Learn More About Extraction Processes
Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolate refer to types of cannabis extracts, also called concentrates.
The terms are intended to indicate the amount of plant-produced therapeutic chemicals present in addition to the primary cannabinoids (CBD and/or THC); they are a shorthand way of conveying the diversity of bioactive material in a given extract.
To understand the relevance of phytochemical diversity to product development, why these terms were coined, and how they may be interpreted today, we must first explain the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the Entourage Effect.
The Endocannabinooid System
The ECS is a network of neurotransmitters, their receptors and enzymes. It is present in all extant vertebrate species and some insects. This system plays a critical role in almost every regulatory function of our bodies.
Today’s consumers are becoming more curious about which cannabis options work best for them and why. There is a lot of information out there, easily accessible through a Google search, but most consumers do not have the time or inclination to deep-dive into cannabis
science; they just want to know what they can expect.
The ECS is as unique as a fingerprint; everyone is different, and trial and error is inherent in the journey toward optimization. However, the chemicals produced in the plant alongside cannabinoids have more predictable and well-studied effects than the cannabinoids
What does full spectrum mean?
Full-spectrum extracts, often called whole plant extracts, maintain the full profile of the cannabis plant. They contain a variety of cannabinoids, including THC, THCa, CBD, CBDa, CBG, and CBN, as well as terpenes and other compounds such as flavonoids, proteins, phenols, sterols, and esters. True Full Spectrum extracts are rarer than one might expect; most extractions lose significant terpenes and flavonoids during processing because they
are much more volatile than cannabinoids. Ethanol and very low heat (the RSO method or whole plant oil), or an extremely long vacuum extraction process can yield Full Spectrum extracts. Full Spectrum extracts tend to be quite dark in color, and their flavors can be described as earthy and vegetal.
Are there different types of full spectrum extractions?
High terpene full-spectrum extract (HTFSE)
The extraction process for this product is designed to yield a high level of terpenes, sometimes up to 40%. It is viscous and clear with a consistency similar to honey. Some HTFSEs are labelled as “sauce” or “terp sauce,” names that indicate the high terpene content. However, not all sauce is full-spectrum.
High cannabinoid full-spectrum extract (HCFSE)
For HCFSE, processes are tweaked so that the final product has a high cannabinoid concentration. The result is a crystalline structure, similar to sugar or diamonds.
Although HTFSE and HCFSE can be produced from the same plant, they are both considered full-spectrum extracts since they still contain the full roster of desirable compounds present in the raw material, albeit at different levels.
Broad Spectrum applies to extractions that aim to retain a large complement of phytochemicals without the THC, which allows for some Entourage Effect action. Hemp, defined as cannabis plants containing less than .3% THC, forms the basis for most Broad Spec extracts. Broad Spectrum can also be created by either adding terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids to CBD isolate or by removing THC from Full Spectrum extract via distillation. Compared to Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum extracts are slightly lighter in color, and while their flavor profiles are similar, they are not as hemp-forward and bold.
Distillate takes the opposite approach of Full Spectrum, seeking to remove everything but the cannabinoid(s) of interest. After undergoing solvent extraction, the concentrated oil is run through the short-path distillation process described above, often multiple times, to purify it.
Some suppliers will advertise “Full Spectrum distillate” but this is contradictory. If terpenes or other bioactives are reintroduced after distillation, the product is sometimes also called Broad Spectrum.
Isolate is the purest form of extracted cannabinoids, a crystalline powder with a purity of 99.9%. It is created through additional solvent processes after distillation. The additional processing steps are expensive, but due to the extreme purity of the final product, cheaper crude extracts can be used as starting material without concern for residues.