Understanding Cannabis: Full Spectrum Vs Isolates
Keep reading to find out the benefits and drawbacks of full spectrum and isolate cannabis products. At present, it is easy for companies to cut corners, so investment in either market requires a detailed understanding of what is involved. Expert knowledge and sophisticated machinery are essential hallmarks that every investor should be checking for.
Cannabis is no longer just a plant that can be harvested and smoked. The dried flower can be processed and transformed into concentrates, tinctures, edibles, and much more. However, to create the wide range of cannabis-derived products available, the plant needs to go through several stages to harness all the crucial chemicals within the plant. The benefit, however, is significant. When cannabinoids and terpenes exist together, the efficacy of their effects is improved.
This synergy of natural plant compounds, known as the entourage effect, is a well-researched phenomenon. Full spectrum products take full advantage of the entourage effect by including base cannabinoids like CBD and THC, alongside less-abundant cannabinoids like CBC, CBN, CBG, as well as select terpenes. For medical cannabis users, the benefits of the entourage effect cannot be ignored.
To expand upon the above concept, we will draw on the following example. The Hadassah Medical School in Israel aimed to establish how they could overcome the bell-shaped response exhibited by CBD isolate. When using CBD as a therapeutic agent, its efficacy increases until it reaches a certain threshold. After this point, the effectiveness does not improve, regardless of how much is consumed—hence the bell-shaped graph.
Researchers discovered¹ that if you combine CBD with a range of other cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC, then the bell-shaped response can be overcome. Increase the dose of full spectrum cannabis extract, and its effectiveness at reducing inflammation increases in kind. This research goes hand-in-hand with similar studies we reviewed here. Together, cannabinoids and terpenes can be used to create more effective cannabinoid-based treatments.
Based on the findings above, it would be easy to assume that all extracts should be full spectrum to ensure the best possible outcome. However, full spectrum products are not without their challenges, the first of which is legality.
In order for full spectrum cannabis formulations to be legal, THC content must be no more than 0.2–0.3% by volume (country specific). Unless produced in an area that has legalised THC-rich products (American states are a prime example, as well as the whole country of Canada), then full spectrum products need to adhere to stringent guidelines. The second issue surrounding full spectrum products is the expertise required to extract the correct ratio of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids and terpenes are incredibly volatile and can easily be destroyed if not treated with care during the extraction process. Extraction and purification are sophisticated stages of production that require expert knowledge and investment in highly specialised machinery.
Herein lies a problem; not all companies have access to either requirement, let alone both. Combine this with the lack of regulation in the cannabis industry, and suddenly, what a company advertises may not be the reality. Always conduct your own due diligence to make sure the company you are investing in can deliver on the claims their products or services make. Reputable companies should publish test results of any cannabis extracts and highlight any collaborators or certifications.
Isolates, as the title implies, are products that contain only one specific cannabinoid. For the most part, CBD is the primary cannabinoid in question here. Despite being around 99% pure CBD—without any other cannabinoids or terpenes to boost its efficacy—isolated CBD is still an effective therapeutic remedy for most mainstream consumers. CBD isolates are also ideal for those limited in what they can consume because of local laws or drug testing requirements at work. Properly extracted CBD isolates should not trigger a positive result on a drug test since cannabis screenings almost exclusively look for THC metabolites.
Correct extraction techniques are still required to successfully harness CBD, so from a cost point of view, the investment will be similar for companies specialising in either isolates or full spectrum products. However, it is just as easy to get isolates wrong, so the same rules apply when it comes to verifying the capability of a company before any significant investment.
With the added benefit of the entourage effect, full spectrum products will always be preferable to isolates, at least according to most researchers and industry progressives. As long as products adhere to regulatory limits regarding THC concentration, they will be legal to buy in most consumer markets. However, there will always be situations where isolates are more suitable. Choosing between isolates or full spectrum will come down to a user’s specific circumstances. Given that the need for isolates is unlikely to disappear altogether—even if THC becomes legal on a global scale—diversification in product ranges is a smart move for any investor.
1. Gallily, R. , Yekhtin, Z. and Hanuš, L. (2015) Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol. Pharmacology & Pharmacy, 6, 75-85. LINK