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What Are Live Resin Cannabis Concentrates?

By Danyal Swan December 20, 2022
Live Resin Cannabis Concentrates

If you’ve shopped for cannabis concentrates or vape cartridges at a retail dispensary lately, you’ve probably come across some “live resin” products. Because of the enthusiastic marketing and industry buzz surrounding live resins right now, some shoppers have investigated them only to be surprised to see that they often have a lower level of THC than their distillate or “cured resin” counterparts like wax, budder, and shatter.

In fact, even the highest-end live resin products on today’s market usually top out in the high 60% or low 70% THC range. By contrast, top-shelf shatters can regularly test at over 80% THC. Because of this, you may have even passed up trying live resin in the past. You may want to think again.

There is currently new research, cannabis industry buzz, and consumer excitement surrounding the idea of the entourage effect. If you're not familiar with the term yet, the simple takeaway is that THC isn't everything because the signature "high" you receive from many cannabis products isn't simply a matter of ingesting THC. There are other cannabinoids at play, like CBD, CBN, and more, as well as a complex blend of terpenes. Terpenes are the chemicals that give cannabis strains their signature smells and flavors, and many have powerful therapeutic properties of their own.

What's the Difference Between Live Resin and Other Concentrates?

To understand the difference between live resins and other types of cannabis concentrates, we need to explore live resin thoroughly.

This involves a question in two parts:

  1. How are live resins produced, and how is that different from other concentrates1?
  2. How is the resulting product different from other concentrates like shatter, budder, or wax?

Producing Live Resin

As mentioned above, the beautiful thing about live resin products is that they retain many of the terpenes and more obscure cannabinoids that you would get if you were smoking natural flower. This is possible via careful, sophisticated harvesting and production processes.

The live resin process begins with fresh, high-quality cannabis. Like other concentrates, a live resin can be made from any strain of cannabis. Higher THC strains and strains with popular terpene profiles tend to make good candidates for obvious reasons.

Immediately after harvest, the plants destined for a batch of live resin will be cryogenically chilled to sub-critical temperatures and will remain frozen for the duration of the extraction. Just how cold is “sub-critical”? In fact, sub-critical temperatures for live resin extractions are as low as -50° F. A special form of butane extraction is then used to isolate the cannabinoids and terpenes and filter out any unwanted materials.

One pitfall of this sub-zero method of cannabis preparation is that freezing the plant makes its trichomes (those sparkly resin glands where THC and other cannabinoids are stored) extremely brittle. Subsequently, they become susceptible to breaking or falling off during handling. For this reason, fresh frozen cannabis flower needs to be handled extremely carefully, adding an element of labor intensiveness to the live resin production process.

 Producing Live Resin

If you have any experience using cannabis for making edibles, you’re already familiar with the process of decarboxylating cannabis flower. This step does not occur when extracts are made from fresh frozen “live” plants. This results in a completely different terpene profile and different terpene strengths than a product derived from decarboxylated cannabis flower.

While several other types of cannabis concentrates can also be made via butane extraction, the live resin process is different from other cannabis extracts because of the low temperatures and the freshness of the plants. Most extraction processes do not use fresh cannabis. In fact, most extracts, concentrates, and distillates on today’s market begin with the same dried and cured flower you might grind up and pack into your favorite bong. It’s the fact that the plants remain in their fresh, uncured state throughout the entire extraction process that makes live resin “live.”

How is Live Resin Different?

So, what is the point of using fresh-frozen plants? Making extractions from cryogenically frozen cannabis is certainly more inconvenient and expensive than working with traditional, air-cured cannabis that can be worked with at room temperature. As we’ve touched on already, the benefit is in the fact that live resin retains a higher concentration of the natural terpenes and cannabinoids than extracts and distillates that start with cured, dry cannabis.

Cannabis flower needs to be cured for smoking. Live (i.e., fresh, flash-frozen) flower for smoking would be all but impossible to ignite efficiently with a standard lighter and would quickly spoil in storage. For this reason, the live resin concept can really only be applied to extracts. Oxygen exposure is necessary to cure a cannabis flower for smoking and other non-live types of extractions, but it also degrades the terpenes over time, changing the flavor and smell of the flower. Some experts estimate that as much as 60% of terpene content may be lost during a normal cure process. The process of quickly freezing fresh plants preserves terpenes at their harvest-time peak.

Why are Terpenes Important?

By now, you understand that the value of live resin is in the well-preserved terpene profile. So, why do terpenes matter so much, and what are they? Terpenes are the chemical compounds that give flowers and other plant matter their unique flavors and smells, and cannabis flower is chock full of them.

To date, over 150 terpenes have been identified. Some of the most important terpenes for cannabis users include:

  • Limonene — A citrussy terpene that gets its name from a zesty, lemon-like aroma; often associated with “upbeat” sativa strain like Super Sour Diesel.
  • Myrcene — A spicy, balsam smell is associated with myrcene and is the most abundant terpene in commercial grows. Many well-known strains like Blue Dream and Granddaddy Purple typically are high in myrcene, and is believed to have calming effects that help with full-body pain relief.
  • Pinene — As the name suggests, this is the spicy, forestry smell you get from sage, rosemary, and pine nuts, as well as top-shelf OG Kush.
  • Linalool — This calming terpene is found naturally in lavender, coriander (cilantro seeds), and even inside birch trees; believed to have anticonvulsant properties that may synchronize well with the effects of CBD. Linalool can be found in strains like Do-Si-Dos.
  • Beta-Caryophyllene — This is the terpene that gives black pepper its “pepperiness;” aside from bold spiciness, beta-caryophyllene has also been identified as potentially having anti-bacterial and anti-fungal uses. Caryophyllene can be found in strains like GSC and Bubba Kush.
  • Some other noteworthy terpenes you may come across while shopping for flower or live resin products include borneol, eucalyptol, terpineol, cineole, and alpha-bisabolol.

By now, you are beginning to understand that each individual terpene (much like every other cannabinoid present in raw cannabis flower) can have its own unique medicinal, therapeutic, or relaxation uses.

Stacks of terpenes and cannabinoids, however, are more than the sum of their parts. The entourage effect mentioned earlier occurs when various terpenes and other cannabinoids are ingested alongside THC and/or CBD, the way they would be when smoking natural cannabis flower. It’s believed that the complex interplay between these different compounds, and the way they affect your endocannabinoid receptors when consumed together, can create a better high and enhanced therapeutic effects when compared to simply ingesting a high concentration of THC.

An increased understanding of this entourage effect is what drives the growing popularity of live resins even though other concentrates and distillates may have a higher THC content. The basic theory behind high-THC concentrates is to burn away or filter out everything but the THC. While this can certainly result in a strong product, it will not necessarily deliver a more therapeutic or enjoyable experience than a well-crafted live products, like live resin. What’s more, the live resin will almost certainly be more flavorful and reminiscent of real cannabis flower.

Live Resin: A Brief History

The development of live resin cannabis extracts can be traced back to the early 2010s.

Live Resin Diamonds

A group of cannabis growers and creatives came up with an inspired plan to try making a concentrated cannabis extract from fresh frozen plants rather than cured flower. Presumably, they were proponents of fresh flower’s big, earthy flavors and smells. They were also early adopters of the theories about terpenes and less-popular cannabinoids that are becoming mainstream today. Whatever their source of inspiration, they went ahead with building a customized butane extractor device for their project.

This first live resin machine was essentially a standard butane extractor with one especially important difference. It included refrigeration components to ensure the plant matter remained fresh-frozen throughout the entire extraction and did not have any chance to begin the curing process. The resulting resin had a chemical profile that was remarkably close to that of a living cannabis plant, something that could not be said for cured flower extracts like shatter. This chemical similarity to live cannabis is the origin of the name live resin.

Is a Live Resin High Better?

Cannabis is a subjective experience, though results can be accurately predicted based on dosages, tolerances, and THC percentages. While it is true that some people may prefer a strong THC extract and nothing else, many others have found that the entourage effect from a flavorful live resin is more enjoyable and has more therapeutic benefits.

Which is Better: Live Resin or Distillate?

Individual body chemistry and personal preference mean it's difficult to go down the list and answer individual questions like "Does live resin or rosin get you higher?" in an objective way. Traditional extracts like rosin can have a higher THC content than live resin, but many users find that the terpene-rich entourage effect of a live resin high is more pleasant and well-rounded medicinal use option.

Some enthusiasts also wonder, is live resin stronger than dabs? This common question represents a misunderstanding of what live resin is. Live resin can be dabbed, just like other concentrates,  using your regular dab setup. Some users do prefer to use an electronic vaporizer for live resin rather than a dab rig, however. Vaping at a lower voltage/lower heat can help flavor seekers preserve those all-important terpenes, which are very volatile, meaning some best vaporized at lower temperatures, so you know your getting that terpene effect.

Zen Leaf: Your Trusted Source for Live Resins and Other Cannabis Extracts

Shop Live Resin Cannabis at Zen Leaf

When you’re ready to give live resin a try, head to the Zen Leaf Dispensary nearest you. Our knowledgeable, friendly staff is ready to help you sort through the options and find the perfect live resin product for vaping or dabbing.

It is now believed that the sophisticated combination of THC, other cannabinoids, and naturally occurring terpenes creates this entourage effect as the compounds work together. This is a more enjoyable and medicinally beneficial experience than simply isolating and ingesting THC at the highest concentrations possible. For many people, yes, this means a better high.

Digital Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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