What is Full-Spectrum Cannabis?

According to research by New Frontier Data, self-reported cannabis usage rates have spiked sharply since 2012. The number of cannabis users in the US is projected to grow from 47 million in 2020 to 71 million by 2030. In addition, the legal and regulatory framework introduced by multiple states has already, and will continue to, disrupt informal and illicit markers. If cannabis is legalized in all 18 potential markets by 2030, around 47% of total demand will be satisfied by the legal cannabis market, which is an increase from only 27% in 2021.

Most US citizens live in states where some form of cannabis is legal. In particular, nineteen states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for recreational use. Rhode Island was the most recent state to join this trend as it introduced the Rhode Island Cannabis Act.

From the perspective of the job market, the cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing employers. As of January 2022, there are 428,059 full-time equivalent jobs supported by the formal cannabis industry, as found by the 2022 Leafly Jobs Report. In 2021, the cannabis industry created a whopping 280 new jobs per day, which is a 33% increase in jobs in a single year. This marks the fifth year in a row in which the cannabis industry has demonstrated an annual job growth of greater than 27%

The positive sentiment towards the rapid growth of the cannabis industry is largely driven by the change in cultural and sociopolitical attitudes towards cannabis. This change in attitude has transformed cannabis from an esoteric medical treatment to a widely available and acceptable recreational tool. These factors, combined with increasing consumer demand, an increasing number of states legalizing cannabis, and greater research on its therapeutic impacts, have resulted in bullish market sentiment for the cannabis industry.

Given the rapid surge in popularity, there is a range of cannabis products available today. Specifically, full-spectrum cannabis products have received an increasing amount of attention from consumers and experts alike. As the name suggests, full-spectrum, also known as whole-plant, cannabis contains the entire cannabis profile – or multiple naturally occurring compounds – instead of just one. This tends to improve the experience of cannabis products, making it an increasingly popular product amongst consumers.

Why are full-spectrum products popular?

Full-spectrum products contain an array of compounds from the cannabis plant, as opposed to any singular compound. Full-spectrum products preserve the complete cannabinoid and terpene contents of the raw cannabis plant. Raw cannabis plants have a range of desirable compounds, which can improve their impacts. Full-spectrum products attempt to capture this range of complex products without altering them through extraction methods, such as decarboxylation or oxidation. Some examples of full-spectrum products include Full Spectrum Cannabis Oil (FSCO) and Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO).

Full-spectrum products have become popular for a variety of reasons. These include:

  • The Entourage Effect – While each specific compound, such as CBD, may have its own benefits, a growing body of research claims that the various compounds in cannabis work synergistically to enhance each other’s effects and benefits. Full-spectrum products include compounds ranging from CBD, THC, to terpenes, other cannabinoids, flavonoids and more, which work collectively to improve efficacy and impact.
  • Less processing – Full-spectrum products are generally considered the most natural, which has led to a surge in their popularity. This is because it is the closest to the source profile of the actual cannabis plant. In fact, it takes a lot more processing and work to isolate individual compounds. Broad spectrum products, and especially CBD isolates, tend to remove the additional compounds that occur naturally in cannabis plants.
  • Greater amount of thorough research – While there are multiple researchers focused on discovering the benefits of CBD in general, the most thorough research has been conducted on the effect of CBD with THC. For example, a combination of THC and CBD has been found to potentially ease the pain caused by neuropathy and chronic illnesses. Of course, this does not imply that CBD alone is not beneficial; however, larger research projects have focused on the full spectrum of compounds. This is perhaps also the reason, the entourage effect has become a commonly discussed phenomenon in the scientific community.
  • Greater accessibility – Needless to say, it is less work and effort for companies to produce full-spectrum products as they require less processing, making them more readily available in the market. While isolating individual chemicals is a complicated process, full-spectrum products are relatively easier and less expensive to manufacture.

These benefits of full-spectrum products make them highly popular amongst consumers.

What compounds do full-spectrum products contain?

While cannabinoids such as CBD and THC are some of the most popular compounds associated with cannabis, the cannabis plant can produce more than 400 compounds. A large number of these compounds have therapeutic and recreational uses. Full-spectrum products can contain a variety of cannabinoids such as:

  • THC
  • THCa
  • CBD
  • CBDa
  • CBG, and
  • CBN

It may also contain terpenes and other compounds such as flavonoids, proteins, phenols, sterols, and esters.

The full spectrum of a product depends on numerous factors. For starters, it depends on the type of cannabis product it is. Certain compounds change depending on the extraction process. For example, some compounds change during the drying process, implying that a live resin extract (extracted from a fresh plant) will have a different compound profile than a dried bud or flower extract. In addition, the profile of a product can depend on various other factors, such as the plant, its age, and the environment. Hence, a single strain or species of plant has the potential to produce multiple full-spectrum products.

Exogenous cannabinoids, or external cannabinoids not found naturally in humans, are also known as phytocannabinoids because they are derived from plants. In cannabis plants, these compounds are produced by the granular trichomes covering the plant's surface. Needless to say, some of the most popular compounds are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These are not just the most popular but also the most prevalent compounds available in cannabis plants.

THC is perhaps the most well-known for its ability to induce psychoactive effects. Consuming THC has been shown to impact the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the part of the brain that controls decision-making, attention, motor skills, and other executive functions – by increasing blood flow. As you probably already know, the effects of THC are not universal – it varies from person to person. Lastly, THC cannabinoids bind to the CB1 receptors and trigger feelings of euphoria from the brain’s reward system.

The next most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant is CBD. The impacts of CBD are often described as non-intoxicating. While it has the potential to exhibit psychoactive impacts, these effects are said to be more calming than intoxicating. This is precisely why CBD products are frequently used to treat anxiety, chronic pain, and seizures. Some other prevalent cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). CBN is typically found in old and aging cannabis plants, making it a degraded form of THC. THCA is a non-psychoactive substance that converts to THC when heated, in a process known as decarboxylation and CBD, too, is a result of decarboxylated CBDA.

Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give cannabis plants and products their distinct scent and also contribute to their flavor. While cannabis plants contain more than 150 types of terpenes, they are usually present only in trace amounts. The most prominent terpenes in a plant collectively give different cannabis strains their unique scent profile. Apart from scent, terpenes have other diverse functions, such as their therapeutic and mood-altering effects. Recent research has demonstrated that in high concentrations, terpenes have the potential to enhance cannabinoid activity – the entourage effect.

Isolates vs Full Spectrum vs Broad Spectrum

Of course, full-spectrum products are not the only options for cannabis consumers. Other categories include broad spectrum products and isolates. The most fundamental difference between the three is their chemical composition.

Broad spectrum

Similar to full-spectrum, broad spectrum products preserve an array of naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant. However, the key difference is that they specifically eliminate the THC content in the mix. Think of this as a middle stage between full-spectrum products and exclusively CBD isolates. Similar to full-spectrum products, broad spectrum products contain CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids. It can be created by adding various compounds to CBD or by removing THC from full-spectrum extract through distillation. While they have a similar flavor profile compared to full-spectrum products, they are lighter in color. Given that drug and urine tests typically search for THC, broad spectrum products offer a clear urine drug screening.


On the other hand, isolates are products that usually contain only one purified or isolated cannabis compound, such as a CBD isolate. Most isolates are CBD isolates that do not contain any other compound found in the plant naturally. They’re considered the purest form of extracted cannabinoids (99.9% purity) and are produced through additional solvent processes after distillation. This makes isolates more expensive than other cannabis products on average.

Perhaps the most crucial benefit of isolates is the consistency and standardization they offer. As long as your supplier is reliable, they’re far more consistent in emulsions. The quantity and concentration is usually standardized. Hence, less chances of surprises when you use the products as consumers can expect the same sensory experiences every time they consume an isolate.

On the other hand, full and broad spectrum products offer the benefit of multiple compounds working synergistically to enhance the overall effect. Minor compounds also give cannabis its depth, creating unique flavor, tastes, and sensory experiences. With full-spectrum products, you can also enjoy the psychoactive effects of cannabis.

Different types of full-spectrum products

The lack of regulation governing what constitutes a full-spectrum product can sometimes make it difficult to distinguish. While some products may market themselves as full-spectrum, that is not always the case. Here are some product categories you can consider when you look for full-spectrum products:

  • Live resin – Instead of dried plants, live resin is created using fresh or sometimes frozen cannabis plants. Whether it is a full-spectrum product depends on the processing method used. For example, if a processing method that involves heating is used, compounds such as terpenes will be lost. However, there are multiple methods to ensure live resin is full-spectrum.
  • Live rosin – A low heat and pressure method is used to carefully extract cannabinoid- and terpene-rich resins from hash or cannabis flowers. Because it requires very little heat, rosin has the potential to preserve multiple cannabinoids, depending on the source material. The word “live” implies that the product uses cannabis flowers that were frozen shortly after harvest. The freezing specifically preserves terpenes, improving the entourage effect.
  • Cured flower – A cured flower is often said to contain the most compounds naturally found in cannabis, given that it is entirely cannabis. The process involves harvesting, drying, and curing the flowers. While it is true that some terpenes may be lost or transformed in the curing stage, it is an essential step toward producing quality cannabis flowers.
  • High terpene full-spectrum extract (HTFSE) – The extraction process for HTFSE usually results in a high level of terpenes (sometimes around 40%). Some of these products are labeled as “sauce,” and have a clear and viscous consistency. Not all sauce is full-spectrum, so make sure you look for one that has the compounds you’re looking for.
  • High cannabinoid full-spectrum extract (HCFSE) – This is similar to HTFSE, but has a different level of cannabinoid composition. HCFSE typically has a high cannabinoid concentration of desirable compounds, resulting in a crystalline structure.

Is full-spectrum right for you?

Full spectrum products have surged in popularity due to their many benefits discussed in this article. Features such as the entourage effect, easier processing, greater accessibility, and psychoactive experiences due to THC content have made full-spectrum products a popular choice amongst consumers.

Full-spectrum products have something to offer for everyone. Along with its numerous health benefits, it offers the added potency due to the entourage effect. However, if you want to avoid THC entirely, perhaps due to a drug screening, you might want to consider broad spectrum products or isolates.

While the impact of THC varies from person to person, it is worth trying at least once. Make sure you understand the molecular constitution of the product you’re consuming. If you’re consuming THC for the first time or are a beginner, start with products that have lower levels of THC, and eventually make your way up. However, if you’re entirely averse to the psychoactive impacts of THC, there are always broad spectrum products and isolates.