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Full-spectrum cannabis extracts VS CBD isolate

By Ian Jones

Ian Jones is a journalist based in Manchester, England. He specialises in technology and food, with a heavy focus on vaping, CBD and medicinal drugs. He began writing professionally over 15 years ago and is a regular contributor to New Scientist, Vice and the Daily Mirror. He is also the resident CBD expert at the respected vaping website Spinfuel. He began looking at CBD in detail after discovering that it cured his mother’s arthritis, and has since become a leading figure in the UK when it comes to educating people about the CBD extraction process and exploring its curative properties.

The public profile of CBD has soared in recent years, with users using it to treat all manner of ailments and conditions. It can be consumed in a variety of ways, ranging from simple oral consumption to topical use and even vaping. There are two main forms of CBD on the market. These are ‘full spectrum’ CBD and CBD isolate. There are a number of key differences between the two, which we will look at in this article. We will also look at methods of consumption, as this can have dramatic impact on the efficacy of CBD. As we will see, full-spectrum CBD is more popular, and for good reason, but isolate has certain benefits that might appeal to different CBD users.

The increased popularity of CBD has led many users to raise questions about the methods of extracting and administering CBD. The main question is which form provides the most effective range of medical benefits for the user. The two most common forms of extracted CBD found in stores are full-spectrum (whole-plant extract) and pure CBD isolate. Most users prefer the full-spectrum option. As CBD’s usefulness for medical purposes has become more accepted over the years, new methods of administering it have continued to evolve.

This has left some users concerned not just with which form of extracted CBD is most effective or what the proper dosage for them may be, but also with which method of supplementation gives the user the most relief in the right amount of time. Some of the most common methods include applying it sublingually, topically, or taking it in capsules. Vaping cbd is regarded by many to be the most bio-available way to administer, and as such, this has led to an increase in the demand for CBD isolate. This form of CBD is different from full-spectrum CBD extract in that it only contains CBD and none of the other cannabinoids, terpenes, or healthy fatty acids that commonly result from the whole-plant extraction process.

Cannabis, with its complex chemical structure, contains over 100 active cannabinoids aside from CBD. It also contains terpenes, which have anti-inflammatory properties, and are regarded as increasing the efficacy of cannabinoids. Although they are not rated as important as CBD when it comes medical benefits, some of these other cannabinoids have been found to have symptom alleviating qualities as well. The cannabinoids CBN and CBG for example, are found in most full-spectrum extracts and studies have shown that both contain anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and pain relieving properties.

Whole-plant extracts typically contain a carefully measured amount of the cannabis plant’s most prominent cannabinoid, THC, although usually not in a large enough amount to have any psychological effects. In many countries, a certain percentage of THC is illegal, so it is vital to know the amount of this cannabinoid when manufacturing products that contain full-spectrum CBD. When present together, CBD and its cannabinoid colleagues, as well as terpenes, produce what is known as an entourage effect. The synergistic relationship between cannabinoids and terpenes has been shown to increase the healing properties of each.

A study published by the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research, which aimed its focus on the effectiveness of CBD isolate compared to full-plant extract, supported this concept, stating in its summary that “in all of the tests, the isolated CBD was ineffective both before and after a certain dosage, while the effectiveness of the full-spectrum solution continued to increase as higher doses were administered. The results all indicate that CBD is only effective against swelling and pain at a certain dose, and that cannabis solutions containing a full range of cannabinoids will continue to provide corresponding effects as the dosage is increased.”

Given the results of this study, it would seem to confirm that full-spectrum extract is preferable over CBD isolate for most CBD users, but CBD isolate is still frequently used and believed by some to be more effective than full-plant extract. This belief is led by the idea that CBD is the only medically sought after cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, aside from THC. Many CBD isolate users are under the impression that by consuming only the CBD cannabinoid and no terpenes or any other “unnecessary” components of the plant, they are getting a more powerful or effective dose of CBD. When vaping a CBD extract, which as stated previously, is considered to be the most efficient and quick-acting method of administering CBD, isolate users may feel that they are taking the most efficient route to CBD consumption. While this method might be efficient, the lack of entourage effect means the benefits are reduced when compared to full-spectrum CBD consumption.

However, CBD isolate does have something to offer CBD users that full-spectrum extracts does not. The fact that full-spectrum extracts invariably contain low levels of THC means that some users prefer to play it safe and stick to pure CBD by itself, out of fear of failing a drug test or experiencing a form of “high”, although both of these occurrences have been found to be fairly unlikely.

THC is one of the cannabinoids involved in the “entourage effect” stated earlier so it is ideal for inclusion in CBD supplementation. A recent article on full-spectrum CBD demonstrates the importance of THC inclusion by stating, “In hemp THC is a minor constituent and appears only in trace amounts under 0.3% by dry weight, as required by the U.S. government for hemp products. THC mimics the action of anandamide, a neurotransmitter naturally produced in the human body, and binds to CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system found mostly in the brain. The extremely low levels of THC in hemp make hemp oil non-psychoactive and safe for all ages to use.”

The wide range of benefits contained in full-spectrum CBD extracts means some CBD merchants have either ceased to sell, or scale down the promotion of CBD isolate, in comparison to the whole-plant extract variety. Companies and individuals who extract CBD themselves are realising that cannabis has more to offer medicinally than just CBD or THC, and that there is little to no reason to not include all that this “super-plant” has to offer in the extraction process.

This all serves to underline the importance of testing CBD extract for the various levels of active ingredients. If your homemade CBD extract contains a high amount of THC it could be illegal in your country and require you use either a different method of extraction, or more likely, the need to find a source of hemp that has lower THC. As more scientific literature emerges supporting the entourage effect, and increased benefits of full-spectrum CBD compared to CBD isolate, we can expect the manufacture and sale of CBD goods based around isolate to greatly reduce in the coming years.

The public profile of CBD has soared in recent years, with users using it to treat all manner of ailments and conditions. It can be consumed in a variety of ways, ranging from simple oral consumption to topical use and even vaping. There are two main forms of CBD on the market. These are 'full spectrum' CBD and CBD isolate. There are a number of key differences between the

CBD Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum CBD: Which One Is Right for You?

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When you think of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be the first cannabinoid to come to mind. But there’s another popular cannabinoid to keep on your radar: cannabidiol (CBD).

While much of the research on CBD is new or ongoing, some evidence suggests that CBD may have certain health benefits, like pain relief.

Because of these potential benefits, CBD products of all kinds have flooded the market. It can be tough to separate the great from not-so-good products — let alone understand CBD terminology, like isolate and full-spectrum.

We’ve got you covered with this quick and easy guide to the differences between each form of CBD.

Both full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate are extracts from the cannabis plant. But even though they come from the same plant, there are still differences.

Full-spectrum CBD products contain small amounts of other cannabinoids, like THC, as well as flavonoids and terpenes, which are beneficial compounds that provide unique scents and flavors.

CBD isolate products go through further refining, so they only contain CBD.

Isolate Full-spectrum
CBD yes yes
THC no yes
Flavonoids no yes
Terpenes no yes

The entourage effect theory suggests that taking CBD and THC together, along with terpenes, may be more effective than taking either cannabinoid alone. That’s why some people prefer to use full-spectrum CBD.

One 2011 review in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that taking a combination of terpenes and cannabinoids may help with:

  • anxiety
  • pain
  • inflammation
  • seizures
  • cancer
  • fungal infections

The same review also concludes that CBD may help lessen unwanted THC effects, like hunger, anxiety, and sedation.

Research from 2018 found that some of the terpenes and flavonoids found in cannabis may reduce inflammation and offer neuroprotective effects.

However, as with lots of other aspects of CBD, research into the entourage effect is ongoing — and not all of it agrees.

For example, a 2019 study in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found no change in CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, a part of your endocannabinoid system, when terpenes were added to THC.

More research is needed to be able to say for sure how the entourage effect works.

Some people may want to try CBD but are iffy on THC. That’s where CBD isolate comes in, since it’s the purest form of CBD.

Though CBD isolate won’t provide any benefits from the entourage effect, some research suggests that taking CBD alone may still be beneficial.

CBD isolate may be right for you if you:

  • Want a flavorless, odorless product. Though some CBD isolate products have added flavoring, unflavored products should be pretty taste-free.
  • Want to avoid THC altogether.
  • Want to take large doses of CBD.
  • Have to undergo drug testing. Full-spectrum CBD may be more likely to show up on a drug test. However, there may be a slight possibility that isolate products will show up, too. Even “THC-free” CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC.

Full-spectrum CBD may be the right choice if you want:

  • The benefits of the entourage effect. Since the amount of THC will be less than 0.3 percent, you shouldn’t experience any of THC’s psychoactive effects.
  • An earthy flavor profile. You can find flavored full-spectrum products, but unflavored varieties will have a slightly earthy taste.
  • A less refined product. CBD isolate has to go through more refining than full-spectrum THC.

We’ve done the research to bring you our top-rated CBD isolate and full-spectrum picks. These all meet our criteria for quality, safety, and transparency:

  • made with U.S.-grown hemp
  • has been tested by a third-party lab
  • doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC, according to the certificate of analysis (COA)
  • passes testing for heavy metals, pesticides, and molds, according to the COA

We also considered:

  • the manufacturing process and certifications
  • if the ingredients are certified organic
  • brand reputation and consumer trust indicators, such as user reviews and red flags like FDA warning letters or unsupported health claims

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $40
  • $$ = $41–$60
  • $$$ = over $60

Lazarus Naturals High Potency Full-Spectrum CBD Tincture

  • Price: $–$$$
  • CBD potency: 750 milligrams (mg) per 15 milliliter (mL) bottle, 3,000 mg per 60 mL bottle, or 6,000 mg per 120 mL bottle
  • COA: Available on product page

Each bottle of Lazarus Naturals High Potency Full-Spectrum CBD Tincture includes a graduated dropper to accurately dose about 50 mg of CBD per 1 mL serving. The tincture is vegan and contains no artificial flavors, preservatives, or added sweeteners. It’s made with Oregon-grown hemp.

Moon Mother Hemp Company Massage Oil

  • Price: $$–$$$
  • CBD potency: 500 mg per 2 ounce (oz.) bottle or 1,000 mg per 4 oz. bottle
  • COA: Available online

This topical CBD massage oil is cruelty-free, gluten-free, and soy-free. The hemp used to make the product is organic and sourced from Colorado.

In addition to full-spectrum CBD, it includes relaxing lavender essential oil and moisturizing jojoba oil.

LiftMode Hemp Extract Oil, Calm

  • Price: $
  • CBD potency: 1,500 mg per 30 mL bottle
  • COA: Available online

A half dropper serving of this CBD oil contains about 25 mg of CBD and 1 mg of melatonin. Melatonin can be helpful if you have trouble sleeping.

The oil also includes relaxing chamomile, frankincense, and lavender essential oils. It’s free of GMOs, fillers, and gluten.

Pure Relief Pure Hemp Gummies

  • Price: $$
  • CBD potency: 30 mg per gummy
  • COA: Available online

These potent CBD gummy bears are available in a daytime formula and a nighttime formula, which has added melatonin.

The gummies are dyed with natural colorings rather than artificial ones. They’re sweetened with organic glucose syrup and cane sugar.

Buy Pure Relief Pure Hemp Gummies online. Use code “HEALTH15” for 15% off (bundles excluded).

Fab CBD Chews

  • Price: $$
  • CBD potency: 25 mg per gummy
  • COA: Available online

These fruit-flavored CBD chews are vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free. The CBD is sourced from organically grown hemp. They’re sweetened with organic cane sugar and tapioca syrup.

Note that while Fab CBD says these gummies are made from CBD isolate, the COA shows a very small amount of the terpene d-limonene. Even though they don’t contain any other cannabinoids, that suggests that the gummies may be better classified as broad-spectrum.

Buy Fab CBD Chews online. Use code “HEALTHLINE” for 20% off your first purchase.

Kanibi CBD Pure Isolate

  • Price: $$–$$$
  • CBD potency: 750 mg per 1 oz. bottle or 1,500 mg per 1 oz. bottle
  • COA: Available on product page

Kanibi’s CBD isolate is available in cinnamon, Skittles, and unflavored varieties. It’s made with organic, U.S.-grown hemp and MCT oil.

The company provides a 100 percent money-back guarantee.

Some CBD companies make misleading claims about their products — some even mislabel them. And since the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD products the same way it regulates dietary supplements or drugs, that means it’s super important to do careful research.

Look out for the following when shopping for CBD products:

Test results

Look for products that include an up-to-date COA from a third-party lab. Some companies will ship the COA with the product, while others may post it online. In some cases, you may have to request it by email.

Here’s what to check for when you review the COA:

  • Contaminants. Check that the product doesn’t contain pesticides, mold, or heavy metals.
  • Cannabinoid profile. If you’re interested in purchasing a CBD isolate product, for instance, verify that the product is free of THC.
  • Potency. Check that the amount of CBD listed on the COA matches what’s listed on the label.

Ingredients

Be sure the product you’re buying actually contains CBD. If the ingredients list only says hempseed oil or Cannabis sativa oil, it doesn’t contain CBD.

CBD source

Opt for products made from organic, U.S.-grown hemp. U.S.-grown hemp is subject to regulation, so it can’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC by law.

CBD type

It’s up to you which kind of CBD you choose, but if you prefer to avoid THC, choose a CBD isolate product. If you’d like to have other cannabis compounds, choose a full-spectrum product.

Product type

There are all sorts of CBD products out there, from topicals to gummies.

Topical CBD products help target specific pain areas. Oils and gummies are more useful for whole-body relief.

We compare CBD isolate versus full-spectrum CBD. Learn about the similarities and differences between each type, plus get our top product picks.