Live Resin vs. Distillate: What’s the Real Difference?


Cannabis culture loves to come up with new ways to get high. Over the last decade, the form factors have shifted dramatically, and with it comes terms like full-spectrum, isolate, live resin, distillate, and broad-spectrum. These are all slightly different kinds of cannabis extracts, with some common denominators.

When it comes to vaping, distillate and live resin are the predominant forms. So what are the differences when it comes to a live resin vs. distillate cartridge? Is one better than the other? Let’s take a look at how they are made and what makes them so different.

What is Live Resin?

Live resin is made from fresh flowers of the cannabis plant. At the peak of harvest, the plants are cut down and flash-frozen to preserve the valuable trichomes. The trichomes are the essence of the plant – it’s where the terpenes and cannabinoids are born and live. The frozen cannabis flowers are extracted into what is known as live resin.

Live resin is a thick, saucy extract and can somewhat resemble the crystallized honey left at the bottom of the jar. The plant’s terpene profile remains intact when using fresh flowers, providing a rich flavor and complex aromatic extract. It’s bursting with terpenes, tasting like fresh fruit, musky mangoes, or astringent herbs. The terpenes are genuinely alive in live resin.

What is Distillate?

Distillate is made from another type of extract. It’s more of a process than a “thing,” but distillate is the name given to a cannabis extract that concentrates the desired cannabinoid, usually THC. Once a cannabis plant is cut, dried, and cured, it can be extracted into oil. This crude oil has a lot of potential at this point and can be crafted into concentrates like shatter, wax, crumble, or budder, depending on the post-extraction process used.

When making distillate, the crude oil undergoes a process called fractional short-path distillation. Using heat and pressure, you can extract all of the cannabis compounds individually since they each have a different boiling point. Usually, the goal of distillation is to separate the THC to make a highly potent product in the form of a clear, odorless liquid.

Live Resin vs. Distillate: The Differences

The most pronounced difference in live resin vs. distillate is the high terpene content in the live resin. Distillate does not retain any terpenes after extraction. When comparing live resin vs. distillate, an excellent mental image is comparing juice.

Live resin is the fresh-squeezed juice straight from the fruit, and distillate is the concentrated juice bought from the store. They each have their uses, and it just depends on each person’s preference. However, other notable differences include the extraction process, the terpene and cannabinoid content, and smoking experience.

The Extraction Process

The fundamental difference between the processes is that live resin is made from frozen cannabis, and distillate is made from dried, cured cannabis. The extraction methods may vary in the type of solvent used (if any), winterization and decarboxylation methods, and other proprietary processes. You can make a distillate and a live resin on the same kind of extraction machinery, but the post-extraction processes do vary.

So long as the plant matter is frozen or freshly cut and extracted, the end result could be considered live resin. Once extracted, live resin is decarboxylated and ready to go.

Distillate goes through the fractional short-path distillation process to further refine the extract. The cannabinoids are separated from the plant matter in this process, leaving behind a thick, clear or yellowish liquid that is almost purely cannabinoids.

The distillate has a much higher cannabinoid percentage, but is void of all terpenes. Live resin is lower in cannabinoids and very high in terpenes.

Terpene Content

The whole purpose of creating live resin is to maintain the highest percentage of terpene content possible. Terpenes are responsible not only for the smell but also the taste of each different strain of the cannabis plant. They are found in various combinations and work together with cannabinoids and flavonoids to produce a full spectrum of effects for the mind and the body.

Terpenes are not psychoactive like cannabinoids, but they do play an essential role in the overall effect. Terpenes work synergistically alongside cannabinoids to create what is known as the ‘entourage effect.’ This term is used to describe the overall harmonious impact of consuming these naturally occurring plant substances together.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect only works when there is a multitude of cannabinoids and terpenes working together. Some schools of thought believe that keeping the plant’s compounds together is the best way to maximize benefits from that plant. For example, adding in non-cannabis-derived terpenes to a distillate (hello strawberry vape?) is not as beneficial as adding back the terpenes pulled out in distillation.

The Smoking Experience

When debating live resin vs. distillate, it ultimately comes down to the user’s preference. Sometimes you want to vape a vibrant, juicy live resin that leaves you salivating with taste. Sometimes you need to be a little more discreet and want an odorless distillate. Or maybe you just like to get really high and enjoy a higher concentration of THC.

When it comes to the high associated with each, live resin tends to produce similar effects to what you would feel if you smoked the dried flower. On the other hand, distillate will produce a more intense high at first, but it tends to be short-lived since there is a lack of other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes to engage the entourage effect.

Which Should You Choose?

Both live resin and distillate are carefully crafted for different purposes. Neither is better or worse, and each has a place in the big wide world of cannabis. When it comes to selecting an extract, the most important thing to consider is the purity of the product and the quality of the extract.

Always assess a cannabis processor and ensure that they are using professional extraction equipment in a clean environment, and that they follow all requirements to meet state-mandated compliance. You should always be able to view a lab test for every batch of extract. And, it helps if they are cannabis aficionados and are using the best flower you can grow—quality in, quality out.


Does live resin smell more than distillate?

Yes. The most notable characteristic of live resin is its vibrant taste and aroma. The terpenes are so well preserved that live resin smells very much like the fresh buds that it was made from. On the other hand, distillate has been processed much more extensively than live resin. The distillation process concentrates a desired cannabinoid, but much of the terpene content is lost along the way.

Live resin is considered the most flavorful way to experience a cannabis extract. Distillate is often used in edibles to mask a cannabis flavor, and is typically combined with terpenes in vape pens.

Is live resin more expensive than distillate?

Yes. The price point reflects the quality of the incoming material.

Live resin is made with fresh plants, right after harvest. The entire flower and leaves are used to obtain the highest terpene content possible. Since terpene content is lost during distillation, there is little advantage to using whole flower when making distillate. Most distillate is made with trim, shake, and leaves which is considerably cheaper than whole flowers.

What is the advantage of live resin?

The goal of producing live resin is to preserve the plant’s trichomes so the end product is high in terpenes and cannabinoids. Because of these high percentages, live resin offers potential medicinal and therapeutic properties. In addition to taste and aroma, terpenes work synergistically with cannabinoids to provide each strain’s specific physical and mental effects. For example, the terpene myrcene has sedative qualities, and when combined with THC can promote a deep state of rest and relaxation.

Live resin also offers advantages to growers because it is much easier to cut and freeze a whole plant for extraction, as opposed to the cut, hang, dry, trim, and cure process.

Does live resin make you high?

Yes. Live resin offers a very potent high. Because terpenes can enhance the effects of the cannabinoids, the physical and mental effects are much more pronounced and long-lasting than the effects of distillate on its own.

Is live resin stronger than dabs?

“Dabs” is a term used to describe any type of cannabis extract that is vaporized with the use of a dab rig or dab pen. It can include shatter, crumble, wax, diamonds, budder, and live resin. You can take a dab of live resin, or you can add live resin to a joint or on top of a bowl. Live resin is potentially stronger than other kinds of dabs because of the terpene and cannabinoid content.

The best way to determine potency (aside from taking a dab) is by looking at the lab results. The company must provide a verified lab result containing cannabinoid content, and most reputable companies will also provide a terpene analysis.

Learn how to properly store your concentrates for maximum terpenes and effects.

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