Whole plant cannabis products, often called “whole plant medicine,” is a way to describe the consumption of cannabis in its original, biodiverse form. The term emerged in response to the trend of isolating cannabis compounds like CBD or THC, stripping out the many other chemical constituents of the plant through extraction. It is believed that therapeutic cannabis compounds harmonize when consumed as a whole, which has led many to advocate on behalf of whole plant medicine.
“Whole plant medicine is more effective in treating my nausea and anxiety than CBD alone.”
“Isolated THC makes me paranoid, so I prefer whole plant remedies.”
What is whole plant medicine?
Whole plant medicine refers to cannabis that is enjoyed in its original harvested state as dried flower. Cannabis has taken many new forms with the advancement of extraction technology, which has ushered in numerous new products that tinker with the chemical composition of the plant: Pharmaceutical formulations can be composed of synthesized THC, isolated CBD, or mainly terpenes, focusing cannabis onto specific chemical targets.
In some areas, laws prohibit the manufacturing or possession of anything more than CBD isolate, banning products with THC levels above 0.3%. Meanwhile, whole plant advocates argue that cannabis is more effective when it contains the chemical diversity expressed in the plant. In its natural state, cannabis produces hundreds of potentially therapeutic compounds, including terpenes and minor cannabinoids like CBN, CBG, and THCV.
Benefits of whole plant medicine
The benefits of whole plant medicine are largely based in a theory known as the entourage effect. This theory, famously coined by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and studied by Dr. Ethan Russo, suggests that cannabis may be more therapeutically potent when it contains its full, native spectrum of chemical compounds because they synergize within our bodies. In other words, the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. The presence of specific compounds may also offset the adverse side effects of others—for example, CBD has been shown to curb the intensity of anxiety that can be brought on by THC.
Whole plant medicine may be the preferred option for some, but for others, concentrates and isolates may work for their purposes. Additionally, strict local laws or employer policies prevent people from consuming any THC, even in small amounts present in high-CBD flower.
Difference between whole plant and full-spectrum cannabis
Whole plant medicine is sometimes confused with “full-spectrum,” a term which describes extracts produced with the intent to preserve as much of the plant’s biodiversity as possible. However, the chemical composition is always changed to some extent in the process of extraction as heat, solvents, and other factors come into play.
Put simply, whole plant medicine describes consumable cannabis maintained in its flower form. However, even this begins to shift chemically over time. When cannabis is harvested and dried, its chemical composition changes: aromatic terpenes slowly dissipate as they are exposed to air, and THCA begins to convert to its non-acidic THC form or into CBNA (cannabinolic acid). The chemical composition of buds slowly change even as they rest in a jar.
In summary, whole plant medicine refers to cannabis in its dried flower form while full-spectrum describes extracts designed to maintain as much chemical diversity as possible during the extraction process.