CBD Spectrum Guide: Full-Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, & Isolate
In speaking with CBD users, it never ceases to surprise me how many people think that one product labeled 'CBD' is just the same as the next. For those of us familiar with the three main types of spectrums available - we know this simply isn't the case. If you fall into that first group, don't worry, we clear this all up below.
These different types of products contain different cannabis compounds which can have a major impact on the effectiveness and required dosage of a product. Without understanding product spectrums it's easy to get lost, or worse, buy the wrong product for your needs!
In this article, we are going to walk you through full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and CBD isolate. Armed with the knowledge of what these spectrums are and how they differ, you'll be able to find high quality, effective products that offer the maximum therapeutic potential for your needs.
Where does CBD come from?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of many phytocannabinoids which are naturally found primarily in the flowering tops of the female cannabis plant. CBD and THC are the two most well-known cannabinoids that are sourced primarily from either hemp or marijuana.
Generally, marijuana is high in THC in order to produce the euphoric 'high'. Hemp is the other way around and is high in CBD and low in THC to stay within the legal boundaries set by federal hemp laws. Different strains of marijuana & hemp have different cannabinoid and terpene profiles. These strains are purpose-bred by cannabis growers depending on their application.
CBD-rich products can be sourced from high-THC marijuana, but they then must be sold through medical or recreational laws and regulations. Because of this, all CBD products available for public sale are sourced from hemp.
In order to capture and bottle these valuable cannabis compounds, an extract must be created. Across the hemp industry, the most common methods of extraction are either alcohol extraction via ethanol or supercritical CO2 extraction.
After extraction, the resulting oil undergoes some purification and activation processes. Depending on the processing done to the extract, one of the following spectrums are created. Learn more about how CBD oil is made in our article on the subject.
What is Full-Spectrum CBD?
Full Spectrum is the term is used to describe an extract that contains a full range cannabinoid and terpene profile - including up to 0.3% THC. This profile provides the absolute highest level of entourage effectiveness. Assuming a high-quality extraction method was used properly, the cannabinoid and terpene contents and ratios will closely mirror that of the plant source.
When looking for a full-spectrum product, it's important to look for test results showing the percentages of each cannabinoid in the product. Reputable CBD companies will provide this information for all of their products.
Full Spectrum Lab Test Example:
ND = None Detected
Full Spectrum CBD Contains THC
It is important to note that full-spectrum oil will contain trace amounts of THC. As we discussed in the introduction hemp must adhere to the legal limit of no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
When an extract is created from hemp adhering to these limits, the THC content is usually 2-3%. The extractor then must dilute down the extract to bring the relative THC content back down. The final product must adhere to the 0.3% THC by weight legal limit.
At these low levels, these THC containing products won't produce a 'high' when used at regular dosages. That said, this amount of THC can still be enough to cause the user to fail a drug test. This fact makes full-spectrum products a no-go for many. Luckily, there are two additional spectrums that address this problem head-on.
What is Broad Spectrum CBD?
The newest spectrum on the block - broad-spectrum products contain a full spectrum cannabinoid and terpene profile with one exception - THC. These products offer maximum therapeutic potential without the need to consume THC. For people subject to drug testing or not wanting to consume THC for any other reason, broad-spectrum CBD oil offers the perfect solution.
Previously the only THC-free option on the market was CBD isolate, which we cover below. Broad-spectrum creation was enabled by advances in technology which allow extractors to filter out all THC using a special preparatory chromatography process. When shopping for 'true' broad-spectrum products, be sure that the product was created by removing THC from a full spectrum extract, not by distilling and adding additional cannabinoids and terpenes back together.
Here at Big Sky Botanicals, we specialize in broad-spectrum done right. Our products begin as full-spectrum extracts before THC is removed via chromatography. The result is a cannabinoid and terpene-rich product designed for maximum effectiveness. For more information, see our process which outlines how our products are made.
Broad Spectrum Lab Test Example:
ND = None Detected
What is CBD Isolate?
This final spectrum is the most straight forward. Isolate is simply the Cannabidiol isolated down to the single-molecule. The resulting product is a white powder, often found in very high (99%+) concentrations. This isolate may be added to a variety of carriers for human consumption or used as a standalone product in a variety of ways.
Isolate is often used as the CBD source in all kinds of products that look like full/broad-spectrum. This can be dangerous as isolates have been researched to require higher, more precise dosing for similar benefits when compared to the whole-plant approach that full/broad-spectrum offers.
When looking at a cannabinoid profile test, an isolate will register only for CBD and nothing else. Looking at an ingredients list, isolate based products will contain 'crystalline CBD', not a hemp extract oil.
The naturally occurring terpenes are removed during the processing required to make an isolate. Because these terpenes are an important part of enabling the entourage effect, some companies will add terpenes back into an isolate to make a product commonly referred to as a terpsolate, once again this is not to be confused with broad-spectrum.
Isolate Lab Test Example:
ND = None Detected
Verify the Spectrum: Always Check the Lab Results!
Today labeling can be confusing and many less-desirable brands are labeling their products deceptively. There are many cases where companies call a product 'full-spectrum' when it's actually just an isolate.
The only surefire way to know what is in your CBD product is to check for lab results. The best CBD brands online are providing not only product level but also batch level reports from 3rd party labs. You should look for these reports to ensure you know exactly what is in the CBD products that you're taking. If you can't find labs for the specific product you're purchasing, look elsewhere.
To help you through this process, we've written an article which guides you through reading and understanding cannabis lab reports you'll also find all of the lab reports for our products published here.
Which Spectrum is Most Effective?
Groundbreaking research from Israel published in 2015 concluded that the synergistic effects of whole-plant cannabis are superior. The study concluded that full-spectrum CBD was more effective in the treatment of conditions in mice than single-molecule CBD isolate. (1) This whole-plant approach is commonly referred to as the 'entourage effect'.
This means that choosing a full or broad-spectrum product is always the best choice. Choosing between the two really comes down to your preference for consuming THC or not. These products offer very similar therapeutic benefits. An isolate should be chosen only when it meets a special usage requirement need.
Bonus: What are Raw Cannabinoids?
When an extract is created from hemp using a low-temperature method like supercritical CO2 extraction or cold pressing, the resulting products contain non-activated acid forms of the cannabinoids. A product containing just these cannabinoids is known as a raw spectrum product.
These 'non-activated' acid forms have different effects on the body than their 'activated' non-acid counterparts. For example, THCA is non-psychoactive while THC is. In order to convert the raw form to an active form, an extract must be decarboxylated. Through a heating process, the acid molecule is removed and you are left with the 'activated' non-acid form.
The common acid forms of cannabinoids found in CBD products include:
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
- THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
Though there is limited research available, there are some reports that point to these acid forms providing specific health benefits. Because of this, many users seek out blended products which include both the acid and non-acid forms of the cannabinoids. A raw extract is sometimes combined with a decarboxylated extract to create either blended full-spectrum products.