can also use a rosin extraction machine to press out the rosin.

In the DIY rosin community, people disagree about whether you can use cannabis flower. Some connoisseurs insist you must start with hash or kief, instead of flower. Either way, they insist on the golden rule of all concentrate makers: quality in, quality out. The quality of the starting material is critical to the quality of the finished concentrate product.

Rosin has been growing in popularity, and some dispensaries even have their own rosin-making stations. These are basically heated presses you can use on the cannabis product you've just purchased.

If you insist on making your own cannabis concentrates at home, rosin is a great option. It's safer than making something like Butane Hash Oil (or BHO), because you won't blow yourself up.

Solvents like butane are highly flammable. In 2014 alone, over 30 people in Colorado were injured in 32 butane explosions involving hash oil production. 

Why Solventless Extraction Methods are Gaining Popularity

marijuana rosin showing that comparing rosin vs resin is two different things

Rosin is also a great option for cannabis consumers who love dabbing high-potency, flavorful concentrates, but want to avoid solvents.

Solvents can be a sensitive subject among extraction experts and cannabis connoisseurs. Some insist that solvents are critical to extracting the terpenes and cannabinoids from cannabis. Most extraction professionals who use solvents insist that the solvents are entirely (or almost entirely) burned off during the final stages of the process. But some consumers are troubled by the potential health hazards of consuming trace amounts of chemicals like butane.

This can be particularly important to medical marijuana consumers with compromised immune systems, allergy sensitivities, or lung health problems.

Rosin is created using a solventless extraction process, such as using a rosin press, unlike other concentrates. That's why it's considered one of the "cleanest" cannabis concentrates.

Rosin vs Resin: Completely Different Things

live resin close up

Even if you're aware that resin and rosin are different things, you may not know how many different things can be meant by the word "resin" alone.

The Old-School Stoner's Definition of "Resin"

marijuana bowl partially cashed

If a hippie who attended Woodstock in 1969 tells you he has some resin, you probably don't want it. He's probably referring to the tar-like substance left in his heavily-used, never-cleaned glass bowl.

In desperate times, this stoner would scrape down the walls of the bowl, using an implement like a paper clip, or whatever else is lying around his car.

Because burning cannabis flower doesn't extract 100% of its THC, you can theoretically still get a tiny bit of THC, if you re-smoke this black, sticky residue. (And if you don't gag on the burnt flavor.)

This definition of resin has faded from the stoner lexicon. This is probably because you have to be very, very desperate to smoke this kind of resin, and this kind of desperation was more common in the days before dispensaries.

Shorthand for "Live Resin"

marijuana live resin

An important distinction to make when comparing rosin vs resin is that live resin is considered one of the best cannabis concentrates for consumers who want the full flavor and cannabinoid profile of their strains. It's made by cryogenically freezing the whole plant immediately after harvesting it, before the extraction process. This preserves the terpenes, and is why live resin is sometimes called "whole plant" or "full spectrum" extraction.

But live resin is made using solvents, which is why some health-conscious consumers are turning to rosin.

If you're still getting mixed up about resin vs. rosin, that's okay. Maybe you just need to keep trying them both, until you get it right.

But maybe you can skip the old-school version of resin. (And definitely don't try anything with the banjo player's rosin.)

Updated by Roma Almich