Friday, September 29, 2023
Full Spectrum vs Distillate Cannabis Oils

Photography by Matthew Bourgeois

Full Spectrum vs Distillate Cannabis Oils

I think it’s fair to say that everyone on the face of this earth is different and experiences life differently. Even identical twins, genetic carbon copies, end up being very different people. It is also the case that we each have our own endocannabinoid system, and therefore process and experience the effects of the plant differently in our bodies. We all have very different preferences for things too, based on our differences in sensory processing. Some people, for example, are extremely sensitive to smell and taste, while others are not. 


I can admit that I’m still learning about the pros and cons of the wide range of concentrated oil products available to consumers today, so I will attempt to convey my understanding of the differences between these two types of approaches to converting the plant in to a concentrated oil. Given the fact that our opinions are all so different, I’ll discuss some of the benefits and limitations of each type in as fact based a manner as possible. 


What is Distillate? 


Distillate is cannabis oil that has been refined and split into a cannabinoid-dominant fraction. This means the plant goes through extensive processing in a laboratory environment to produce a specific subset of compounds (e.g., cannabinoids).


How is distillate made?


The main three extraction processes for making distillate include the use of ethanol, hydrocarbon, or CO2. Raw cannabis oils are winterized, or made to be really cold, so waxes can be removed through vacuum filtration. The refined cannabis oil is then run through a distillation system to separate out various parts based on the weight of their molecules. Distillation just means the process of heating things up and cooling them down to refine them. The product resulting from this process is what is sold in vape cartridges. 


The pros and cons of cannabis distillate:

Pros of Distillate

Cons of Distillate

--Ultra-high potency oil is produced for patients who need it.

--high potency means it’s easier to overdo your dose for beginners

--Relative to full spectrum its inexpensive to produce

--high THC content can trigger anxiety and paranoia for some people

--Can be made from low-potency material, like trim (however, whole flower run materials generally make better medications)

--don’t experience Entourage Effect of a full spectrum oil, because you’re limiting the compounds in the oil 

--Distillate oil can easily be combined with artificial flavorings to mask a taste or standardize a product—which could be good for people with taste, or odor sensitivities. 

--some people don’t like the taste, particularly of an isolate.


How is full-spectrum cannabis oil made?


Full-spectrum cannabis oil can be made a variety of different ways. Extreme pressure can be used as in the case of a rosin press. Ethanol extraction is very popular, as well as Supercritical CO2 extraction. Extraction conditions for supercritical carbon dioxide are above the critical temperature of 31 °C and critical pressure of 74 bar (metric unit of pressure). 


Pros of Full Spectrum Oils

Cons of Full Spectrum Oils

--greater likelihood of experiencing the Entourage Effect. 

--requires large quantities of high potency flower to produce a small amount of oil.

--full spectrum oils possess the myriad of beneficial compounds found in the plant. 



In closing, both of these processes for manufacturing cannabis oils have pros and cons. It is clear that we don’t have all the information about the benefits of different process for different therapies. From a consumer choice perspective, the fact that we have some many options for medication types and delivery systems is important by itself. 


It does seem pretty clear from the research that is out there, that in order to get the most out of the medication, in terms of it’s healing properties, a full spectrum oil is best for long term, regular use. For episodic, or as needed, fast acting use, a distillate derivative may have its place in someone’s line up of medications. These, however, should be a matter of personal preference, based on what works best for you individually and informed by a medical professional.