What CBD is Best: Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum or Isolate?
Just a quick disclaimer; we don’t make health claims about CBD, we just share the research. You'll always find references to scientific literature to substantiate what we share. This is for informational use only. Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your healthcare regimen.
There’s a lot of nuances that can catch you out when it comes to CBD. The rush of excitement often leaves a lot of people misinformed as to the various types of CBD, the respective properties of each and how different CBD works.
CBD is a single compound, which has the same chemistry no matter what. But this compound can come in various different kinds of packaging which makes a difference to its ultimate effectiveness.
CBD is naturally contained within the flowers, leaves, stalks and stems of hemp. Its not alone though; it exists as part of a broad family of similar compounds. The most closely related compounds are the other cannabinoids. These are like the siblings of CBD, existing as part of its immediate family. Other cannabinoids also have therapeutic properties of their own.
Then you have other compounds called terpenes in the plant. These are like cousins to CBD, and also have special properties of their own. It doesn’t stop there; theres even more compounds which constitute CBD’s extended family, like flavonoids.
In total there are over 400 chemical compounds in hemp, at least 60 of them being cannabinoids (1).
The point I am trying to make here is that its not all about CBD. Sure, CBD has stolen the spotlight, but sometimes you’ve gotta have the other compounds to put on a good show.
Thats exactly what were going to cover here. CBD as a solo performer versus CBD as part of an orchestra.
There’s 3 different types of CBD to be aware of:
- Full spectrum CBD
- Broad spectrum CBD
- CBD isolate
Full spectrum CBD
A Full spectrum CBD oil is exactly what it says on the tin. Its the whole shebang; all the other cannabinoids, the terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and waxes are extracted alongside CBD.
Most strains of hemp have been bred to produce a high amount of CBD, so you’d typically expect the extract to contain in the ballpark of 10 - 50% CBD.
What you get is a thick, dark green paste which is then heated to activate the cannabinoids, and mixed with a carrier oil like olive or coconut oil. Thats your full spectrum CBD oil right there.
This is as good as it gets when it comes to CBD. Extracting the plant in its entirety preserves its original make up, exactly the way nature intended it to be.
We want the whole mix, because other cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabichromene (CBC) have their own benefits, for things like pain and inflammation (2). Terpenes also show promise, for insomnia, depression, anxiety and even dementia (2).
The intelligence and complexity of nature is exemplified by cannabis in something called the entourage effect. The entourage effect is a synergy that exists between hemp compounds in the body when they are all taken together.
For example, CBD can actually counteract some of the side effects of THC, such as anxiety, sedation and hunger, when they are taken together (3).
THC alone was ineffective at relieving cancer patients pain, whereas an extract of THC + CBD provided clinically significant relief (4).
CBN had little effect in humans when given alone, but when combined with THC produced greater sedation than THC alone (5).
What these studies are highlighting is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s not much research when it comes to CBD’s cousins, the terpenes. But the research so far suggests that Myrcene may compound the effects of THC to induce relaxation. Another terpene called α-Pinene may help counteract some of the short term memory deficits from THC (2).
Go back to our analogy of CBD as a one man band compared to CBD as part of an orchestra. An orchestra produces a far more complex, louder and more diverse sound than a one man band; thats the entourage effect in a nutshell. You want the whole orchestra.
Humans have been interacting with hemp for thousands of years. Through this ancient relationship we’ve had with the whole pants, we’ve evolved to recognise the plant in its glorious entirety.
One of the pioneers of cannabinoid research, Dr Raphael Mechoulam has this to say about using whole plants (6):
“This type of synergism may play a role in the widely held (but not experimentally based) view that in some cases plants are better drugs than the natural products isolated from them”
Broad Spectrum CBD
Broad spectrum CBD oil is basically full spectrum, but with the THC almost completely removed. The THC content of most full spectrum CBD oils is very low to start with, typically < 0.2%. But in certain cases this may not be low enough.
The legal limits of THC could be reduced even further in the EU and UK in the future. A few companies are erring on the side of caution when it comes to THC, opting to get almost all of it out of extracts.
A broad spectrum extract undergoes an additional process called fractional distillation to reduce the THC levels close to zero ~ 0.01%.
This makes broad spectrum ideal for athletes or employees who get drug tested, as even low levels of THC in full spectrum extracts may get falsely flagged.
Broad spectrum is like the goldilocks of CBD extracts, as it still contains all of the other beneficial compounds just without the THC - its juuuuust right. That means you can still benefit from the powerful synergy of combined cannabis compounds (the entourage effect), without jeopardising your career.
The name kinda gives this one away. Its just pure CBD. All of the other beneficial compounds have been stripped away that would’ve been in a full or broad spectrum extract.
That means the other cannabinoids and terpenes are gone, in addition to vitamins, minerals and the rest.
To get pure CBD from a full spectrum extract, it needs to undergo several further extraction techniques.
1) Firstly, it is winterised to get rid of waxes, chlorophyll, fatty acids, vitamins & minerals
2) Then the extract undergoes fractional distillation to filer out cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. This yields an extract that is about 80% CBD.
3) Finally, a process called chromatography removes the residual cannabinoids and terpenes to isolate CBD to 99.99% purity.
As you can see, a lot of steps are taken to isolate CBD, which has come a long way from its original packaging. CBD isolate is the most refined version of hemp you can get. Kind of like white sugar is the most refined version of an apple.
CBD isolate is mostly used in research because it can be accurately dosed. It also means that any effect seen in the studies can be wholly attributed to CBD, and not the other compounds in full spectrum extracts.
CBD Isolate vs Full & Broad spectrum CBD
Before we look at some of the pro’s and cons of each extract, there are a couple studies which have compared CBD isolate to full spectrum CBD.
An Israeli study found that CBD isolate had little beneficial effects at low or high doses, meaning it has a very narrow therapeutic window. In contrast, they found the therapeutic effect of full spectrum CBD increased in line with increasing doses.
Additionally, only small amounts of full spectrum CBD were needed to relieve pain, whereas larger amounts of Isolate were required to produce the same relief (7).
A Meta Analysis (A study which compares results of multiple studies) in patents using CBD for epilepsy found that 71% of patients using full spectrum CBD had improvements in seizure frequency, whereas only 46% of patients using isolate had improvements.
Those using full spectrum CBD reported using lower doses than patients using isolate. Those using isolate also reported significantly more side effects than those using full spectrum CBD (8).
CBD Isolate Pro’s
- Can be dosed accurately
- Contains no THC, so is favourable for people who are drug tested
- Its tasteless & odourless, so can be used in food without altering its taste and smell
CBD Isolate Con’s
- Need more to get same therapeutic effect as Full spectrum CBD.
- Need a very specific dose to have a therapeutic effect.
- Therapeutic effects decline with higher doses.
- No effective for clinical use.
- No entourage effect.
Full Spectrum CBD Pro’s
- Has increasing responses with increasing doses.
- High doses only cause a plateau, not a decrease in therapeutic effect.
- Lower doses needed in comparison to higher isolate doses.
- Low doses have a therapeutic effect.
- Full entourage effect.
Full Spectrum CBD Con’s
- Might fail drug test with repeated use.
Broad spectrum CBD
- Maintains much of the entourage effect.
- Has much the same properties of full spectrum.
- Compliance with drug testing.
How To Tell Them Apart
Labels will often say full spectrum or board spectrum hemp extract. If they don’t, assume it is isolate, as you’d want to advertise the fact that you are using great quality CBD.
Anything with % CBD indicates a full or broad spectrum extract (unless it is 99%, which is isolate).
Isolate is simply referred to as CBD or Cannabidiol. If you see isolate, you wouldnt be able to tell it apart from sugar or cocaine - its just a white powder. More often, isolate will be part of a product, so you wont see its raw form.
The giveaway for a full or broad spectrum extract is a dark green/black oil. Some will have the chlorophyll filtered out to make it taste better, and appear gold or light green/black.
Where You’d Find Each
- Vape cartridges
- Low quality oils
- Some beverages
- Cosmetic products
- Some edibles
Full & Broad spectrum CBD
- Some beverages