Distillates vs Full-Spectrum Cannabis Oil in Your Edibles: What’s the Difference?

When you’re buying or making edibles, which method is best?
Distillates vs Full-Spectrum Cannabis Oil in Your Edibles: What’s the Difference?

You may already have your favorite commercial edible and know the optimum dose of ingestible THC to get you precisely where you want to be. But do you know what’s in your edible and how it’s made? The vast majority of ingestible cannabis products in dispensaries are made with distillate—basically pure THC molecules that are derived using solvents and chemical processes to extract the THC from raw flower.

Far fewer edibles on the market today are made from full-spectrum cannabis oil, such as cannabutter or rosin. There are two primary reasons for this: it’s generally cheaper, quicker, and more efficient to use a chemical process to extract THC than it is to craft rosin or cannabutter; distillate is tasteless and can therefore be added to a wider variety of food products like gummies, cookies, brownies, and soft drinks without the distinctive, weedy taste.

Kushy Punch, Atlas Edibles, and Periodic Edibles are three companies that use full-spectrum cannabis oils in their products. High Times spoke with CEOs or spokespeople from each to get a sense of how it’s done and what it means for consumers.

How are full-spectrum edibles made?

Turns out, there’s more than one way. Wayne Schwind, founder and owner of Periodic Edibles, crafts cannabis caramels in the old-school fashion. “We use cannabutter,” he said, “which is made by soaking cannabis in butter for a long period of time. Then you strain out the flower material—the buds and stems—and you’re left with a green butter that’s infused with everything that was in the cannabis: the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.” It’s the same infusion method that home edibles cooks have used for years— Schwind’s team has simply grown it to a commercial scale. What he likes about this technique: “It’s clean. With other methods, you might wonder if there’s any residual solvent in there. It also gets really technical. We love how simple and effective our method is.”

Misha Yerlick of Atlas Edibles described the way their granola clusters are made using rosin. “It’s essentially plant matter that’s compressed with a small amount of heat,” she said, so that there are no chemicals added at any point in the process—and nothing is removed either.” The nuts used in Atlas Edibles granola clusters are pre-roasted so that the rosin isn’t heated again—that way even the more volatile terpenes remain intact. So, just as with the cannabutter method, the end product contains an array of compounds most closely reflecting the plant’s original profile. This is important to the people at Atlas, who believe that though the number of milligrams of THC and CBD in a product may give you important information, it’s far from the whole story.

Ruben Cross, CEO of Kushy Punch, declined to give specifics on his company’s process for proprietary reasons, but said that his company’s gummies contain all the fats and lipids from the original flower as well as a wide range of terpenes and cannabinoids. It appears that, with the aim of producing specific effects on the consumer, Kushy Punch’s gummies derive their content from a number of individual plants and strains. “The oil we use,” he said, “has a much wider variety of cannabinoids than any single strain of cannabis can provide.”

Is there any difference for the user?

Recipes aside, THC is THC, so is there really a difference in the experience brought on by an edible made with full-spectrum cannabis oil and an edible made with distillate? Even though one could assume that whatever’s closest to nature (in this case, that means raw cannabis flower) would yield a better and richer experience, the answer’s more subjective than science-based at this point.

The full-spectrum edible makers interviewed said that there is indeed a difference, but the nature and tone of that discrepancy varies somewhat depending on who you ask. For instance, Cross said, “when you take a full spectrum edible the effects are stronger and last longer. They are more of a body high and less like taking a dab of pure THC. The painkilling properties are much higher, and I believe it gives you a more euphoric experience.”

Schwind’s customers report that the high from Periodic Edibles’ caramels is “fuller, more predictable, and more consistent.” His personal experience, and that of his team, bears this out though he admits that there’s some subjectivity to the question because individual endocannabinoid systems can vary greatly. He described a “more mellow and drawn-out high” from his product, contrasting with the high from a distillate edible which peaks quicker and then drops off. “It’s more of a roller coaster ride,” he said, adding that he can sometimes get caffeine-like jitters from distillate products.

Atlas Edibles’ customers report similar findings, according to Yerlick. They say that the sativa product, Ember, and the indica product Origin actually produce the expected effects. Like Schwind said, Atlas’ customers report less of a jittery and anxious tone to their high and experience a smoother onset without any uncomfortable spikes. Additionally, Atlas enthusiasts say that they require a smaller overall THC dose to get their desired effect.

Cannabis educator and consultant, Emma Chasen, cited the entourage effect as a possible explanation—indicating that the full array of compounds present in cannabis will work synergistically to produce an enriched experience for the user. For instance, the entourage effect is likely behind the fact that many people find CBD-rich products more effective in the presence of small amounts of THC. “All of the compounds within the cannabis matrix work together to produce the overall experience,” said Chasen. “Terpenes, flavonoids and minor cannabinoids influence the way the body processes and responds to major cannabinoids.” She went on to explain that we don’t yet understand all the physiological processes involved, particularly when it comes to edibles, but we can still assume that ingesting a wider variety of compounds will affect the user’s experience.

What makes an edible an indica or sativa?

As you probably know, the categories of indica and sativa are no longer considered reflective of the kind of experience users will have with a particular flower. You can easily find indicas that stimulate instead of relax, and sativas that put you in a mellow daze instead of uplift you. Even strain names are not as reliable as we’d like to think—the best predictor of flower’s effects come from lab results analyzing cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as from personal experience. However, consumers still tend to have expectations about buds, vapes, or edibles based on indica/sativa labeling. We do know that the most uplifting strains of cannabis tend to have higher concentrations of certain terpenes like limonene and pinene, and more chill strains tend to have higher concentrations of linalool and other calming terpenes, and may also include the minor cannabinoid known as CBN. But terpenes are metabolized differently via smoke and vape than they are via oral ingestion.

Given that, how do we know what the effects of an edible labeled “indica” or “sativa” will be? The short answer is that, with edibles made from distillate, food-grade terpenes may be added back in after the THC extraction process in an effort to influence the high toward a more soothing or a more energizing place. With full-spectrum edibles, the naturally-occurring terpenes will have been preserved from the original flower, and one might assume that the effects will mirror the expected results of the flower itself. Schwind puts in significant work at the R&D level to test users’ experience with the goal that his products, such as Active and Relax, accurately reflect their labeling.

However, we don’t yet have solid data on how terpenes affect us when we eat them. According to Chasen, “the way we typically measure bioavailability is by taking a blood plasma screening at different times after ingestion. When we do this for terpenes, we see very little terpene retention.” However, she added, that doesn’t necessarily mean that terpenes aren’t having an effect when ingested. Cannabinoid receptors in the gut may be responding to orally ingested terpenes and could have an effect, albeit an indirect one, on the user’s experience.

Though there’s plenty we still don’t know, it’s helpful to be educated on what’s in your edibles. If natural products matter to you, then a full-spectrum edible is certainly closer to that measuring stick. And though full-spectrum edibles are more difficult to find, many dispensaries will have at least one or two products available—ask your budtender. Just as with most things cannabis, experimentation and personal experience are the best guides.

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