CBD Isolate vs Full Spectrum CBD: Differences & Benefits

This article breaks down two common terms used to describe CBD products: full spectrum and CBD isolate. We also briefly touch on a third category, broad-spectrum CBD products.

The hemp industry is one of the most exciting and fastest growing in the natural health sector. With laws around the world relaxing on the plant and its commercial uses, we’ve seen some incredible new hemp products come to market.

The most popular of them all at the moment is cannabidiol oil, or more commonly known as CBD oil. With so many new and different CBD oil products available, the choice of which one to go with can be difficult and confusing. With terms like whole plant extract, full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate. This article will break down the difference between two terms you’ll commonly see, full-spectrum CBD oil and CBD oil isolate, in order to help make your decisions easier.

Not all CBD oil is made the same, and the terminology can be confusing, such as the difference between CBD isolate vs full spectrum CBD.
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Not all CBD oil is made the same, and the terminology can be confusing, such as the difference between full spectrum CBD and CBD isolate.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating molecule found in the cannabis plant. It is one of many cannabinoids that can be extracted from the cannabis plant but it has become commercially popular beyond the others due to its wide medical applications and accessibility.

As CBD does not give the consumer the famous high that psychoactive cannabis (“marijuana”) is known for, it is more readily available online and in shops. It is usually derived from hemp, the name given to cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC which are often grown for CBD oil.

How is CBD made?

Before we talk about spectrums, it’s important that you understand how CBD makes it into the final product.

It all starts with hemp. This non-psychoactive type of cannabis contains a wide variety of compounds, including cannabidiol or CBD. These valuable compounds include phytocannabinoids and terpenes and are responsible for the health-boosting benefits of CBD oil.

This guide will help you make an educated shopping decision when choosing CBD oil products.

CBD products are made by extracting an oil from the flowering portion of the hemp plant. This crude extract contains cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, and other plant materials.

The processing performed on an extract removes various components from the crude extract along the way. Some processes remove some generally unwanted components like chlorophyll from an extract, while others remove significant cannabis compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids.

Depending on the desired final form, this extract may undergo various processing steps before making it into a product. This is a very simplified explanation, but if you’d like to learn more see Big Sky Botanicals’ article on how CBD is extracted and processed for an in-depth explanation of the topic.

What Is Full Spectrum CBD Oil?

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different phytochemicals including cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds. Full-spectrum CBD or hemp oil generally refers to products that not only contain CBD but contain other plant molecules as well. This version of CBD oil is minimally refined, leaving most of the cannabinoids and terpenes intact and in the oil.

Full spectrum, sometimes also called “whole plant,” means the full plant extract is included. Full spectrum provides more of the plant’s molecules in ratios and amounts that nature intended.

While there is still more research to be done, there are indications that show cannabinoids and terpenes work together to influence each other. This synergistic effect is called the entourage effect and has seen CBD work with THC to reduce the effects of a high and CBD to influence one’s own cannabinoid receptors.

What Is CBD Isolate?

Cannabidiol alone has been the subject of a lot of research as it stands out from the rest with what seems to be the widest therapeutic value.

CBD isolate products are generally labeled as being 99 percent or more pure CBD depending on the form they come in. As the name suggests, these products have been isolated down to just the CBD molecule. They have no other active ingredient and just aim to deliver therapeutic doses of CBD, isolated from the other cannabinoids and terpenes.

CBD isolate itself is a white powder, which may be available to consumers. More often, isolates are mixed with a carrier oil to become tinctures, or placed in capsules, edible products like gummies, topical salves, and so on. They’re then used just like a full spectrum hemp extract product.

Comparing CBD Isolate vs Full Spectrum CBD

CBD and the other cannabinoids have therapeutic benefits to humans thanks to our endocannabinoid system, a series of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) throughout the entire body. These receptors react to the cannabinoids our bodies produce which are molecularly very similar to the cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp.

Full spectrum CBD contains more cannabinoids and other natural compounds, while CBD isolate may be better for people who need a strong dose of just cannabidiol.
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Full spectrum CBD contains more cannabinoids and other natural compounds, while CBD isolate may be better for people who need a strong dose of just cannabidiol.

Full spectrum CBD oil products have the advantage of containing many different cannabinoids and terpenes and the potential for a wider health reach. A recent study indicated the synergistic effects of a full spectrum CBD oil were superior to an isolate in the effective treatment of inflammatory conditions. Terpenes alone have shown incredible potential for human health and should not be disregarded.

CBD isolates do allow users to easily get large amounts of CBD and know how much they’re getting. With the growing amount of evidence behind CBD and CBD alone it should definitely not be overlooked as a potential for so many conditions such as anxiety, pain, inflammation, diabetes, depression and more.

Some people find the taste of hemp extract unpleasant, which may mean they should try a CBD isolate (or another method of taking CBD such as CBD capsules or gummies). The lack of flavor might also make isolate a better choice for cooking with CBD or mixing into some CBD cocktails. CBD isolate powder can also be an appealing option for making CBD products for personal use, such as homemade CBD massage oil.

Isolates can sometimes be more expensive than full spectrum CBD. Isolates undergo more extensive refinement and require more plant matter in order to get high levels of isolated cannabidiol.

Always verify the CBD spectrum via third-party lab reports

As you can see, the spectrum plays a BIG role. Unfortunately, not all companies clearly publish the spectrum of their products. For example, some CBD packaging only identifies products as ‘THC-free.’ And some inferior quality products are mislabelled entirely.

That said, regardless of if a company promotes the spectrum of their products or not, you should always, always, always verify the cannabinoid and terpene content via third-party lab reports.

Using the above definitions, look to the labs and ingredients lists for verification on your product contents. If the company doesn’t provide labs, or you can’t easily verify the cannabinoid and terpene content,  we suggest you look elsewhere. It’s essential to ensure you know what is in the products you’re taking, and providing these lab reports is expected of quality hemp brands today.

Learning how to read lab reports can be confusing at first, but it’s easy when you get the hang of it. Check out the guide on reading lab reports to learn more. There you’ll also find a section about how to clear up the common confusion around products that are full or broad-spectrum, but the lab reports look like CBD isolate.

A pair of leafy hemp plants, alongside a drawing of the CBD molecule.
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Choosing the right CBD oil product doesn’t have to be confusing.

How to choose the right spectrum of CBD oil

Now that you understand the differences between the various spectrums, the final piece of the puzzle is to determine which spectrum to choose. Follow the steps through these primary considerations to determine which spectrum is right for you:

1. Consider THC Exposure

First, and perhaps most importantly, is to consider if you’re able or want to consume THC. In general, we talk to two primary groups of people that want to avoid THC:

  • Those who are drug tested for THC. This includes workplace screening and others who are screened professionally for marijuana. These tests typically look for the presence of THC. Even though full-spectrum contains at most a trace amount of THC, there are reports of positive drug tests from full spectrum CBD products. Choosing a THC-free alternative is always recommended.
  • Those who don’t want to consume THC. There are many that just simply don’t want to consume THC. This can be due to political, religious, personal or other views. And for a handful of people, even trace amounts of THC can cause grogginess or other unwanted side effects.

The topic of drug testing is more complex than we can cover in this guide, which is why we wrote a complete guide to drug testing and CBD.

If you’re OK with THC exposure, full-spectrum is still in. If you can’t then full-spectrum is out for you.

2. Consider effectiveness via the Entourage Effect

Research shows that whole-plant extracts like broad or full spectrum work well at lower doses and have a broader therapeutic window than CBD isolate. Isolate generally requires higher and more precise doses to be effective.

Because of this, you’re better off with a full or broad-spectrum product over CBD isolate. The effectiveness benefits of these whole-plant products outweigh the misleading low cost that drives CBD isolate sales today.

3. Consider your use case

While it’s pretty clear by now that that full or broad-spectrum should almost always be picked over an isolate, there are cases to look past them.

CBD isolate shines in specialty use cases — namely as a standalone dab product or to be sprinkled on top of marijuana flower to increase CBD potency. In both of these cases the crystalline isolate works well.

Cooking with CBD isolate may be one of the few other exceptions, but a well-made broad or full spectrum CBD product will have a very mild taste and avoid much of the grassy bitterness that can sometimes be bothersome in inferior CBD products. 

To sum up, if you find isolate as an ingredient in your a CBD product — like tinctures, capsules, or balm — then look you should probably consider using a full or broad-spectrum alternative. 

4. Find your preferred CBD spectrum

Our final piece of advice is to take all of this knowledge and apply it as you shop, but ultimately what works best for you works best for you.

In talking with clients, we find people can react in vastly different ways to the same product. Generally spectrum advice helps, but ultimately finding the product that aligns best with your life is key.

Have you found your preferred CBD spectrum? Let us know in the comments below which you prefer and why!

Get To Know Different CBD Products

It’s hard to know which one is best for you without trying them both and see how you react. Different ailments might react differently a full spectrum CBD than to a CBD isolate. We recommend trying a variety of products and assessing how you feel. If you’re finding your condition is not reacting significantly to a full spectrum oil then trying an isolate may be the way to go, and vice versa.

Some research suggests full spectrum CBD can be more effective, but consumers should experiment with a variety of CBD products and, when possible, consult with a supportive medical professional for more advice.
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Some research suggests full spectrum CBD can be more effective, but consumers should experiment with a variety of CBD products and, when possible, consult with a supportive medical professional for more advice.

It’s still very early in the days of cannabis research but there is a strong case for the therapeutic benefit of a less refined full spectrum hemp extract with more of the plant compounds intact. There are so many beneficial health possibilities waiting to be unlocked by further studying the combinations of these compounds found in hemp and cannabis.

Remember, it’s not all about the amount of CBD per serving you see on a bottle. A higher CBD product isn’t necessarily superior to a full spectrum oil. Leaving the plants extracts closer to the way nature intended could be a better option for most people.

Kit O’Connell contributed reporting to this article.

Two different colored vials of hemp extract sit on a bed of hemp leaves. Full spectrum CBD contains more cannabinoids and other natural compounds, while CBD isolate may be better for people who need a strong dose of just cannabidiol.
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Ministry of Hemp

Ministry of Hemp is America's leading hemp advocate.

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Latest Comments

  • Avatar Massachusetts CBD says:

    Informative.

  • Avatar chris butler says:

    Not sure why Broad Spectrum is defined as THC free as opposed to just reduced cannabinoids and turpines due to additional extraction. Thc remediation or removal is typically a separate process. If the only difference between broad and full spectrum is THC, then the term broad is misleading. Broad should just be less cannabinoids, turpines, etc. than full, and may or may not contain THC.

  • Avatar Yoli Oram says:

    I’m wanting to know if CBC isolates gummies is good for aches and pains or should I get CBC gummies for this

    • Avatar carol fitzgerald says:

      my husband has multiple myeloma which is under control but worse he has no energy and a very sore back.i want my husband to feel the very best he can be he is 81 and is restoring a vintage car. if he does not take ordine he cant do anything! can i get it from n z.? i can get some from the us but it comes via europe and takes 2 months to get here. i live in sydney. i would like something to help him sleep at night.thanks carol

  • Avatar Helen Wilson says:

    I’ve been researching for about a week and still feel very confused. I have a traumatic brain injury, I get extreme tension headaches. I also have inflammation in my brain. This is an expensive investment for me. I would like to know which is the best option for me. I also have 8 years sober so I’d like to try to stay THC free, however I don’t believe the small amount of thc is going to affect me, as it’s just not the issue. But I want the most therapeutic effect. Help, please.

  • Avatar Pam farley says:

    I need a cbd tincture that’s
    Made from a strain of cannabis that will not aggravate my dry eye condition.

  • Avatar Cindy Shephard says:

    Does wide spectrum CBD contain THC?

  • Avatar Carla smith says:

    Can this be taken by my yorkie

  • Avatar Josh Frank says:

    It’s not water soluble. You can make it water compatible but not soluble. The absorption rate would be better if you compare to digesting but I would argue and say not sublingually. More research needs to be done for sure, but Nanotech or Water soluble is more for marketing.

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