As cannabis becomes more widely available and accepted, growers and manufacturers are on a quest to distinguish themselves from the pack. While farmers may strive for distinction by cultivating new and interesting strains, many manufacturers are opting to push the limits of cannabinoid content in their final products. Add the new expense to consumers because of additional taxes on adult-use cannabis, and many people are left seeking the “biggest bang for their buck.” This often translates to the highest THC content for the lowest price. Companies have tried to satisfy this manufactured demand by creating high-potency ultra-refined oils (distillates) stripped of everything else—even their natural color. But is this actually a disservice to users?
Research is scant but suggests that full-spectrum oil, which retains the components of the original plant, is more beneficial than ultra-refined oil, by giving a greater “entourage effect” and providing more components of the cannabis plant that may show to have health benefits. Based on our research, science will eventually show that the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts, and the closer you can get to its original form, the better.
To boil down the concepts around full-spectrum oil, we recently sat down with BLOOM FARMS’ Chief Scientist Michael Coffin and QA/QC Manager and Product Development Scientist Noah Kipper.
First, what exactly is “full-spectrum” cannabis oil?
When used to describe cannabis oil, the term “full-spectrum” implies that the oil contains all components from the source plant. Conceptually, we can consider flower buds the most full-spectrum experience cannabis offers, since they literally contain all of the plant’s original components. Oil is a concentrated extract and cannot contain all of the source plant material. Some stuff—most obviously, cellulose and fibers that don’t contribute to the “full-spectrum” understanding—is taken out to change the plant’s form.
Which components make an oil full-spectrum?
So a question arises: Which components make an oil full-spectrum and which do not? At BLOOM FARMS R&D, we think about this question a lot. And it always leads to more questions: What defines a strain? Which components dictate the effects felt by a particular strain?
Terpenes are the hydrocarbons that shape a strain’s bouquet, so terpene profile is the most common distinction of a strain. How does it taste and smell? Because they reside in different ratios from strain to strain, terpenes are thought to be the main contributing factor in the small differences in effects strains induce. But new research suggests that terpenes may be only half the picture.
Cannabinoid profile may also be a major factor in distinguishing a strain and its effects. Over 200 cannabinoids have been identified to date and also are assumed to reside in different ratios, so complete strain profiles could become very complicated.
How does ultra-refined oil (distillate) differ from full-spectrum oil?
An ultra-refined oil (distillate) can easily be spotted by its unnaturally light color—usually very light yellow. This is achieved through a process called distillation and results in a more singular cannabinoid profile void of terpenoids. In other words, the final distillate contains overwhelmingly high levels of a single cannabinoid (most commonly, psychoactive THC) and little else. Cannabis-based or plant-based terpenes are then re-introduced to simulate the plant’s original terpene profile in the final high-potency distillate. Cannabis-based terpenes could be considered more full-spectrum than plant-based terpenes.
Some could argue that a full-spectrum oil can be constructed from different plant sources. While this may technically be true, it is still unclear exactly what components contribute to the spectrum. While we already know THC and CBD are beneficial components of cannabis, there are many more plant compounds outside of cannabinoids (such as flavonoids, anthocyanins and other antioxidants) that likely have beneficial effects but haven’t been well-studied at this point. When we say “full-spectrum,” we’re referring to a naturally extracted spectrum rather than a constructed spectrum.
While it might look cool, the process of ultra-refining oil essentially hurts the plant’s ability to provide its full “entourage effect.” We should not confuse clarity with quality.
What’s the “entourage effect” and why does it matter?
Think of THC in cannabis as the caffeine in coffee. If pure caffeine is extracted from your coffee cup, does it still represent the original bean used to make coffee? Does it provide the same experience as the original coffee grounds?
Coined by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam in 1998, the “entourage effect” refers to the concept that the effectiveness of cannabis is partially due to its delivery of key components alongside other components that are not yet fully understood. In a nutshell, the “magic” of cannabis is somewhat lost the further you get from the full plant.
This idea is widely accepted when it comes to processed foods versus their whole-food counterparts. In terms of cannabis, Marinol, the first FDA-approved use of THC as a drug, was found to be less effective than whole-plant cannabis to increase appetite and alleviate nausea. Also, a 1981 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that cannabis’ cataleptic effect—its ability to induce “couch lock”— on mice was dependent upon how the material was extracted. They concluded that the effect was “due to a balance of synergist and inhibitor.”
The best of both worlds: high potency and the entourage effect
Our goal has always been to find the middle ground between satisfying customer needs and respecting the plant; in this case, creating high-potency oil that is as close as possible to the original source (and as close as we can get to full-spectrum with short path distillation).
The result is high-potency full-spectrum oil that tastes and smells like its original plant.
Our distillate line of super high-potency products can’t avoid being put through the process of short path distillation. To ensure that the terpene profile is giving you the greatest entourage effect possible, we reintroduce the same terpenes we extracted early in the process—from the very same plant material the oil was extracted from.
Five reasons you’re going to fall in love with our full-spectrum oils
1. Convenience without compromise: Our full-spectrum oil is a discreet, easy way to deliver high-potency cannabis while staying as close as possible to the source material.
2. Reliable experience: Our state-of-the-art hardware that evenly heats via a fully integrated ceramic element, HIGHLIGHTER and HIGHLIGHTER+ provide a consistent measure with every puff.
3. Authentic flavor: Natural terpenes derived from the original plant are first extracted, then re-introduced after processing, so the final oil tastes and smells like its source plant.
4. Meticulous lab-testing: We use third-party labs throughout production to ensure that our final product exceeds state standards for pesticides and all safety test standards.
5. We know cannabis: No matter its final form, a cannabis product is always better when it starts with great plants—and we understand how to select the finest-quality raw material.
1 Br. J. Pharmac.(1981),72,401-409