CBD: Isolate, Broad Spectrum, Full Spectrum. What’s the Difference?

When looking at CBD products, you’ve probably noticed that the label rarely just says, “CBD.”

Instead, you’ll read things like, “full spectrum” Hemp extract or “broad spectrum” Hemp extract or CBD “isolate.” What’s the difference between all these different products, and which one should you get? Keep reading for more info about what makes these types of CBD products different. 

Extracting CBD from the Plant

CBD—or cannabidiol—is one of a group of chemical compounds called phytocannabinoids which are found in the Cannabis plant (Phyto means, “of a plant.”) This compound has become extremely popular due to growing evidence that it has wide-ranging health benefits. There are two main ways to get it out of the Cannabis plant and put it into a form that you can use. The first is to extract it and then process it until everything but the CBD molecule has been stripped away. This final product is called CBD isolate, or isolated CBD, and is nothing but pure CBD (usually about 99 percent pure). It’s typically an odorless, tasteless, white crystalline powder.

In contrast, the other common way to create a CBD product is to use an extraction process that preserves—rather than takes out—the other molecules that occur along with the CBD. In addition to CBD, the Cannabis plant contains hundreds of other molecules including terpenes, fatty acids, flavonoids, and other phytocannabinoids. In this second type of process, the goal is to retain—rather than strip away—these other molecules, so that the finished product contains CBD, plus many of the other molecules that naturally occur in the Cannabis plant. The finished product is usually labeled as full spectrum, full-plant, or whole-plant CBD. 

Full Spectrum CBD

A lot of people prefer full spectrum CBD over isolated CBD. One reason for its popularity is the belief that CBD isn’t the only compound in the Cannabis plant that has health benefits. While researchers still have a limited understanding of the multitude of different compounds found in this plant, there is a growing belief that like CBD, many of them may have significant health benefits. For example, another cannabinoid called cannabinol (CBN) is thought to increase appetite, and one named cannabigerol (CBG) is believed to help with pain relief. Researchers also believe that terpenes—another type of molecule in Cannabis—may have specific types of health benefits such as reducing pain and inflammation. 

Full spectrum CBD also contains fatty acids. CV Sciences’ CBD products are full-plant extracts produced from hemp that has a high level of fatty acids. Lex Pelger, Director of Education for CV Sciences, explains why those fatty acids are thought to be beneficial to health. The human body has an endocannabinoid system, which helps maintain balance and homeostasis within the body, and according to Pelger, fatty acids help feed this system. He says, “The essential fatty acids found in the cannabis plant not only support health in themselves, they’re also the building blocks the body uses to make its own cannabinoids. That’s why supporting our endocannabinoid system with healthy starting material from a hemp plant does so much to promote balance in the human system.”

Finally, full spectrum CBD typically includes some THC, the cannabinoid that is best known for its psychoactive effects. In hemp-derived CBD products, the amount of THC is typically negligible (less than .3% THC). In marijuana-derived CBD products, it may be higher. THC also has health benefits, even at low doses, according to Dr. Jamie Corroon, the founder and Medical Director of The Center for Medical Cannabis Education. The presence of THC and other phytocannabinoids, is one reason that he prefers full spectrum CBD products. “For people who prefer not to be exposed to THC. . . perhaps an isolate is the best solution,” he says, but if THC is not an issue, he usually recommends full spectrum products. In fact, he says, “I think a lot of the effects that people attribute to CBD may actually be due to THC, especially in marijuana-derived CBD products.”

Another reason many people choose full spectrum CBD is that there’s evidence that the terpenes, cannabinoids, fatty acids, and other beneficial compounds in Cannabis work better when they are taken together rather than isolated and taken alone. This is known as the Entourage Effect. Proponents of the Entourage Effect believe that there is a synergy between all of the different compounds in the Cannabis plant. As a result, they insist that you’ll get the maximum health benefit when you take a product where these compounds are kept together the way they are found in nature. They argue that if you isolate just one—such as CBD—it won’t work as well.

CBD Isolate

However, while many people prefer full spectrum CBD, there are also a number of good reasons why some choose CBD isolate instead. One is purity. Because isolate is usually about 99 percent pure, it’s easy to know exactly how much CBD you’re getting and to control your dose. Another reason is that full spectrum CBD oils usually have a distinctive taste and scent. In contrast, CBD isolate is odorless and tasteless. That means it’s easy to add isolate into different foods, drinks, and other products like skincare products without changing their taste or smell. 

Cannuka makes its topical CBD products with a CBD isolate (theirs is 99.7 percent pure). Company founder Michael Bumgarner explains that isolate’s purity and taste are two of the reasons why they chose isolate over full spectrum CBD. He says, “Scent is very important in personal care and using an isolate allowed us to develop a much more pleasing experience for our end consumer.” In addition, he says that isolate is a better way to ensure product consistency. He explains, “Using an isolate allowed us to develop a very consistent product. This ensures that whether you are buying our CBD Calming Eye Balm in NYC or out in LA you will be getting the exact same thing.”

Yet another reason some people choose CBD isolate is THC. A full spectrum CBD extract will probably contain some THC, while CBD isolate does not. Although the amount of THC in a full spectrum extract is usually small, some people don’t want to take any THC at all. For instance, there are those who live in a state where any amount of THC is against the law. Others are drug tested at work and don’t want to risk failing a test. 

Broad Spectrum CBD

For people who don’t want any THC in their CBD, some CBD sellers are beginning to offer something that they call broad spectrum CBD. Proper Hemp Co. sells broad spectrum products. Shawn Hammond, co-founder of Proper Hemp Co. explains, “We remove the THC from our extract to allow broader worldwide distribution and also to allow our customers to use our products without the concern of testing positive on a drug test that tests for THC.  This zero THC extract has become known as ‘Broad Spectrum CBD’, which we use for the base for all of our products formulations.” 

Depending on the process used, it is possible to change the final CBD product in other ways too. For example, Hammond explains that Proper Hemp Co also uses a process intended to increase the bioavailability of the CBD, which means the extent to which it can be absorbed into the body. He says, “We applied an advanced process to our extract called nano emulsification, which breaks down the size of the oil into droplets so small that they become water-soluble.” According to Hammond, “The small size of Proper’s nanoemulsion formula leads to a much greater surface area of the CBD oil droplets in our products, leading to much higher absorption in the blood, up to 5 times the bioavailability.”

 So, Which One Should I Use?

While many people have their own preferences about which type of CBD product is best, unfortunately, there is still very limited scientific research on the topic. Most experts agree that a lot more research is needed before we can really understand how CBD works, in any form. Corroon stresses that although a lot of people do report that they are getting results from CBD, “We don’t really have the research that we would need to substantiate these claims.” He says, “There is some research . . . but there’s also some ideology involved.” 

Ideology or not, large numbers of people are trying CBD for a range of different health and wellness concerns. If you’re one of them, and you’re trying to decide which product to use, the answer is: As with all things Cannabis, there’s no one answer to that question. Experts stress that every person reacts differently to CBD and other Cannabis products, so you probably won’t know for sure what’s best for you until you try it yourself.

One thing to think about if you are choosing a full spectrum CBD product: You’re more likely to get the benefits of all those different chemical compounds if you choose a product that has been extracted with a process that preserves those compounds. Some extraction methods are done with harsh chemicals or at high temperatures, which can destroy beneficial compounds. Many people prefer CO2 extraction, which is done at low temperatures, and without solvents. If you’re using CBD isolate, don’t forget that it’s much more concentrated than a full spectrum oil. Whatever you choose, another expert recommendation is to start slowly, and gradually increase the dose after you see how it affects you.

Written by Andrea Nakaya

Author and Svn Space contributor. Andrea is a native of New Zealand, and holds a BA in English and an MA in communications from San Diego State University. She has written numerous articles and more than fifty books and anthologies, on a wide variety of current issues.

1 comment

This is a great breakdown of information. Thanks! There is a lot to absorb (pardon the pun) regarding this whole topic. And i think my take away from this article is that now that i am more knowledgeable about the different forms of cannabis, it really comes down to ME trying all three forms and seeing which one works best for me.
So, i guess i need to still figure out if i can legally take the full spectrum CBD without a medical card in Florida, because it has THC. Does it matter? i can research this myself online. But it just brought the question to mind. thank you again for informative article!

lola January 22, 2020

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