The Big Problem with Cannabis Distillates
Edibles and vape pens have unique advantages.
Sweet, pure, wholesome cannabis distillates and shatter have gained widespread attention in the industry since early 2017. The beautiful golden concentrates fetch a premium price in dispensaries around the country due to their distinct advantages over traditional bud and flower:
- They’re easy to vape.
- They’re useful in edible products where a light color is vital.
Many distillates are nearly pure cannabinoids, often containing upward of 95% THC and CBD.
As the therapeutic importance of terpenes has become more well-known, however, many top cannabis companies from Denver to San Francisco have stepped back from extremely potent extracts to ensure that their concentrates have terpenes as well.
The concentration of myrcene, one of the most prevalent terpenes in cannabis, influences whether a particular cannabis strain has a sedative effect or an energizing high. Terpinolene, α-pinene, linalool, limonene, and others have beneficial effects on anxiety, cancer, inflammation, and epilepsy.
It’s not news to most insiders that THC and CBD aren’t the only kids on the block. There are a number of other cannabinoids with medicinal properties that treat various illnesses and health conditions. THCv, for example, can counteract THC’s strong appetite-stimulating effects.
Thanks to first-hand research by consumers, cannabinoids and terpenes have found their place on the thrones of the cannabis kingdom, but still there’s something missing for the long-time pot and marijuana enthusiasts. For them, almost nothing can compare to the quality of a home-grown sativa flower.
So what’s missing from the sophisticated concentrates of 2018? Some might say they’re missing the nostalgia of the 1960’s when hash brownies and joints reigned supreme. But the old-school cannabis fans were onto something when it came to terpenes, and perhaps there’s more missing from today’s fanciest extracts.
In fact, there is more. Cannabis flowers and sugar leaves aren’t just rich with psychoactive compounds. They also contain essential fatty acids in triglycerides that aid in the absorption of THC and other cannabinoids into the body, increasing their bio-availability and enabling their therapeutic effects. The most common of these are polyunsaturated omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids: linoleic, α-linolenic, oleic, and γ-linolenic acid [1,2].
A 2016 study at the University of Nottingham, UK found that “oral co-administration of lipids enhanced the systemic exposure of rats to THC and CBD by 2.5-fold and 3-fold, respectively, compared to lipid-free formulations” . In simple terms, it means that cannabis edibles should contain fats to maximize their effectiveness. What better fats to use than the cannabis plant’s own fatty acids? Canna-butter cooks have known this for ages, but the science is now being elucidated and confirmed.
For makers of chocolate, cookies, baked goods, and ketogenic beverages, which are digested like any other food, it’s welcome news. Extracts rich in fatty acids blend right in with these products, and some fatty acids have the added benefit of improving coronary heart disease and diabetes outcomes . For mints, gums, and candies that are primarily absorbed sublingually through the mouth and gums, more research on effective formulations is needed.
Vaping high-purity cannabis oleoresin (aka shatter, distillate) has an immediate psychoactive effect, which is certainly important in the treatment of panic attacks, acute anxiety, and nausea, but absorbing cannabinoids through the lungs has a critical pitfall. THC and CBD never enter the lymphatic system, which is the headquarters for your immune system.
Numerous studies have shown how important the immune system is in fighting cancer, especially lymphoma. Expensive immunotherapy treatments use a person’s own immune system to fight the cancer, and luckily nature designed a built-in mechanism for immunoregulation: the endocannabinoid system, which explains the basis for cannabis’ purported anti-cancer effects.
It also explains the ability of cannabis to help with autoimmune disease relief (lupus, IBD, diabetes). The anti-inflammatory effects help the immune system chill out when white blood cells attack a person’s own tissues. Clinical research is still in the early stage and it’s unlikely that cannabis is a miracle cure for cancer, yet a more colored picture is being painted to show exactly why cannabis makes people feel so much better.
In summary, dietary fats in cannabis concentrates and edibles are critical for the absorption of THC and CBD into the lymphatic system, where the compounds are able to modulate immune functions that play a central role in disease.
In combination with a low-pesticide supply chain, fatty concentrates have huge medicinal potential for hemp cannabis buyers and enthusiasts.
- C Da Porto et al. Fatty acid composition and oxidation stability of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil extracted by supercritical carbon dioxide.
- R Brenneisen. Chemistry and Analysis of Phytocannabinoids and Other Cannabis Constituents.
- A Zgair et al. Dietary fats and pharmaceutical lipid excipients increase systemic exposure to orally administered cannabis and cannabis-based medicines.
- Oregon State University. Essential Fatty Acids.