Our society tends to oversimplify things. In the political world we juxtapose one paradigm against another; in the health and wellness world, we become fixated with isolated compounds and predictable effects.
The only thing is...nature doesn’t work that way. Plant extracts tend to work best when they’re left whole and untouched. More specifically, hemp extracts tend to work best when they’re whole plant extracts.
What are Whole Plant extracts?
Whole plant extracts are cannabis extracts that contain a spectrum of cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds, including terpenes and phenols. This list should give you a better idea of what cannabis is made of:
CBGa .3% or less
Ocimene: .3% or less
In addition to these top ingredients are hundreds of others, most of them present only in truly trace amounts. Whole-plant extracts maintain the integrity of the plant by featuring many of the above compounds. And these compounds work best together — each likely plays an important role in creating the entourage effect.
In a sense, the term “whole plant” isn’t a literal one. Whole plant hemp extracts don’t necessarily include content from hemp’s stalks, seeds, roots, leaves, and flowers, though they most certainly might. Instead it simply refers to hemp extracts that contain the whole range of hemp’s most active ingredients (most of which are concentrated in the plant’s flower).
How are Whole Plant extracts made?
Whole plant extracts can be made in a few different ways. They’re almost always made through a chemical process called extraction. This process strips hemp’s water- and/or fat-soluble compounds out of its plant material and places it into a more concentrated form. Almost like an essential oil!
The most common types of extraction use these substances as their chemical solvents:
- Cane alcohol
- Olive oil
Not all solvents are created equal. Some solvents are pure but inefficient, while others (like butane and hexane) are efficient but difficult to fully remove from the final product. Extractions using supercritical CO₂ have quickly risen to popularity because they present the best of both worlds: high efficiency and total safety.
In addition to the extraction process, some whole plant extracts also use distillation or winterization techniques to further refine things. Still other whole plant extracts remain in the solvent they were extracted in; the traditional alcohol-based tincture is a good example of this.
What are the benefits of Whole Plant Extracts?
Whole plant extracts are very chemically diverse. That’s because hemp contains a unique blend of over 300 plant compounds; leave them intact, and seriously good things happen.
For one, whole plant extracts allow our bodies to experience the best of the entourage effect. And while no one fully understands how the entourage effect works...we know for sure that hemp’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and phenols do their best work together. One landmark study found whole plant extracts to be four times more effective than an equal amount of CBD isolate. 
Whole plant extracts may also give one access to terpenes (aka scent molecules) they wouldn’t otherwise have access to in today’s sterilized world. If you can’t get outside, don’t worry — whole plant hemp is basically aromatherapy in a bottle.
Whole Plant vs. Full Spectrum
What’s the difference, you might ask? Not necessarily anything; the terms whole plant and full spectrum are often used interchangeably.