See that beautiful, green, crystal-covered little beauty in the picture above? That is the future of medicine as we know it. Cannabis has the potential to turn people’s lives around, thanks to the cannabinoids locked within. Some, like cannabidiol (CBD), are known to have anti-inflammatory effects, relieve anxiety and stress, and combat tumors and cancer.
CBD operates differently in the body than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its very popular cousin. THC confers profound medical benefits as well as the psychoactive effects experienced after partaking in cannabis. The “high” that users feel is known to help stimulate creativity and elevate mood, while the cannabinoid works to quell pain, muscle spasms, nausea, even cancer cell growth. It is also capable of fighting post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) and glaucoma and operates as an appetite stimulant and sleep aid.
These are just two of the more than 110 cannabinoids within the flower that work in concert to produce the myriad physiological effects of the herb. No wonder people have been trying to bring out the “best” in cannabis through extracts.
“Shatter” is a highly potent cannabis extract containing up to 90 percent concentrated THC. According to Tyler Knight of Mass Roots, “[Shatter] typically looks like honey with varying degrees of transparency and color profiles. When this type of concentrate is warm, it has a consistency actually quite similar to very thick honey. When it’s cold, its consistency is more similar to glass. It shatters just like glass does if it is dropped or tapped, hence the term ‘shatter’.”
Vaporizing or taking pharmaceutical extracts of your cannabis in the form of concentrates allows you to intensely experience a specific cannabinoid, without the toxins of combustion. But are single-molecule concentrates the best route? That depends. In understanding the entourage effect (the synergy among all the hundreds of compounds in the plant), scientists believe that such products may put therapeutic benefits out of balance, to the consumer’s detriment.
According to Project CBD, the entourage effect “magnifies the therapeutic benefits of the plant’s individual components—so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.” With there being over 400 trace compounds in whole cannabis, including roughly 200 terpenes or terpenoids (aromatherapeutic molecules) it’s believed that they work together to bring out the best in each other naturally.
So, whether the focus is on THC synthetics to combat chemotherapy side effects for cancer patients or on pure CBD oils to fight epilepsy, balance is lacking. According to CNN chief medical correspondent and practicing neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, a pure THC synthetic called Marinol hints at the value of the entourage effect by having none:
When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol. Researchers began to realize that other components, such as CBD, might have a larger role than previously realized.
In fact, the man who coined the term entourage effect, prominent neurologist Ethan Russo, stated in a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology that cannabis compounds influence one another’s mechanisms. Since then, a standardized whole-plant extract called Sativex has been developed in Britain to take advantage of the entourage effect.
Connecting the dots
Nothing against extracts, dabs, and other forms cannabis enhancements, but there’s something timelessly beautiful and aromatic about the flower’s natural, unprocessed state. The more that people learn about how to work in synergy with the whole plant, the more completely it may be able to enhance health.
In many cases it takes far less effort to enjoy full-spectrum cannabis than synthetics. It’s as easy as packing a bowl, rolling a doobie, or munching some medibles. For a lot of consumers, convenience beats wielding a cumbersome apparatus and relying on unknown chemical processing in a basement lab somewhere.
Another legitimate concern is the extraction process used in making concentrates. According to the Eureka Times-Standard:
The most widely used solvent is butane—better known as lighter fluid. You should know that butane extraction is against the law. People are serving time in prison for using butane as an organic solvent. More important, butane is a fire and explosion risk because it is so highly flammable. Many people have been severely injured using butane to make cannabis oil extracts. And “butane” isn’t pure butane; it contains contaminants.
Many in the cannabis community simply dislike the whole artificial sort of “meth lab” or “crackish” vibe of dabs and using the equipment. (It’s also a lot easier in an emergency to flush, hide, or swallow a joint or a gummy than a dab rig and blowtorch; although in fairness the same can be said of bongs and other paraphernalia. Following the law and exercising caution and discretion are recommended.)
A greater concern expressed by committed cannoisseurs is that dabbing concentrates may overload one’s endocannabinoid receptors. This phenomenon can apparently “blunt” the effects of edibles or smoked cannabis for extended periods, paradoxically reducing one’s ability to enjoy the herb.
Whatever your preference, if balance among the full spectrum of cannabinoid and terpenoid benefits is the goal, then keeping it real with the entourage effect of whole flowers may be the key to optimizing your cannabis experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Garyn Angel is an inventor, award-winning financial consultant, and CEO of MagicalButter.com, maker of the botanical extractor he invented for infusing cannabis into foods. Firmly committed to needed legal reform, Angel was named to the exclusive CNBC NEXT List of visionary global business leaders for his work on legal marijuana. He is also founder of the Cheers to Goodness Foundation, a charity that helps “medical refugees”—mainly veterans and children—who need herbal therapy when traditional treatment options have failed.