Similar to how individual colours make up the colour spectrum of a rainbow, individual molecules produced by cannabis make up its chemical spectrum or chemical profile.
To date, over 500 molecules are known to be produced by cannabis 1.
The chemical spectrum of cannabis is continuously changing as a result of genetic, environmental or human factors. As a result the chemical make-up of cannabis is subject to vary between strains, parts of the plant, mature and juvenile plants, or in response to environmental stimuli 2.
The chemical make-up of cannabis will differ between strains, plant part, environments, and life stage of the plant.
The abundance of chemicals found in cannabis give each cannabis strain and product a unique chemical spectrum, this is called a chemical fingerprint.
The more cannabis is processed and refined, the more reduced its chemical spectrum becomes.
Full spectrum, broad spectrum, distillate and single isolate are terms used to describe the extent to which cannabis products have undergone processing and refinement following harvesting.
To help explain this concept, consider ordinary table sugar you add to coffee. The table sugar is a single isolate called sucrose and is a highly refined product made from a plant called sugar cane.
Other less refined products can also be obtained from sugar cane, including sugar cane juice (which is made by pressing sugar cane and collecting the sugary liquid that comes out), or molasses (which is made by concentrating the sugary liquid through boiling). Since each of these products have undergone less refinement, they are considered to be broad spectrum as they will contain sucrose as well as other nutrients found in sugar cane, including vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium3.
Use of the terms full spectrum and broad spectrum are not very consistent within the cannabis marketplace. Although Aphria classifies its ingestible medical oils as broad spectrum, there is currently no standardized definition / criteria for what is a full or broad spectrum product. As a result, similar carbon dioxide (CO2) extracted oils can be called full spectrum by other companies.
The amount of refinement a product undergoes will dictate the spectrum type of the product:
Full spectrum products are those which have undergone little to no refinement. All other products which have undergone some refinement through extraction and purification steps are considered broad spectrum or distillate.
Broad spectrum products fall in between full spectrum and single isolate products. For example, our cannabis oils are obtained through CO2 extraction and have undergone greater processing than our dried flower products. Consequently, they contain lower amounts of terpenes. However, compared to other THC or CBD products (i.e. distillate or single isolate), CO2 extracted oils have still retained some of the chemical spectrum, and are therefore considered to be broad spectrum.
Single Isolate products are made by heavily refining the cannabis plant in order to extract a single chemical entity such as THC, CBD or individual terpenes. Single isolate products can be blended together to make broad spectrum products, for instance the terpene profiles for our medical vapes are made by combining individual terpenes together.
THC or CBD distillate is a heavily refined, almost pure extract of THC or CBD. Distillate is produced through a process known as distillation, it is an additional step that follows CO2 or ethanol extraction. During the distillation process most flavour and fragrance chemicals are removed (i.e. terpenes), however very small amounts of other cannabinoids may be found. For this reason THC or CBD distillate is neither a single isolate nor a broad spectrum product.
1 Atkins (2019) Sample processing and preparation considerations for solid products. Journal of AOAC International 102(2):427-433.
2 Chandra S, Lata H, ElSohly MA (2017) Cannabis sativa L. – Botany and Biotechnology. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland: ISBN 978-3-319-54564-6.
3 USDA (2019) Food Composition Database, Electronic Document, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/, Accessed July 2019.