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Your Ultimate Guide to Full-Spectrum vs Isolate CBD

What are the Effects, Differences, and Benefits of Isolate and Full Spectrum CBD?

CBD is the supplement taking the health and wellness industry by storm. As research into CBD’s potential therapeutic uses increases, the excitement around its purported benefits grows.

For those unaware, CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the most prevalent compounds found in both cannabis. Research has revealed that this natural plant compound may have use as a therapeutic or medicinal aid for a myriad of conditions or symptoms.

But not all CBD is created equally. This guide will help you better understand the difference between full-spectrum CBD and isolate.

What is Full Spectrum CBD?

Full-spectrum CBD, by definition of its very name, includes a full spectrum of active compounds found in the cannabis plant. As opposed to CBD isolate, full-spectrum versions of cannabidiol are comprised of hundreds of cannabinoids as well as terpenes that give cannabis its unique and potent aroma and taste.

Cannabinoids are the class of naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the Hemp plant. These chemical compounds (when consumed) act on cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system of humans and other mammals. Although modern science has discovered a total of around 480 unique compounds in the plant, only around 113 of them are currently classified as cannabinoids, each of which has a varying degree of effect on those who consume them.

What are the Potential Benefits of Full-Spectrum CBD?

Although research is still ongoing, full-spectrum CBD may have beneficial therapeutic uses for a myriad of health conditions. As a “full-spectrum” the components of cannabis have not been thoroughly studied in combination. However, much research has been conducted on individual cannabinoids as well as individual terpenes, much of which has demonstrated their ability to contribute to health and wellness in a number of ways. As compared to isolate, full-spectrum CBD has the benefit of what is known as the “entourage effect”, in which cannabinoids support and enhance each other in ways that are beneficial to your overall health or to alleviate or even potentially treat certain symptoms or conditions. 

*More on the entourage effect later in this guide.

Does Full Spectrum CBD Have THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, known more commonly as “THC” for short, is one of the most prevalent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. This natural chemical compound is what gives users the euphoric high cannabis is largely known for.

In the United States, from a legal standpoint, THC is illegal at the federal level nationwide. However, at the state level, some states have passed legislation to legalize recreational and/or medicinal use of THC in cannabis.

Further, those states in which cannabis is still illegal often make certain provisions for the use of THC in CBD supplements. For example, in states where cannabis is illegal, CBD that is derived from hemp containing 0.3% or less of THC is considered legal. At this level, users should not feel any psychoactive effects but may enjoy the synergistic and complementary “entourage” effect from its presence.

So to answer the question at hand, some Full-Spectrum CBD does contain THC, some are formulated to contain 0.3% or less THC, while others boast zero or near-zero (trace) amounts of THC.

Will Full Spectrum CBD Make you High?

All cannabis plants contain a certain level of THC. This includes hemp, from which much of the CBD sold in the United States is made. However, full-spectrum CBD made from hemp is generally standardized to contain 0.3% or less THC unless specified otherwise on the label or from the manufacturer.

So the question becomes: can CBD with a 0.3% THC concentration get you high?

The answer to this question is “no”. The level of THC present in those CBD solutions marked as having 0.3% or less THC is too nominal to produce any of the euphoric or psychoactive effects THC is known for. At this concentration, even high consecutive doses of CBD would not result in the user getting “high”.

Will Full Spectrum CBD Make you Fail a Drug Test?

Many individuals have concerns about using CBD due to the fear that it will make them fail a court or work-mandated drug test. Remember, even some CBD isolates have 0.3% or less THC unless it is guaranteed to be completely THC-free and independently lab tested to verify.

But can that little of THC cause you to fail a drug test? Drug tests generally look for metabolites of THC (among other drugs), and with CBD using 0.3% or less of THC you should have nothing to worry about. Most tests simply have a threshold that is too high for any nominal amounts of THC in your CBD to trigger. This was substantiated in a study published by the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. The study found that the only individual who triggered a “positive” on the drug test would have had to consume the equivalent of around 125mL of CBD oil daily. This is an astronomical dose that is far beyond what any normal consumer would ever (or should ever) attempt.

What is Isolate CBD?

CBD Isolate, as the name suggests, is a pure concentrated CBD solid or powder that can be suspended in a solution. CBD Isolate is 99% or higher in purity, utilizing a highly effective extraction process to remove any other active compounds from the cannabis or hemp plant.

After extraction, the resulting product undergoes a final round of refinement that further removes any remaining organic plant matter and any phytocannabinoids such as THC. Pure CBD has little to no flavor or aroma at all, but may taste bitter to some. Yet despite its lackluster aroma or taste, it has a lot to offer.

Potential Benefits of CBD Isolate

Although full-spectrum is often promoted as the “superior” CBD, this is not necessarily the case. The first benefit of CBD isolate is that it’s pure. This is important for a number of reasons.

1. It provides you with the ability to ascertain whether or not the positive effects or improvement in your well-being is due to CBD itself, or an additive or other cannabinoids.

2. It is THC-free. For many, THC is undesirable due to personal preference, reaction, job security (i.e. drug testing at work) and more. Further, many states place limits on the amount of THC that can legally be present in CBD solutions.

Why Some Prefer Full Spectrum CBD

Although CBD isolate is often the most appropriate therapeutic aid for individuals seeking to test out the potential benefits of CBD for themselves, it is not always the right option. Although more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that some cannabinoids may be complementary and synergistic to each other, compounding or enhancing certain effects. That said, everyone reacts differently and certain combinations may be better suited for one particular use case, while isolate may be better suited for another.

Starting Materials

The production of CBD products involves a myriad of processes including hemp isolation, extraction, and formulation. Ingredients must be both manufactured and standardized for use following GMP (good manufacturing practice) standards set forth to ensure the safe production of drugs and food.

Hemp must first be cultivated. Then it is harvested and professionally dried. Once dry it is processed, extracted, refined and purified.

Steps of This Process Involve:

1. Proper Cultivar Selection: Specially bred strains of Hemp, naturally selected to comply with legal requirements (such as a low level of THC).
2. Cultivation of Seed or Clone to Plant
3. Crop Harvesting and Processing
4. Choosing Quality Extraction Material
5. Extraction of CBD
6. Refinement of Product
7. Isolation and formulation of CBD final product

CBD Extraction Methods

Why Does CBD Need to be Extracted?
CBD is a singular compound found in hemp. It is one of many cannabinoids and terpenes naturally present in the plant. However, consumption of raw hemp is neither pleasant, nor advisable to get the level of CBD necessary to elicit a biological and potentially therapeutic or medicinal response.
As such, we need to extract pure CBD from the hemp plant so it can be made available in a high enough concentration to prove useful for overall health and well-being.

Further, in order for cannabinoids such as CBD to be physiologically effective, they need to go through a process called decarboxylation (application of heat). Drying cannabis (in part) starts the decarboxylation process, but heating it when smoking or vaping instantly decarboxylates the cannabinoids making them “active” for your body to utilize. CBD, on the other hand, when ingested, has not gone through this process.

Most Common CBD Extraction Methods

1. Ethanol Solvent Extraction

Also often referred to simply as “solvent” extraction, this methodology involves the use of, you guessed it, a solvent. Commonly used solvents include propane, butane, ethanol or isopropyl. This type of extraction is often preferred by budget-conscious manufacturers due to its simplicity and affordability.

Ethanol or other solvents are used to dissolve plant materials to extract both cannabinoids and chlorophyll. This results in a CBD-rich, and somewhat bitter end product. The process involves placing all of the desired plant materials (such as plant clippings and flowers) in a special container. The organic plant material is then either ran through or soaked in the solvent. When evaporated, the process leaves behind the cannabinoids in a concentrated oily solution.

2. CO2 Extraction

The rise in competition and consumer awareness has brought about positive changes in the industry, one of which is the implementation of CO2 extraction methods. This form of extraction is considered superior to solvent extraction due to its ability to produce a safe, potent and chlorophyll-free product with only minimal post processing. That said, it is also the more complex and costly of the two extraction methodologies.

The process is carried out by using what is known as a “closed-loop extractor”. This specialized extraction machine is comprised of three chambers:
• Chamber #1 – contains pressurized C02 or dry ice
• Chamber #2 – contains the organic plant material
• Chamber #3 – is used to house the resulting product

Once started, CO2 from chamber #1 is pumped into chamber #2 where it takes on the form of “supercritical CO2”. Supercritical CO2 is that CO2 which fluctuates between the liquid and the gas state. This CO2 then permeates the organic plant matter and extracts the desired cannabinoids and terpenes, after which the resulting material is pumped into the final chamber. The extract can then be processed further to isolate for particular cannabinoids such as CBD.

What is the Entourage Effect of Full-Spectrum CBD?

The presence of multiple terpenes and/or cannabinoids may alter the overall impact they have on biological functions when consumed. There is generally thought to be a synergistic or complementary effect of full-spectrum CBD, known as the “Entourage Effect”.

For many, this makes full spectrum a preferred form of CBD when used for particular health concerns. It should be noted that full-spectrum CBD can be found both with and without THC. This is important in states where the use of THC in CBD may be illegal.

The idea of an “Entourage Effect” between cannabinoids was first broached by Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and a team of researchers from The Hebrew University Medical Faculty in Israel. The scientists, known for their cutting-edge research on cannabis, postulated that in order for cannabis to provide the maximal effect as a medicinal aid, harmonious interaction between its cannabinoids is necessary.

As research would have it, they were able to demonstrate this effect to a degree, which was published in the European Journal of Pharmacology. However, it should be noted that there are certain conditions or health concerns that may be better suited to isolate vs spectrum and that much more research is needed to ascertain which may be most appropriate.

What are the Cannabinoids Present in typical full spectrum CBD formulations?

Although THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) rank among the two most well-known and touted cannabinoids, there are 17 individual classes cannabinoids in the plant. Full-spectrum CBD is comprised of various concentrations of these, while CBD isolate is not.

These sub-classes include:
• THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
• THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)
• CBD (cannabidiol)
• CBN (cannabinol)
• CBDA (cannabidiolic acid)
• CBG (cannabigerol)
• CBL (cannabicyclol)
• CBC (cannabichromene)
• CBV (cannabivarin)
• CBDV (cannabidivarin)
• THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)
• CBCV (cannabichromevarin)
• CBGM (cannabigerol monomethyl ether)
• CBGV (cannabigerovarin)
• CBT (cannabicitran)
• CBE (cannabielsoin)

How do Cannabinoids in CBD Tinctures Work?

Cannabinoids, as previously mentioned, act on the endocannabinoid system present in mammals, including humans. These natural chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant attach and bind to endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. Once attached, they elicit a wide spectrum of physiological and biological functions including but not limited to movement, emotional behavior, body temperature, sleep, appetite and more.

Endocannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors work largely in the neural complex of the central and peripheral nervous systems, whereas CB2 receptors are found primarily in the immune system.

Consumption of cannabis or CBD results in cannabinoids being processed and entering the bloodstream where they reach target destinations, bind to receptors and elicit a number of downstream effects triggered by their influence on cellular signaling pathways.

While THC is primarily known for eliciting the psychotropic and euphoric “high” cannabis is known for, CBD has shown promise for a number of potential therapeutic uses such as reducing anxiety, pain, and inflammation. Although more research is needed to substantiate these purported clinical effects, initial findings look promising.

What are Terpenes?

Cannabis has one of the most recognizable and potent scents. This pungent, yet delectable aroma comes from the plant’s terpenes. Terpenes are the aromatic oils produced by the same botanical structures that produce CBD and THC, and are responsible for distinctive flavors and aromas such as berry, pine, mint, and citrus. Because of the uniquely identifiable flavors and aroma produced by terpenes, these compounds have become major differentiating factors among various cannabis strains. Some of the same terpenes that are found in the Hemp plant can also be found in other flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Purpose of Terpenes
Terpenes are an evolutionary adaptive feature with a very specific purpose: to attract pollinators such as bees while repelling predators that may eat or damage the plant.

The development of terpenes is influenced by soil type, available nutrients, climate, age, maturation, strain and more. To date, over 100 unique terpenes have been identified in the Cannabis Sativa plant.

Biological Effect of Consuming Terpenes
Terpenes are known to produce a myriad of physiological and biological effects when consumed. These purported and researched effects include the potential to relax and reduce stress, while some types may promote enhanced alertness and focus. For example, such terpenes as Terpiolene are commonly touted for their purported ability to elicit and uplifting mood, while others like Myrcene are promoted as being relaxing and anxiolytic.
Although the effects of terpenes are often subdued and subtle, they can add complexity, depth, and nuance to CBD and cannabis alike. Although continued research is needed to validate and substantiate their individualized value, terpenes may provide interesting and beneficial therapeutic effects as part of a health and wellness regimen.

What are the Most Common Terpenes and Their Effects?

1. Myrcene
Myrcene is one of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis and is known to be the predominant terpene in around 40% of cannabis strains, representing upwards of 20% of the terpene content. It is also found in lemongrass, thyme, mango, and hops (yes, the same hops used in making beer). Myrcene is described as being herbal and is purported to produce a calming effect. 

It is responsible for contributing to a spicy, balsam, peppery fragrance and has been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries in herbs such as lemongrass. Many herbal medicines that incorporate Myrcene directly or indirectly have traditionally been used for aiding with sedation, relaxation, and sleep.

Potential Sedation, Anti-Inflammatory, Pain Relief and More
Although more research is needed, animal studies have revealed that Myrcene may have muscle relaxant and sedative effects. In yet another study, Brazilian scientists claim that the terpene may aid with relieving anxiety and pain. Other studies yet point to Myrecen’s potential use as an anti-inflammatory agent.

2. Limonene
In addition to cannabis, this terpene is commonly found in lemon rind, juniper, peppermint, rosemary and orange rind. Produced in the flower’s resin glands, limonene is known for its citrus aroma and is believed to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Although limonene is purported to have a number of potential health benefits, we currently know very little as to how it works on a therapeutic and physiological level. Some research has demonstrated limited promise for its:

• Antibacterial properties
• Antifungal properties
• Potential to alleviate stress
• Potential to enhance subjective mood
• Potential role in alleviating heartburn
• Ability to enhance the absorption of other terpenes

3. Caryophyllene
This particular terpene is present in a wide range of recognizable herbs and spices, including cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, and basil. Caryophyllene is known for its spicy warmth and funky aroma.

Interestingly, this terpene is also the only one known to act as a cannabinoid. This means the terpene has the ability to engage and interact with your body’s natural endocannabinoid system producing a myriad of downstream effects. Its unique molecular structure allows it to bind to the CB2 receptor in the endocannabinoid system, and may play a role in the relief of anxiety, pain, and even a role in treating addiction.

Also referred to as beta-carophyllene (BCP), this terpene gives off an ever so slight pungency and bite that is associated with black pepper. Some studies have demonstrated the terpene’s ability to reduce pain, while another study showed its promise as a potential therapeutic aid in the treatment of addiction.

Other research has focused on carophyllene’s potential as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, for its potential use as an aid with inflammatory bowel syndrome. In more innovative and forward-thinking research, carophyllene may even have properties that could aid with anti-aging efforts.

4. Terpinolene
Terpinolene, also found in cumin, nutmeg, lilacs, apples, conifers and more is known for its floral, herbal and fruity aroma. It is believed to be a dominant terpene in about 10% of cannabis strains. It is thought to have potential therapeutic value as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-oxidant agent.

Terpinolene is generally only found in small amounts in most strains of cannabis, ranking among the least common terpene in the species. It often is noted to play a complementary but not primary role in flavor, aroma, and effect.

As far as taste and smell are concerned, this terpene is a bit more nuanced than most, boasting a complex aroma that incorporates elements of floral, pine, herbaceous and even a hint of citrus. Because of its “fresh” and zesty properties, it is often used in perfumes and soaps.

As for potential therapeutic uses, emerging research has explored the terpene’s possible use in reducing the risk of heart disease when combined with other key nutrients. Other research has demonstrated the terpene’s ability to inhibit cancer cell growth in the lab. Although there is much more work to be done in the area of research and clinical applications, initial findings look promising and raise additional questions that need to be explored.

Dosages and Effects of CBD

Despite the tidal wave of demand, exploding popularity and increased legalization and decriminalization, there is still a lot of work to do on standardization and identification of optimal dosing.

As such, many doctors and physicians are hesitant to prescribe cannabinoids such as CBD. Currently, physicians in the USA can only “recommend” but not prescribe cannabinoids due to the lack of a “recommended daily allowance” set forth by the FDA.

So what is the “right” dose? Well, that’s a bit difficult to say. Your first best bet is to follow the instructions on the label from the manufacturer as they likely know their product best.

We’ll offer some suggestions below, but bear in mind these are for educational purposes only. You should always discuss with your doctor prior to starting a CBD regimen and use your own judgment when determining what dose is appropriate.

Everyone is Unique and Reacts Differently

Every individual person will react differently (to a degree) when consuming CBD. Just like with pharmacological drugs, some individuals may see greater benefits while others may have less desirable effects.

As such, it is generally advised that individuals start with the lowest dose possible, gradually increasing as necessary to achieve desired effects. It may be beneficial to keep a journal at first, documenting the dosage, timing and affects you feel from different brands and types of CBD until you find the formulation you react best to.

Factors that Affect Dosing CBD
• Bodyweight and height
• Age
• The condition or purpose of why you’re using CBD
• Individual physiology and body chemistry
• Diet
• Metabolism
• Genetics
• The type of CBD (isolate or full spectrum)
• The concentration of CBD in each dose
• How it is consumed (edible, pill, vaped, etc)

What Does the Research Say About How to Dose CBD?

According to the renowned Mayo Clinic medical center, they suggest CBD dosages based on a range of factors including scientific and medical research studies and expert opinion.

Mayo Clinic Provides the Following Dosage Chart as a General Guideline:

• Chronic Pain: 2.5-20mg of CBD [with or without THC] (orally) (Reference)
• Sleep Disorders: 40mg-160mg of CBD (orally) (Reference)
• Loss of Appetite in Cancer Patients: 2.5mg of THC (orally), with or without 1mg of CBD for six weeks (Reference)
• Schizophrenia: 40-1,280mg oral CBD daily (Reference)
• Movement Problems Due to Huntington’s Disease: 10mg of CBD per kg of body weight daily for six weeks (orally) (Reference)
• Epilepsy: 200-300mg of CBD (orally) daily (Reference)
• Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms: Cannabis plant extracts containing 2.5-120 milligrams of a THC/CBD combination daily for 2-15 weeks. Patients typically use eight sprays within any three hours, with a maximum of 48 sprays in any 24-hour period (Reference)
• Glaucoma: A single sublingual CBD dosage of 20-40mg (>40 mg may increase eye pressure) (Reference)

Which is Right for you? – Full Spectrum or Isolate?

As you learned in this guide, both full-spectrum CBD and isolate CBD have their own unique profile, effects, differences, and purported benefits. Not only that, their use may be tailored towards a particular goal, making some situations better suited for full-spectrum while others respond better to isolate.

In the end, it will be up to you and your doctor to decide which is best for your unique circumstances and which your body responds best to.

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