Synthetic vs. Isolate vs. Distillate vs. Extract

There are many different methods used to process cannabis and obtain its active ingredients. As far as cannabis users are concerned, the primary difference between the various processes is: which components from the original plant remain in the final extract? Is it a single cannabinoid, a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes, or a combination of many different compounds found in the original plant? Cannabis cultivators and manufacturers also care about the yield and purity of the final extract: how many milligrams of cannabinoids are generated from the original plant, and is there any residual plant matter left in the extract?

Traditional healthcare providers view purity as the gold standard for any medication. A purified compound contains no impurities that may generate undesired and/or unexpected outcomes. Whole plant advocates, on the other hand, believe that medications taken in whole plant form, that is, with all the compounds naturally found in the plant, are best, because all the compounds work together in our bodies to generate optimal outcomes. 

mj forms large4

Click for larger version

Synthetic Cannabis

Synthetic cannabinoids are made in a lab. Scientists use cannabis plants to understand the molecular structures of cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) found in plants. They then reproduce those plant compounds in a lab using chemicals. When cannabinoids are synthesized, the output is a single compound (an isolate) that is pure (uncontaminated by another compounds). In short, synthetics are purified, isolated, man-made compounds.

Pros: Synthetic cannabinoids are relatively inexpensive to make, they’re pure, and their yield is predictable and consistent from batch to batch.

Cons: Synthetic cannabinoids may not be exactly the same as phytocannabinoids, in which case they might not generate identical user outcomes. When used in synthetic form, isolates also don’t generate entourage effects like whole plant extracts do.

Whole Plant Cannabis Doesn’t Fit the Healthcare Industry Mold

Moreover, this [Epidiolex] is a purified form of CBD. It’s being delivered to patients in a reliable dosage form and through a reproducible route of delivery to ensure that patients derive the anticipated benefits. This is how sound medical science is advanced.

-- FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (June 25, 2018)[1]

This statement by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb helps illuminate why government – as well as many in the healthcare industry – are so averse to cannabis in flower or other whole plant form: Whole plant cannabis is simply not a form of medication that reflects “sound medical science,” that is, it is not a purified form that can be reliably dosed.

Origins of Medication Standardization

The idea that active ingredients in medication should be isolated and purified is not a new concept. The idea dates back to ancient times, to the Greek physician Galen (c. 130–c. 200 AD). Yet, it wasn’t until the 1800s that active compounds were actually first isolated. The ability to isolate and purify individual compounds radically changed how plants were used in medicine. Henceforth the healthcare industry insisted on the exclusive use of isolated and purified compounds in healthcare – rather than whole plant medicines – for three reasons:[2]

  1. Accurate dosing of medications,
  2. Elimination of toxic effects due to impurities in plant product, and
  3. Synthesis of related compounds for use in other valuable drugs.

Buy Direct:

Or on Amazon

Copyright In Color. All Rights Reserved.

Published by: In Color
PO Box 149
Santa Barbara, CA 93102