Full-Spectrum CBD vs CBD Isolate:
Decide What’s Best for You
Written by Erin Willis
In 2019, cannabidiol (CBD)-infused products are populating like bunny rabbits with no end in sight, as cannabis legalization continues to progress around the world. Due to its widespread implications for balancing the body’s natural healing system, CBD is gaining mass attention for natural and effective relief of many common ailments. Read more from the National Center for Biotechnology Information:
With all the new activity and interest, there is a lot of ambiguity around all topics CBD.
Fundamentals like what CBD is, what defines a quality CBD source, and how best to activate or extract CBD from the cannabis plant are some of the most common areas of question.
Here, we discuss the difference between full-spectrum CBD vs. CBD isolate, including the extraction process for each.
As a basic definition, CBD is a hemp-derived compound (a phytocannabinoid called cannabidiol) that is extracted from a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC. Activated CBD contains a variety of healing properties without the associated “high” of THC. As the cannabis plant grows it begins to take on more THC, similar to how alcohol content increases with fermentation.
The extraction process is what determines the type of CBD. There are three forms of cannabidiol (CBD) after any given extraction process: full spectrum, broad spectrum, or as an isolate. When we use these terms,we are referring to the finished form of CBD once extracted from the cannabis/hemp plant.
What is a CBD Isolate?
Simply put, a CBD isolate is purified cannabidiol. The isolate is different from full-spectrum CBD as it contains only the CBD molecule and none of the other cannabinoids,terpenes, flavonoids, chlorophyll, or other polyphenols and fatty acids one would find in whole-plant extraction methods.
CBD isolates are manufactured for vape pen cartridges, crystalline powders, and beauty products such as lotions, facial/body oils, and bath bombs. A significant reason CBD isolates have become popular is that CBD isolates contain zero trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), making it an attractive commodity and a more widely accessible part of the cannabis plant.
Benefit of CBD Isolate
A benefit to choosing isolated CBD-infused products is knowing there are no trace amounts of THC. Even though true full spectrum products contain less than 0.3% THC, it still has the possibility of showing up in the body, depending on variables like body weight, CBD dosage, as well as metabolism.
What is Full-Spectrum CBD?
Commonly known as whole-plant CBD, full spectrum CBD means that during the extraction process the cannabidiol molecule is extracted from the plant matter along with its accompanying plant molecules, virtually undisturbed. This extracted plant material still contains the other various cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, THCA, and if it is truly full-spectrum CBD, trace amounts of THC. A full spectrum CBD product also contains a range of beneficial terpenes, flavonoids, chlorophyll, and other healthy fatty acids and polyphenols. These neighbors can explain the green color and flavorful taste of truly full spectrum CBD oil.
Since the integrity of the plant has not been disrupted during the process of whole-plant extraction, the finished CBD product is closer to its natural state and will contain an expanded volume of therapeutic components versus a CBD isolate product. Below I break down a few of my favorite things regarding full-spectrum CBD oil.
A bell-shaped dose-response curve, CBD isolate vs. full spectrum CBD
An important element to note regarding CBD isolate is the response it has in the body. A CBD isolate report published in the journal Pharmacology & Pharmacy (Feb. 2015) observed a bell-shaped dose-response curve in the therapeutic effects of CBD isolates for treating pain and inflammation. They discovered that only within a small frame of dosing did the isolated CBD have any beneficial effect and that after a certain dose the response rate would have no effect at all, “healing was only observed when CBD was given within a very limited dose range, whereas no beneficial effect was achieved at either lower or higher doses,” the authors noted. However, full spectrum CBD showed to have a boosted effect on treating the pain and inflammation at the same point isolated CBD had dropped off.
A study published by the Lautenberg Center for Tumor and Immunology, which aimed its focus on the effectiveness of CBD isolate compared to whole-plant extract, supported this concept, stating “in all of the tests, the isolated CBD was ineffective both before and after a certain dosage, while the effectiveness of the full-spectrum solution continued to increase as higher doses were administered. The results all indicate that CBD is only effective against swelling and pain at a certain dose, and those cannabis solutions containing a full range of cannabinoids will continue to provide corresponding effects as the dosage is increased.”
This physiological concept of cohesive behavior of the entirety of a plant is widely understood in the nutrition and herbal medicine. We call this the effect of synergy. Synergy is when two or more components work together to produce a combined effect more significant than the sum of their separate effects. So when it comes to consuming whole plant foods (oranges) versus isolates (vitamin C pills), or whole grain versus enriched grain, our bodies will better recognize, absorb, and utilize the whole of it.
Benefits to Whole-Plant Extraction and Full-Spectrum CBD
The cannabis plant is highly complex, as it contains over 400 chemical compounds with at least 80 of those being cannabinoid compounds. Because of the long and winding road around cannabis legalization, scientists and researchers have been limited in their ability to thoroughly test these unique compounds, with most testing done on animals or in vitro. This means we don’t yet understand scientifically how they work in conjunction with one another, or what therapeutic effects they have on the human body when consumed synergistically.
What we do understand for other plant-based medicines and foods is that whole-plant extraction methods allow for the plant to stay in integrity with its biological mechanisms, which often means a boost in bioavailability and overall efficacy of the medicine. Some examples of this include drinking orange juice rather than taking a vitamin C pill, using peppermint oil to cool a burn rather than a menthol topical, or consuming a tomato-rich diet rather than taking lycopene pills.
When CBD is extracted using a whole plant method, they are including nearly all parts of the plant in the extraction such as the leaves, stems, and flowers, which maximizes the plant and reduces waste. With this method, there is also not a need to add any solvents such as butane, CO2, or ethanol to strip away specific compounds that when left in the product, even in trace amounts, can be harmful.
Science Talk: Terpenoids, Phytocannabinoids, and the Entourage Effect
The reason cannabis is such an unusual plant has much to do with its therapeutically-charged, yet relatively mysterious trichomes; the pod-like oily glandules that give cannabis its sparkle, stickiness, and medicinal effects. Cannabis trichomes are rich with essential oils and active compounds; phytocannabinoids and terpenoids.
When CBD is present together with its cannabinoid and terpenoid counterparts, they produce a boosted and overall greater therapeutic effect known as the entourage effect. This phrase was introduced in 1998 by S. Ben-Shabat in an attempt to explain the physiological mechanisms involved in consuming whole plant cannabis versus isolate derivatives like THC and CBD. Ben-Shabet theorized that cannabinoids working in synergetic effect with the other active compounds found in cannabis, most specifically terpenoids and flavonoids, will boost the efficacy of the medicinal effects of cannabis. My all-time favorite cannabis compound researcher and neuroscientist, Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, goes even further to say in his published article, Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, that certain phytocannabinoid-terpenoid combination can give varied effect. For example:
- The terpene myrcene can influence a reduction in resistance of the blood-brain barrier, enabling greater bioavailability, or easy of passage, for other beneficial chemicals.
- A combination of the terpenes caryophyllene, pinene, and myrcene help reduce anxiety.
- Limonene and linalool, combined with CBD, is being researched as an effective anti-acne treatment.
These are just a few small examples of the intricate and fascinating design of the cannabis plant that demonstrate why nature provides an exciting blueprint for plant medicine.
Extra Nutrients: Chlorophyll, Other Polyphenols, and Phytonutrients
Full-spectrum CBD oil does not stop at pain and inflammation. The cannabis plant contains natural-occurring polyphenols and fatty acids that when consumed, provide the body with an array of health benefits. Chlorophyll, for example, is visibly found in true full spectrum CBD oil.
Chlorophyll is a type of polyphenol, the green pigment found in plants, that plays a vital role in the process of photosynthesis as it is responsible for capturing the energy of the sun and converting that energy into glucose (whoa). For us humans, chlorophyll contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that protect us from oxidative stress and toxins, while also potentially containing detoxifying, odor-eliminating, energizing and rejuvenating effects.
Polyphenols, which include cannabis flavonoids, are also found in red wine, dark chocolate, and green tea.