When you walk into a marijuana dispensary for the first time, it’s easy to feel like a kid in a candy shop. There are so many products with all kinds of uses, that it can be quite overawing for somebody who’s just looking to buy some medical pot. To find the most suitable treatment for your condition, some experimentation is always going to be necessary. Beyond the popular marijuana-infused edibles, consumers primarily have a choice between cannabis flower and concentrates.
In this post, we’ll look at the differences between the two, and discuss which type of products are best for medical use.
Advantages and disadvantages of medical cannabis flower
Think cannabis – especially if you’re of the older generation – and you’ll probably conjure up some sweet-smelling, sticky bud in your mind. Good old cannabis flower is packed with therapeutic cannabinoids and helpful terpenes, most of which can be found on the resin glands of the bud – also known as trichomes, these are mostly situated on the surface of the flower.
The most prevalent cannabinoids in cannabis resin are THC and CBD. THC was the first cannabinoid to be discovered, back in the 1960’s, and it has a range of medicinal benefits – however, it is also psychoactive and can make the user euphoric or, in a bad experience, paranoid and anxious. The psychoactive property of THC has stopped it from gaining wide acceptance around the globe. However, cannabis scientists have now researched cannabidiol (CBD) extensively, a non-psychoactive compound that is giving cannabis an improved public profile. You won’t get high from a dose of CBD, but you’ll still enjoy its plethora of medicinal qualities.
While the average cannabis plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids (compounds unique to marijuana), the resin consists of more than 400 compounds in all. Researchers only have comprehensive knowledge about a few of these compounds, although evidence points towards many of the compounds working in tandem to enhance the overall therapeutic value of cannabis.
Terpenes have caught the attention of cannabis scientists, for their strong aromas and beneficial properties. Terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis and are found in the resins of several plant (for example, beta-caryophyllene is present in black pepper). Research suggests that the interactions between terpenes and other cannabis compounds increase the herb’s medicinal potential.
The combination of THC and linalool, a terpene, is thought to enhance the muscle-relaxing properties of cannabis. Linalool has a lavender aroma and can be found in several marijuana strains.
When in the form of cannabis flower, the resin stays on the plant. However, in concentrates, the resin is extracted from the herb, sometimes with a solvent although preferably via supercritical CO2 extraction. Concentrates are much more potent than any cannabis strain.
But cannabis flower has always been more popular because it doesn’t require processing and it’s much easier to use. Moreover, when extracted into a concentrate, it’s possible that some of the terpenes will be excluded from the final extract. Therefore, cannabis flower is the only way to guarantee getting all the medicinal benefits of a strain.
However, in some areas, concentrates hold the edge over flower. This is certainly the case for users who consume cannabis in large doses regularly. To get the necessary levels of cannabinoids into the bloodstream in an efficient manner, it makes sense to medicate with potent concentrates.
For those suffering with chronic pain, neurological disorders or severe chemotherapy symptoms, concentrates may be the most effective way of administering cannabis.
For moderate pain, and mental disorders such as insomnia, anxiety and depression, the cannabinoid levels in marijuana bud should suffice. However, no two people are the same, our endocannabinoid systems are unique and other factors such as size and metabolism speed all have influence. Therefore, only through trial and error with various strains and delivery methods can somebody definitively establish which treatment plan serves them best.
Let’s sum up the pros and cons of cannabis flower.
Pros of cannabis flower
- With cannabis flower, you can be sure that all the compounds in a strain are present and that you’ll benefit from them
- It’s cheaper
- It’s more widely available
- You can easily grow it yourself (providing it’s legal!)
- Perfect for most cannabis users
- Beautiful aromas can be therapeutic
- Raw cannabis can be juiced or added to a smoothie – cannabinoid acids (cannabinoids before they are heated and activated) have medicinal properties too
Cons of cannabis flower
- Not always potent enough for patients who require intensive treatment
- Smoking cannabis poses its own health risks. Vaping is safer, but equipment can be pricey
- While cannabis flower can be used to make edibles, this process is complex
- If not stored correctly, bud can become moldy
Advantages and disadvantages of medical cannabis concentrates
Concentrates are powerful but often expensive, so it’s important – but not always easy – to find a top-of-the-range product. Because it’s so costly to extract high quantities of the most useful cannabinoids, patients can find it a struggle to settle on a concentrate that suits their needs and works consistently.
There are different kinds of cannabis concentrates available, but all can be split into two groups: isolate concentrates and full-extract concentrates. CBD-isolate and THC-isolate concentrates are manufactured by separating out the necessary cannabinoid from the rest of the extract. As expected, full-extract concentrates feature all the compounds in a strain.
It’s no coincidence that cannabis concentrates have that name – these products condense the extracts into wax, shatter or crystals and are much more potent than any cannabis flower. For example, the strongest high-THC strains contain around 20 to 25 percent THC; some THC-isolate crystal products are 99% pure THC.
But there are problems with concentrates. The manufacturing of them is critical – it’s essential that the plants used are grown pesticide-free, and that a high-quality extraction method is used so that heavy metals and toxins do not accumulate into the extract. As a lot of plant matter is used to make a concentrate, sketchy production techniques can pose health risks. Therefore, only purchase concentrates from reputable brands and vendors.
The toxins that may be found in relatively high quantities in concentrates affect patients with damaged immune systems more than most, as they cannot clear them out so easily. To avoid this problem, buy concentrates made with organically-grown cannabis and that have been tested (with the results made available) by a third-party laboratory.
With the range of concentrates on the market, selecting the perfect product is sometimes tricky. Both THC and CBD are therapeutic, as are the hundreds of other cannabinoids, hence why full-extract concentrates tend to be preferred over isolates – they bring out the ‘entourage effect’. However, a pure THC-isolate concentrate could be too psychoactive for many users.
For users who may have to take a drugs test at work, CBD-isolate concentrates are the only viable choice, as a full-extract product will saturate the body with too much THC. Interestingly, some companies are making isolated concentrates (both CBD and THC), and then adding specific terpenes and essential oils back in, amplifying the effects through the back door.
Let’s evaluate the pros and cons of cannabis concentrates.
Pros of cannabis concentrates
- Extra potency is brilliant for patients who require intense treatment
- Can administer large doses quickly
- Strong, near-instantaneous relief
- Some concentrates (i.e. wax) can be consumed orally
- Cleaner and purer to inhale than flower
- No need to purchase vaporizing equipment (however, some vapes are compatible with concentrates)
Cons of cannabis concentrates
- Much more expensive
- Intense processing method can exclude some therapeutic compounds from the extract
- If not lab-tested, products may contain traces of solvents
- Some concentrates are more effective than others
- Often contain pesticides
Do you have experience with cannabis flower or concentrates, or do you know somebody who has? If so, consider offering your thoughts in the comments below!