The Full Spectrum vs. Isolate Challenge

Let me start by saying that I’m a believer in full spectrum cannabinoid medicine. Research shows that cannabinoid therapies are more effective and well-tolerated when delivered in their native phytochemical state. Cannabis plants contain more than 500 potentially therapeutic bioactive compounds, the synergy of which is called the Entourage Effect. However, not everyone is using cannabis to treat specific medical conditions, as is the case in most research studies. There are significant challenges to consider when creating full spectrum products at scale. Moreover, “full spectrum” doesn’t have an industry agreed-upon definition; there are no chemical diversity minimums and no regulatory body overseeing these claims. As our industry matures, producers will have to strike a tough balance between standardization and efficacy.

SōRSE’s emulsion technology can accommodate either full/broad spectrum or distillate/isolate. How do you make the right choice for the product(s) you want to make? First, let’s define some terms: 

Full Spectrum means a maximum amount of helpful native phytochemicals are retained during extraction. There are no precise regulatory definitions, but the goal is to remove extraneous lipids while retaining an identical ratio of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids from the original plant source material. (This can only be verified by testing the material before and after the extraction.) True full spectrum extracts are more rare than one might expect; most extractions lose significant terpenes and flavonoids during processing. Live resin is the ultimate articulation of full spectrum reasoning. Derived from fresh-frozen cannabis, it creates an extract without first drying and curing the cannabis flowers. On average, the result contains more than twice the terpene percentage of butane hash oil.

Broad Spectrum applies to CBD extractions which aim to retain a large complement of phytochemicals, but remove the THC. This compromise allows for some Entourage Effect action without the stigma and intoxication that accompanies cannabis’ most notorious component. Broad spectrum can be created by either adding terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids to CBD isolate or by removing THC from full spectrum CBD extract.  

Distillate takes quite the opposite approach of full spectrum, seeking to remove everything but the cannabinoid(s). After undergoing solvent extraction, the concentrated oil is run through a short-path machine multiple times to purify it. Distillate potency is very high, ranging from approximately 85% to 97%.

Isolate is the purest form of extracted cannabinoids, a crystalline powder with a purity of 99.9%. Currently only CBD and THCA isolates are available.

Both full and broad spectrum concentrates offer the benefits of the Entourage Effect. CBD is a weak actor on its own, but its action can be amplified with other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and sterols. If your CBD product is relatively low-dose, having a diversity of phytochemicals is even more important. Beyond their potential therapeutic effects, all these minor players also give cannabis its depth, creating a symphony of flavor and smell, and ultimately making the bitterness of cannabinoid extracts more palatable. 

However, even a pleasant symphony of flavors can have a strong personality; it will never be a neutral canvas onto which flavor scientists can project their artistry. Rather, it is a dominating flavor of its own — and one that changes with every batch of extract. In emulsions, the diversity of chemicals, each with slightly different weights, is also a challenge. Full and broad spectrum extracts are wild cards, and in large-scale commercial applications, the variability that makes them beautiful also make them unpredictable to flavor. 

By contrast, distillates and isolates offer consistency and standardization; they are a known quantity. Without much personality of their own, we can use a wider variety of flavorings to make the formulation really shine, and they are far more consistent in emulsions (as long as you supplier is reliable). The consumer can also expect the same effects and sensory experience every time. 

Choosing the correct starting material for product development is a careful balance of values. For most commercial purposes, purer extracts are desirable because they allow producers to standardize and iterate based on known, reliable effects. However, for the more medically-focused, the benefits of a fuller complement of phytochemicals are worth the variability. At SōRSE, we have often tried to strike a balance between standardization and efficacy. Many of our products are what I like to call “Designer Spectrum” — they reconstruct the phytochemical profile block by block to yield a consistent but fully articulated product –similar to molecular gastronomy, but for cannabis.

Regardless of what base extract you use, SōRSE’s emulsion technology can make your products more palatable, reliable, and consistent. Book a call with us if you want to learn more.

Chelsea Cebara

Chelsea Cebara

Chelsea Cebara is a Product Developer and Brand Manager for the cannabis-infused sexual lubricant, Velvet Swing. She teaches Sex & Cannabis workshops and is constantly on a quest to put out information about the confluence of sexuality and cannabis.