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Full- & Broad-Spectrum CBD vs. CBD Isolate: What's the Difference?

26/06/2021 7 MIN. READ Alyssha Bal
26/06/2021 7 MIN. READ Alyssha Bal
CBD products are a dime a dozen. Creams, sprays, oils and bath bombs—and that doesn’t even cover everything that’s out there. Depending on the manufacturer, the packaging of CBD products  can also include a wide variety of nomenclature. Sometimes there’s talk of full- or broad-spectrum extracts, elsewhere it’s CBD isolate. But nobody tells you upfront what all that means. Is one better than the other, and if so, which of them is right for you? We've got a lot of thoughts on that..

We'll take a look at the differences between full-/broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate, and explain what it all means for you.

What’s the difference between full- or broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate?

The main difference between full- or broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate is how the extract is made. While the former retains the original plant’s chemical profile, including the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, the latter (as the name “isolate” suggests) is filtered so that you’re left with just the pure, isolated CBD molecule. Each of these forms of CBD have their advantages and disadvantages. More on this below.

This difference can also affect the end product. There’s evidence that full- or broad-spectrum CBD can be more effective than CBD isolate. One possible explanation for this phenomenon could be the so-called entourage effect. 

What’s the entourage effect?

Behind the term “entourage effect” is the theory that the individual compounds found in cannabis and hemp plants (i.e. cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids) could be working together in synergy, thus leading to a stronger effect as a whole, rather than the effects each of those components could achieve on their own.

Although this theory was at least partially supported in the early 2000s, the existence of an entourage effect hasn’t yet been proven definitively. For example, a study was published as recently as summer 2020 suggesting that terpenes don’t even have anything to do with the entourage effect. So the theory is still controversial and the research continues.  So the research on the subject continues.

Full-spectrum CBD

As mentioned earlier, full- or broad-spectrum CBD contains (almost) the entire chemical profile of the original plant that was used to manufacture the extract. Let’s take a closer look.

Making full- and broad-spectrum extracts

There are several ways to make full- and broad-spectrum CBD extracts. Nowadays, the so-called “supercritical CO2 extraction” method is very common because it’s considered to be the most gentle and effective method. As carbon dioxide gas is subjected to a pressure of 1071 Pascals (psi) and brought to a temperature of 31.1° C (88º F), it reaches what’s called “the supercritical state,” meaning it’s neither a liquid nor a gas. This allows the carbon dioxide to penetrate the plant like a gas but also dissolve compounds from the material like a liquid.

Supercritical CO2 extraction is an extremely efficient and, at the same time, less aggressive way to extract compounds from the plant. Once the extraction is complete, the pressure is released and the CO2 evaporates. What remains are the compounds extracted from the plant, without any harmful solvent residues. 

This makes CO2 extraction the cleanest of all extraction methods. CBD that’s produced this way exhibits an almost identical chemical profile as that of the plant from which it was obtained. This extract can then be used to manufacture different products, such as CBD sprays, CBD capsules and CBD oils.

The pros and cons of full-spectrum CBD extracts

The hemp plant has more to offer than just cannabinoids like CBD and THC… think hundreds of chemical compounds, many with potential beneficial effects. Since full-spectrum CBD extracts nearly reflect the entire chemical profile of the original plant, all of these compounds can also be found in the finished end products. But careful emphasis on “almost” — since it might never be possible to completely map out this profile in an extract, so we refer to our products exclusively as broad-spectrum extracts for the sake of clarity.

A 2014 study in mice took a closer look at the effectiveness of full-spectrum or broad-spectrum extracts and came to the conclusion that these extracts are much more effective than CBD as a pure substance (i.e. CBD isolate) when used to combat inflammation and other diseases.

However, this added effectiveness comes at a price — literally, because high-quality and carefully produced full-spectrum CBD is usually much more expensive than pure CBD. Quality will cost you more.

With less reputable manufacturers, there is also a risk that your CBD product may contain more THC than what’s permitted by local law, which could cost you your driver's license, your job or even worse.

Who should use full- or broad-spectrum extracts?

Full- or broad-spectrum CBD may be the right choice for you if you want to fully enjoy the benefits of the plant’s potential entourage effect. However, be sure to only buy products from trustworthy manufacturers who can present the appropriate laboratory reports. This is the only way you can be sure that the THC concentration of the CBD product is really less than 0.2%, or whatever your local regulation stipulates.

If you enjoy consuming CBD as an oil and you like the typical earthy flavor of hemp, a full- or broad-spectrum CBD oil might be the right choice for you too. While CBD oils are also available in a wide variety of flavors, non-flavored varieties still have that slightly grassy taste. 

If it’s important to you to use products that are as natural as possible, full- or broad-spectrum CBD will be your best bet too. As already mentioned, the extract remains largely untreated after the CO2 extraction and better reflects the original chemical profile of the hemp plant from which it was extracted.

Who should avoid full- & broad-spectrum extracts?

Full- or broad-spectrum extracts might not be the right choice for everyone because these high quality extracts can be too expensive for some consumers. The cost of such extracts can especially add up (and quickly) if you regularly take large amounts of CBD.

Also, if you have a job that requires drug testing, like competitive sports, for example, it might be best to keep your hands off full- and broad-spectrum extracts. Why? Because even though the amount of THC in these products allowed by law in many regions is negligible, with regular use and sensitive drug tests, there’s a chance you could still test positive for THC.

CBD isolate

How is CBD isolate manufactured?

CBD isolate begins as a form of hemp extract, at which point it’s further processed until all other compounds are removed and only pure CBD is left. During winterisation, lipids and plant waxes are removed from the extract and the present CBDA is converted into CBD by decarboxylation. The winterised oil then goes through a distillation process to remove chlorophyll, terpenes and unwanted contaminants.

Fractional distillation also enables the separation of CBD from other small cannabinoids. The concentrated CBD is then mixed with a solvent and undergoes a period of heating followed by cooling so that the pure CBD crystallizes. It goes under further similar purification processes until a 99% pure CBD isolate remains. If the manufacturer works cleanly and carefully, the isolate won’t contain any solvent residues.

The finished end product usually appears in crystal form, which can then be converted into any shape the manufacturer desires for their final products. In some stores, you can find CBD isolate as powder, capsules or dissolved into a carrier oil.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of CBD isolate?

The effects of CBD extracts differ slightly by producer because every manufacturer uses different plants with different chemical profiles that trickle down into the extract. However, this is not the case with CBD isolate. For those who rely on absolute consistency in their CBD products, CBD isolate is a better solution than full- or broad-spectrum CBD extracts.

In addition, manufacturers who use isolate in their products can guarantee that their products do not contain THC, which also makes it easier for them to standardise the CBD content of their products. And that, in turn, lowers the cost of such products and makes their effects (and your drug test results!) more predictable.

Who might want to use CBD isolate?

Those looking for cheap and effective CBD products and who don’t want to ingest even the smallest amounts of THC might prefer CBD isolate to full- or broad-spectrum CBD extract.

Who might want to avoid CBD isolate?

Those looking to explore the potential plant synergies of CBD with other cannabinoids, terpenes and phytochemical components might want to avoid CBD isolate because they lack the variety of additional chemicals you’ll find in full- and broad-spectrum products.

What are pseudo full-spectrum extracts?

In addition to full- and broad-spectrum extracts and CBD isolate, there are so-called pseudo-full-spectrum extracts. As the name suggests, these are not real full-spectrum extracts, but rather CBD isolate (pure CBD) to which other ingredients are then added to try to mimic the natural cannabinoid profile of the hemp plant. Basically, the manufacturers take cheap CBD isolate and other cannabinoid isolates, and then add terpenes and other substances to create their own chemical profiles. It is questionable whether or not these new so-called extracts end up resembling naturally occurring substances.

These products can usually be recognized by their noticeably low price. Since the origin of the ingredients, especially in the case of the isolates, is often difficult or impossible to trace, it’s not recommended to use these cannabinoid mixtures and you might want to contact your trusted provider instead for your CBD needs.

Broad-spectrum extracts

While the term “broad-spectrum extract” is rarely found in Germany, it’s common to hear it among English-speaking countries. Quite simply, broad-spectrum CBD extracts refer to full-spectrum extracts in which the THC is almost completely removed in an additional process step. So you get all the benefits of a real full-spectrum CBD extract and you don't have to worry that it might contain too much THC.

Should I use a CBD isolate or a full-/broad-spectrum extract?

Each of these CBD products have their respective advantages and uses. So it mainly depends on what you want to get from CBD and how much strain you want to put on your wallet. If you seek additional compounds found in the plant and believe in their holistic synergies, then a full-spectrum product might be the better choice for you.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that your body might also react better to a CBD isolate than to a full- or broad-spectrum extract. As with many questions about CBD, the same applies here: If you decide to give it a try, listen to your body so you can find the perfect CBD for you.

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