Full-spectrum CBD vs broad-spectrum CBD vs CBD isolate
If you’re scouting for a new CBD product and you don’t know the difference between a full-spectrum product, a broad-spectrum product, or an isolate product, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know. But don’t worry. All of this isn’t as brain-busting as the title of this guide leads you to believe, especially when you have our help to guide you along the way.
We’ll be looking at the benefits (and downfalls) of each extract, as well as what they can ultimately do for you.
Let’s dig in!
Overview: full-spectrum vs broad-spectrum vs isolate
|Contains CBD only||Contains a number of cannabinoids minus tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)||Contains a “full” range of cannabinoids including THC|
|Light Impact||Medium Impact||Heavy Impact|
|Does not contain terpenes, flavonoids, or other plant compounds||Does contain terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant compounds||Does contain terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant compounds|
|CBD isolate products are typically odorless and flavorless||Bitter and earthy taste and smell||Bitter and earthy taste and smell|
|Does not produce the supposed entourage effect||Does produce the supposed entourage effect (minus THC)||Does produce the supposed entourage effect (with THC)|
|Best suited to you if you prefer no THC in your product and/or you have an upcoming drug test||Best suited to you if you prefer no THC in your product and/or you have an upcoming drug test but you want the benefit other cannabinoids||Best suited to you if you’re happy with consuming THC and you don’t have a drug test coming up|
|Suited to reduce inflammation*||Suited to aid with anxiety, stress and milder pain*||Suited to aid with sleep, convulsion and pain*|
What are cannabinoids? Why are they important?
Before we even get into the different types of cannabis extracts,
I’m sure you already know what cannabinoids are if you’ve followed our Guide to Every Cannabinoid article but let’s refresh your memory a little here.
For you to get a good idea of the different cannabinoids that exist, we first have to break them down into three categories:
- Synthetic cannabinoids
Phytocannabinoids (“phyto” meaning “of the plant”) are chemical compounds found in varieties of cannabis and, by extension, in the marijuana and hemp-derived extracts used in the products you purchase. There are 113 known phytocannabinoids produced by varieties of cannabis, each one with their own unique benefits when consumed.
The most famous phytocannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), though cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN) have also gained a lot of attention over the past couple of years.
Endocannabinoids (otherwise known as endogenous cannabinoids) are molecules made and produced by your own body. Many believe endocannabinoids are exactly the same as phytocannabinoids but this isn’t strictly true — they are, of course, similar but oftentimes much smaller. I like to refer to them as “endoparticles” but we’ll stick to endocannabinoids to avoid any confusion.
The two most common endocannabinoids are arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG). The former is known as the “bliss” or “divine joy” endocannabinoid responsible for the “runner’s high” feeling you get after physical exertion. The latter produces anti-anxiety effects, as well as helps maintain and regulate your digestive and immune system.
Synthetic cannabinoids (otherwise known as “fake weed” or synthetic marijuana) aren’t naturally-occurring in varieties of cannabis or in your own body. Instead, they’re man-made phytocannabinoid (mainly THC) substitutes and typically give you a very intense, psychosis-inducing high — not fit for human consumption at all.
Synthetic cannabinoids should never ever be used in CBD products. If you suspect synthetic cannabinoids are used in the product(s) you purchase, stay the hell away from them (SoulSome never uses anything synthetic).. We believe in harnessing the natural power of cannabis without taking “fake weed” shortcuts.
- There are three different types of cannabinoids: phytocannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and synthetic cannabinoids
- Marijuana and hemp naturally contain phytocannabinoids because they come from the plant — this is what is extracted to make your CBD product(s)
- Endocannabinoids are produced in the body — more so when phytocannabinoids are consumed (e.g. when CBD oil is consumed)
- Synthetic cannabinoids are known as fake weed and can be very harmful to you — do not consume any product with an extract containing synthetic cannabinoids
What do cannabinoids have to do with cannabis/hemp extracts?
Well, cannabinoids have everything to do with cannabis/hemp extracts. Without cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids specifically), each type of extract would be borderline useless.
In order for your CBD product(s) to be created, you need phytocannabinoids to be extracted from the varieties of cannabis. The most popular method of extraction is via the Supercritical CO2 route but some companies choose to use ethanol extraction as well.
Each extract then goes through a series of processes and refinements to get the desired extract type.
Full-spectrum CBD extracts typically require less work after extraction because no cannabinoids need to be removed or isolated — you get all the phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and essential oils in this one.
Isolate and broad-spectrum extracts, on the other hand, require a little more attention. The former needs to have CBD completely isolated away from the other phytocannabinoids, whilst the latter needs to have THC completely removed from the extract.
In a nutshell, the cannabinoid content (as well as other parts and features of the plant) is what determines the extract type.
- Without phytocannabinoids, cannabis extracts are borderline useless — extracts are the life and soul of your CBD product(s)
- The most popular extraction method is Supercritical CO2 but some companies prefer ethanol extraction
- Each extract goes through a series of processes and refinements to get the desired extract type
- Full-spectrum CBD contains a large number of phytocannabinoids and doesn’t require much refinement — nothing in this extract is being removed or isolated
- Isolate and broad-spectrum requires some processing and refinement — the former needs CBD to be isolated from the other phytocannabinoids, the latter needs THC completely removed
An overview of the cannabinoid extract spectrum
What is CBD isolate?
CBD isolate is exactly what it says on the tin — CBD that’s been extracted and isolated away from the rest of the phytocannabinoid herd. You won’t find any other cannabinoids, terpenoids, or flavonoids in the extract (or in your product).
Isolate extracts are mostly taken from hemp plants due to their low THC content — you’re less likely to find an isolate extract taken from marijuana with high levels of THC.
Good quality CBD isolate, for example, is naturally extracted from organically grown USA hemp, which contains less than 0.3% THC. It’s then meticulously processed and refined, removing all other traces of the plant apart from the CBD.
Pros & cons of isolate hemp extracts:
|Purest form of CBD (typically 99.9%)||Does not contain any other cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, or any other plant compounds|
|No intoxicating effects|
|Safe for human consumption|
|Flavorless and odorless (versatile — can be put in drinks and food without spoiling the taste)|
|Will not cause you to fail a drug test|
What is full-spectrum?
Full-spectrum (sometimes known as “pure-spectrum) is on the other end of the cannabinoid scale. It contains a full range of phytochemicals (CBD and other trace cannabinoids, as well as terpenoids, flavonoids, and essential oils). This type of extract is the only extract on the list to contain THC (less than 0.3% if extracted from the hemp plant; more than 0.3% if extracted from marijuana).
A full-spectrum hemp extract is said to produce what’s known as the entourage effect after you’ve consumed it. This phenomenon is often referred to as a synergistic type of teamwork where each cannabinoid works together in your body to produce many health benefits. This, however, has been heavily debated. We’ll go into more detail about this later on.
Be careful with full-spectrum CBD products, however. Some companies out there like to use this term loosely. I’ve personally seen CBD isolates labelled as full-spectrum hemp oil or capsules. This is totally wrong and irresponsibly inaccurate. If in doubt, always check the COA.
Pros & cons of full-spectrum hemp extracts:
|Contains a full spectrum of cannabinoids (including THC)||Can cause you to fail a drug test|
|Produces the supposed entourage effect||Can have sedative effects (sleepiness, drowsiness)|
|Better for relaxation and a chilled mind||Strong flavor and odor|
What is broad-spectrum?
Broad-spectrum is basically a full-spectrum CBD extract without the THC. I’ve seen it referred to as a mix of CBD isolate and full-spectrum but I consider it a stand-alone extract because it uniquely benefits you, your mind, and body. This is a really good choice if you’re uncomfortable with having any THC in your body (no matter how little).
Be warned here, however. Many CBD companies use the term broad-spectrum and full-spectrum interchangeably and that’s totally misleading. As I’ve already outlined, broad-spectrum and full-spectrum hemp extracts have one distinguishing difference: THC.
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of having an intoxicating cannabinoid in your body (irrespective of whether it’s in trace amounts or not), stick to a broad-spectrum CBD oil and always check the Certificate of Analysis (COA).
The COA will show you how much THC (if any) is in the extract — broad-spectrum extracts will have 0.0% THC.
You can typically find the COA on the product page or on a dedicated COA page. If there isn’t a COA anywhere to be found, contact a customer service representative via email or phone. If they don’t supply you with this document, please stay away from the company and find another.
Pros & cons of broad-spectrum hemp extracts:
|Contains CBD alongside a large number of other cannabinoids||Many companies use full-spectrum and broad-spectrum interchangeably — always check the COA|
|No THC||Generally not as potent as full-spectrum|
|Produces the supposed entourage effect|
|Suitable for consumption if you have an upcoming drug test|
Which extract is best suited to you?
When you consume or ingest cannabis or cannabis-derived products with a broad or full spectrum of cannabinoids, they’re said to work in synergy within your body to produce beneficial effects. This synergy works directly alongside your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and your cannabinoid receptors. These benefits are said to include:
Much more research needs to be done in this area and it’s not yet verified. But it’s a huge factor in people’s decision making.
Putting the entourage effect debacle aside, I think each extract should be considered as having their own benefits because, anecdotally, I’ve noticed a clear difference between each one.
There’s a lot of talk about CBD isolate oils being the lesser extract — and I agree to a certain extent. They’re not quite as beneficial as, say, a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum hemp extract which includes a larger range of cannabinoids.
If I were in your shoes, I would almost always purchase a broad- or full-spectrum product. It just makes more sense. In fact, I’d more than likely choose a full-spectrum product (such as a full-spectrum hemp oil) simply because of the inclusion of THC (trace amounts or otherwise) but that’s totally down to how comfortable you are consuming an intoxicating cannabinoid.
The only time I’d be reluctant to purchase a full-spectrum hemp extract is if I had a drug test looming — THC is known to cause a failed drug test reading, even if you’ve only consumed trace amounts.
Flavor and odor also come into play here. If you hate the idea of a bitter, earthy tasting product with quite a pungent smell, I’d go with CBD isolates — they’re typically odorless and flavorless.
- Each extract type comes with its own pros & cons — some extracts are more beneficial than others though
- Broad-spectrum and full-spectrum hemp extracts are more desirable because of the higher number of different cannabinoids alongside CBD
- Full-spectrum CBD is ideal because it includes THC — broad-spectrum doesn’t
- If you don’t like the idea of consuming any THC, irrespective of whether or not it’s in trace amounts, a broad-spectrum extract is a worthy alternative
- Purchase CBD isolate products (and broad-spectrum too) if you have an upcoming drug test — THC is known to cause users to fail them
- Purchase CBD isolates if you’re looking for a flavorless and odorless product
Knowing the quality of a CBD product is like buying a car (difficult the first time, easy the next)
Shopping for a CBD product is like buying a car — you have to know what’s in it, how well it works, and if it will give you the satisfaction you need. In other words, you don’t want to purchase a Ferrari but only receive a Skoda.
This, of course, isn’t easy, especially if you’re not well-versed in CBD companies and the products they produce.
Time and time again I’ve seen newbie (and seasoned) CBD users buying really shit products simply because they had no idea what to look out for.
Don’t be alarmed, though. Figuring out the quality of your potential CBD product and its extract is very simple once you know the fundamentals.
I typically suggest searching for the product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA) first before you even part ways with your hard-earned cash. A COA is produced by accredited third-party laboratories and will show you the number of cannabinoids held in the extract — they also show you test results for harmful contaminants such as mycotoxins and residual solvents.
Other things to consider:
- Where does the hemp come from?
- What extraction method is used?
- Does it contain all-natural, organic ingredients? Does it contain no synthetic cannabinoids/ingredients?
- Is the company transparent with its product info? Is there an ingredients list?
At SoulSome, for instance, we use naturally extracted, organic, and non-GMO USA industrial hemp alongside all-natural ingredients. Each product is batched tested by accredited third-party laboratories for extra transparency to you as the customer.
When we say our products are full-spectrum, or isolate we mean it. We’re not in this game to misguide you or give you shitty subpar products with wrong labelling info. What you see is what you get with us.
For a full rundown of what to look out for when purchasing your next CBD product, check out our buyer’s guide here.
*Statements not evaluated by the FDA. Information is based on credible, but inconclusive scientific studies, and should never be taken as advice or recommendation to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Always consult a physician.