Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, Isolates Oh My! Which CBD Is Right For You?

Posted: April 28, 2020 Author: zach
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So if you’re new to CBD and cannabis as a whole, full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolates are some commonly used terms that you’ll want to know before you begin the hunt for your favorite CBD brand. 

If you haven’t noticed, CBD is taking the nation by storm. Sales are on the rise, Google searches for CBD doubled in 2019, and more and more companies are coming to market with their own line of CBD oil for sale every day.  If this your first foray into the CBD game, reading some of the product descriptions can make you feel like a total newbie.  

Some of the terms thrown around like full spectrum, terpenes, and supercritical extraction can kind of make you feel like you need a botany degree or an engineers degree to understand and use CBD.  That’s not the case!

With just a little background knowledge and familiarity with common terms, you’ll be comparing and contrasting CBD brands like a pro.  You’ll know exactly what to look for and what to look out for, and how to source and find the best CBD products on the market, and whether full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate is right for you!

CBD Oil…It’s Not Just CBD

While CBD is the main cannabinoid found in hemp, it is just one of over 100 cannabinoids that naturally exist in the cannabis plant.  Because it is found in much great abundance than any other cannabinoid in hemp, the medicinal value of hemp oil has long been attributed to CBD.

As more research and scientific studies surface, most in the cannabis industry are leaning towards a new philosophy that CBD is much more effective at providing its medicinal benefits when combined with all the other naturally occurring cannabinoids that exist in hemp.

So when a product is labelled as CBD Oil or Hemp Oil, it’s simply an extract of the hemp or cannabis plant that contains varying degrees and percentages of the 100+ cannabinoids that we know exist.  All varying levels of cannabinoids and terpenes in the CBD will be the determining factor in whether a product is considered Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, or CBD Isolate.  

What Does Spectrum Even Mean Anyway?

Spectrum as it relates to cannabis is the measurement of the breadth of cannabinoids that occur in the final processed CBD oil product.  Depending on how the CBD was extracted and what processing methods were used, you can end up with a CBD oil that has a wide range of cannabinoids in it, or one with very few.  

A full spectrum would describe a CBD oil that contains a large number of cannabinoids in the oil in addition to CBD, where as a narrow spectrum would contain only a small number of cannabinoids in addition to CBD in the end product.

Full Spectrum CBD – The Gold Standard

What is Full Spectrum CBD and the entourage effect?

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A full spectrum CBD product is any product that contains a wide variety of cannabinoids in addition to CBD.  This is considered the best for overall health benefits and effects of CBD.  No definitive measure exists for how many cannabinoids must be present for an oil to be considered ‘Full Spectrum’.  However, products that are labelled Full Spectrum typically will have anywhere from 6-15 cannabinoids present and active in the CBD oil.

Full Spectrum has become widely accepted as the best CBD product in terms of medicinal benefits and effects.  While it was once believed that CBD isolated on its own provided the greatest health benefits, more recent research is pointing us in a different direction.  It seems the overall affects of CBD tend perform better in the body when combined with the other cannabinoids that naturally occur in the hemp plant.  This is known as the ‘Entourage Effect’.


This one is even more fascinating.  More recently, it is believed that CBD oils that closely mimic the ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes compared to the plant it was derived from tend to provide greater benefits and effects than those that lost some of their cannabinoid content in the production process.  If that were to be true, this would reinforce something that we all know in the back of our minds:  ‘The Less man Messes with it, the More Medicinal Value it will Hold’.  

As more research comes out, we’ll soon know for sure if the overall benefits are greater with full spectrum CBD products, but the entire industry is all ears waiting for more studies to surface.  

How is It Full Spectrum CBD made?

Full Spectrum CBD can be produced using a variety of different extraction methods.  Some argue that full spectrum CBD oil can only be produced using the oil extraction method or alcohol extraction. However, highly advanced CO2 extraction methods are able to produce a cleaner and safer end product and still provide a broad range of cannabinoids for great health benefits.

The truth is all of extraction methods can create CBD oil with multiple cannabinoids present, although some methods are more effective than others at preserving the natural cannabinoid profile of the plant.  That being said, each extraction method has its advantages and disadvantages in their own right.  

For example, ethanol can recreate the cannabinoid profile of a hemp plant much more closely than the CO2 extraction method making it a more true full spectrum product, however it also extracts chlorophyll and any other harmful metals or chemicals that may existing in the plant.  

CO2 extraction has come a long way in the past few years.  It used to be very hard to maintain the natural cannabinoid profile of a hemp plant using this extraction technique, but now more and more bright people are coming to market with new ideas and methodologies for improving extraction techniques.   

If using the CO2 extraction method, the experienced extractor can now use varying temperatures and pressures during extraction to more closely recreate the ratio of cannabinoids that exist in a plant.  They can even further refine the product through Winterization and Distillation to even more closely dial in the ratio of cannabinoids that will exist in the final CBD oil that hits the shelf. 

How to Find Full Spectrum CBD?

As a consumer in the CBD industry right now, there’s one thing to keep in mind:  believe no label!  Much has been made of all the studies reporting on mislabelled CBD products over the last few years.  There is no agency preventing companies from doing this at the moment, so it’s probably best to assume that no label is accurate, and if the company cannot provide independent 3rd party lab results, they’re trying to hide something.

Once you have the 3rd party lab results, simply look for the contents of all of the naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes in your CBD!  If you need help reading those results, check out our blog post on how to read lab results for CBD products!

Broad Spectrum CBD – The New Kid on the Block

Broad spectrum CBD oil, also known as terpsolate, is a newer classification that has become popular in the last few years.  It was developed and designed to provide both the added health benefits of full spectrum CBD with the peace of mind that comes with ‘Zero THC’ isolates.  It is essentially full spectrum oil without the THC.  Broad spectrum CBD will usually contain all the cannabinoids that a normal full spectrum oil will yield with the exception of THC, THCA, or THCV.  

This is essentially the best option for anyone looking to get the most health benefits of CBD without the risking a failed drug test.  However, some believe that THC is a critical component to overall effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine, and that a broad spectrum product will fall short of full spectrum because of this.  

That may be true, but much more research has to be done on all of the cannabinoids that exist in the hemp plant to be sure.  Remember that research is limited as it is, and the overwhelming majority of research on the topic of cannabis and medicine has been focused on THC and CBD.  There are over 100 more cannabinoids that we know of that interact with the human body, many of which haven’t been researched at all.  

As we learn more from research, we’ll see if these extraction methods stand the test of time or become obsolete.  

How Is Broad Spectrum CBD Made?

There are 2 methods commonly accepted as ways to create broad spectrum CBD.  One is by removing THC from a broad spectrum CBD Oil, and the other is by adding terpenes and cannabinoids to a CBD Isolate.  

In the first method, a powerful and complex separation process called chromatography is applied to a full spectrum CBD oil that was made using either subcritical or supercritical CO2 extraction.  This chromatography process can isolate and separate any single cannabinoid that exists in CBD oil, including THC.

By removing the THC, the theory is that you preserve as best you can the additional health benefits of the full entourage of cannabinoids without the THC.  For athletes or professionals who are subjected to drug testing, this is their best option to receive all the benefits of full spectrum CBD without the worry of failing a drug test.

A second method to produce broad spectrum CBD has been used, although many are don’t believe it’s the best way of producing broad spectrum.  Instead of starting with a full spectrum product and removing THC, the producer starts with a CBD isolate and adds terpenes and cannabinoids to create a more natural profile of cannabinoids.  

Some argue that this second method is just added processing that further manipulates and degrades the cannabinoid content, whereas the first method creates a more natural cannabinoid profile, thus being more effective.  It’s a hotly debated topic in general in the industry at the moment, and one that will become more clear as additional studies are completed.

How to Find Broad Spectrum CBD?

Look for reputable companies when shopping for broad spectrum CBD products.  The quality of extraction is critical here, and if it’s an inexperienced company, they may end up leaving trace amounts of THC in the end product that could potentially get you in trouble.  

Never buy a Broad Spectrum CBD product without first seeing Independent 3rd Party Lab results.  Check to make sure that the 9-THC, THCV, and THCA levels say NR.  Refer to our handy CBD Lab Result guide to learn how to read these results accurately.  

CBD Isolate – CBD Crystalline Powder

For many years prior to prohibition being lifted on hemp, many thought that CBD isolated on it’s own provided the best health benefits for users.  In fact, the only FDA approved prescription “drug” is CBD isolate, and it’s used to treat 2 rare forms of epilepsy in children.  

Because CBD and THC are the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis, it was widely accepted that these to cannabinoids were the 2 most effective forms of medicinal cannabis and would perform better if they were synthesized and isolated from the other naturally occurring cannabinoids in hemp and marijuana.  

That is exactly what CBD Isolate is.  It is a white powder consisting of at least 99.5% pure CBD.  This type of product is still popular for anyone interested in taking CBD but has to take random drug tests for work or school.  However, it has become widely accepted in the industry that full spectrum CBD oils carry a much wider range of health benefits than CBD isolate on it’s own. 

How is CBD Isolate Made?

CBD Isolate is made by utilizing a supercritical CO2 extraction method at higher pressures and temperatures.  This allows the producer to burn off as many terpenes and cannabinoids as possible in the initial extraction.  That will leave a waxy substance that still contains a wide variety of terpenes and cannabinoids.  

A freeze drying method called winterization is then used to remove all of the thick waxy material, leaving behind a clear extract with a high CBD %.  That liquid is then further refined using a distillation processes, which will eliminate any remaining cannabinoids in the extract other than CBD.

The result?  A clear white powder that is at least 99% CBD.

How to Find CBD Isolate

CBD isolate is probably the easiest of the 3 types of extracts to find and trust. In order for it to be true isolate, it has to be in powder form.  Some companies may sell it already dissolved into a liquid for easier ingestion, but it’s probably best to buy the isolate powder and mix on your own.  

As always, be sure to refer to independent lab results and choose a reputable company.  If you’re looking for CBD Isolates, there’s a high likelihood your doing it because your concerned with a drug test.  With all the news of mislabelled products in the CBD industry, it would be wise to go with a well established company with a track record of producing high quality isolates and Zero-THC products.  

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