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What are full spectrum cannabis extracts?

07/23/2020 full-spectrum

We’ve discussed the language of the modern cannabis movement in previous posts. One item that has been left ambiguous is the full spectrum extract. If you’ve spent much time in dispensaries or have read up on the cannabis industry, chances are that you’ve heard of full spectrum and/or broad spectrum cannabis extracts. These types of concentrates may seem similar, but they’re subtle differences can make or break a cannabis experience depending on the goal of the person consuming them. 

What’s the difference?

To put it simply, full-spectrum extracts contain all of the plant’s present cannabinoids including THC, CBD, CBG, CNG, CBC, and of course, all of the plant’s yummy terpenes. Most concentrates sold in dispensaries are full spectrum. Broad spectrum extracts are similar to full spectrum, but are often missing the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. More often than not, a CBD extract will be labeled as broad spectrum since the THC content would be below .3%. In a way Isolates are the complete opposite of full or broad spectrum extracts. Isolates are pure versions of a single cannabinoid and are devoid of any other cannabinoids or terpenes. Isolates are often found in a powder form. 


Why choose full spectrum extracts?

In general full-spectrum extracts are much more flavorful and provide a full bodied experience due to the entourage effect. “The entourage effect” was coined by Israeli chemist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. The term refers to all of the plant’s present cannabinoids working synergistically to provide a complete effect. Whole plant extraction has gained popularity for this exact reason. It is widely known that THC and CBD work well together, but they are only two pieces of the entire cannabis experience. Each cannabinoid has its own benefits, and so do terpenes. Some terpenes are anti-inflammatory, calming, or uplifting. The entire plant can offer more than isolated THC or CBD. 


How are full-spectrum extracts made?

There are multiple ways to make high quality full spectrum extracts. Each method comes with its own list of pluses and minuses, but in the end it’s up to the individual to determine what method they prefer. Some of the plant’s terpenes are lost during the drying and curing process which is why true and pure full spectrum extracts can be difficult to make.


Supercritical CO2

CO2 extraction is a popular method of making full spectrum concentrates. CO2 begins to turn into a liquid at and above 73psi. Supercritical CO2 maintains the viscosity of a gas, but the density of a liquid. CO2 in a supercritical state does a great job at penetrating the pores of the cannabis plant and extracting all of the cannabinoids without leaving behind any residual solvents after the extract is filtered. One problem with CO2 extraction is that it also extracts lipids and waxes along with the cannabinoids. After the initial extraction the undesirable components have to be removed while preserving the precious cannabinoids. This process is called winterization where the oil is mixed with a cold solvent such as ethanol to separate the waxes and lipids. Once the unwanted plant material is removed the additional solvent must be removed as well. 


Hydrocarbon extraction

Hydrocarbon extraction is by far the most popular method of extraction in the modern cannabis industry. It makes high quality extracts such as wax, shatter, and live resin.These extracts are made by packing cannabis into a tube and running either butane, propane, or a mixture of the two through the plat matter. Cold hydrocarbon is washed over the plant matter which dissolves the terpenes and cannabinoids. When done correctly, hydrocarbon extraction extracts almost no unwanted plant matter such as chlorophyll, waxes, or lipids. The extracts are still winterized to remove what unwanted plant matter does make its way into the extract. For the sake of safety, the residual solvents are purged from the final product. The purging method will depend on the desired end product. To make shatter, the oil is poured onto a sheet pan and baked at a low temperature for 24-48 hours. Wax is made by whipping the oil on a heated surface. 


Solventless extraction

Many argue that solventless extraction is the most pure version of cannabis concentrates. No chemicals are used in extracting the cannabinoids and nothing has to be used to remove the unwanted plant material. Rosin relies on two main factors, heat and pressure. Flower or keef (dry sift) are pressed between two heated plates. The oils inside the plant liquify when heated and the pressure squeezes the rosin from the plant. Rosin tends to be more expensive than CO2 or hydrocarbon extracts because it is important to press top quality cannabis in order to create a quality rosin. Another factor that influences the cost of rosin is that the yield tends to be smaller.  


How do I find full spectrum extracts?

There is no doubt that the language of cannabis products can be tricky. Many companies will market their products to seem more pure than they actually are. There are a few key elements to look for when purchasing a high quality concentrate. 

  • Full-plant extraction

The term fill-plant extraction is a great indicator that all of the plant’s cannabinoids are present in the concentrate. 

  • Look for full-spectrum

Not all full-spectrum extracts will promote it on the label, but the ones that do are usually serious about the quality of their cannabinoid content. Talk to your budtender about what full-spectrum extracts are in stock. That will be a great place to start when searching for your new favorite extraction company. 

  • Do your homework

Budtenders are well-educated in each product in their store, and can make some amazing recommendations. The only fallback is that your needs in a concentrate might be different from theirs. It will take more work, but it’s a good idea to research different extraction companies to determine if their products meet your specific standards. 





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