Studies show that isolate loses effectiveness outside of a narrow dose range, whereas full spectrum may provide benefit at every dose.
There has been a lot of debate regarding the superiority of whole plant medicine versus extracts, and the converse. For a long time the belief was that THC was the most beneficial part of the cannabis plant (at least when it came to medicinal value) and that all of the other bits didn’t really matter. Now we know that many, many parts of the plant (cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes) have tremendous value in healing. Not only that, these parts work together, within full spectrum medicine, to amplify the pharmacological activity of the whole via the entourage effect.
The cannabis plant has over 140 different cannabinoids with medicinal value because they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a signaling system of receptors found on the surface of certain cells that are critical for the control of many bodily functions. Such as digestion, nervous control, pain, immune functioning, and homeostasis.
The most abundant and psychoactively potent cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), followed by cannabidiol (CBD). Other significant cannabinoids include: cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol CBG, and cannabinol (CBN).
What is an Isolate?
It takes a lot of effort to isolate CBD or THC from the cannabis plant. Even though you are processing the plant, the isolate that comes out the other end is not synthetic; this is a common misconception. Refining plant down to pure CBD is the first step, this is typically a white powder. It used to be that an isolate was the gold standard of cannabis medicine. But, as further research occurred on how CBD interacts with the human body, something strange happened. Patients consuming high CBD strains tended to have faster healing and less pain than those solely consuming CBD isolate.
The Bell Curve Study
For example, a study looking at the anxiety of public speakers noted that with the isolate, CBD followed a bell curve for therapeutic effectiveness. This means is that when the amount of CBD ingested exceeded a certain point, its therapeutic impact declined dramatically. Observation of a therapeutic effect only occurred when CBD doses were within a very limited range. Whereas no beneficial effect happened at either lower or higher doses.
Following this interesting finding, further studies took place to determine how to overcome the bell shaped dose response curve effect. One notable Israeli study, published in Pharmacology & Pharmacy (2015), investigated the dose-dependent effects of CBD on mice.
It’s interesting to note that one of the co-authors, Lumir Hanus, was instrumental in the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide. The Israeli team obtained a CBD-rich strain called “Avidekel” which has only trace amounts of THC and studied it against a CBD extract referred to as “clone 202.”
Lab mice received both forms of CBD and the therapeutics effects were under clinically observation and charted. The pure CBD isolate, once again, revealed that single-molecule CBD administration produced a bell-shaped dose-response curve with a small therapeutic window.
Direct Inhibition of Pain
However, rather than showing a bell-shaped curve, the whole plant CBD-rich extract caused a direct, dose-dependent inhibition of pain. Moreover, the Israeli researchers discovered that a smaller amount of full spectrum CBD managed to achieve significant pain relief compared to the much larger amount of CBD isolate required to achieve a similar analgesic effect.
When the delivery of the CBD isolate occurred in excess of therapeutic dose, there was a decline in efficacy. However an excess of whole plant CBD-rich extract did not undermine its therapeutic potency. When full spectrum extract was given in excess the therapeutic effect reached a plateau and levelled off, rather than declining.
These results revolutionized how people understand cannabis’ therapeutic effects. Consequently, they influenced how pharmaceuticals are packaging their cannabis products. So much so, that we can confidently call this a landmark study in the cannabis space. Subsequent studies have further proved this finding.
The effect mentioned above is now referred to as the entourage effect, achieved when consumption of the plant as a whole occurs. That could be be flower, oil, or tincture. Full spectrum CBD oil contains terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. These compounds work synergistically to produce a more potent and longer-lasting effect than a single compound on its own.