Spend just five minutes shopping for CBD products (be it in-store or online), and you’ll likely find yourself lost in the murky, labyrinthine world of cannabis vocabulary.
You’ll see full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate to name a few — and we won’t even touch the cannabis slang that swirls around the edges. It’s enough to leave you scratching your head in confusion and dismay. What is full spectrum CBD? What is broad spectrum? What is CBD isolate?
In this article, the cannabis experts at Honest Marijuana will answer all of your questions about full spectrum vs. broad spectrum vs. isolate and help you decide which CBD you should take.
First, though, let’s talk a bit about cannabis plant biology so you fully understand what’s wrapped up in these three terms.
It’s the presence or absence of these chemicals that ultimately answers the question, “What is full spectrum CBD?”
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that act on the cannabinoid receptors in your brain. For the purposes of this article, we’re only going to concern ourselves with one class of these chemicals: the phytocannabinoids (found in plants).
But just so you’re ready for the next trivia throwdown, we’ll mention the other two classes: endocannabinoids (found naturally in your body) and synthetic cannabinoids (manufactured in a lab).
Dig deep into the phytocannabinoid class, and you’ll see some familiar names, such as:
Put simply, cannabinoids are the heart and soul of the marijuana experience. Without them, it’s just a pretty plant.
All plants have their own mix of terpenes, but those on the marijuana plant interact with the cannabinoids to produce some truly unique psychedelic and medicinal effects.
Flavonoids are molecules within the plant matter itself (leaves, stems, etc.) that combine with the terpenes to produce even more distinctive tastes and aromas.
Like terpenes, flavonoids interact with the cannabinoids to create an entourage of health benefits and help to fully expose and express the ganja’s unique aromatic and euphoric character.
Before we talk about full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate specifically, let’s discuss how all the cannabis chemicals combine to do something truly amazing.
The Entourage Effect
The entourage effect is the combination and interaction of various cannabis compounds to produce certain results that aren’t possible with the individual compounds by themselves.
To make this concept easier to understand — and perhaps more palatable — think of the various cannabis chemicals as the ingredients in a big batch of Tropical Punch Kool-Aid (Mmmmm!): sugar, water, and one of those little flavor packets.
We’re big fans of water and sugar on their own, but a spoonful of sugar (although it does make the medicine go down) isn’t super satisfying. And while a tall glass of water is essential for maintaining good health, sometimes you just need more.
The last ingredient — the Kool-Aid flavor packet — is just too potent to consume on its own (although dipping ice cubes into a bowl of the stuff will blow your mind).
So the three components taken separately are OK, but they’re nothing spectacular. Mix them all together, though, and the result is an elixir from the gods. Like magic, the ingredients combine to form something greater than the individual parts.
That’s the entourage effect in action.
The term used to describe the entourage effect is “synergy.” It’s the interaction or cooperation of two or more substances to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
Taking this all back to marijuana, when you isolate one component of the pot plant — like CBD — or push another component too high — like THC — at the expense of the other components, the beneficial synergy quickly decreases.
Why The Entourage Effect Is So Powerful
The marijuana industry places a lot of importance on the main chemical in the pot plant — cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. And for good reason.
These compounds are unique to the cannabis plant and are a big part of their medicinal value. But they’re not the only part.
Think of the other chemicals in the cannabis plant — terpenes and flavonoids — as back-up for the prime movers like CBD and THC.
CBD is very effective at influencing mood, pain, and inflammation. In some cases, terpenes and flavonoids are just as good as CBD. So those secondary chemicals, in essence, increase the potency of the CBD.
Targets Within Your Body
CBD acts on more than 65 targets within your body (e.g., neurotransmitters in your brain, glands in your endocrine system, and others), but the size of the effect is different at each site.
So if you need relief at a certain target but CBD tends to go to other targets, there’s no way to redirect it.
But the other chemical compounds — that can be just as good as CBD at reducing pain and relieving anxiety — may act more fully on the targets that CBD tends to miss.
Multiple Paths To The Same Result
Complex disorders like pain or anxiety often have several different treatments. Depending on the severity of the problem, there are multiple paths to the same result (i.e., mitigation of the symptoms).
For example, doctors can treat anxiety with drugs that interact specifically with the serotonin receptors. They can also treat it with drugs that interact with other neurotransmitters in the brain.
This multi-pronged approach to treatment is where the entourage effect becomes so powerful.
While the cannabinoids in your full- or broad-spectrum CBD are busy interacting with the serotonin receptors in your brain, the terpenes and flavonoids may be busy interacting with the other neurotransmitters that relieve anxiety.
In essence, you get two treatments for the price of one. That’s the beauty of the entourage effect.
Reduced Negative Effects
If you’ve spent any time around THC, you’re familiar with the negative effects of this cannabinoid. Even the “good” cannabinoids, like CBD, can have negative effects at higher doses.
But when you consume a full- or broad-spectrum cannabis product, the other chemical compounds in the mix help reduce these negative effects.
They do this by essentially taking up space. They occupy neurotransmitters and prevent CBD or THC from docking there. This prevents too high a dose of either cannabinoid from causing negative effects.
To illustrate, think of the neurotransmitters in your brain as individual mailboxes at the post office, and the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids as packages out for delivery.
Once the postmaster places a package in a mailbox, there’s no room for another one.
With a variety of packages to choose from — cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids — you’re less likely to find all cannabinoid packages in the mailboxes/neurotransmitters. Instead, you’ll find a mix of the three.
As a result, not all the neurotransmitters will be firing in response to the CBD. Some will be reacting to the terpenes. Some will be reacting to the flavonoids. That reduces the likelihood that you’ll experience a negative effect from too much cannabinoid.
CBD by itself (CBD isolate) doesn’t travel as far through your body (or even interact with your body in the same way) as it would if the other chemical compounds were present.
This is called bioavailability. Bioavailability is the proportion of a drug or other substance which enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect.
For example, CBD isolate does not move efficiently through your skin. It’s not bioavailable in this way, so it doesn’t make an effective cream.
Terpenes, on the other hand, are so good at moving efficiently through your skin they are added to commercial and medical patches, creams, and gels of all types.
When you mix those same terpenes together with CBD, the terpenes “pick up” the CBD and carry it through your skin. The terpenes make the CBD more bioavailable.
This happens not just on your skin but throughout your body. The terpenes and flavonoids take the CBD to places it would never go on its own.
Terpenes, flavonoids, and other chemical compounds in the cannabis plant are digested and metabolized by the same enzymes that break down CBD.
There are only so many of those enzymes available at one time. So if you have a combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids floating around in your system, your body will metabolize the CBD more slowly because it also has other chemicals to deal with.
That keeps the CBD in circulation longer and can make it more effective.
The cannabis plant contains three distinct chemical classes: cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Within those broad categories lie even more specific chemicals, such as:
- And many more
In a raw (or dried and cured) cannabis plant, all of these chemicals cohabitate together like a big pile of multi-colored Lego bricks.
With that information and analogy in mind, let’s move on to the question, “What is full spectrum CBD?”
What Is Full Spectrum CBD?
Full spectrum CBD is a concentrate that contains all the chemical compounds — cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, and others — that naturally occur in the cannabis plant.
Again, think of all those chemicals like a pile of multi-colored Lego bricks.
Each color represents a specific chemical in the pot plant. Black is THC. Yellow is limonene (a terpene). Green is CBN. Red is humulene (another terpene). Blue is CBD. White is myrcene. And so on.
So, when you purchase a full spectrum CBD product, you get all the other chemicals as well — including, possibly, THC.
Though THC levels in a full spectrum CBD product will probably be low, there might be enough of the psychedelic cannabinoid to make you feel a little strange. Always check the label before taking any full spectrum CBD product.
What Is Broad Spectrum CBD?
Broad spectrum CBD is similar to full spectrum CBD — it’s a high-CBD extract — only without the THC. Broad spectrum CBD also contains less of the naturally occurring terpenes and flavonoids.
Continuing with the Lego brick analogy, imagine that you patiently picked all the blue, red, yellow, and green blocks out of the pile and discarded everything else.
In chemical terms, your broad spectrum CBD product would then only contain limonene, CBN, humulene, and CBD (yellow, green, red, blue).
Of course, this is a simplified illustration — many other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids may still be floating around in the broad spectrum CBD — but it helps you understand what’s going on at the molecular level.
What Is CBD Isolate?
CBD isolate is CBD separated from all the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in the cannabis plant. Essentially, it’s the purest form of CBD you can get.
To finish out the Lego block analogy, imagine that you picked out all the yellow, green, and red blocks until all that was left was a great big pile of blue blocks (CBD). That’s your CBD isolate. Nothin’ but CBD.
Because CBD isolate is almost 100-percent pure cannabinoid, it’s very potent. It’s not going to get you high or make you smell colors (CBD doesn’t do that), but in terms of dosage, a little goes a long way with CBD isolate.
Pros And Cons Of Full Spectrum CBD
- Less processed
- Offers the full chemical profile of the cannabis plant
- Strong natural flavor and aroma
- Contains THC
- Produces psychoactive effects
- Detectable on a drug test
- May cause unwanted side effects
Pros And Cons Of Broad Spectrum CBD
- No risk of mind-bending effects
- Offers a more complete chemical profile than CBD isolate
- Strong natural flavor and aroma
- Not as readily available as other CBD products
- More processed than full spectrum CBD
- Not as well-researched
Pros And Cons Of CBD Isolate
- Contains zero THC
- No risk of psychoactive effects
- Considered safe
- Purest form of CBD
- No benefits from other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids
Which CBD Should You Take?
Your unique situation will determine which type of CBD you should take. We will give you general guidelines and suggestions, but one solution doesn’t fit every case.
Full Spectrum CBD
Full spectrum CBD is best for individuals who:
- Live in a state where cannabis is legal and grown locally
- Have been prescribed a specific CBD-to-THC ratio by their doctor
- Suffer from conditions that broad spectrum CBD and CBD isolate won’t treat
You might be wondering why full spectrum CBD would be better than the more potent CBD isolate in some cases. To put it as simply as possible: because full spectrum CBD contains more chemicals.
The full combination of chemicals in the cannabis plant work together to produce a synergistic effect — an effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
For example, THC is an ideal treatment for appetite loss, while CBD helps to lessen anxiety. You can’t substitute CBD for THC and expect to get your appetite back. The two are not interchangeable, and by themselves, they each have a unique effect.
But put them together and suddenly you have a wide variety of treatments and effects available. From depression and OCD to arthritis and migraines — the combination of THC, CBD, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds makes these treatments possible.
That’s why full spectrum CBD may be better than broad spectrum, and even CBD isolate, when it comes to treating a wider variety of issues.
Broad Spectrum CBD
Broad spectrum CBD is best for individuals who:
- Don’t want to deal with psychedelic effects
- Live in a state with strict THC laws
- Don’t need the medicinal effects of THC
- Are worried about putting THC in their system
As with full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD may suit you better than a CBD isolate because of the condition(s) you’re trying to treat.
Broad spectrum CBD contains a wider variety of chemicals and produces more of an entourage effect than CBD isolate (though less than full spectrum).
CBD isolate is best for individuals who:
- Don’t want to deal with off-putting flavors and aromas
- Undergo drug screenings on a regular basis
- Have been prescribed high doses of CBD
- Live in a state with strict THC laws
- Worry about purity and how they may react to other cannabinoids
CBD isolate comes in one of two forms:
The crystal form is the less refined of the two, but you can only use the crystals in one way (dabbing).
Try Them All And Decide For Yourself
As we mentioned, the type of CBD you settle on will depend on your own unique situation (including your likes, dislikes, tastes, and lifestyle). The best way to decide which type is right for you is to try them all and decide for yourself.
Just be sure when trying a full spectrum CBD product that it doesn’t contain too much THC (unless that’s what you want). If you’re really concerned about how you’ll react to THC, check out our article Get The Right THC Dose: The Honest Marijuana Guide.
For more information on all things marijuana, and to check out our 100-percent-all-natural cannabis products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.