What's the difference between live resin and distillate?

Learn the key details about live resin and distillate so you can be an informed cannabis customer.

What's the difference between live resin and distillate?
minute read

Humans have been using hemp and cannabis for many years, and how we interact with these plants constantly evolves.

Live resins and distillates are just two of the many cannabis concentrates increasingly preferred by curious newcomers and more experienced users alike.

This article will help you understand the distinct processes that create these concentrates, their unique properties, and how they can benefit you.

What is live resin?

Live resin is a relatively new cannabis concentrate made from the highest quality fresh plants that are frozen immediately after harvest. 

Unlike other concentrates, live resins never undergo the drying and curing process, resulting in a more flavorful and aromatic concentrate post-extraction. The main goal of live resin is to capture the full spectrum experience of fresh cannabis, including all the desirable flavors and aromas.

Although the fundamental chemical process of creating different live resins is similar, the way they are processed after extraction can create various products. 

Often named after their textures, which are generally looser than other concentrates, badder, budder, sap, sugar, and sauce are among the most common live resin types. They are typically deep amber, yellow, or white in color.

For best results, live resin is most commonly smoked using a dab rig, a vape pen, or added to a joint or bowl. However, newer edible products like gummies and gel capsules can also include live resin for a more convenient approach.

How is live resin extracted?

Live resin is extracted by flash-freezing fresh cannabis plants immediately after harvest. Once frozen, these plants are processed in a hydrocarbon machine using a combination of propane and butanesolvents to extract the oils from the plant. These solvents are favorable in creating live resin because they efficiently capture the full spectrum of the plant, including all the flavonoids, cannabinoids, and a broad terpene profile

Once extracted, the mixture is lightly heated to purify the oil and purge any remaining solvents. At this point, the resulting oil can be whipped to create viscous butter-like badder or budder, or left in its original form, which is slightly wet and sugary.

What is the terpene and cannabinoid content of live resin?

Since the live resin extraction process begins with flash-frozen plants, the final product is distinct from other cannabis concentrates. 

Drying, curing, heat, and light can all cause loss of color, flavor, potency, and aroma in fresh plants.

Since live resin forgoes all of these steps, it creates a full spectrum concentrate that is comparable to the plant at its peak freshness, aiming to achieve the therapeutic benefits of the entourage effect.

Live resin extracts are rich in terpenes, in the range of four to 12 percent.  Regarding cannabinoids, live resin can typically include 45 to 90 percent THC and up to 90 percent CBD.

What is distillate?

Distillate is a cannabis concentrate that most often contains one specific cannabinoid (THC, CBD, CBG, CBN) in a highly concentrated form. 

Stripped of all undesirable plant material in favor of isolating a specific cannabinoid, distillates are a golden viscous oil most often used in vape cartridges, edibles, topicals, and infused joints.

Unlike the live resin process, the goal of distillates is to concentrate a specific cannabinoid in its purest form rather than to preserve all minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavor compounds of the fresh plant. 

As such, distillates are both odorless and flavorless and are considered a more discreet option.

How is distillate extracted?

Distillates are made in the following process:

  • Drying and Curing: After harvesting, cannabis plants are dried by hanging or laying on racks. Once dried, they are cured in airtight containers to remove bacteria and age the plant.
  • Extraction: Once cured, the desired cannabinoids, typically CBD or THC, are extracted from the plants using chemical solvents, including butane, ethanol, and propane—similar to live resin extraction. 
  • Winterization: This extract then undergoes the winterization process, or exposure to cold temperatures. Winterization separates out undesirable plant compounds such as chlorophyll, waxes, and sugars.
  • Decarboxylation: From here, the extract is heated in a process called decarboxylation, which activates acidic CBDA and THCA into their parent compounds CBD and THC, creating a more potent concentration of these desirable cannabinoids.
  • Distillation: The last step in creating distillate is distillation, a repeated process of heating and cooling that removes any remaining solvents, plant compounds, terpenes, and other impurities, leaving behind a highly concentrated cannabis oil.

What is the terpene and cannabinoid content of distillate?

Since distillates aim to create an isolated form of a specific cannabinoid, they are highly potent cannabis concentrates. They typically have cannabinoid contents between 90-99% of the isolated cannabinoid.

As the distillate progresses through the steps of drying, curing, winterization, decarboxylation, and distillation, all but trace amounts of terpenes have been stripped away.

Is live resin or distillate more potent?

Due to the distinct processes that distillates and live resin undergo in their creation, the resulting products are unique in their potencies. 

To be clear, both of these concentrates are highly potent to satisfy even the most experienced cannabis users. Appropriate use and serving size depend on several factors, including experience level and tolerance. 

In the range of 45 to 90 percent THC and up to 90 percent CBD, live resin provides a higher potency than cannabis flower alone and an experience of flavor and aroma as close as you can get to flower in a concentrate.

Distillate, on the other hand, is much more potent than live resin, with cannabinoid contents as high as 99%.

How can you choose between live resin and distillate?

Now that we understand the meaning of distillate and live resin, you may wonder how to choose between these two concentrates.

Since these two concentrates are crafted with different intentions, your decision to choose one over the other will primarily come down to the experience you want. 

Although there is no wrong answer to which concentrate is right for you, these factors will help you decide which direction you want to go.


To understand the effects of these concentrates, we need to understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Discovered about three decades ago, the endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors throughout our bodies located in our brains, nervous system, organs, and other cells.

Naturally occurring endocannabinoids in our bodies bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors and help regulate various bodily processes, including our digestive and immune systems. 

Consuming hemp products gives our bodies a boost of cannabinoids in our bodies that we may lack. This helps to create balance in our ECS, a key to overall wellness.

Both live resin products and distillate are rich in cannabinoids and can contribute to that desired boost and balance. 

One of the major appeals of distillates is the potency of the cannabinoids within these concentrates. If you want to experience a specific cannabinoid in its most potent form, this is a great option.

On the other hand, at potency levels of 90-99%, accidental overconsumption of distillates may lead to an unpleasant experience, especially for less experienced cannabis users.

Although live resin does not appear as potent as distillate, these concentrates are still very potent and can have substantial effects. Since they contain all the chemical compounds of the cannabis plant, they engage the entourage effect, reaping the whole spectrum of therapeutic and psychoactive benefits.


Before trying one of these concentrates, you’ll want to know how long you can expect the effects to last so you can plan your experience accordingly.

Not only is the experience of smoking live resin more comparable to the experience of cannabis flower in terms of flavor and aroma than distillate, but you can also expect effects for a similar duration. 

Since live resin contains all of the terpenes, flavonoids, and a hundred or more minor cannabinoids, it provides the entourage effect, or the full spectrum of therapeutic effects of consuming the entire plant. Put simply, a live resin high will last longer.

Because distillates lack the full spectrum of flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids, it does not engage the entourage effect. In essence, this means the effects of consuming distillates will be intense but typically short-lived.

The bottom line

When it comes to choosing a cannabis concentrate, one thing is certain: what's right for one person may not be right for every person. From drastically different effects to varied duration, the expected experience between live resin and distillates is pronounced.

For those wishing to experience a specific cannabinoid at its fullest potency, distillates are the obvious choice. But live resin is the route to go for those seeking to engage all the therapeutic benefits of the entourage effect.

Sunmed offers quality cannabis products from across the board, with resources and information for the inexperienced to the well-versed.


Processing and extraction methods of medicinal cannabis | NIH

Exploring cannabis concentrates on the legal market | NIH

The CannabisTerpenes | NIH

The endocannabinoid system: Essential and mysterious | Harvard Health

Clinicians’ Guide to Cannabidiol and Hemp Oils | Mayo Clinic Proceedings

The Cannabis Terpenes | PMC

Development of a Novel Microwave Distillation Technique for the Isolation of Cannabis sativa L. Essential Oil and Gas Chromatography Analyses for the Comprehensive Characterization of Terpenes and Terpenoids, Including Their Enantio-Distribution |

Advancing the science on cannabis concentrates and behavioural health | PMC

Post-Harvest Operations to Generate High-Quality Medicinal Cannabis Products: A Systemic Review | PMC