SPE and Distillation are Both Methods of Separation but result in Different Levels of Concentrate Purity
SPE or Solid Phase Extraction (which we discussed in detail in a previous DYK article and blog post) and Distillation are two different methods that allow extraction labs to separate molecules and refine the purity of their end-products.
Simply put, SPE uses a liquid solvent to extract or dissolve the solid components we are interested in extracting from the ‘raw’ plant material. This is often the first stage of cannabis or hemp processing.
Once the components are dissolved out from the plant material, we separate the solvent from the remaining solid matter. We then evaporate the solvent to collect the targeted cannabinoid derivatives.
This first stage of processing most often results in what is called a ‘crude extract’.
In contrast to SPE, distillation is the next stage of processing. It’s a form of refinement and chemical separation which utilizes vacuum depth and temperature to separate out the constituent molecules.
This second processing stage further refines and concentrates the cannabinoids to create a purer, more valuable end-product.
By applying specific levels of vacuum depth in conjunction with specific levels of heat, we can choose to evaporate only certain molecules of our mixture. These molecules that are now gaseous and can be targeted by cold surfaces to cause them to condense back to a liquid and be collected separately. The resulting product is what we call cannabis or hemp distillate.
While distillation produces a much more potent and refined product, SPE is very effective at refining or extracting your target compounds from a large complex mixture, which distillation is not effective at doing.
This is the “chemical reasoning” for why, when extracting CBD and THC from our Hemp or Cannabis biomass, we first start with a form of SPE (CO2 or ethanol extraction for example). This primary stage of extraction is then followed by further processing steps which usually end in a distillation procedure to produce a very potent and clean product.