Anyone who has spent time working in a grow operation knows the feeling of walking into a room with trays of ladies in flower. The first thing to greet anyone that enters that room is a solid wall of pungent and all too familiar aromas. After harvest, trimming, curing, and manufacturing these aromatics change, and in some cases degrade. Much research points to the fact that these delightful smells are thanks to terpenes, little oily compounds found in all aromatic herbs and flowers, not just cannabis.

Terpenes are found in the heads of trichomes, delicate and diverse structures which contain lots of the goodness we find in cannabis. Goodness refers to cannabinoids, terpenes, and some other compounds the community isn’t hip to yet. In an attempt to capture that full bouquet in an extract, many extractors are turning to live resin. By crafting live resin instead of BHO or CO2 oil, manufacturers and producers have begun to develop more robust flavor profiles, fragrances, and therapeutic qualities that previously have been lost in the extraction process.

Why Live Resin?

Live resin gets its name because it is extracted from start materials that haven’t been dried or cured. Most extractions are pulled from dried, cured flowers. But live resin is different because the flowers are either plucked off of the plant and extracted or frozen until they’re ready for extraction. This method is thought to preserve the terpene profile in extracts so that it more distinctly captures the flavor and aroma of the plant when it’s in flower. Some factors are harmful to trichomes which will degrade terpene content, this includes environmental stressors.

Terpene content can degrade with exposure to:

  • Light
  • Oxygen
  • Heat
  • Physical disturbances

Though the process can degrade terpene content, curing allows the buds to protect themselves by wicking away moisture and excess chlorophyll which is ideal for storage. When plants are in the grow room, they are working hard converting Cannabigerol (CBG) into other beneficial cannabinoids. This process doesn’t completely stop after a plant is cut from its root source. While plants are curing, they continue to convert CBG to Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). THCA converts into the psychoactive compound THC if applied to heat, this usually happens when the herb is smoked or decarboxylated in the oven. This is why the process of curing is a necessary and delicate dance, we’re gaining valuable acids while also losing terpene content.

Terpenes and flavonoids each have a unique vaporization temperature, one that is lower than common cannabinoids. Because of this, a lot of extraction methods that were formed before we understood the value of terpenes tend to boil off these valuable essential oils. That has led to dispensaries stocking shelves of extracts featuring pure THCA or all cannabinoids with no terpenes. These products tend to have a very sharp effect and no flavor, which is why many are turning to live resin extraction methods.

Most extractors and consumers know by now that using methods that preserve the terpenes or adding terpenes back into their extracts will bring more flavor and aromatics to a product. As more research emerges, we are also understanding more and more about the role of terpenes in our overall experience with a specific strain. Some studies suggest that the expression of either Indica and Sativa effects relies on the terpene profile of a strain rather than the cannabinoid content. By that logic, an extract that maintains a high terpene content would also provide a more robust bouquet of effects.

Making Live Resin

The beginnings of live resin manufacturing date back sometime between 2011 and 2013. William “Kind Bill” Fenger and “Giddy Up”, founder of Emotek Labs, were the pioneers that first stabilized live extraction methods. The pair developed a closed loop extraction system often used for butane and other hydrocarbons to maintain low temperatures that would preserve terpenes in the start material. As they developed this equipment, the pair realized that fresh, frozen plant materials would create the most well rounded terpene profile. Their research eventually opened up a new sector in the world of cannabis extracts, and since then extractors have been elaborating on the methods to create their own versions of live resins.

One thing that all live resin products have in common is that they use start materials that are either freshly cut or fresh frozen with care. For those who want to freeze the flowers it is heavily advised that they are handled with completely care. Trichomes are exceptionally delicate and terpene degradation can occur from a simple wrong touch. On top of this, freezing will add water content to the cannabis. Because of this the flowers need to be frozen below zero which means we will need a commercial freezer to keep them properly preserved. Due to these obstacles, some growers prefer to cut buds directly from the plant and go straight to the extractor with an in-house machine. This option is obviously only available to a vertically integrated cannabis company.

Once the flowers are extracted they still need to be finished to remove all of the solvents. Decrease the temperature close to or below zero to make ‘undesirables’ water in-soluble and separate themselves from the cannabis oil. Once they’re separated we’re left with a clean, tasty end product. Generally these products are more ‘saucy’, or viscous, but there are various types of live resin. Despite their ability to capture more prominent monoterpenes like pinene and myrcene extractors are still perfecting their ability to maintain the complete spectrum of terps expressed in the live, flowering plant.

Because of all of these desirable qualities, live resin is quickly becoming one of the most popular cannabis extractions on the legal cannabis market. In the days of its inception, live resin products could cost upwards of $100 for just one gram. With these techniques and this equipment more readily available, more affordable live resin products are available to the consumer. This also drives extractors to push out new methods, like live rosin currently being made in Canada. These types of innovations combined with the flavor and robust effects make live resin one of the rising stars in the extract segment of the cannabis industry.