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

If you’ve searched for CBD products before, you’ve probably come across terms such as “full spectrum” and “isolate”. You might have also noticed that some CBD products are labelled as “broad spectrum” CBD products. 

These phrases all refer to different types of CBD. While they can be confusing at first, it’s fairly easy to understand the key differences between each type once you’re familiar with the basics of how each form of CBD is produced and what it contains. 

Full spectrum, broad spectrum and CBD isolate products all provide different effects, making it important to understand what’s best for you. Below, we’ve listed the differences between each form of CBD, from how it’s made to how it affects you and more.

We’ve also looked at some of the unique advantages and disadvantages offered by each form of CBD. 

CBD and Cannabinoids: The Basics

The cannabis plant is made up of a vast range of naturally-occurring compounds. A single plant, for example, not only contains CBD — it also contains important flavonoids, organic plant matter, terpenes and other compounds that give it a unique scent, feel, appearance and colour. 

One of the most important aspects of the cannabis plant is its cannabinoids, a diverse range of chemical compounds that are found in cannabis. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid. Likewise, so is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. A single cannabis plant can contain a huge variety of different cannabinoids — according to an article in Discover magazine, there are more than 85 cannabinoids in the average plant. 

According to a 2016 study, more than 113 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the cannabis plant. It’s likely that this number will continue to increase as more cannabinoids are discovered and isolated. 

The cannabinoid content of a plant can vary based on its type. For example, certain strains of cannabis are rich in THC. Others, like the hemp plant, have an extremely low amount of THC but are rich in other cannabinoids.

Throughout your body, there are numerous cannabinoid receptors. These make up a system known as the endocannabinoid system. This system affects a variety of important biological processes, including your sense of taste, your ability to feel pain, your memory and mood. 

Contrary to popular belief, most cannabinoids will not get you high. Right now, scientists have only found that THC (along with some other compounds, such as THCV) are linked to the high that’s associated with cannabis. 

CBD and its Cannabinoid Content

The terms full spectrum, broad spectrum and isolate refer to the specific range of cannabinoids that are found within a CBD product, such as CBD oil or edibles.

When CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant, the extractor also extracts other cannabinoids from the plant material. The extracted matter also contains compounds such as flavonoids and terpenes, which are naturally present in the cannabis plant. 

The extractor can choose to either filter out non-CBD cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes, or to leave them in the extract. 

When the extractor decides to extract only the CBD, the end product is known as CBD isolate. It only contains CBD, with no additional terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds that are found in the cannabis plant.

When the extractor doesn’t filter out any of the other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes, the end product is known as full spectrum CBD. Full spectrum CBD is essentially a cross-section of the plant it was extracted from, retaining its natural cannabinoid and terpene profile. 

Broad spectrum CBD is a little different. While a broad spectrum CBD extract retains the natural cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes found in the cannabis plant, the THC content is removed to ensure there’s no active THC in the end product. 

Each type of CBD extract offers its own advantages and disadvantages. We’ve explained these below, along with more information on what you can expect from the different types of CBD.

CBD Isolate

CBD isolate only contains CBD, with none of the naturally-occurring flavonoids and terpenes of the cannabis plant. It also does not contain any additional cannabinoids — CBD is its only active ingredient.

In short, CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD available. Because it only contains CBD, it’s an ideal option for people who want to access the effects and potential benefits of CBD without the presence of additional compounds. 

CBD isolate products typically have a 0.0% THC content. Because of the 0% THC content, you should not fail a drug test if you use a CBD isolate that’s completely free of other cannabinoids and active ingredients. 

Because CBD isolate products only contain CBD, they’re also an ideal option if you need to use a relatively high dose of CBD and want to reduce your risk of experiencing issues from the other cannabinoids and terpenes found in a full spectrum extract.

Finally, CBD isolate is flavorless and has no noticeable scent. This can make it a good option if you don’t like the taste or smell of full spectrum CBD products, or if you simply prefer something that has no noticeable flavor.

The key disadvantage of CBD is that it reduces your ability to experience the additional effects of other cannabinoids and terpenes. Known as the “entourage effect”, experts believe that the additional cannabis compounds can have synergistic effects. 

Full Spectrum CBD

Full spectrum CBD not only contains the cannabidiol extracted from the cannabis plant, but also the other naturally-occurring cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. These compounds are left in the CBD oil during the extraction process, with no deliberate compound removal. 

In short, when you purchase full spectrum CBD, you’re getting an exact extract of the contents of the cannabis plant, complete with flavonoids and terpenes. 

Although CBD is the most important of these compounds, the other cannabinoids and terpenes in full spectrum CBD can provide their own benefits. Many full spectrum CBD users notice that these compounds work synergistically, resulting in a phenomenon called the entourage effect

Although research is still in its early stages, several studies appear to show that full spectrum CBD offers additional health benefits beyond those of CBD isolate. 

Specifically, a 2014 study published in Pharmacology & Pharmacy found that the presence of other plant constituents in CBD “improve dose-response” and are more efficacious than CBD isolate. 

If you use CBD for pain relief, these additional compounds may help to make it more effective and satisfying. Because these compounds work synergistically, you’re more likely to notice the entourage effect. 

Despite this advantage, full spectrum CBD also has a few disadvantages. First, although there isn’t enough THC in full spectrum CBD to make you feel high, the trace amounts of THC could affect your results if you’re subject to drug testing.

Because of this, it’s best to stick to CBD isolate if you’re drug tested as part of your education or career. 

Second, the presence of terpenes and flavonoids in full spectrum CBD can affect its flavor and odor. If you’re not a fan of natural CBD oil’s scent or taste, you might prefer CBD isolate to full spectrum CBD. 

Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad spectrum CBD contains all of the same naturally-occurring cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes as full spectrum CBD. However, the THC content of the cannabis plant is removed as part of the extraction process, giving this type of CBD a 0% THC content. 

This means that you’ll get the same entourage effect from broad spectrum CBD as you would from full spectrum CBD, without the issue of consuming THC. 

Because of this, broad spectrum CBD is a good option if you prefer the effects of the additional cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes found in full spectrum CBD but prefer not to face the risk of failing a drug test due to the presence of THC in your bloodstream. 

Which Type of CBD is Best?

There’s no “best” type of CBD, just like there’s no best pill for every headache or best medicine for every illness. Instead, each type of CBD offers its own advantages and disadvantages that could make it a suitable choice for you.

If you’re interested in experiencing the full effects of CBD, you’ll likely get the best results from products that use a full or broad spectrum CBD extract. These can both provide the entourage effect that’s caused by the synergistic effects of different cannabinoids.

On the other hand, if you need to use a relatively high dose of CBD, a product that uses CBD isolate can provide the effects you’re looking for without the presence of other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes.

Finally, if you’re worried about failing a drug test due to THC, it’s best to stick with CBD isolate or broad spectrum CBD, as these both have a 0% THC content. 

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