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Understanding Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and CBD Isolate

Understanding Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and CBD Isolate

When looking for CBD, you’ve probably noticed there are different cannabinoid spectrum options to choose from. You can buy full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, or CBD isolates. While these three types of products sound similar, there are key differences that are critical to understand. In this posting, we’re going to explain the difference in the three options.

First, a brief overview of cannabinoids and why they matter for your health.  All CBD isolates, broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD products are derived from the hemp plant.  The hemp plant has been used for over 2,500 years by various societies worldwide to address a variety of conditions.

In the past few years, research has determined that there are over 113 identified cannabinoids in the hemp plant.  Cannabinoids are the natural phytochemicals found in the hemp plant.  The two most common cannabinoids found in the hemp plant are THC and CBD.  THC is the cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive effect commonly called “getting high.”  CBD is the second most common cannabinoid found in hemp plants and when processed into isolate or broad-spectrum, CBD will not cause a “high.”  It has been found that CBD delivers a wide range of health benefits, such as altered perception of pain, assistance in sleep, and relief from stress.

What makes hemp extracts different?

All CBD products are extracted from the cannabis plant, using solvents like CO2 and ethanol.  During the extraction, all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are stripped from the plant and dissolved in oil to make it easier to process and store.  Depending on the hemp variety used for the process, the cannabinoid profile of CBD oil will differ.  For example, hemp extracts contain little to no THC – typically below 0.3% – so they are non-psychoactive, but they also boast of high levels of CBD.  Depending on the purpose of the final product, companies may decide to use a different cannabinoid spectrum from different varieties.  Since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp extracts are approved by the Federal Government.

What happens with the cannabinoids after the initial extraction determines if the extract is full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or CBD isolate.  Each term refers to the degree the product was processed.

Full-Spectrum CBD

If an extract is full-spectrum, this means it contains all phytocannabinoids naturally found in the plant, including CBD and minor cannabinoids.  Full-spectrum extracts from hemp also come with a negligible THC content – below 0.3%.  It is important to note that some producers also include terpenes (other beneficial compounds in cannabis and other plants) in their full spectrum products.  This is a case-by-case situation, however, and not an industry standard.  Full spectrum may mean that all cannabinoids from the biomass have been included, or it may mean that all phytochemicals including terpenes have been included in the final product.

It is believed by some that the full spectrum of the active compounds extracted from hemp work together to amplify the health benefits of each individual cannabinoid.  This phenomenon is referred to as the entourage effect (more on that later).  Although non-psychoactive, full-spectrum CBD can sometimes give a false positive during a drug test, especially if high doses of CBD oil are consumed daily.

Broad Spectrum

Broad-spectrum CBD contains all cannabidiols and all the other compounds within the plant, except THC, which is removed after the initial extraction.  Because broad-spectrum extracts contain multiple cannabinoids, they also may produce the “entourage effect,” but without the THC.  In a very simplified manner, broad-spectrum CBD is like a full-spectrum CBD that is THC-free.  It contains the entire spectrum of cannabinoids EXCEPT for the psychoactive part.

CBD Isolate

CBD Isolate is the purest form of this compound, made by pulling it from its natural environment and removing it from all other ingredients.  The advantage of using CBD isolate over other formats is the highest concentration of CBD per serving.  Isolates are usually 99% pure, meaning that one gram of isolate powder carriers about 990 mg of CBD.  There’s no entourage effect, though – you can benefit solely from the effect of the CBD cannabidiol.

The Entourage Effect Explained

The entourage effect refers to the synergy achieved by all the components in hemp.  These components work together to enhance the potential benefits of the plant.  Each compound can amplify the therapeutic properties of the others while mitigating their potential side effects.

Some of the additional cannabinoids in the full-spectrum extracts include:

  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Cannabichromene (CBC)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG)
  • Cannabidiol acid (CBDA)
  • Cannabidivarin (CBDV)

Before 2015 it was thought that isolate CBD was more effective than full-spectrum CBD.  However, in 2015, a study conducted by the Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology in Jerusalem indicated that test subjects treated with full-spectrum CBD reported higher levels of relief when compare to the group that used CBD isolate.  The scientists conducting that study concluded that the full spectrum of cannabinoids provided better effects with higher doses, while the effects of isolated CBD maintained consistent with increased intake.

Terpenes: More Than Just a Scent

Many full-spectrum products manufacturers boast the health benefits of the original plant terpenes.  Terpenes are volatile molecules that are responsible for a unique aroma profile of plants, fruits, vegetables, and spices.  These terpenes have been used for centuries to flavor various products.  There are more than 200 terpenes in hemp, which, like cannabinoids, also bind to different receptors in the body to provide an array of potential health benefits.

For example, one terpene in hemp plants is beta-caryophyllene, which is a gastroprotective compound found in oregano, black pepper, and leafy greens.  Certain hemp strains are recommended to patients with gastrointestinal issues; these strains also tend to carry a spicy herbal scent.

Selection of CBD Isolate, Broad Spectrum or Full Spectrum

Everyone reacts differently to CBD.  You should base your judgment on which CBD spectrum will work best in your case.  An excellent reference book regarding this and other hemp related issues is CBD – A Patient’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis and can be obtained through Amazon or similar websites.  Below is a listing of the positive and negative attributes of each.

Full Spectrum CBD:



  • Allow the user to benefit from the entourage effect

  • The least processed form of CBD

  • Contains terpenes and flavonoids for additional health benefits

  • May show up on a drug screening

  • THC content may cause problems with the local law

  • Carries the natural flavor and aroma of hemp, which is pretty strong

Full-Spectrum is usually used by:

CBD users who want to benefit from the trace amounts of THC in their extracts

  • Individuals with more severe symptoms that CBD isolate and broad-spectrum products fail to help with
  • Individuals living in states with a legal cannabis market

Broad Spectrum CBD:



  • Offers some benefits of the entourage effect

  • Less processed than isolate

  • No risk of psychoactive effects

  • Less researched

  • Less available than full-spectrum or isolates

  • May carry a strong, natural hemp flavor

Broad Spectrum is usually used by:

  • CBD users with conditions that the isolate alone can’t help with
  • Individuals sensitive to THC
  • Individuals living in places with harsh THC regulations
  • First-time CBD users concerned with the effects of THC

CBD Isolate:



  • The most concentrated form of CBD

  • No risk of getting high

  • Highly versatile

  • Safe for all types of CBD users

  •  Odorless and flavorless

  • You can pass most drug tests with CBD isolate

  • May not offer all the benefits of the entourage effect

CBD Isolate is usually used by:

  • CBD users who were recommended to take very high doses of CBD
  • Individuals sensitive to THC or other cannabinoids
  • Individuals concerned with failing a drug test*
  • CBD users who prefer flavorless products
  • People living in states with harsh THC laws
  • New CBD users unsure of other cannabinoids

*Important note: Because some drug tests screen for cannabinoid metabolites instead of THC metabolites, it is impossible to guarantee that CBD will not cause a failure on a drug test.


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