What Are Full Extract Cannabis Oils?

By Anna Wilcox | June 30, 2017

Full extract cannabis oil (FECO) goes by many names. From Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), whole plant medicine, to medical cannabis oil, FECO is a product with many different forms and uses. But, what are full extract cannabis oils, really? Simply stated, FECO is the concentrated essential oil of the cannabis plant.

What are full extract cannabis oils?

Unlike other extractions, full extract cannabis oil is often made from cannabis flowers. However, leaves are sometimes used in the extraction process as well. Producers use a solvent to separate cannabis resin from plant material, creating a highly concentrated product. Those who make FECO at home often use grain alcohol as their primary solvent.

Perhaps considered one of the best medical cannabis products, FECO is often one of the primary choice for medical cannabis patients with severe illnesses. Full extract cannabis oils are popular among cancer patients who opt to use medical cannabis, as well as those with difficult to treat conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

It is often suggested that the beginning dose of FECO is a small dollop the size of a grain of rice. However, some patients work up to taking one gram of oil per day or more for several weeks at a time.

What makes FECO different from other extractions?

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The demand for FECO is growing rapidly, but the cannabis oil is not as popular as other common forms of extraction. Butane hash oil (BHO) and CO2-based extractions are more commonly purchased at dispensaries and from other cannabis services.

The difference between FECO and these common extractions is the consumption method. Products extracted with butane and CO2 are typically inhaled, while FECO is an oral cannabis product.

Butane and CO2 extractions also separate out many of the beneficial flavor and aroma molecules present on the cannabis plant. For this reason, FECO is often considered more potent. There are simply many more phytochemicals in medical cannabis oil than in some shatter or wax extracted with butane.

FECO is often administered via an oral syringe or is used to fill capsules. Though grain alcohol is one of the most common do-it-yourself solvents, many full extract cannabis oil products rely on ethanol. However, other solvents like naphtha and petroleum ether are sometimes used.

Neither naphtha or petroleum ether are considered the best solvents to use. Both products can contain compounds that are known carcinogens, like benzene. While some of these compounds may burn off due to the heat used when extracting cannabis oil, consumers should proceed with caution when it comes to using naphtha or petroleum products. It is possible residual traces of the solvent can remain in the medicine.

What makes FECO medicine?

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There are several reasons why cannabis consumers are in love with FECO. For one, microdosing cannabis oil is a growing trend. Though, it’s important to note that research on the health properties of cannabis comes mostly from animal trials and not human clinical studies.

Secondly, FECO just might be the most powerful cannabis product on the market. While 99 percent pure THC and CBD isolates are now available, it takes more than high levels of these compounds to make quality medical cannabis.

A phenomenon called the “entourage effect” is the reason why FECO is thought to make such powerful medicine. The cannabis plant is associated with 545 different chemical constituents. Of these, at least 113 compounds are molecules unique to cannabis called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive in the plant, is a cannabinoid.

Many of these cannabinoids are thought to be pharmacologically active, meaning that they may have some sort of therapeutic value for the human body. Research suggests that cannabinoids not only work together to create medicinal effects, but the effects of these compounds are amplified by the potent aroma molecules found in the herb.

Terpenes are the compounds that give plant resins their unique aromas. As it turns out, cannabis contains quite a lot of them. By some estimates, the plant is capable of producing over 100 different terpenes. However, most of them are in such small quantities that it is difficult to tell what effects they provide if any at all.

Terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically to deliver medicinal benefit. Myrcene, for example, is a musk-scented molecule that may help THC enter the brain faster. It is also thought to be responsible for some of the sedative and muscle relaxant effects of the herb.

The theory of whole plant medicine suggests that consuming several of these compounds together as possible is more beneficial than consuming any single compound on its own. Therefore, opting for a full extract oil can be considered more medicinal than an isolate.

Terpenes are sometimes added back into isolated products post-extraction. However, depending on the solvents used, extractors may only be re-introducing a percentage of beneficial aroma molecules.

Fortunately, FECO offers an ultra-concentrated dose of cannabinoids and terpenoids. This means that in one gram of FECO, consumers are getting the equivalent of perhaps several grams of dried cannabis flower.

How to find a high-quality full extract cannabis oil

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To find a high-quality medical cannabis oil, paying attention to solvents is important. Different terpenes and cannabinoids may be better extracted with certain solvents than others. So, an extractor may accidentally create a product that favors the presence of certain terpenes over others. This means that many full extract cannabis oils may not be exactly full extract, but they certainly come close.

One 2013 study published in the journal Cannabinoids has found that extracts made with ethanol tend to have the highest terpene content. Yet, those hoping to make medical cannabis oil at home may find it interesting that basic olive oil was found to be one of the best solvents. Both ethanol and olive oil retained the highest terpene content and are thought to be two of the safest extraction methods.

Olive oil, however, is more often used as an edible and not as a solvent for FECO. However, the knowledge that olive oil is a particularly potent substance to use as a solvent is highly beneficial for those interested in medical cannabis therapies.

When trying to find the best medical cannabis oil, there are a few other factors to consider. For those hoping to use the oil regularly, it may be beneficial to do some research prior to spending a small fortune on a batch. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for medical cannabis oil:

  • Is the oil made from organically grown cannabis?
  • Has the oil been laboratory tested?
  • Is the oil made from multiple strains or just one?
  • Does the oil contain unfamiliar additives?
  • Was the oil made from leaf material or flower?
  • What cannabinoids are dominant in the oil?

It is entirely possible to make high-quality medical cannabis oil at home. While the science is far from exact, many DIYers opt to use flowers from multiple different cannabis strains in an attempt to increase the cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles of the oil. However, opting for laboratory tested products is a great way to make sure that you are finding the cannabinoids that you want when picking up medical cannabis oil from a dispensary or another access point.

Anna Wilcox

Anna Wilcox is a natural products writer with a special emphasis in the cannabis plant. Inspired by the beauty of the natural world and a passion for health and the environment, she launched her botanical writing career in 2013. Favorite strain? Middlefork, a Pacific Northwest favorite. Contact her on Twitter @DelilahBField.

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