In this article, we go in-depth into full spectrum CBD oil and explore how this new trend in cannabis is changing the way that we look at the plant, even as we radically alter its original form.
One of the common questions that people have about cannabis products is how edibles, oils and flowers differ in their effects and healing properties. There’s no simple answer, of course, but there’s plenty to be learned when you zoom in on the intersection of science and art that paves the way for these products.
From a scientific perspective, cannabis contains a complex combination of naturally-occurring chemicals that vary in volume and type, from plant to plant. While the genome map for cannabis is a work in progress, our collective understanding of its medicinal properties and applications is growing by the minute.
Lab tests for cannabis products are primarily designed to red flag pesticides, heavy metals, mold, and other contaminants. But they also reveal important genetic information, including a vast array of terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids that form the chemical make-up of the plant.
Scientists have identified about 500 different chemical compounds in cannabis. However, many of these phytocannabinoids, or “plant-based” cannabinoids, are still undiscovered and/or undocumented. Scientific studies to date have been focused primarily on THC and CBD, and their effects on the brain.
But to enjoy the true benefits and healing power of cannabis, all of these delicate, volatile compounds must be carefully extracted and preserved in full-plant medicine. Since our bodies naturally produce cannabinoid molecules, we are biologically receptive to the unique properties of plant-derived cannabinoids as well.
When these cannabinoids and other compounds interact with receptors in our endocannabinoid system, they release natural chemicals that support the body’s equilibrium and produce other curative effects that we are only beginning to comprehend.
Cannabis Oil and Full Spectrum Oil Explained
Take a closer look at the extraction process, and you start to understand why not all cannabis oils are created equal.
“Extraction artists,” as they are known in the biz, utilize high-tech machines to bring out the true essence of the plants’ chemical profile, or “chemotype.” Full-spectrum CBD oil is one manifestation of this process. There are dozens of different methods to extract the chemical compounds in cannabis, but most scientists agree that the cleanest, safest process employs carbon dioxide (CO2), a naturally-occurring compound that leaves no trace behind (unlike petroleum-based solvents). In supercritical fluid extraction, CO2 is exposed to extreme temperatures and pressures and it fluctuates between intermediate states of solid, liquid, and gaseousness. As it changes state, CO2 will dissolve and remove the desired cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds from the plant.
After this initial extraction, there are fats, lipids, and other compounds that remain in the oil. To create distillates, extractors use a refinement process called winterization, wherein solvents such as ethanol are used to remove these residual compounds.
So…what happens if you leave these compounds in the mix?
“There are many companies out there that use a distillate or a very high concentrate in their gummies or edible products,” explains Carolina Vasquez Mitchell, Kushy CBD’s Chief Scientist. “They are getting rid of cannabinoids, fibers, waxes, flavonoids, and other substances that occur naturally in the plant. Our oil is a dark green extract. It has flavonoids—which are antioxidants that naturally occur in the plant; they have chlorophyll, natural essential oils from the plant, waxes, some fibers.”
Once the oil is extracted, it can be delivered in diverse ways to our endocannabinoid system — oral, sublingual, transdermal, and inhalation. From there, everyone’s experience takes on its own distinct and restorative course.
To read more about KushyCBD’s chief scientist Carolina Vasquez Mitchell, check out this interview in leading cannabis publication Dope.
Why Full Spectrum CBD Oil is Better Than Standard CBD Isolates
In the pharmaceutical industry, the name of the game is creating synthetic chemical reactions that result in new “small molecule” drugs to target very specific symptoms or diseases. In fact, these drugs account for about 90 percent of the therapeutics in today’s pharmaceutical market.
As we’ve discussed, cannabis is a whole different ball game, and is made up of hundreds of chemical entities — some with complementary effects, others with opposing effects. Some cannabis manufacturers are focused on isolating individual cannabinoids and other chemicals during the extraction process, and utilizing them as single entities. While these isolated compounds can be beneficial, they don’t have the same potential for healing as full spectrum CBD oil blends.
“When you’re thinking about distillates vs full spectrum CBD oil, consider sugar,” says Carolina Vasquez Mitchell, Kushy CBD’s Chief Scientist. “On one hand you have the dark brown natural unrefined sugar. The more that you refine the sugar, the clearer and whiter it becomes. But along the way you are losing vital and natural aspects of the sugar. Our oil is the dark brown natural sugar, not the white, super refined stuff.”
The two most common forms of extracted CBD are full spectrum CBD oil (whole-plant extract) and pure CBD isolate, which is just one compound, and often sourced from industrial hemp. When CBD isolate is used to create CBD oil, the resulting product is a limited, incomplete representation of the healing properties of the plant.
The Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research published a compelling study which compared the effectiveness of CBD isolate against full-spectrum CBD oil. It concluded that: “In all of the tests, the isolated CBD was ineffective both before and after a certain dosage, while the effectiveness of the full-spectrum solution continued to increase as higher doses were administered. The results all indicate that CBD is only effective against swelling and pain at a certain dose, and that cannabis solutions containing a full range of cannabinoids will continue to provide corresponding effects as the dosage is increased.”
Similarly, many scientific studies have shown that THC and CBD work best together, and interact synergistically to enhance each other’s therapeutic effects. British researchers have shown that CBD potentiates THC’s anti-inflammatory properties in an animal model of colitis. Scientists at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco determined that a combination of CBD and THC has a more potent anti-tumoral effect than either compound alone when tested on brain cancer and breast cancer cell lines. Clinical research has also demonstrated that CBD combined with THC is more beneficial for neuropathic pain than either compound as a single molecule.
To learn more about KushyCBD’s process of manufacturing CBD, read this article with our founder and CEO in Leafly.
And what’s this Entourage Effect then?
The so-called “Entourage Effect” refers to the synergistic nature of cannabinoids, terpenes and other naturally-occurring compounds in cannabis that work together in harmony to feed our endocannabinoid system and deliver the full benefits of the plant’s treasure-trove of natural chemicals.
The “entourage effect” is a term coined by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, who is recognized as the grandfather of modern cannabis research and has published hundreds of articles focused on the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids. CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta detailed Mechoulam’s discovery in 2014, and made the case that pharmaceutical drugs that use cannabinoid isolates are less effective than products that harness multiple, full-spectrum extracts, or multiple compounds.
As mentioned above, the characteristic that really sets full-spectrum cannabis oil apart from other CBD products is that it contains all of the bioactive compounds of the source plant material, and thus preserves the entourage effect.
In oils that contain significant doses of THC, the entourage effect manifests itself as a deep, full body high with anti-inflammatory and restorative qualities. When CBD is the dominant cannabinoid, users may not “feel” anything right away, but they can expect to benefit in more subtle ways — reduced inflammation and anxiety, or a more focused and relaxed mind state.
“Take the case of Marinol,” wrote Gupta, “which is pure, synthetic THC. When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol. Researchers began to realize that other components, such as CBD, might have a larger role than previously realized.”
It’s only in the last decade that advanced extraction methods have begun to reveal the complex and wide-ranging expressions of the cannabis plant. How these powerful oil blends impact our body and mind will be the next great stage of discovery.
To learn more about the Entourage Effective, visit our blog post on the subject.