The therapeutic properties of cannabis have been touted by the scientific community for decades. But only recently have cannabis extracts like CBD become a mainstream product in American culture, perhaps fueled by wellness trends and the rising availability of white label vape pens.
A lot of people now understand that CBD—the psychoactive compound in marijuana that doesn’t get you high—is a safe and effective treatment for a variety of physical and psychological ailments.
What many people don’t understand, however, is that if you’re looking to maximize the benefits derived from CBD (or any other cannabis component), your best bet is to keep the herb’s natural composition intact. This is where the term “full spectrum” applies.
What Does Full Spectrum Mean?
First let’s take a minute to recognize what cannabis extracts bring to the table. An extract is a liquid supplement containing one or more ingredients that have been isolated and concentrated. Typically the process involves submerging the plant in alcohol until the desired ingredients are removed. At this point the plant material is filtered out, resulting in a highly concentrated liquid.
Most extracts on the market contain only one or two of marijuana’s active constituents; for example, CBD plus some terpenes. Full spectrum extracts, on the other hand, feature the whole kit and caboodle. The upshot is a liquid product that delivers all of the flavors and effects we expect from the cannabis flower. Hence the expression “full spectrum.”
The many constituents of cannabis
Cannabis is most famous for its high, and understandably so: THC is a potent psychoactive compound that has plenty to offer from both a medicinal and recreational point of view. But THC is just one of countless ingredients—e.g., cannabinoids, terpenes, flavinoids, etc.— that combine to make cannabis the versatile and dynamic plant that it is.
Take terpenes, for instance. Cannabis contains hundreds of these organic hydrocarbons, which are responsible for the herb’s characteristic smell and taste. They also lend cannabis some of its therapeutic benefits. For example, myrcene, the most abundant terpene in cannabis, is proven to relieve chronic pain and inflammation.
The entourage effect
You can’t have a discussion about full spectrum cannabis extracts without mentioning the entourage effect. This term refers to the way in which the various components in marijuana complement each other to produce an overall experience for the user. If some of these ingredients are absent, the plant’s effects are inevitably going to be dampened.
Imagine trying to play a baseball game without a second baseman or left fielder. Your team can still perform, but only to a limited extent. The absence of those key players is going to be felt on the field and reflected on the scoreboard. The same logic applies to cannabis: to perform at its full potential, it needs all its players on the field.
There are scientific studies supporting the concept of the entourage effect. One of these, published in Frontiers in Neurology, compared the effectiveness of two CBD concentrates in treating epilepsy: purified CBD and a CBD-rich extract. The researchers found that the CBD-rich extract, which included terpenes and other cannabis components, provided more symptom relief and caused fewer side effects.
Whether you’re after a powerful high or maximum therapeutic relief, full spectrum extracts can deliver the goods in a way that other extracts can’t. Check to see if you can sample one the next time you visit your local marijuana dispensary.