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Full Spectrum vs Distillate: A Complete Guide

Capturing the beneficial compounds in cannabis has long been a source of fascination to cannabis cultivators and experts. In recent years, extraction technology has advanced significantly. We’ve rapidly progressed beyond tinctures formed using solvent extraction methods to processes such as supercritical CO2 extraction. 

In other words, there are many techniques available to draw the potent chemical compounds from this powerhouse plant. However, while there are many proverbial ways to skin a cat (so to speak), not all extraction methods yield the same benefits or effects for the consumer. Understanding how extraction technique affects the final product is important in helping you understand the kinds of effects you can expect.

One of the most critical distinctions to understand is the difference between full-spectrum products and those formulated using distillate. 

Let’s explore how these two extraction types differ.

What Is Full-Spectrum Extract?

The cannabis plant produces more than 550 compounds (that we know of!). Full spectrum extracts, also known as whole plant extracts, aim to capture and preserve all the beneficial compounds present in the plant. These botanically rich extracts contain major cannabinoids (THC, CBD), minor cannabinoids (such as CBG, CBC, CBN), terpenes, flavonoids, phenols, sterols, esters, and more. Each cannabis cultivar (or strain, as they are commonly called) produces a unique chemical profile, the expression of which is greatly influenced by genes and the environment in which it grows.

Full-spectrum extracts aim to safeguard all the beneficial compounds that contribute to the unique therapeutic properties of the plant and influence the smell and flavor of the plant. In short, the consumer experiences the plant as close to its natural form as possible.

The Entourage Effect

There’s another unique benefit of full-spectrum extracts too, however. By preserving the full complement of phytocompounds present in the cannabis plant, these compounds can interact, creating a unique synergy known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect has been researched at length by cannabis researchers and experts and is substantiated by evidence suggesting that the various components of the plant work together to create an outcome that is more than the sum of its parts. 

Leading cannabis researcher Ethan Russo, MD, provides evidence for the entourage effect. He references one study, for example, that showed that 71% of epileptic patients improved with CBD-rich cannabis extracts vs. 36% who consumed purified CBD. He also cites other research that shows that patients who consume full-spectrum extracts experience enhanced effects with far smaller doses and a lower likelihood of unwanted side effects.  

However, despite the wealth of advantages associated with full-spectrum extracts, their formulation poses unique challenges. The aim of the game is to protect and extract all of their medicinally beneficial compounds while removing the plant lipids and waxes that don’t contribute to their therapeutic, flavor, or aromatic benefits. 

This balancing act is delicate–the refinement process that extracts the desirable compounds and leaves behind unwanted waxes and lipids can also harm the volatile terpenes and flavonoids. Ensuring that terpenes are present in the formulation is critical, however, as some experts believe terpenes play a fundamental role in kicking off the entourage effect.

What Is Distillate?

Distillates are highly purified cannabis products that usually contain one cannabinoid, like CBD or THC, in high concentrations. These concentrates are created by subjecting raw cannabis material to an extensive distillation process, like fractional distillation, which systematically eliminates all compounds except for one specific cannabinoid. The resulting product is a translucent, flavorless and odorless golden distillate oil or hardened slab that can be used to form the base of a range of cannabis products, such as edibles or vape liquid.

The most common distillates are THC distillate and CBD distillate. Distillates are desirable because they are very versatile and can also be super potent–some distillate products claim to be 99% pure THC, for example. While this potency is ideal for consumers seeking a pure and powerful experience of a particular cannabinoid, distillate products generally don’t smell, taste, or deliver an experience akin to full-spectrum cannabis. They lack the array of diverse phytocompounds present in the plant that contribute to its therapeutic effects, aroma, and flavor. Some distillate products have terpenes added later in the process, although it’s questionable whether the medicinal properties remain as the original terpene profile of the plant has been altered.

It’s also helpful to know that while distillates are generally oil products, not all cannabis oils are automatically distillates. Some cannabis oils are full-spectrum oils or tinctures. Cannabis oil is only a distillate if all other compounds present in the plant (with the exception of a single cannabinoid) have been stripped.

What Is the Difference Between Full-Spectrum and Distillate?

There are a number of significant distinctions that distinguish full-spectrum and distillate products. Here are some of the most fundamental differences:

  • Full-spectrum products contain up to 110 active cannabinoids (although many are in trace quantities). Distillate products contain a single cannabinoid in a very high concentration.
  • Cannabis distillates have to undergo an extensive process of additional refinement and purification. Full-spectrum extracts do not require multiple stages of refinement–the only compounds that are removed are waxes and lipids.
  • The cannabinoid profile and terpene content in full-spectrum extracts can mean these compounds can work in symphony to create unique therapeutic benefits, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. Distillates, on the other hand, do not contain this array of naturally occurring plant compounds.
  • Distillates are capable of producing far more potent products than full-spectrum extracts, so are preferred by people seeking a specific effect from a single cannabinoid (i.e. an intoxicating high from THC.) 
  • Distillates tend to be more cost-effective than full-spectrum extracts. Distillates can be created using different parts of the cannabis plant, such as trim, which can render distillate products more affordable. However, the creation of full-spectrum oil is generally a more time-consuming, expensive production process. Full-spectrum oil products are also made from cannabis flowers.
  • Full-spectrum extracts are more flavorful than distillates since distillates have aromatic compounds, like terpenes, removed. Vape carts, for example, often use a distillate that has a synthetic or naturally derived aroma or flavor added.
  • Distillates are commonly available as an oil or in a slab, which cannabis manufacturers then infuse into vapes, edibles, or dropper bottles. Full-spectrum oils can be infused into tinctures, capsules, pills, beverages, and even body products. Consumers can also purchase full spectrum live resin or rosin.
  • Full spectrum products may require lower doses than distillate and may also be less likely to cause unwanted effects, due to the beneficial synergistic effect of diverse plant compounds.

Should I Choose a Distillate or Full Spectrum Product?

If you’re wondering whether you should opt for full-spectrum or distillate products, it’s essential to first determine your wellness goals and lifestyle. Factors such as a need to avoid THC may also influence your decision.

Individuals seeking a holistic, whole-plant experience should ideally opt for full-spectrum products. These products may be more expensive than distillates but may not require as high doses to achieve the intended effects, so your supply can last longer.

Those seeking a potent effect from a single cannabinoid may be better suited to select distillate products. Distillates may also be suited to those on a budget. For athletes or individuals seeking a CBD-rich experience that is free of THC, distillates are also preferable. Properly formulated CBD distillate is a pure product, so will not show up in drug tests for THC. However, there are also broad-spectrum products that contain the full complement of phytocompounds without any THC.

Full-Spectrum CBD Products from High Falls Hemp

Here at High Falls Hemp, we’ve carefully crafted and curated a range of full-spectrum edibles (in delicious gummy format, tinctures and softgels) so you can enjoy the benefits of whole-plant cannabis. Our full-spectrum range contains less than 0.3% THC, so it won’t get you high and is in accordance with the federal 2018 Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp products containing 0.3% THC or less. We also have a full-spectrum CBD terpene tincture that can further enhance the effects of our full-spectrum extracts. For those who wish to avoid THC, High Falls Hemp also boasts a broad-spectrum tincture that offers whole-plant benefits with zero THC.

We fully stand behind our full-spectrum products because we oversee every aspect of cultivation, harvest, formulation, and manufacture. A C02 extraction process is used to draw the beneficial plant compounds from the hemp plant, ridding the product of unwanted waxes and lipids. All our products undergo three rounds of independent lab testing to ensure that you receive the unique benefits of whole-plant extracts. Our lab reports reveal the cannabinoid content of each product along with the terpene levels, so you know exactly which powerhouse phytocompounds are in your full-spectrum formulation.