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What Are Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extracts and How Are They Made?

Posted: July 1, 2020 in Full-Spectrum Extracts

Full-spectrum cannabis extracts or whole plant extracts contain the full profile of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds found in the cannabis plant. They are desirable for several reasons, mostly notably due to the Entourage Effect. I have written about the Entourage Effect in past articles and here is the link. In this article I will define full-spectrum extracts and will explain how they are produced. I will also explain the difference between extracts and concentrates.

What Are Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extracts?

The cannabis plants contains over 400 compounds which include several different cannabinoids; THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC and so many more. It also contains terpenes of which there are about a dozen with appreciable amounts. In addition there are flavonoids, proteins, phenols, sterols and esters as well as some unfavorable compounds. When you choose full-spectrum cannabis extracts, you not only receive the flavor and aroma of terpenes but you also receive the many benefits associated with the entourage effect.

What Plant Material Is Used To Make Cannabis Extracts?

High quality extracts begin with high quality flower. The process for making extract comes from using Trim Run and Nug Run from dried flower or using Live Resin Extraction from live plants. Running Live Resin Extraction before it is cured preserves the terpene profiles. Terpenes are very volatile compounds that can dissipate at room temperature.

1. Trim Run is made from dried, trichome-covered sugar leaves and other material removed from cannabis plants
2. Nug Run is made exclusively from dried bud. It contains higher concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes than does trim run.
3. Live Resin Extraction is made from fresh flower buds and sugar leaves that have not be dried or cured. It is processed by flash-freezing which requires laboratory equipment.

Some cannabis compounds go through a change during the drying process. That is why an extract taken from dried plant material will have a different cannabioid/terpene profile than an extract made from live resin. The profile is also affected by the age of the plant material and the environment in which they are grown. As a result, it is not unusual for full-spectrum extracts made from the same strain to have different profiles.

Extracts vs Concentrates

I was not aware that there was a difference between extracts and concentrates as the two terms seem to be used interchangeably.
Here’s the deal….
The difference between extracts and concentrates depends on how the trichomes are collected.

1. Extracts use solvents to remove trichomes from the cannabis plant. Examples of extracts are Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)and CO2-extracted wax. They come in different textures which include shatter, badder, budder and crumble.

2. Concentrates use mechanical or physical methods to remove and collect the trichomes without the use of solvents. Examples of concentrates are rosin, dry sift and kief.

For both extracts and concentrates, the following factors will impact the experience you have:
1. The type of cannabis plant material that is used
2. The processing technique
3. The texture of the finished product
4. The consumption method

How Are Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extracts Made?

It is important to point out that it is very difficult to produce full-spectrum extracts. This requires a very fine balancing act. Manufactures strive to retain as many of the beneficial compounds as possible while removing the unwanted ones such as chlorophyll, fats and lipids. For example, the presence of some plant lipids can result in a harsh vapor or poor flavor. However, some extraction methods successfully get rid of the unfavorable compounds at the expense of the loss of terpenes and flavonoids.

Liquid Solvent Extraction

All the extraction methods using a solvent use the same general system; a liquid solvent is used to separate the desirable compounds from the cannabis plant into a solution which is refined until only the favorable compounds remain. Because solvents are so volatile, manufacturers use a closed-loop system which lets them safely control the temperature and pressure to achieve the desired outcome. To ensure the complete removal of the solvent, the extract is put in a vacuum oven.

Different Processing Methods For Extracts

1. Hydrocarbon Extraction

With this method, butane or a butane/propane combination is used to produce full-spectrum extracts. Hydrocarbon gas is cooled into a liquid in which the raw plant matter is infused. The desirable compounds are dissolved and various techniques such as winterization and dewaxing, which use other solvents and low temperatures, are applied to extract a solution in which wax and lipids are removed. Because terpenes are so volatile, even very small changes in the composition of the solvent and the temperature are enough to affect its flavor profile.

2. Supercritical CO2 Extraction

With supercritical CO2 extraction, both the properties of a gas and a liquid of CO2 are used to extract the most desirable compounds. It uses temperature and pressure to achieve this. Due to the gas-like viscosity which creates less surface tension, CO2 penetrates the porous solids more easily than it would in liquid form. It requires very complicated types of equipment but little if any post-processing is necessary.

3. Pressure

No solvent is required with this method, only temperature and pressure. While this is beneficial in that it is a safer method because heat is applied, it is quite concerning that the delicate terpenes which are greatly impacted by high temperatures will be lost.

Physical Separation For Concentrates

This is for concentrates, not extracts, but I thought I would throw this in as a bonus.

The trichome glands are removed from the cannabis material by either shaking them, as you would citrus fruit, or using a press. In the case of dry sift, a series of screens in different sizes are used to sift out all the plant material so that only the trichomes remain. In the case of rosin, a combination of heat and pressure are used to squeeze the trichomes out of the plant.

Benefits of Extracts Compared To Flower

1. Much more rapid onset time
2. Easy to dose
3. Much more potent
4. Higher bioavailiability which accounts for the effects you experience as well as how quickly the drug is absorbed by your body
5. Effects can last anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on the individual
6. You can just add them to your flower which requires no additional equipment and the result is an effect stronger than flower but less intense than an extract.

Enjoy and please start out slowly if you are new to extracts!

Sources:, What Are Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extracts and How Are They Made, Aimee O’Driscoll, March 13, 2020, Cannabis Concentrates-What They Are and How To Consume Them, Nug Run vs Trim Run: Which Is Better For Concentrates, Full Spectrum: The True Power of Cannabis

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