Distillate vs RSO: What's the Difference?

27 Apr, 2022Consumption

The distinction between distillate and RSO can be elusive, especially if tackled from the point of use. For some people, these seem to be one and the same; however, that cannot be further from the truth. There is a clear distinction between distillate and RSO, and the two terms cannot be used interchangeably.

Follow along to learn the differences.

What is Cannabis Distillate?

The term distillate refers to the purification process that singles out the almost pure form of a cannabinoid. Distillate is a runny, translucent oil that has been stripped of the waxes and other undesirable compounds of the original cannabis plant. This process of stripping away additional compounds results in the one specific cannabinoid targeted, for example, THC or CBD.

Distillate is widely used due to its potency and versatility. Its strength allows it to be either used on its own or infused into other cannabis products. Distillate is often the primary ingredient in edibles as well as vape cartridges because it typically lacks taste, flavor, and aroma.

Though distillate is indisputably potent and favored due to its lack of taste and smell, the stripping away of terpenes takes away from its therapeutic potential. This is because terpenes play a vital role in the entourage effect, which is the theory that the full spectrum of the cannabis plant works best together.

Even though some manufacturers add terpenes to the distillate at a later stage, stripping them in the first place takes away the medicinal advantage.

Does distillate get you high?

Whether distillate can get you high is dependent on the exact cannabinoid you're consuming. A THC distillate will have higher concentrations of THC and will therefore be more intoxicating. At the same time, a CBD distillate may offer more powerful healing effects without the "high" feeling. However, you can always expect a distillate to be more potent than other forms of extracts.


How is Distillate Made?

The process of making distillates is quite technical and should be left to professionals due to the precision and accuracy required. 

The following steps are performed in the making of distillates:

Step 1: Crude oil extraction

This is the process that separates the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant material. A crude extraction involves isolating the cannabinoid physically or chemically.

  • Physical separation techniques: Include sieving or rosin and tend to yield concentrates that contain more plant impurities.
  • Chemical-based extraction methods:  Include Butane Hash Oil (BHO) or supercritical fluid carbon dioxide extraction, which are cleaner.

The crude extract produced by either of these methods still contains impurities that have to be removed before the oil is separated into individual cannabinoids.

Step 2: Winterization

This step removes the crude extract of byproducts such as plant waxes, lipids, fats, and chlorophyll. During winterization, the crude extract is first mixed with ethanol and then placed under cold temperatures between 24 to 48 hours. The lower temperatures causes the impurities to coagulate and precipitate (separate) and fall to the foot of the container. The solution made of ethanol and crude extract is then filtered, and the ethanol evaporates using a falling film evaporator or rotary evaporator.

Step 3: Decarboxylation

The process of winterization results in tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA), which is acidic and non-psychoactive. THC is created by applying heat to the THCA in a process called decarboxylation. This process removes carboxylic acid from THCA, leaving behind the potent and psychoactive THC.

Step 4: Distillation

This final step involves the use of vacuum pressure and heat. Individual cannabinoids and terpenes have unique boiling points and differentiated molecular weights. This step individually separates and collects them in a strictly controlled environment. The high pressure ensures the "boiling points" are achieved at much lower temperatures to preserve potency.  

What is RSO?

Named after Rick Simpson, a Canadian cannabis activist, RSO is a cannabis oil high in THC and used in various ways. In appearance, RSO is a gooey, sticky, black oil that is almost tar-like in consistency. Its appearance could vary in color slightly based on the strain used to create it. It is often packaged in syringes for easy application, consumption, and storage.

What are the Origins of RSO?

Rick Simpson (mentioned above) had long used cannabis to treat his various ailments. When he was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in the early 2000s, a form of cancer, he decided to tackle it the same way.

He formulated cannabis oils through trial and error, applied them to the cancerous growths, and covered them with a bandage. In days his skin started clearing up. He often gave away his special formulation for free to help others.  

How is RSO Made?

Making RSO usually involves taking the whole plant extract, placing it in a large container, and adding alcohol. This alcohol and cannabis mixture is then crushed and stirred until it is well combined.

The alcohol mixture is then heated to remove any solvent leaving behind dark, tar-like oil with a high THC potency. RSO retains all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids of the original cannabis plant. Like distillate, the potency of RSO varies depending on the strain of cannabis it has been extracted from.

How is RSO Used?

RSO differs from distillate in that it should not be vaporized or combusted. This is because it includes the plant's natural fats, lipids, and chlorophyll. Therefore, RSO is consumed sublingually by placing it under the tongue. It can also be ingested orally or even applied topically. While using RSO, start slowly and build up to the quantity you need for your medical needs and according to your tolerance level.

Is RSO Oil The Same As Distillate?

While there are similar properties in both RSO and distillate, especially in delivering potent amounts of THC, they are distinctly different. While distillate is a single isolate, RSO is considered to be a full-spectrum oil as it has all the elements of the cannabis plant. Because of these properties, RSO has more robust medicinal qualities, while distillate can be used in a wider variety of methods, including vape cartridges and edibles.

Is Distillate Or RSO Better?

Fortunately, like most things cannabis, personal preference is key. While distillate offers purity, RSO does not. On one hand, distillate is great for infusing products such as gummies, teas and other edibles due to its lack of flavor. On the other hand, some users still prefer RSO due to its broad spectrum and entourage effects.

It is important to note that both distillate and RSO oils are high in potency and are meant for users with a high tolerance or medicinal purposes. Introduce both oils slowly to guarantee the best experience.

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