CBD: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum or isolate?

by Tim W. Shaw August 01, 2020

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

When purchasing CBD there are 3 key terms that you should know:

1. Full-spectrum CBD
2. Broad-spectrum CBD
3. CBD isolate

    Knowing what each means and being able to identify the differences will enable you to purchase a product that is best suited to your needs. This knowledge will also help you to avoid unscrupulous retailers who use them to mislead uninformed customers.

    In a nut shell, these three terms refer to the cannabinoids found in the CBD product. Whilst the CBD industry remains largely unregulated, not all retailers and producers use these terms in the correct way.

    1. What is full-spectrum CBD?

    Full-spectrum CBD contains all the naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. The most abundant cannabinoid of which is CBD. This is found alongside small amounts of other cannabinoids including THC. When several cannabinoids are present together, they are believed to enhance one another’s effects. This is a theory known as the “entourage effect”.

    Note: For a CBD product to be legal in the UK, the amount of THC and CBN must be less than 1mg per container.

    Cannabinoids rainbowThe hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) plant can produce over 100 different cannabinoids. Each with its own benefits and effects. A product that claims to be full-spectrum should contain trace amounts of most of them.

    You can verify that a product is full-spectrum by looking at the certificates of analysis (lab tests). You won’t see a list of over 100 cannabinoids because not all are tested for and some are present in such tiny amounts that they aren’t listed.

    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. A product cannot be both “full-spectrum” and “THC free”. If it is THC free, then it does not contain a full-spectrum of cannabinoids. 


    The common cannabinoids that are tested for and are likely to appear on a certificate, include:

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

    Whole-plant extract - is a form of full-spectrum product which also contains the other plant nutrients that are sometimes filtered from CBD products to give a better taste. A whole-plant extract will include all the naturally occurring plant lipids, phytonutrients, flavonoids, terpenes and cannabinoids.

    Pros & cons of full-spectrum CBD

    Pros

    • The presence of several cannabinoids contributes to the “entourage effect”.
    • Terpenes and other substances found in full-spectrum products made with whole-plant extract have their own unique benefits and advantages.

    Cons

    • Full-spectrum is a term that is frequently misused. We have seen many brands state both “THC free” and “full-spectrum” on their labels. It is always one or the other.
    • The cannabinoid make-up of every batch is slightly different so effects can vary.
    • Full-spectrum products are generally the most expensive.

    2. What is broad-spectrum CBD?

    broad spectrum CBDBroad-spectrum CBD will contain a range of cannabinoids but doesn’t include all of them. It refers to products that contain several cannabinoids and no THC. A broad-spectrum product can be close to full-spectrum in that it may contain every other cannabinoid other than THC. However, any product that claims to THC free should be referred to as broad-spectrum or isolate.

    These products can also be produced using blends of isolated cannabinoids. When buying a broad-spectrum product check the certificates of analysis and expect to see CBD alongside 4 or 5 other cannabinoids. There can be more or less, but there should always be at least one other cannabinoid in addition to CBD on the certificate.

    Pros & cons of broad-spectrum CBD

    Pros

    • Containing no THC means broad-spectrum products are perfect for those who may have regular drug tests at work. This also makes them particularly useful for athletes who face strict testing regimes.
    • Broad-spectrum products have most of the benefits of full-spectrum products and are often very high quality.
    • You can seek a product that is made up of a specific blend of cannabinoids for your personal needs.

    Cons

    • Even though broad-spectrum products may only be missing traces of one or two cannabinoids it can still reduce 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, traces of it make up an important part of the entourage effect.
    • Whilst they are sold as THC free it is very difficult to completely remove THC from hemp extracts. Most of the THC-free claims mean that the amount of THC is just so low that it’s not been picked up by the third-party

    3. What is isolate CBD?

    CBD isolate
    Isolate is a form of CBD that contains no other cannabinoids and plant matter. It is occasionally called ‘pure CBD’ and comes in the form of either crystals or a powder.

    When lab tested it will often be 99.7% to 99.9% pure. The remaining material is usually traces of pant matter left over after the extraction process has been completed.  

    Pros & cons of CBD isolate

    Pros

    • Once the CBD has been isolated it is sold at a much lower price to add it to products in bulk. This results in some products containing isolate being significantly cheaper.

    Cons

    • In most cases, CBD isolate is outperformed by full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products.
    • Isolating an individual cannabinoid requires more work and is sometimes carried out using chemical processes.

    Full-spectrum-CBD-vs-isolate-infographic

    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 to see if you actually are buying full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products.

    Which is better: Full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD?

    Whole plant CBDOur preference is for full-spectrum CBD products. Ideally a whole plant extract, like these from Biopurus, so you can benefit from the full range of plant nutrients found in hemp. If you do not like the fuller flavour of a whole plant extract, choose a full-spectrum product that has been filtered. This removes the lipids and Chlorophyll that cause the strong grassy taste. BioBloom is an excellent example of an oil that is both full-spectrum and has a milder taste.

    This choice ultimately comes down to your personal circumstances. As not everyone is able to take a full-spectrum product due to the traces of THC found within it. If this is the case for you, we recommend a broad-spectrum THC free, CBD product.

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    Tim W. Shaw
    Tim W. Shaw

    Author

    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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