The term “resin” can have a few different meanings in the world of cannabis depending upon context. Resin, often called reclaim in this scenario, can refer to the dark sticky substance that is often left on bongs, pipes, or dab rigs after using those tools to consume cannabis. More commonly, however, resin is used to describe the sticky sap-like substance found within the trichomes of the cannabis flower. This resin houses the terpenes and cannabinoids that give cannabis plants their unique aroma and high when consumed. For this reason, extracting this resin from the cannabis plant provides a way to consume these terpenes and cannabinoids in a more concentrated form, providing maximum medicinal and recreational effects.
There are multiple ways to achieve the extraction of resin from the cannabis plant, from simple mechanical separation to more complicated solvent-based extraction using closed-loop extraction systems. Making cured and live resin typically consists of using hydrocarbons, such as butane and propane, in a closed-loop system to dissolve the trichomes of the cannabis plant to achieve the separation of terpenes and cannabinoids from the rest of the plant material. The extracts are then placed into an oven to purge the solvents, ensuring that these products are safe for consumption.
The main difference between cured and live resin is the starting material used for the extraction. Cured resin is extracted from starting material that has been dried and cured, like the flower that customers are used to buying in dispensaries. This material is harvested, dried, cured, and then extracted once those processes are completed. Once the plant is harvested, the cannabis flower is no longer producing terpenes, but it is slowly losing these compounds that give cannabis its unique smell, flavor, and effect. Terpenes are volatile compounds, meaning that they easily evaporate at normal temperatures, which is why cannabis has such a noticeable smell. The longer the plant material is removed from harvest before consumption or extraction, the more terpenes that material is losing.
Live resin, on the other hand, is extracted from cannabis plant material that has been frozen immediately after harvest. This material is often referred to as “fresh frozen.” This fresh frozen process skips the drying, curing, and trimming process of harvesting that is so rough on the fragile terpene compounds that cannabis connoisseurs appreciate so much. Skipping those steps and freezing this material immediately after harvest preserves the natural terpenes, leading to a more flavorful extract at the end of the process. Live resin is a more accurate representation of the collection of terpenes and cannabinoids of the cannabis plant while it is still living.
Due to their differing characteristics, cured resin and live resin tend to form different consistencies once extracted. Most notably, live resin extracts are more prone to “sugaring” where the THCA (the acidic form of THC) separates itself from the terpenes and other constituents in the extract. Higher terpene retention and a more complex terpene profile aids in THCA crystallization, a process called nucleation. This makes extracts from live material a better candidate to produce THCA diamonds and terp sauce, a highly potent and sought after product.
Additionally, this also makes live resin a better candidate to make vape cartridges out of compared to cured resin. To make vape cartridges out of extracts, the THCA needs to be decarboxylated to its active form, THC. Otherwise, if left as THCA, the extract will “sugar” in the cart and create a consistency that is not suitable for vape cartridge use. Forming THCA diamonds makes separating the THCA from the terpenes in an extract an easier process. The THCA must be separated from the terpenes prior to decarboxylation, as the high temperatures required for this process will damage the delicate terpenes and ruin the flavor of the extract. Once separated, the THCA diamonds can be decarboxylated, reintroduced with the extracted native terpenes, and dispensed into a vape cartridge for convenient use.
Extracting fresh frozen material also tends to produce an extract that is lighter in color compared to the extracts produced from cured material. This is due to the difference in trichome development that happens in the different stages of the plant’s life cycle. Trichomes are clear during development, become cloudy when they are ripe, and turn an amber color when they are considered overripe. The longer the cured material sits after harvesting, the more opportunity there is for the trichomes on that material to oxidize and turn a more amber color. This results in a darker extract as the trichomes, what’s ultimately being dissolved in the solvent, have become darker in color.
Given the difference in the harvest methods between the two, live resin is generally considered to be a superior product compared to cured resin due to the potential for a higher terpene content and a more complex terpene profile. However, this is not always the case, as the quality of input material matters just as much as how the input material was handled prior to extraction. Live resin generated from material that was poorly grown, harvested, and processed will almost certainly be inferior to cured resin that was created from material that was grown, harvested, and processed with great knowledge, attention, and care. The plants being grown for extraction must have a high terpene and cannabinoid content for those characteristics to translate to the extract produced.
As the old adage goes, “fire in, fire out.”