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Are Whole Plant Extracts More Effective Than Single Cannabinoids?

Whole plant—or full spectrum—products contain all the beneficial components found in the cannabis plant. Research shows that naturally complex whole plant extracts are likely more effective than single isolated cannabinoids because they leverage the entourage effect and minimise the bell-shaped curve response.

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The universe of cannabis derivatives and concentrates keeps expanding, and cannabis science is expanding its knowledge as well. Over the last decades, research has consistently displayed the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids. Along the way, researchers stumbled upon an intriguing realisation that a complex extract of cannabis compounds appears more medicinally effective than a single cannabinoid in isolation. This is where the “whole plant” concept begins.

Fruits and veggies contain a multitude of biochemical compounds in addition to the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. Simply said, the reason it is much better to consume these vitamins via fruit, as opposed to a capsule, for example, is because all these natural elements work together to enhance their individual effects—after all, Mother Nature prepared this nutrient-rich package for a reason! When we need some extra vitamins, there’s nothing wrong with taking supplements, just like there’s nothing wrong with pure THC or CBD. However, it appears that whole plant extracts, whether in the form of fruit juice or CBD oil, are generally more effective.

THE COMPLEXITY OF CANNABIS COMPOUNDS

The cannabis plant contains over 400 chemical compounds including THC, CBD, CBN, and other cannabinoids. Moreover, terpenes, not cannabinoids, are the volatile substances that give flavour to the flower and provide us with some beneficial properties that enhance the medicinal effect of cannabinoids. Plus, flavonoids, fatty acids, proteins, enzymes, and sugars are all present in whole plant matter, eventually playing a role in further enhancing the plant’s medical efficacy.

The research mentioned below, together with other studies and anecdotal accounts, is today challenging the misconception that botanical extracts are less effective and harder to dose than single-molecule cannabinoids, usually produced by Big Pharma. It’s all because of the “entourage effect” and the “bell-shaped curve” effect.

THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT

“Entourage effect” is a term frequently used to describe the medicinal result of a combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other minor cannabis compounds inside the body. A famous study [1] by Ethan Russo on the medical synergies among various cannabis components ushered in a new era of research on cannabis as a beneficial yet intricate phytocomplex. This and other studies also found that CBD contained in a full spectrum extract is able to antagonise THC, limiting its binding affinity to CB1 receptors in the brain, thus lessening its intoxicating effects while still providing relief from pain and inflammation.

As a result of these findings, researchers started experimenting with different THC:CBD ratios, and with combinations of other cannabinoids. Furthermore, scientists began to realise the pharmacological properties of terpenes and the significant role they play in the entourage effect. In fact, researchers are now striving to address the specific role of terpenes [1] in cannabis preparations. Different cannabis chemotypes have distinct terpene profiles that generate a diverse range of whole plant extracts, resulting in slightly different effects on the body and mind.

CBD-rich extracts containing a variety of plant compounds also seem to present a better therapeutic profile than single-molecule CBD in patients with refractory epilepsy. A significant instance of the potential superiority of whole plant extracts comes from a meta-analysis of studies from 2013 to 2017. The review sought to explore the therapeutic benefits of CBD for epilepsy patients [3] . More than 70% of patients treated with full spectrum CBD extracts reported improvements, compared to just 36% of patients who received pure, single-molecule CBD.

The cannabis community was immediately excited by these results, and breeders were among the most receptive, quickly developing new strains with unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Because of this, new generations of cannabis genetics often have a richer phytocomplex than their “old-school” grandparents, and they can easily satisfy the needs of both recreational and medical users with today’s manifold forms and consumption methods.

THE BELL-SHAPED CURVE EFFECT

Like many other substances, CBD reduces its expected dosage-related efficacy when taken in higher doses, up to the point where exceptionally high doses can fail to help with any condition. Studies show that the administration of pure, single-molecule CBD results in a bell-shaped dose-response curve, meaning that when the amount of CBD exceeds a certain point, its therapeutic impact declines dramatically. The healing effect of CBD is usually observed within a limited dose range, which therefore may limit its applications in a medical setting. However, a second fundamental study on the synergies between cannabis compounds writes about overcoming the bell-shaped response of CBD [4] by using whole plant cannabis extracts.

Further research shows that the anti-inflammatory effects of pure CBD for pathologies such as rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes follow the bell-shaped response curve with a narrow therapeutic window. On the other hand, an extract with CBD, THC, CBC, and CBG caused a more direct and dose-dependent effect. Moreover, a smaller amount of extract was needed for pain relief compared to pure CBD in order to achieve the same effect.

WHOLE IS MORE THAN A SINGLE

Lab, clinical, and anecdotal evidence definitely suggests that a whole plant extract made from cannabis plant matter is more effective in reducing pain, spasms, inflammation, and other conditions typically addressed by cannabinoids. A full extract increases the absorption of active ingredients and is able to address a wider range of conditions by fine-tuning the cannabinoid and terpene profile to the specific individual’s preferences and needs.

The ability of whole plant extracts to overcome the bell-shaped curve, establishing a clear correlation between dosage and anti-inflammatory or painkilling responses, makes them ideal for medical use, as well as further clinical study. This is not to say single-molecule formulations are useless; in places where even trace amounts of THC are illegal, for example, pure cannabinoid isolates like CBD are the only real option for people looking to experience the cannabinoid. Still, as more research develops on the efficacy of whole plant formulations, we are bound to see the world of cannabinoid extracts continue to progress.

Whole plant, full spectrum cannabis extracts are proven to be more effective than pure THC or CBD in various studies.

Full-spectrum cannabis extracts VS CBD isolate

By Ian Jones

Ian Jones is a journalist based in Manchester, England. He specialises in technology and food, with a heavy focus on vaping, CBD and medicinal drugs. He began writing professionally over 15 years ago and is a regular contributor to New Scientist, Vice and the Daily Mirror. He is also the resident CBD expert at the respected vaping website Spinfuel. He began looking at CBD in detail after discovering that it cured his mother’s arthritis, and has since become a leading figure in the UK when it comes to educating people about the CBD extraction process and exploring its curative properties.

The public profile of CBD has soared in recent years, with users using it to treat all manner of ailments and conditions. It can be consumed in a variety of ways, ranging from simple oral consumption to topical use and even vaping. There are two main forms of CBD on the market. These are ‘full spectrum’ CBD and CBD isolate. There are a number of key differences between the two, which we will look at in this article. We will also look at methods of consumption, as this can have dramatic impact on the efficacy of CBD. As we will see, full-spectrum CBD is more popular, and for good reason, but isolate has certain benefits that might appeal to different CBD users.

The increased popularity of CBD has led many users to raise questions about the methods of extracting and administering CBD. The main question is which form provides the most effective range of medical benefits for the user. The two most common forms of extracted CBD found in stores are full-spectrum (whole-plant extract) and pure CBD isolate. Most users prefer the full-spectrum option. As CBD’s usefulness for medical purposes has become more accepted over the years, new methods of administering it have continued to evolve.

This has left some users concerned not just with which form of extracted CBD is most effective or what the proper dosage for them may be, but also with which method of supplementation gives the user the most relief in the right amount of time. Some of the most common methods include applying it sublingually, topically, or taking it in capsules. Vaping cbd is regarded by many to be the most bio-available way to administer, and as such, this has led to an increase in the demand for CBD isolate. This form of CBD is different from full-spectrum CBD extract in that it only contains CBD and none of the other cannabinoids, terpenes, or healthy fatty acids that commonly result from the whole-plant extraction process.

Cannabis, with its complex chemical structure, contains over 100 active cannabinoids aside from CBD. It also contains terpenes, which have anti-inflammatory properties, and are regarded as increasing the efficacy of cannabinoids. Although they are not rated as important as CBD when it comes medical benefits, some of these other cannabinoids have been found to have symptom alleviating qualities as well. The cannabinoids CBN and CBG for example, are found in most full-spectrum extracts and studies have shown that both contain anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and pain relieving properties.

Whole-plant extracts typically contain a carefully measured amount of the cannabis plant’s most prominent cannabinoid, THC, although usually not in a large enough amount to have any psychological effects. In many countries, a certain percentage of THC is illegal, so it is vital to know the amount of this cannabinoid when manufacturing products that contain full-spectrum CBD. When present together, CBD and its cannabinoid colleagues, as well as terpenes, produce what is known as an entourage effect. The synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes has been shown to increase the healing properties of each.

A study published by the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research, which aimed its focus on the effectiveness of CBD isolate compared to full-plant extract, supported this concept, stating in its summary that “in all of the tests, the isolated CBD was ineffective both before and after a certain dosage, while the effectiveness of the full-spectrum solution continued to increase as higher doses were administered. The results all indicate that CBD is only effective against swelling and pain at a certain dose, and that cannabis solutions containing a full range of cannabinoids will continue to provide corresponding effects as the dosage is increased.”

Given the results of this study, it would seem to confirm that full-spectrum extract is preferable over CBD isolate for most CBD users, but CBD isolate is still frequently used and believed by some to be more effective than full-plant extract. This belief is led by the idea that CBD is the only medically sought after cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, aside from THC. Many CBD isolate users are under the impression that by consuming only the CBD cannabinoid and no terpenes or any other “unnecessary” components of the plant, they are getting a more powerful or effective dose of CBD. When vaping a CBD extract, which as stated previously, is considered to be the most efficient and quick-acting method of administering CBD, isolate users may feel that they are taking the most efficient route to CBD consumption. While this method might be efficient, the lack of entourage effect means the benefits are reduced when compared to full-spectrum CBD consumption.

However, CBD isolate does have something to offer CBD users that full-spectrum extracts does not. The fact that full-spectrum extracts invariably contain low levels of THC means that some users prefer to play it safe and stick to pure CBD by itself, out of fear of failing a drug test or experiencing a form of “high”, although both of these occurrences have been found to be fairly unlikely.

THC is one of the cannabinoids involved in the “entourage effect” stated earlier so it is ideal for inclusion in CBD supplementation. A recent article on full-spectrum CBD demonstrates the importance of THC inclusion by stating, “In hemp THC is a minor constituent and appears only in trace amounts under 0.3% by dry weight, as required by the U.S. government for hemp products. THC mimics the action of anandamide, a neurotransmitter naturally produced in the human body, and binds to CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system found mostly in the brain. The extremely low levels of THC in hemp make hemp oil non-psychoactive and safe for all ages to use.”

The wide range of benefits contained in full-spectrum CBD extracts means some CBD merchants have either ceased to sell, or scale down the promotion of CBD isolate, in comparison to the whole-plant extract variety. Companies and individuals who extract CBD themselves are realising that cannabis has more to offer medicinally than just CBD or THC, and that there is little to no reason to not include all that this “super-plant” has to offer in the extraction process.

This all serves to underline the importance of testing CBD extract for the various levels of active ingredients. If your homemade CBD extract contains a high amount of THC it could be illegal in your country and require you use either a different method of extraction, or more likely, the need to find a source of hemp that has lower THC. As more scientific literature emerges supporting the entourage effect, and increased benefits of full-spectrum CBD compared to CBD isolate, we can expect the manufacture and sale of CBD goods based around isolate to greatly reduce in the coming years.

The public profile of CBD has soared in recent years, with users using it to treat all manner of ailments and conditions. It can be consumed in a variety of ways, ranging from simple oral consumption to topical use and even vaping. There are two main forms of CBD on the market. These are 'full spectrum' CBD and CBD isolate. There are a number of key differences between the ]]>