Cannabis Science


What’s the Difference Between Rosin and Live Resin?

The range of products available to cannabis enthusiasts is expanding all the time. The days of the dispensary or coffee shop stocking only flowers, prerolls, crumbly hash, or odd edibles are long gone. Instead, contemporary cannabis connoisseurs can take their pick from such a wide variety of products that confusion is inevitable. Especially when dealing with the likes of rosin and live resin (what a difference a single letter makes!).

Rosin and resin are high-quality, high-profile cannabis products produced via two different manufacturing methods. Both products rank high in terms of THC (or CBD) potency and can be consumed using different pieces of kit. The term “extracts” and “concentrates” are interchangeable and refer to the processes by which cannabinoids, terpenes, and the flavour profile are extracted from flower material and concentrated in the final product.

Before diving into the most important differences between the two, the term “live” should also be explained. Cannabis flowers are traditionally dried and cured for a certain amount of time before they are ready for consumption. This is an essential step in the production of high-quality cannabis products – any cultivator will attest that the dry/cure process can make or break a harvest!

Done properly and meticulously, drying and curing will remove most of the moisture retained inside cannabis flowers while preserving as much of the terpenes and cannabinoids as possible. This will ensure a smooth and delicious smoking experience, as the headaches and harsh tokes associated with poorly dried (low quality) flowers are the results of excess chlorophyll and moisture.

“Live” refers to the quality of the cannabis flowers before they are processed to produce concentrates. If the flowers are fresh-frozen, they will retain more terpenes and cannabinoids and are considered “live” and fresher than if they were cured.

Before live concentrates, extracts such as wax and shatter were produced using flowers that were dried and cured. As such, the levels of cannabinoids and terpenes aren’t as potent as concentrates produced using other methods of preservation.

“Fresh Frozen”

To achieve the highest quality concentrate, extractors will use fresh frozen cannabis flowers. “Fresh frozen” refers to freezing fresh cannabis buds as soon as possible after being cut down. This will preserve the good stuff – cannabinoids and flowers’ terpene profile – that can then be used by extractors to produce concentrate products.

Cultivators may find fresh-freezing their flowers as a viable alternative to the traditional dry/cure process. The fresh-frozen method is a bonafide time saver over a long harvest period. The days-long curing process can be circumvented by bagging up and storing harvested flowers in freezers as soon as possible – provided the cultivator has an extractor on board to pay for and take their harvest to the next stage.

Once the deal is signed between the cultivator and extractor, the flowers are taken out of the freezers to the processing facility. From this point, the differences between rosin and resin become even more pronounced.

Methods of Extraction: Solvents vs Solventless

Terpenes and cannabinoids are extremely delicate, volatile, and prone to degenerating, and they need to be extracted from the raw flower material to manufacture a concentrate. The most significant difference between rosin and live resin products is the extraction method employed to produce them. The method of extraction and quality of plant matter determines the type of concentrate produced.

Solvents and Live Resin

Live resin products are produced primarily through an extraction process that uses a solvent. This term refers to a liquid substance that can dissolve, disperse or displace other substances. For example, in the world of cannabis concentrates, solvents are used to separate trichomes from flowers.

Butane hash oil (commonly referred to as BHO) is an extraction method that uses butane as the solvent. It is a very technical and even dangerous process of extraction, as butane is highly flammable, and several critical junctions in the process require adding heat to purify the extract. Professional extractors will use a closed-loop extractor system to keep their materials from interacting with the outside atmosphere and to maintain as much control over the process as possible.

The flowers are rinsed in chilled butane (propane is also used), separating the trichomes from the plant material. The solution is now saturated with the compounds and will be carefully heated to remove the butane. The solution is purged in a vacuum oven to remove residual butane but not any terpenes or cannabinoids. This process is also called hydrocarbon extraction.

Further steps can be taken to purify the solution as much as possible. Impurities such as excess chlorophyll, waxes, and fats may compromise the quality of the extract and can be removed by mixing the solution with ethanol and then freezing it. Before the product is ready, it will be filtered and then distilled to remove any ethanol.

Extractors can also produce concentrates using a carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction method. This is safer than BHO but will require more specialised equipment. The principles remain the same – flower material is “washed” with a CO2 solution to separate trichomes. The CO2 is allowed to return to a gaseous state which will leave a liquid cannabis oil free of impurities and solvents.

BHO is cheaper to produce and easier to scale but is also more dangerous. News reports of “hash oil lab explosions” are numerous and notorious headlines. CO2 extraction methods tend to be safer but require a larger investment upfront for equipment.

Solventless and Live Rosin

If solvent-based cannabis extracts give you pause, solventless concentrates may be the way forward. Rosin is produced using solventless, chemical-free extraction processes that produce a potent, flavourful product packed with cannabinoids and terpenes. It is a relative newcomer in the extracts market but is quickly gaining momentum as consumers learn more about how exactly their products are made.

To create rosin, cannabis flowers (either fresh frozen or dry/cured) are washed in ice baths using a series of micron bags. Micron bags are simple pieces of kit – think of nylon bags – that will allow separation and filtration of trichomes and compounds from flower material. When the trichomes are collected, they are frozen to create what is known as a full melt bubble hash.

The bubble hash can then be processed into rosin via a rosin press that applies pressure and low heat. The final product is a delicious, eye-catching, and terpene-rich waxy substance that is free of chemicals and full of potent cannabinoids.

Rosin can be produced using flowers that have been dried and cured by simply applying pressure and heat. Some dispensaries in California even offer customers the option of pressing their rosin using purchased flowers. Rosin can be made using a hair straightener (your mileage may vary) and dried flowers, but they won’t be considered “live” rosin in the way concentrates derived from fresh frozen flowers are.

Rosin is gaining wider acceptance as a cheaper, healthier, and chemical-free way of consuming cannabis concentrates. Rosin won’t contain residual chemicals like butane because it was never introduced in the process. Furthermore, the ice-water process is extremely low-risk and won’t carry the danger of exploding during production.

Regardless of Methods, Flower Purity is Key

The differences between rosin and live resin are determined by the extraction method. However, one thing enthusiasts of each product will agree on is that the quality of the flower is the most important factor.

Cannabis concentrates are produced by extracting valuable compounds from the flower material. This means that compounds in addition to terpenes and cannabinoids – pesticides and insecticides, for example – can join the trichomes as they are extracted. Similarly, high-quality organically grown cannabis plants will not only be free of hazardous materials but also have higher quantities and more diversity of terpenes and cannabinoids that can make for a great smoking experience.

A good rule of thumb when considering cannabis concentrates is, “what comes in must come out”, meaning that consumers looking for the best concentrate experience should research where exactly their flowers are coming from and how they are produced.

Post author
Martin is a production horticulturist with experience in commercial cannabis cultivation and sustainable farming from his time with Emerald Cup Award-winning farmers Esensia Gardens in northern California's Emerald Triangle.
See more from Martin

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