Whole plant cannabis oil
Most of us are familiar with CBD and THC. When it comes to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, these two natural compounds receive most of the attention. In particular, CBD oil is making headlines as the biggest trend in health and wellness.
Despite this, the cannabis plant contains hundreds of active components that contribute to its medical effects. In fact, these compounds are so important that the synergy between them has been dubbed the “entourage effect” by researchers.
How does this synergy work? How do CBD and THC contribute? How can you benefit from this effect by using whole-plant cannabis preparations? Here’s your starter guide to unlocking the potential medical benefits of whole-plant cannabis.
What Is the Entourage Effect?
The entourage effect is the complex synergy between all of the different components of cannabis, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds.
Thanks to this synergy, whole-plant cannabis preparations produce greater benefits than isolated THC or CBD on their own.
Think of the entourage effect as an orchestra. Individual musical instruments such as the violin or piano are certainly great to listen to on their own. But when combined together in an orchestra, they produce a cohesive sound that’s more harmonious and pleasant than any instrument by itself.
Similarly, when you combine all of the active components of cannabis, their beneficial effects are greater than the sum of their parts.
Cannabinoids and the Entourage Effect
Cannabinoids are a class of compounds that are largely responsible for the medical benefits of cannabis. While cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most abundant, there are well over 100 different cannabinoids. In addition, the human body produces several of its own endocannabinoids.
The best example of the entourage effect is the synergy between CBD and THC. When taken on its own, THC gives users a “marijuana high” — the psychoactive effect that is commonly associated with cannabis use. It also may cause unwanted side effects such as anxiety and paranoia.
But when you pair the two cannabinoids together, CBD reduces these side effects. But that’s not all: CBD also enhances THC’s potential medical benefits, such as reduction of pain and inflammation, and adds some of its own unique bonuses, like possible antidepressant effects.
However, this is just one example of cannabinoid synergy. Cannabis contains dozens of different cannabinoids with distinct health benefits, which means there are countless other ways they can work together to enhance each other’s effects.
Cannabinoids and Terpenes
Another major component of the entourage effect is the synergy between cannabinoids and terpenes. Terpenes are a class of natural compounds found in a wide variety of plants, including cannabis. They not only have unique aromas but also come with distinct health effects.
For example, the terpene limonene, which is also found in lemons, has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties, among other health benefits.
There are hundreds of terpenes in cannabis, such as linalool, limonene, and pinene. Together with differences in THC-to-CBD ratios, terpene variations are responsible for the existence of many different cannabis strains with different flavors and effects.
The great thing about terpenes is that they’re not only beneficial by themselves but also work together with cannabinoids. For example, many terpenes improve the passage of compounds across the blood-brain barrier. This makes it easier for cannabinoids such as THC to enter the brain, enhancing their therapeutic effects.
Research on the interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes is only beginning, but findings such as these highlight their beneficial synergy.
How to Harness the Entourage Effect
It’s clear that the cannabis entourage effect is beneficial to our health, but how do we best make use of it? The answer is simple: opt for whole-plant cannabis preparations instead of those made with isolated THC or CBD.
Such preparations are usually described as full-spectrum. This means they contain the complete range of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds naturally present in cannabis.
Full-spectrum cannabis extracts are quite different from products made with pure CBD or THC. Such products, typically called isolates, are popular with the pharmaceutical industry, which has produced several THC- and CBD-only drugs.
Although they do have some benefits, especially in the treatment of specific, difficult-to-treat conditions such as drug-resistant epilepsy, isolates are less effective than whole-plant cannabis medicines. They require larger doses and have a higher incidence of unwanted side effects.
The bottom line is that if you want to get the most health benefits out of cannabis, you should always go with products made from the whole plant rather than just THC or CBD on their own.
CBD and the Entourage Effect
Alongside THC, CBD is the other most abundant cannabinoid. However, unlike its psychoactive cousin, CBD does not cause any mind-altering, intoxicating effects.
One of the most popular ways to benefit from the entourage effect is to use tinctures containing full-spectrum CBD oil. These tinctures are made by extracting oil from the stalks, stems, leaves, and flowers of hemp — a variety of cannabis that contains extremely low levels of THC (0.3% or less).
This small amount of THC enhances CBD’s benefits but isn’t big enough to cause psychoactive effects.
CBD oil and other CBD products such as capsules, creams, lotions, edibles, and vape e-liquids are growing increasingly popular because they offer the complete benefits of the cannabis entourage effect without any of the intoxication.
This isn’t surprising when we consider how many people want to use cannabis specifically for its medical rather than recreational effects.
Whole-Plant Cannabis Works Best
The idea of making drugs containing one main active ingredient was invented by the modern pharmaceutical industry. It stands in stark contrast to using whole-plant medicines, which is how our ancestors successfully used cannabis and other natural remedies for thousands of years.
Now, thanks to scientific research, we have proof that this historical practice is better due to the entourage effect. For example, studies show that full-spectrum CBD extracts work better than isolated CBD for improving the treatment of seizures.
If you want to improve your health by using cannabis — whether it’s CBD oil, a smoked cannabis strain, or something else — whole-plant, full-spectrum preparations are the ideal choice.
For more information on the entourage effect and the medicinal properties of whole-plant cannabis, always check with a physician.
The Entourage Effect: How can you benefit by using whole-plant cannabis preparations? Here’s your starter guide to unlocking the potential benefits of THC & CBD.
Advances in Whole Plant Cannabis Extraction
Cannabis extracts are quickly becoming more popular across the legal cannabis market. As the product offering expands and the use of these products becomes more mainstream, focus is slowly shifting away from whether consumers might use these products, and towards the question of exactly which ones a consumer should choose.
While some manufacturers are creating products with the purest CBD extract, or the most potent THC extract, others are taking a more holistic approach to extract making.
What are whole plant extracts?
Cannabinoid extracts are normally made using the flower, which is the part of the plant that contains the trichome resin glands that produce the sought-after cannabinoids. By sticking to the flower and the bud, processors are more easily able to isolate and purify individual cannabinoids of interest, and package them ready for use.
In contrast, whole plant cannabis extracts are made from the flower and the leaves of the cannabis plant. Whole plant cannabis extraction is normally done in order to produce a full-spectrum cannabis extract – one that contains more minor cannabinoids, such as cannabinol (CBN) and cannabigerol (CBG).
Depending on the extraction method used , whole plant extraction is sometimes able to preserve the terpenes and flavonoids produced by the cannabis plant, which can give the extract more of a cannabis-like flavor. This can be appealing to recreational consumers who want to feel more closely connected to the cannabis culture despite not wishing to actually smoke the drug.
But more importantly than enhancing the flavor, producers of full-spectrum cannabis extracts will talk of the “ entourage effect ” caused by the presence of pharmacologically active minor cannabinoids and terpenes with CBD and/or THC. The entourage effect is the name given to the synergy observed in multiple studies where a combination of CBD and THC, or a combination of major and minor cannabinoids or terpenes, is able to cause a medicinal effect that is far greater than the sum of its parts. For example, some studies show that past a certain dosage the effectiveness of pure CBD as a medical treatment reaches a state of diminishing returns ; in contrast, when using CBD combined with other cannabinoids and terpenes, this reduction isn’t seen to the same extent. At least in theory, then, this makes full-spectrum or whole plant cannabis extracts interesting from a medicinal use perspective.
How are whole plant extracts made?
Preserving as many of the terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids as possible during cannabis extraction, as is often desired by those doing whole plant extraction, is a tricky business.
Terpenes are highly volatile molecules and will degrade readily when exposed to more than mild heat. As a result, extraction methods such as alcohol extraction are almost totally unsuitable, as the heat needed to boil the solvent during the extraction process will damage the terpenes.
Supercritical CO2 extraction is a popular choice for whole plant extraction, as it’s capable of producing a high-quality full spectrum extract using a low heat and no dangerous solvents.
In a typical supercritical CO2 extraction , CO2 gas is turned into a supercritical fluid using a high pressure system. This supercritical CO2 can then be passed over the cannabis plant material, which acts like a solvent to draw out the oils and waxes from the plant. The resulting extract retains much of the cannabis plant’s original chemical profile, including the more minor terpenes and cannabinoids.
Trends in whole plant extraction
Now the companies that produce these whole plant and full-spectrum extracts are having to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors by creating their own unique approaches to extraction.
For companies like Heylo , a Seattle-based cannabis extract producer, this has meant moving away from cannabis extracts that are optimized for super-high THC levels, and towards a more natural extract that aims to be as close to the plant as possible.
“Every extraction method has unique advantages and drawbacks,” explained Lo Friesen , the founder and CEO of Heylo, to Analytical Cannabis in June.
“Our proprietary method, which we call RawX, aims to retain as much of the plant’s original chemical profile as possible. This stems from a philosophy that the best cannabis extracts are the ones that are the ‘closest’ to the actual flower. The method has two fundamental steps: source high quality material, and respect it at every stage of extraction.”
Key to the RawX proprietary method is a supercritical CO2 extraction, done under relatively low pressures and temperatures, over a long period of time. It aimed to minimize the amount of post-processing that needs to be done to the product following the CO2 extraction.
As well as being useful for the creation of full-spectrum extracts, whole plant extraction is also being used to manufacture the latest trend in cannabis extracts, ” broad-spectrum extracts .”
These extracts are similar to full-spectrum extracts, but with one key difference: no THC. These extracts aim to offer themselves as an alternative to pure CBD isolate, which can still boast all the medicinal effects of CBD taken in combination with the more minor cannabinoids, but with none of the intoxicating effects of THC.
Big Sky Botanicals is one of the many brands now manufacturing broad-spectrum CBD extract. Their process begins with either supercritical CO2 or ethanol extraction being used to produce a full-spectrum cannabis extract from whole plant hemp . This extract can then be processed further using a unique chromatography process to filter all detectable THC out of the extract.
Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds an MChem in materials chemistry from the University of St Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie Scholarship and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.
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Advances in Whole Plant Cannabis Extraction Cannabis extracts are quickly becoming more popular across the legal cannabis market. As the product offering expands and the use of these products