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The Importance of Full Spectrum CBD vs. Isolate CBD

Although many CBD products may appear the same, the source of CBD in each product can be very different. Typically, CBD, as an ingredient, falls into one of several categories: Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, or Isolate. But what do these terms mean and how do they affect which product you should choose?

First, let’s acknowledge the fact that terms like “Full Spectrum” and “Broad Spectrum” are not terms with specific meaning.  Different companies sometimes use these terms in differing and contradicting ways, which adds to the confusion when trying to make a purchasing decision.  In this article, we will unpack these terms as the hemp industry most commonly uses them.  You may find exceptions to these descriptions, and these are not scientifically backed definitions.  At the end, we will solidify and share Artemis’ stance on these terms to ensure consistency across all brands and products. 

Full Spectrum vs. Isolate

Let’s start with the term “Full Spectrum”.  What is Full Spectrum?  Within the hemp industry, the term “Full Spectrum” is often used to indicate that a product’s CBD is sourced from a hemp extract rather than CBD isolate.  CBD isolate is simply pure, crystalline CBD.  But why does it matter if CBD is sourced from isolate versus a hemp extract?  The fact of the matter is that while we continue to learn more about CBD, some research indicates that the effects of CBD can be affected, sometimes quite substantially, by the presence of other chemical compounds.  This concept of the components of a Cannabis extract producing effects that are greater than any one component can produce alone is called the “Entourage Effect.”

While there is limited research into the clinical differences between using CBD isolate versus full spectrum hemp extract, there is at least one study looking at inflammation markers in rodents found that a CBD-rich full spectrum hemp extract containing many different phytochemicals performed better than pure isolated CBD.  Anecdotally, many clinicians report that CBD works better at lower doses when it is present in a CBD-rich full spectrum extract rather than isolated CBD.

An analogy to lightly explain Full Spectrum vs Isolate – imagine Full Spectrum as pressed orange juice and Isolate as Vitamin C powder.  The goal of a Full Spectrum product is to maintain the complex range of desirable compounds in a cannabis and hemp plant.  Full Spectrum CBD products contain other minor cannabinoids – CBC, CBG, and more – and must have THC at the legal limits of under 0.3% by dry weight.  Isolate CBD products will only have CBD with no other cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids, and is THC-free.    

What About Broad Spectrum?

Usually, the term “Broad Spectrum” refers to a hemp extract that has been refined or manipulated.  For instance, a hemp extract that has had THC removed is often referred to as “Broad Spectrum”.  As it relates to CBD products, Broad Spectrum must have the presence of minor cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, and such) without the presence of THC.  The goal of a broad-spectrum product is to maintain the complex range of desirable compounds in a cannabis or hemp plant while extracting the delta 9 THC compound.  All Broad Spectrum products are THC-free. 

Why Choose Full Spectrum vs. Isolate?

Everyone responds to cannabinoids and hemp extracts differently.  While some people report that a full spectrum product works best for them, another person might find that a product only featuring CBD isolate works better.  For some, it’s a matter of preference.  Those who are looking for an alternative to full-spectrum CBD products or those who wish to feel more assured with regards to drug testing may gravitate towards CBD Isolate products (a fuller discussion on drug testing with Sang Choi, RPh, Head Pharmacist and Dispensary Director of Etain Health, a medical marijuana dispensary in New York here).  Based on reports from patients and clinicians working with CBD, many find higher efficacy using extracts with Full Spectrum.

The Takeaway

The takeaway here is to understand that CBD, as an ingredient, can be sourced from many different types of extracts or it can be present as an isolated compound.  Full Spectrum and Broad Spectrum extracts might provide better results than Isolates.  Because the terms “Full Spectrum” and “Broad Spectrum” are so poorly defined and are not used consistently throughout the industry, it may be challenging to understand what a company means by these terms.  To deal with this problem, here at Artemis, we adhere to strict standards in order to provide consistency across all brands and products.

The Artemis Stance

We acknowledge and appreciate the potential of Full Spectrum CBD products.  We believe that the sum of its parts yields greater efficacy than any one component can produce alone.  Additionally, CBD and THC interact with our endocannabinoid system differently (a deeper discussion here), so to capture a fuller therapeutic range we lean towards Full Spectrum CBD products.  A great majority of products here (especially in the ingestible categories) will be Full Spectrum.  We classify Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolates by lab tests only.  To ensure consistency and transparency, we do not look at packaging claims or branding.  We triple check the lab tests/COAs and determine classification with these requirements:

Full Spectrum – the product must have CBD plus THC (under 0.3% by dry weight), and minor cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, etc) with the option of terpenes present.
Broad Spectrum – the product must have CBD plus minor cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, etc.) with the option of terpenes present, but no THC (THC-free).
Isolate – the product has CBD only with no other cannabinoids, terpenes, and THC (THC-free).

The Desire for Full Spectrum

The ever-important connection between full-spectrum and efficacy – these high potency formulas are CBD-rich with well-rounded levels of secondary cannabinoids and terpenes. The sensory experience is uniquely different – deep earthy notes from Papa & Barkley and smooth piney tones from NuLeaf.

Written in collaboration with Jason Wilson, MS – a science educator, natural products researcher, an expert on cannabis and cannabinoid science, and creator of the Curious About Cannabis Podcast.