Crude FECO Vs Distillate Extracts: What Do Consumers Really Prefer?

by Gastautor

By Michael Sassano

In today’s market, there is still a debate among patients and doctors regarding what constitutes a crude extract versus distillate. Understanding the differences and similarities between the two helps one stay neutral in such discussions. Additionally, understanding consumer preferences and what most of the market truly consumes is essential.

What is Full Extract Cannabis Oil, FECO or Full-Spectrum Oil?

While “full-spectrum oil” is most often associated with hemp and CBD product marketing, the preferred industry term is “full extract cannabis oil” or “FECO.” These terms interchangeably mean that all of the constituents of the plant are extracted and concentrated into the oil, regardless of the extraction method. FECO includes cannabinoids, terpenes, lipids, plant sugars, chlorophyll, solvent and other compounds that may solubilize depending on the deployed extraction method. The concentration of total cannabinoids in FECO generally ranges from 50-70% though higher results are possible in high-quality extractions, with the remaining percentage being other plant components. FECO has the highest potential for the synergistic effects that cannabis is known for because the whole array of cannabis compounds and supporting compounds are present.

What is Cannabis Distillate?

Distillate is a highly purified cannabinoid concentrate that leaves behind “co-extracted” compounds such as terpenes, waxes, and plant sugars. To make distillate at Somaí Pharmaceuticals, we take FECO and process it via winterization and other purification methods. The oil is then loaded into a short-path distillation system and stripped further. The typical distillate will contain only cannabinoids, but some residual terpenes and co-extracts can make it through. The concentration of total cannabinoids in distillate ranges from 80-95%, with the remaining percentage comprising co-extracts. The terpenes and other plant constituents are destroyed or degraded in the distillation process, essentially rendering them filler. Distillate can provide the synergistic effects of cannabinoids, but there will be no benefit from terpenes or the other compounds the plant may contain. Distillate will have less of a cannabis taste than full-spectrum oil and therefore is favored by formulated product manufacturers.

Like many pharmaceuticals derived from plants, full-extract cannabis oil has been used since the inception of cannabinoid medicines. It takes time for researchers and pharmaceutical companies to determine what is efficacious within a plant. Instead of hyper-focusing on a singular compound or group of compounds, we often see formulations that utilize FECO. These medicines open the door and lead to further research, and in cannabis, this has been no different. The emergent pharmaceutical market has honed in on finalized formulations derived from full-extract cannabis oil. Patients and prescribers have found moderate success with FECO for indications such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

As time progresses and pharmaceutical companies generate revenue that can drive further research, we see single compound drugs emerge from full-spectrum extractions, as digitalis, aspirin, and morphine did. Cannabinoid-based medicines are slowly going in this direction, and the first step is formulating pharmaceuticals that only include cannabinoid compounds from the plant.

Cannabis distillate comes into the picture here. By using distillate, we hone in on how efficacious cannabinoids are for different indications. When using FECO, we “muddy the water” due to the higher concentration of terpenes, waxes, and chlorophyll which all can have physiological effects, both positive and negative. A focus on cannabinoids exclusively helps take away the variability that can come from a whole-plant extract. While cannabinoid-based medicines mature, we will find that some indications or corresponding symptoms are best treated with FECO derived from a specific cultivar due to its ratio of cannabinoids, the concentration of terpenes, and the other compounds present.

Simultaneously, we will likely find other indications and symptoms that are best treated with hyper-focused single cannabinoid medicines or a group of cannabinoids in a specific ratio. Current Global Market Overviews In today’s global cannabis market, there are a very diverse offering of products. You will see whole flower for smoking and full-extract cannabis oil made from various solvents, distillates, and isolates.

However, as you look at the maturity of each market, you will notice a trend. Emerging markets will start by selling only flower, and as they learn the business, they will produce FECO. Then, as time passes and the product manufacturers receive feedback from their markets, they will transition to producing distillate to remove many of the compounds that make for an unpleasant customer experience.

North American Markets Feature Both FECO and Distillate

The market that has matured the fastest is the North American market, specifically the United States. While this is primarily a commoditized market rather than a pharmaceutical one, it is essential to note that many patients are recommended cannabis by a physician and “forced” to purchase their medicine from an adult-use retail cannabis dispensary. In the U.S., you can find almost any cannabis product imaginable, but you will find across the board that any formulated product is made using cannabis distillate.

There is a staggering difference between FECO and distillate-based products in any adult-use retail dispensary. Simply put, FECO only exists in its raw form and is rarely found in formulated products. During its inception, the U.S. market sold only flower and then full extract cannabis oil. After a few years, the market began seeing distillate-based products. Almost a decade later, the shelves are dominated by distillate-based products. This trend is also observed in the newer Australian market, where FECO products were once the only offering, and now distillate-based products are being offered.

Europe is currently at the start of this process. Flower and FECO Rule European Market for Now Every current product in the European Union market is either flower or a product formulated with full-extract cannabis oil. Currently, there is a slow adoption of cannabinoid-based medicines (except for flower) for European patients. One of the better-known formulations in Europe has been reported to have a strong taste, cause upset stomachs, and even leave sores in the patient’s mouth. While not all those adverse reports are due to the product containing FECO, a positive patient experience may have been made possible if it were formulated with distillate. Negative patient experiences will slow growth in the market because patients will not want to continue consuming the drug after having these misfortunes.

FECO Versus Distillate Taste and Consumer Experience

The truth is that most consumers do not want to taste cannabis when they consume their product or medicine. Cannabis extract has a strong, bitter flavor that co-mingles with terpenes and flavonoids to provide a pungent, earthy, palette-coating aroma that is not too different from fresh mulch. Needless to say, FECO is not pleasant in your mouth. In fact, it can be worse than just being a pervasive taste; It can be uncomfortable when terpenes are present in high concentrations because these compounds are solvents. Some patients and consumers have reported sores in their mouths when using oral droplets derived from full-extract cannabis oil.

When a cannabinoid drug or product is formulated with distillate, it removes the sometimes unquantifiable effects of FECO and provides the patient with a more pleasant experience. Getting a patient to take a drug is occasionally challenging; that challenge increases when the medicine makes the patient uncomfortable, such as by having a foul taste. Distillate-based medicines have an almost neutral smell and a very slightly bitter taste that is easy to mask. Cannabinoid Distillate Has a Bright Formulation Future In the most developed U.S. markets, the products that dominate the shelves are formulated using distillate. Markets that have been growing for some time, such as Australia, are seeing the introduction of distillate-based products, while the newest markets, such as the EU, only carry FECO-based products. As these markets continue to grow and mature, the space will look more and more similar to traditional pharmaceuticals — where drugs are formulated with a single compound or group of compounds — such as distillate-based cannabinoid medicines.

About the author

By Michael Sassano, Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board for SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals, a European pharmaceutical and biotech company centered on manufacturing in Lisbon, Portugal, and globally distributing EU GMP-certified cannabinoid-containing pharmaceuticals. Somai Pharmaceuticals FECO are made from the cultivar MacFem.

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