The global cannabis distillate market size was estimated to be US $2.74 billion in 2021, according to Grandview Research. As a flavorless and odorless cannabis concentrate, distillate is remarkably more versatile than other extractions. Two ways of making it are often pitted agains each other: short path vs. wiped film distillation.
Distillate is easily formulated into hundreds of different SKUs, from capsules to drinks to gummies. But does your decision between short path vs. wiped film distillation impact the final applications? Does one option produce better distillate for certain applications than the other?
Subtle Equipment Differences, Same Final Products
Short path (also called benchtop or batch distillation) and wiped film (also called thin or rolled film) are two fractional distillation technologies founded on the same basic principles. Both approaches heat crude oil to the point of vaporization, and then this vapor gets condensed into different fractions: cannabinoids, terpenes, and undesirables.
There are subtle differences between the two pieces of equipment. For example, short path distillation, like Precision Extraction’s G3 Short Path Kits, offers an inexpensive benchtop solution for processors working in small spaces. Meanwhile, wiped film solutions, such as the CannaBeast® Thin Film System, are better suited for higher throughput and extractors who want a continuous operation.
Inherently, short path distillation can expose crude oil to high heat for more extended periods, which could result in a slightly darker distillate. Heat may begin to degrade the cannabinoids, transforming THC to CBN. But, with an experienced short path lab technician, the risk of discoloration and degradation is limited.
Provided the distillation equipment is run by an experienced operator, both short path and thin film distilled crude oil produce the same highly purified cannabinoid-rich oil. Short path distillate is exactly the same as wiped film distillate and, therefore, can be used for all the same product types, from gummies to topicals.
Cannabis Distillate: Purified, Flavorless, Versatile
The beauty of cannabis distillation, no matter the technology used to produce it, is that it opens up an incredible number of SKUs in the consumer packaged goods market. There is also a small but dedicated market for the direct use of high-potency THC distillate in dabs and vaporizers that requires no further processing or formulation.
Distillate provides consumers with a purified, predictable, and discreet experience. It’s also odorless and flavorless, making it the superior option for foods and beverages. It’s generally assumed that distillate is more shelf stable than other cannabis oils, which is critical, especially for the incorporation into food and drink.
Finally, cannabis distillate makes use of all types of biomass — no matter the quality. Unlike solventless or live resin extraction, which requires premium high-quality flower, distillate will technically work with any plant matter containing cannabinoids. Distillation equipment is like crop insurance, which helps ensure returns even when all else has failed.
SKU Possibilities for Short Path and Wiped Film Distillation
Vape pen market share is growing, especially within the Generation Z demographic. In the US and Canada, vape pens make up approximately 17 to 18 percent of the total recreational market.
Although there has been a recent rise in live resin and solventless products, distillate still holds strong, as there is a large contingent of consumers seeking potency above all else. Distillate vape pens can sometimes contain 90% pure cannabinoid content, something that the THC-obsessed consumer prefers.
Additionally, distillate requires no additional post-processing for use in a vape pen. However, many brands incorporate cannabis or botanically derived terpenes into the vape cart for added flavor and effects.
Infused Food and Beverages
As per a 2022 report by Headset, “Edibles are the fourth highest grossing category by total sales and share of the market in both the US and Canada,” and gummies are by far the most significant product category within that.
Although, historically, edibles were made by soaking raw biomass in oil or butter to infuse a random amount of cannabinoids and other compounds, today’s edibles are produced almost entirely with distillate, allowing operators to dial in potencies and ensure a consistent product for the end user. While distillate may have a mildly bitter flavor, it’s much easier to hide with sugar and flavorings than with other extracts. It’s therefore highly adaptable to a wide variety of edible types including gummies, candies, chocolates, and baked goods.
Cannabis drinks were one of the hottest product categories to launch in the last five years and are quickly growing. According to Headset, “Since the beginning of 2021, market share of Beverages has increased nearly 40% in both the US and Canada.”
There are many possible product options within this category, including drops, syrups, drink mixes, carbonated beverages, waters, sports drinks, mocktails, and more.
To use cannabis distillate in food and beverage, it typically must be emulsified (or nano-emulsified) to safely disperse and suspend the cannabis oil molecules into the formulation in a way that is water soluble as well as increasing the bioavailability of the cannabinoids. This helps with shelf stability, appearance, and taste.
Topicals are by no means the largest category in the cannabis industry, but with the rise of the CBD beauty industry, they are quickly becoming a skincare staple. According to a recent Data Bridge Market Research analysis, global CBD skincare pulled in close to a billion dollars in 2021.
Lotions, balms, creams, and other topicals blend remarkably well with distillate because they usually contain a base oil like shea butter or coconut oil. Cannabinoids, which are lipid-soluble molecules, incorporate well into these oily preparations without any of the additional steps required for foods and beverages.
Tablets, Capsules, and Sublinguals
Unlike vape pens, topicals, and edibles, this category is predominantly therapeutic. Consumers who choose tablets, capsules, and sublinguals are almost always using these products for their medicinal effects. This is a small but consistent market category, especially on the medical side of the market.
Because patients require high-potency cannabinoid medicine packed into a tiny, easy-to-dose package, capsules and tablets usually contain distillate. Patients also need consistency between servings and predictability in experience — all characteristics distillate is known for.
Typically, capsules contain a solution of distillate and oil, while sublinguals are a solution of distillate and water. In both the US and Canada, the largest subsection within this category is hybrid preparations with a mixed ratio, although there is substantial interest in non-intoxication formulas, especially CBD and CBN preparations.
Short Path vs. Wiped Film Distillation: Endless SKU Possibilities
Is it better to choose short path distillation or wiped film? The decision has much more to do with your budget, facility space, and throughput requirements than it does final SKU variety. A short path and a thin film distillation system will deliver the same highly purified distillate needed for a long list of possible SKUs, whether edibles, topicals, beverages, or pure concentrates.
Precision Extraction by Agrify offers distillation solutions that work for you. No matter your facility size, equipment budget, or production goals, we help you decide what approach is best, whether it’s wiped film or short path.