Education Feb 25, 2020

CBD isolate vs. full spectrum CBD oil: What's the difference?

by Bridget McQuillan

cbd isolate vs full spectrum: bottle of Populum CBD oil being held with sunshine in the background

You've probably found CBD products labeled with “CBD isolate” or “full spectrum” that have left you somewhat confused.

Simply put, CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD that's pulled from the plant and devoid of all other ingredients. Full spectrum CBD, on the other hand, contains all the natural chemicals found in the whole plant, which include various other cannabinoids, essential oils, and terpenes.

So what does each extraction method offer, and how are they different from one another? What are the pros and cons of each product? Let's take a closer look at CBD isolate vs. full spectrum CBD to understand the differences between these two products.

Getting to know cannabinoids and terpenes

cbd isolate vs full spectrum: the variety of cannabinoids in a hemp plant

Cannabinoids are plant compounds that can be found in the hemp plant. There are over 100 different cannabinoids in the world, two of which include CBD and THC. These cannabinoids interact with your body's endocannabinoid system by targeting specific receptor sites that accept cannabinoids. Once a cannabinoid has reached a receptor site, it can then work with your body to influence appetite, pain sensation, memory, mood, and more.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is known for its calming and sedative effects. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has psychoactive effects linked to the well-documented high. Other cannabinoids such as CBN (cannabinol), CBC (cannabichromene), and CBG (cannabigerol) exist that interact differently with your body’s endocannabinoid system.

When cannabinoids are consumed together, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect will take place. The entourage effect proposes that combining cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THC, and CBD creates a stronger impact than any single cannabinoid can have on its own. The entourage effect can take place as a result of consuming any number of cannabinoids — not just CBD and THC.

Other organic compounds called terpenes and terpenoids will also influence the entourage effect. These compounds are found in many kinds of plants and are primary components in essential oils. They are also responsible for the smell of cannabis plants. Like cannabinoids, each individual terpene is associated with a unique effect. Types of terpenes commonly found in the hemp plant include limonene, humulene, myrcene, and ocimene.

Hemp extract and cannabis extract

It's important that we make the distinction between hemp extracts and cannabis extracts (marijuana). Hemp extracts containing CBD are sourced from the hemp plant and may contain trace amounts of THC or are instead THC free. Cannabis extracts, meanwhile, will contain some level of THC content and therefore aren't THC free. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, any CBD product derived from hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC or it will instead be classified as a cannabis product under law.

Different forms of CBD extracts

Though we're primarily focusing on isolate CBD vs. full spectrum CBD, there’s a third option to consider: broad-spectrum form. We've broken down all three primary extraction methods below in greater detail.

​Full spectrum CBD

Full spectrum products contain all the natural chemicals found in the hemp plant, including the many types of cannabinoids and terpenes. This can result in the entourage effect mentioned above to help your body better absorb and use CBD.

Full spectrum contains cannabinoids and terpenes
All compounds found in hemp are in full spectrum CBD.

Ingredients contained within full spectrum CBD may include essential vitamins and minerals, plant-based protein fiber, beneficial fatty acids, chlorophyll, terpenes, and flavonoids. At times these ingredients may simply be labeled as “hemp oil extract,” but this term is somewhat ambiguous because you don’t know how much CBD you’re really getting. For this reason, it’s important that you ensure your full spectrum CBD oil is tested by a lab to help you understand what’s in it.

While it's unlikely you'd fail a traditional drug test from using our products, the possibility cannot be ruled out. There are just too many types of drug tests out there, and with hemp products still relatively new on the market, it’s hard to assume that all tests will distinguish between THC and other types of cannabinoids.

If you’re subject to a zero-tolerance drug policy at work or elsewhere, please know that some of the more sensitive drug tests can come back positive for cannabinoids. If you’re unsure about where your company stands, better ask your HR department before you buy.

CBD isolate

CBD isolate is made by pulling CBD from the plant and removing all other ingredients. By removing cannabinoids such as THC, passing a drug test may be easier, but there is more to consider when using CBD isolate than you might think. While isolated CBD is essentially 99% pure CBD, it doesn’t contain any of the beneficial terpenes or flavonoids that encourage the entourage effect. As the illustration demonstrates below, pure CBD isolate is missing THC, CBC, CBN, and more. This is why CBD isolates tend to cost less than full spectrum CBD products or broad-spectrum CBD products.

cbd isolate vs full spectrum: the difference in full spectrum and CBD isolates
The CBD in the hemp plant is isolated, hence "CBD isolate."

Broad-spectrum CBD

Broad-spectrum CBD contains cannabidiol and the other natural compounds found within the plant, except for THC, which is completely removed after the extraction process has taken place. Because broad-spectrum CBD contains other cannabinoids besides THC, it can still produce the entourage effect.

Which cannabinoid extract is right for you?

Determining which cannabinoid extract is right for you can be daunting. To find the CBD product that suits your needs, start by taking a look at the many options available on the market today. While CBD isolate and full spectrum CBD are available as pure oils, there are other many options available to consume CBD.

CBD edibles are one popular choice, though research suggests eating CBD requires the liver and digestive track to break down the CBD before it can be fully absorbed — and your body may not absorb all of it. CBD topicals are any product that contains CBD and is applied to the skin: lotions, creams, balms, salves, and the like. Keep in mind that your skin isn’t as good at absorbing CBD, so you may want to choose a product that’s high in CBD content. Sublingual CBD products, sometimes referred to as “sublinguals,” are absorbed under your tongue. These products include tinctures, sprays, oils, or lozenges that require you to keep the CBD product in your mouth rather than swallowing it. This method will avoid CBD breakdown by the liver and digestive tract, and your body will absorb more CBD as a result.

After finding the consumption method you prefer, next consider the strength of the product as you begin dosing. Start with small doses to determine what effects the CBD may have on your body. While consuming high doses of CBD is safe, it may be best to experiment and test out your ideal dosage when taking it in the middle of the work day. A small dose of CBD is approximately half of the recommended serving, while a high dose is about twice the recommended serving.

The CBD oil spectrum

Determining which CBD product is right for you comes down to personal preference. CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD you can consume while full spectrum CBD contains all the hemp plant’s natural and beneficial cannabinoids. Full spectrum CBD promotes the entourage effect, which encourages the invigorating potential of cannabinoids — CBD isolate doesn’t.

Choose the product that suits your needs after assessing your current state of health. Your fitness levels, weight, body chemistry, and lifestyle will each play an important role in the decision process. The differences between CBD isolate and full spectrum CBD will impact how you use these substances, so take your time as you decide. Start with small doses, work your way up, and find a CBD product you love.

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