Full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, isolate - Pros & cons

by Tim W. Shaw September 20, 2019

Full-Spectrum, Broad-Spectrum, Isolate - Pros & Cons

When you begin to look for the CBD product that suits you, you will find yourself in a whole new world of facts, figures and strange new terms.

Full-spectrum vs Isolate CBDMany brands and retailers take it for granted that the words they use every day will be recognised by their customers. This is often not the case, so let’s look at three terms that are widely used in adverts, product information and labels. They are: 'full-spectrum', 'broad-spectrum' and 'isolate’.

They refer to the cannabinoids and other natural substances in the product. Whilst the CBD industry remains largely unregulated, not all retailers and producers use these terms in the correct way. In fact, some use them to mislead and confuse.

To combat this, it is important to know what each of these means and how you can check these claims for yourself. Then you will always know that you will receive what you’ve paid for.

How to verify a retailer’s claims

All CBD products should come with certificates of analysis (CoA) for each batch. These are tests conducted by an independent lab to verify the contents of the product and show that there are no dangerous levels of contaminants. These certificates allow you to check labels and manufacturer’s claims and see if you actually are buying full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products.

What is full-spectrum CBD?

What is full spectrum CBD oil hemp plantFull-spectrum CBD extract contains all the cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. The most abundant substance will be CBD, but you will also find others in small amounts, including THC. For the product to be legal the amount of THC must be less than 1mg per container. When a range of cannabinoids is present, together, they produce a stronger, more varied effect. This is known as the entourage effect.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis that has naturally low levels of THC and higher amounts of CBD. Hemp can have tiny amounts of 60 or more cannabinoids in its extracts. A product that claims to be full-spectrum should contain trace amounts of most of them.

To verify that a product is full-spectrum, find the certificates of analysis. If they aren’t available on the product page or in-store, talk to the retailer and request to see them before making any purchase.

You won’t see a list of over sixty cannabinoids because not all are tested for and some are present in such tiny amounts that they aren’t mentioned on the certificates. However, you should expect to see CBD and about 6 or more other cannabinoids, including THC. True full-spectrum products should contain at least a tiny amount of THC which adds to the overall beneficial effect.

Cannabinoids rainbowCannabinoids that are tested for often include:

➡ CBD (cannabidiol)
➡ CBDA (cannabidiolic acid)
➡ CBDV (cannabidivarin)
➡ CBV (cannabivarin)
CBG (cannabigerol)
➡ CBC (cannabichromene)
➡ CBN (cannabinol)
➡ THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
➡ THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

    Pros of full-spectrum CBD

    Pros of full-spectrum CBDIt is widely understood that full-spectrum CBD is the gold standard in CBD products. The other cannabinoids included in the finished product interact with each other and with your body. This creates a greater range of stronger effects.

    Whole-plant CBD extractWhole-plant extract - This is another form of full-spectrum product, but it contains all of the natural extracts found in the plant. Alongside the cannabinoids, you will find natural substances, such as terpenes, flavonoids and plant nutrients. It is thought that these add even more benefits to the product.

    Some full-spectrum products also mention terpenes and list them in their analysis. However, they aren’t classed as containing whole plant extract unless they also have a full range of plant substances.

    Cons of full-spectrum CBD

    Cons of full-spectrum CBD
    The main problem with full-spectrum CBD is that the term is frequently misused, even by industry-leading brands. While it should only be used to label a product that contains all the cannabinoids extracted from the hemp plant, in reality, many companies claim that their products are ‘full-spectrum’ when they contain anything from two cannabinoids to 100.

    What is broad-spectrum CBD?

    What is broad-spectrum CBDBroad-spectrum CBD should contain a wide range of cannabinoids but doesn’t include all of them. It refers to products that contain several cannabinoids and no THC. They are close to full-spectrum but without THC they can only be referred to as broad-spectrum.

    These products may also be blends rather than whole extracts. This is when extracts from different plants, each with different cannabinoids, are combined to create the entourage effect. When buying a broad-spectrum product check the certificates of analysis and expect to see CBD alongside 4 or 5 other cannabinoids.

    Pros of broad-spectrum CBD

    Pros of broad-spectrum CBDBroad-spectrum products have most of the benefits of full-spectrum products and are often very high quality. They provide a version of the entourage effect so you will still get a broader range of effects and slightly increased potency.

    Because they contain no THC, they are often chosen by those who may have regular drug tests at work. This also makes them particularly useful for athletes who face strict testing regimes.

    Cons of broad-spectrum CBD

    Cons of broad-spectrum CBDEven though broad-spectrum products may only be missing traces of one or two cannabinoids it still reduces the effect. Cannabinoids such as THC only need to be present in tiny amounts to exert a positive influence on CBD’s interaction with the body. While THC can be intoxicating in illegal amounts, traces of it make up an important part of the entourage effect.

    Watch out for products that claim to be both full-spectrum and THC-free. Either the ‘THC-free’ claim is incorrect, and there are tiny amounts remaining, or the ‘full-spectrum’ claim is wrong. It is very difficult to completely remove THC from hemp extracts so most of the THC-free claims mean that the amount of THC is so low that it’s not been picked up by analysis.

    What is Isolate CBD?

    What is Isolate CBD
    This is CBD that contains no other cannabinoids or plant substances. It is occasionally called ‘pure CBD’ and usually forms white crystals or powder. While it is rare that you can buy these crystals on their own, there are some products that have been made using CBD isolate. In the UK it can be found in some CBD e-liquids, but you won’t usually find it available in oil or edibles.

    Pros of CBD Isolate

    Pros of CBD Isolate
    In most cases, CBD isolate is outperformed by full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products. Once the CBD has been isolated it can be cheaper to add it to products in bulk. This results in some products containing isolate being cheaper.

    Cons of CBD Isolate

    Cons of CBD IsolateIsolating an individual cannabinoid requires more work and is often done with chemicals. Without the presence of the other plant substances, the benefits of the CBD are restricted.

    Using an increased amount of CBD isolate won’t always cause a correspondingly increased effect. When you do the same with a full-spectrum product the effect continues to increase.

    Always check the claims

    Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products contain a wide range of cannabinoids and this should be backed up by what is displayed on the certificates of analysis. The more cannabinoids included the better the effect of the product can be.

    It remains an issue that retailers and manufacturer’s claims of ‘full-spectrum’, ‘broad-spectrum’ and ‘whole-plant extract’, don’t always match what’s in the bottle. Checking the certificates of analysis of every product you buy is essential. If a product doesn’t have the certificates available, don’t buy it.

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    Apeks Supercritical. (N.D). How to Extract CBD – the Extraction Process & How CBD Oil Is Made. Retrieved from https://www.apekssupercritical.com/cbd-extraction-process/

    Cadena, A. (2018). Full Spectrum vs Broad Spectrum vs CBD Isolate: The Difference Explained. Retrieved from https://medium.com/cbd-origin/full-spectrum-vs-broad-spectrum-vs-cbd-isolate-the-difference-explained-a09e415bf235

    Home Office (N.D). Drug Licensing Factsheet. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/

    Cadena, A. (2017). CBD Isolate Vs. Full Spectrum. Retrieved from https://medium.com/cbd-origin/cbd-isolate-vs-full-spectrum-cbd-b78a6eab319c

    Gallily, R. et al. (February 2015). Overcoming the Bell‐Shaped Dose‐Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol. Retrieved from http://file.scirp.org/pdf/PP_2015021016351567.pdf

    Jikomes, N. (N.D). List of Major Cannabinoids in Cannabis and Their Effects. Retrieved from https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/list-major-cannabinoids-cannabis-effects

    Tim W. Shaw
    Tim W. Shaw


    Tim W. Shaw writes extensively about CBD oil, cannabis and other groundbreaking food supplements. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.

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