First Things First
For many readers there may be terms in the title that are confusing such as “strain”, “distillate”, and “isolate”. Let’s begin by defining these terms and then we can talk about how these terms relate to edibles.
A “strain” of cannabis refers to a specific breed of the cannabis plant. Just like there are many breeds of dogs, there are also many different strains of cannabis (i.e. Blue Dream, O.G. Kush, Girl Scout Cookies et cetera). The established distinctions between strains has helped introduce science into the cannabis community because each has a unique ratio of cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG, etc.) and other active compounds in cannabis such as terpenes and flavonoids resulting in unique intoxicating and therapeutic benefits after consumption.
Cannabis “distillate” and “isolate” refer to pure forms of cannabinoids such as THC, and CBD. Distillate refers to pure THC or CBD in the form of oil, while isolate refers to pure THCA and CBD in a crystalline form. These forms are typically free of/or only contain a fraction of their terpenes and flavonoids profiles in plant form due to the process in which they’re made. In some cases terpenes and flavonoids will be reintroduced after distillation/isolation to resemble a strain or desired aroma/flavor.
So How Does This Relate to Edibles?
Since the 1960’s it had been common to lightly heat cannabis in a substance such as butter or coconut oil before using it to create edibles. In creating edibles this way, the majority of fat-soluble active compounds in cannabis such as cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids were infused into the butter/oil and therefore edibles. This resulted in edibles having unique intoxicating and therapeutic effects in relation to the strain of cannabis used. However there is a debate how much of an influence the terpenes and flavonoids have to the experience when ingested. Many believe the cannabinoid ratio is really what you should be paying attention to.
If we fast-forward to modern day edible production, we see that many companies strictly use isolate and distillate in their edibles. While there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever, it means that the strain becomes irrelevant in terms of the effects the consuming the edible will result in. As we learned above, part of what makes strains of cannabis unique are their profile of therapeutic and intoxicating compounds. If I isolated 100% pure caffeine from green tea it would be identical to 100% pure caffeine isolated from coffee, irrespective of the fact it was taken from multiple sources. Similarly, 97% pure THC isolate extracted from Blue Dream will be nearly identical to 97% pure THC isolate extracted from O.G. Kush. This means that cannabinoid profiles of certain strains are not infused into edibles made with distillate.
THC, THCA, CBG, CBN and CBD have unique therapeutic benefits and when taken together may result in a synergistic effect. Using cannabinoid distillate and isolate in edibles are beneficial because they allow for greater accuracy in measurement in order to maintain consistency in the products. However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that consuming an edible made with 10mg of 97% pure THC distillate would have the unique effects of the strain it was extracted from, due to the removal of properties making each strain of cannabis unique. The hypothetical edible in this situation would have effects similar to that of the THC in any given strain; it would not have the synergistic and added effects of different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Last but not least, it is important to remember the science surrounding cannabis is continuing to rapidly evolve. Our current state of understanding tells us that if you see “indica” or “sativa” on an edible label, keep in mind that if it isn’t made from a whole plant extract and instead from distillate or isolate, those terms essentially don’t matter.
Co-Written by Hunter Stephan and James Gerstenberger