These days fashion is all neon lights, vape pens and asymmetrical hair. You can probably blame “The Jetsons.” Its promises of flying cars and AI-driven childcare never quite manifested, and our culture is still reeling from the devastating letdown. We’re obsessed with the future and with finding bigger, better and faster ways of doing everything. All the time.
And that’s even true in the world of cannabis. After a millennia of arguably evolving alongside the plant, we are now collectively finding new ways to up the ante. Thanks to modern plant cultivation methods, weed is more potent and prodigious than ever before in our history. And it still isn’t enough.
That’s why many have turned to concentrates to meet their demands for more power. These days, you can even find concentrates with THC levels above 90 percent (although you’ll likely have to travel out-of-state to find that kind of thing).
Many of you are balking at that last statement, wondering why in the world someone would feel the need to purchase a product with that high of a concentration of THC, but when a person begins using cannabis daily or even multiple times a day, they quickly find their tolerance levels rising. For patients suffering from chronic pain, a couple hits off the pipe just isn’t going to do anything.
There are also health problems associated with smoking that are absent when using concentrates (although even the problems associated with smoking appear to be shockingly minimal). The process of creating extracts removes plant fats, waxes and lipids from the cannabis, leaving only the desired compounds. Many of these substances are harmless or even beneficial to many people (lipids can increase the bioavailability of supplements—at least when consumed orally); but to some, they pose health risks.
For anyone suffering from plant allergies like hay fever, plant matter like lipids and waxes will set off negative reactions. These negative effects disappear when the plant matter is removed, meaning those who are “allergic” to cannabis should have an easier time with concentrates.
Exposure to tar produced by burning plant particulates in tobacco is what leads to the various cancers caused by that foul drug. And while cancer has yet to be associated with cannabis smoke, like it has with tobacco (the substances involved are very different, even if the delivery method looks similar), the likelihood that burning plant particulates are bad for your health seems high.
But a problem does arise when using extracts instead of flower: THC- and CBD-only extracts remove many of the medically beneficial compounds that are present in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids like CBN—which is a powerful sleep aid—or CBG—which was found to alleviate symptoms of paranoia associated with weed as well as halt the proliferation of cancer cells—are stripped completely from the extract, keeping patients from experiencing their health benefits.
Extracted compounds also miss out on what’s known as the “entourage effect.” It’s believed that when all of a strain’s compounds interact with each other, they synergistically affect users in more profoundly therapeutic ways than the individual compounds could on their own. This is because the cannabinoids modulate one another. Compounds like CBD and CBG affect the way the body reacts to THC—counteracting psychoactive effects and paranoia respectively. Some of these cannabinoids enhance or detract from certain effects that are produced by others. That’s why many people report feeling more high when they smoke low-THC flower compared to high-THC extract—the “high” they’re chasing isn’t the same psychoactive effect that THC induces alone.
Many producers are now trying to find better ways to serve those patients who need a more potent dose than flower can deliver but want a full-spectrum profile—as well as those who want access to the health benefits of cannabis but can’t physically handle the plant particulates due to medical issues.
The answer so far has been the creation of variable-spectrum concentrates. When creating these special concentrates, the goal is to capture the beneficial compounds in marijuana—preferably in as close a ratio to the source strain profile as possible—while removing plant lipids. This means you can now purchase concentrates that are made to have the taste, smell and effects of a particular strain—only more so—minus the tar-producing plant matter.
Full-spectrum concentrates are those that have retained the highest amount of beneficial phytochemicals at the closest ratio to the source material following extraction. These concentrates retain cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that were in the original plant source material. Full-spectrum extracts can be made using a method of combining cannabis and ethanol and exposing it to very low heat or by subjecting cannabis to a vacuum extraction process. Although it’s called “full-spectrum,” the truth is it’s rare to end up with an extract that perfectly matches the profile of its source.
Some so-called “full-spectrum” concentrates are actually distillates with terpenes and other phytochemicals re-introduced after the THC or CBD has been isolated. These concentrates are designed to emulate the profiles of popular strains.
Broad-spectrum extracts are similar to full-spectrum in that they aim to retain most of a plant’s phytochemicals, but these extracts are usually made from hemp and have little-to-no THC.