When it comes to the growing cannabis industry, everyone wants the best product. And this means, producers are constantly finding ways to up their game. One of the latest trends in the cannabis world? Fresh frozen cannabis, and using cold to boost cannabis flowers and create concentrates like live resin.
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When it comes to new products within a vastly growing industry, rife with massive amounts of competition, it can be expected that different techniques will be developed and used to increase efficacy of products. Sometimes these won’t be more than gimmicks – ways to increase interest from buyers without providing a real benefit. And sometimes, these techniques will truly be beneficial, offering a higher-level product. Such seems to be the case with fresh frozen cannabis.
What is fresh frozen cannabis?
How is a harvest usually done? Ever since cannabis began being planted as a crop, the standard harvesting method has been to air dry the cannabis. The basics involve hanging the plants out after they’ve reached their full potential, and taking off the leaves. Then the plants are put in a dark room, with the right temperature and humidity, for several weeks, or until the plants dry out to a desirable level. Many will then put the plants in a sealable container that can be opened at intervals to let air in and out. As stated, this is a basic process, followed by large-scale farmers, as well as home-cultivators.
If all of that sounds about right, the inclusion of using cold is a slightly different method, that can help boost the overall final product. So, what is it? It’s essentially a different method of harvesting, or rather, a new method to be employed in the harvesting process. In the fresh frozen process, the cannabis plants are cut, and all leaves, branches and stems are removed, but no curing is done.
At this point, the buds are put into vacuum sealable bags, often weighed to a specific amount by the harvester. The bags of cannabis are put into a freezer set at about -38 degrees F, and left there until needed, with the cold locking in and preserving all the cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. Some producers go as far as using dry ice in their freezers to optimize the freezing process.
The bags can be left for however long necessary. When taken out to sell, or to make concentrates, all the chemical constituents will have remained intact, along with other materials of the cannabis plant which will not have degraded because of the cold. Terpenes and cannabinoids are known to degrade over time, and freezing the buds at harvest time, until they are ready to be used, is one of the best ways of preserving these constituents so that users can get the most out of their products.
Freezing food is not new
We’ve been freezing food as a population for quite some time now. Most people have freezers at home chock full of meats, vegetables, dairy products like ice cream, and even bread. Not only do we freeze our food as individuals, but often, the food we buy in restaurants went through a frozen period, before being thawed and cooked for us. Technically, we’re already aware of the idea that cold can preserve things, it just wasn’t necessarily something attached to the idea of cannabis until recently.
Freezing does a couple things that are beneficial for consumers. For one thing, freezing can preserve the food and the nutrient content in it. Food is biodegradable (assuming it’s real food, and not a processed mess), and breaks down over time. Its why bananas turn brown, it’s why flowers whither, it’s why its said that often nutrient content is lost from products like vegetables quickly after they are harvested. Cold slows down this process, freezing a food into its current state.
The other thing freezing does, besides staving off degradation of plant-based, and animal-based products, is to keep microbes from making it home, and growing. Think about how quickly bread or cheese grow mold. Think about the last time you got food poisoning, and the bacteria that passed from your food to your guts. And also think about those tiny little fruit flies that love your fresh produce, they aren’t microbes, but they can infect your food, and aid in the process of degradation.
Freezing keeps all of these things at bay as well, creating an unhospitable climate for microbes to grow, and insects to be attracted to. It should be remembered that freezing does not necessarily kill such microbes, but essentially puts them in a dormitive state. Once thawed, they can then multiply once again if the correct measures are not taken.
Benefits of fresh frozen cannabis
Simply freezing in order to stave off degradation of compounds, and to keep mold at bay, is useful for standard cannabis products, but it helps serve another purpose as well. These days, businesses are national or international, and often products must be shipped long distances to reach their destinations, or to get from one processing site to another. The ability to keep cannabis in a frozen state, allows the transfer of these goods without degradation, just like refrigerated trucks to move meat across the country.
Plus, with the cannabis industry growing at the rate it is, another issue occurs. Often, the supply exceeds the actual demand, party because of it being a competitive market with a lot of new companies producing products. If a company overproduces, and doesn’t want to lose its precious stock – but doesn’t know when it will be able to unload it, freezing provides a way to hold onto it longer, without having to worry about it being ruined over time.
For this reason, many producers are now freezing their entire harvest from the get-go, to ensure that if they don’t need all their stock immediately, that it doesn’t get ruined by heat, sunlight, drying, standard degradation, mold, or any other culprit that can effect the shelf life of cannabis. It also comes with some other benefits, like getting rid of the drying out and curing processes, which are very time consuming. And providing the ability to freeze in the water of the plant, along with cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
One of the cool things to come out of the freezing cannabis process, is live resin. Live resin is yet another kind of cannabis concentrate, in the same category as hash oil, shatter, and wax. However, live resin concentrate is specifically made through cryogenic freezing. For cryogenic freezing, a newly harvested plant is frozen to -292 degrees F. This is considered a ‘full spectrum’ process since the entire plant is being used including the branches, leaves, and stalks.
Live resin shatter is superior to its non-frozen counterparts in that it has a better-preserved terpene profile. Extractions that use butane, or C02, without freezing, require a level of heat that can destroy most of the terpenes and other plant constituents. The freezing process to create live resins, bypasses this issue.
Think about the standard after-harvest experience. The cannabis is generally cured in a way to promote it slowly drying out. This can take many weeks of time, time in which the plant is exposed to things like light, heat, oxygen, and physical disruptions. Now consider that most cannabis products are produced by these means, and many won’t really live up to their potential because of it.
Making live resin
To be clear, creating live resin is not the easiest process, and not the most inexpensive either. Even making something like delta-8 THC is a little more doable for the average person. Creating live resin requires the plants being flash frozen immediately, and for those low temperatures to be maintained through the entire extraction process.
In a closed loop system, butane and propane are cooled to the same cryogenic temperatures. Butane is pressurized, and then pushed from one tank, and through another tank where the cannabis is. As it goes, it dissolves trichomes, while bonding with terpenes and cannabinoids, carrying it all with it into yet another tank.
After going through the cannabis, it goes into another tank where it releases the waxes, lipids, and fats that it collected. It goes to yet another tank from there where the butane is heated to remove it, leaving behind a concentrated oil. Any solvent remaining, goes through a pipe to end in the tank it started, finishing the closed-loop. At this point the resin is very volatile – meaning more easily vaporizable, and it vaporizes out any remaining C02. At the end of the process, the live resin made, will be less than 4% of its original weight.
Considerations for fresh frozen cannabis
There are a couple important considerations when dealing with fresh frozen cannabis. The first is that cultivators don’t have a huge amount of time to waste in between cutting the plant, and getting it in a freezer. In order for optimal storage, the flowers shouldn’t be left out for over an hour after being cut. In just two hours from being cut, the monoterpenes in a plant will start to degrade. Many terpenes will be lost within the first few hours after a plant is cut.
Another issue to consider when relying on a freezer, is electricity. Power outages are not the most infrequent occurrence in life, but a simple power outage could mean the difference between a freezer full of frozen cannabis, and a freezer full of thawing, and therefore degrading, cannabis. Professional operations will likely have access to a generator to ensure that regardless of power issues, that the electricity doesn’t stop flowing.
As the cannabis industry grows, producers are trying more and more avenues to create better and better products. With this new application of freezing cannabis to preserve it, and using cryogenic temperatures to create concentrates like live resin, customers are getting more intense products. Now, granted, people have been using cannabis for thousands of years without freezing it, and reaping its benefits just fine. But processes like this do open the door to far superior products than have been available previously.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a medical professional, I have no formal legal education, and I’ve never been to business school. All information in my articles is sourced from other places which are always mentioned, and all opinions stated are mine, and are made clear to be mine. I am not giving anyone advise of any kind, in any capacity. I am more than happy to discuss topics, but should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a professional in the relevant field for more information.