CBD Extracts: What's the Difference Between Full Spectrum & Isolate

CBD products come in all shapes and sizes. They are extremely versatile and appeal to a wide customer base. With so many different products out there, it's important to know the key distinction between them. Read this article to learn more.

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Cannabidiol, better known by the abbreviation CBD, is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found within cannabis plants. This funky little molecule has created plenty of buzz due to its wide range of uses and has been influential in driving the global cannabis industry forward. In fact, CBD is becoming so popular that Arcview Market Research predicts the total value of U.S. CBD sales will reach a staggering $20 billion by 2024.

So, what exactly is all the hype about? Is it just another way to get high? If you didn't know before, then you might be surprised to find out that CBD is non-intoxicating and minimally psychoactive. With CBD we are able to utilise a lot of the medical applications that cannabis can have, without any of the high.

The main conditions CBD has received FDA approval for treating are epilepsy and related diseases. Even with this being the case, there is mounting evidence that CBD is effective in the treatment of a whole range of other conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia.

As the CBD industry has shown continual growth, innovation has resulted in lots of different CBD products hitting the market. In places where CBD is legal, you can find a whole range of oils, tinctures, topicals, capsules and edibles. A market is even beginning to open up for CBD beverages, similar to drinks such as Vitamin Water.

In general, this diversity of products is good for consumers. It allows consumers to find the right product and method of consumption for their needs, while also providing variety if something isn't working or they just feel like switching things up. All of these options can be confusing though, especially for newcomers.

With that in mind, let's explore one of the main distinctions between different CBD extracts. What is the difference between full spectrum CBD and CBD isolate?

Extraction Methods

Before explaining the difference between these CBD extracts, let's briefly discuss how these products come to be.

The main compounds in cannabis that are typically extracted for these products are cannabinoids such as CBD and terpenes, which contribute to the plant's flavour and aroma. While the main focus of extraction is to obtain all the desirable compounds within the plant, there are also undesirable compounds that producers want to avoid, such as fats and chlorophyll.

The two main methods of extraction are supercritical CO2 extraction and ethanol extraction. While there are other methods, such as ones that involve olive oil and dry ice, these are the two methods that are most commonly utilised by manufacturers.

The supercritical CO2 extraction involves the conversion of CO2 from a gas into a supercritical liquid. This conversion is achieved by applying different temperatures and pressure to the gaseous state until it becomes a supercritical liquid.

The liquid CO2 is then used as a solvent which is forced through an extraction vessel that contains ground-up cannabis plant matter. This solvent is repeatedly pumped through the plant matter at a sustained pressure until all the desired compounds are collected. The liquid CO2 is then converted back into a gas, leaving behind a highly concentrated resin. The potency of this resin is easily modifiable.

This process is similar in ethanol extraction, where liquid CO2 is replaced by ethanol as the solvent. Ethanol extraction is a faster method because it doesn't require a conversion step but it results in a different end product.

Ethanol is a more polar molecule than CO2, so other undesirable compounds such as chlorophyll can also be extracted through this process. Both of these extraction methods also require an additional refinement step before they are turned into the final product for commercial sale.

Full Spectrum CBD vs. CBD Isolate

While there are numerous different CBD products available on the market, the main distinction between these products is whether they contain full spectrum CBD or CBD isolate. As a consumer, knowing the difference between these two can be invaluable and aid your decision-making when it comes to choosing the CBD products that are right for you.

Full spectrum CBD products contain CBD in addition to other molecules that are collected during the extraction process, such as other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Some of the other cannabinoids that can be found in these products include THC, THCa, CBG, CBN and CBDa.

As these other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids can all produce physiological effects, it is thought that full-spectrum CBD products work via the 'entourage effect'. This effect describes the way in which these compounds work together synergistically to provide a whole range of therapeutic benefits and not just the ones associated with CBD.

Full spectrum CBD products that are derived from hemp plants typically contain fewer cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids than full spectrum CBD products derived from cannabis plants. Hemp plants also contain less than 0.3% THC, meaning you are unlikely to experience any major psychoactive effects from these products, regardless of whether they are full spectrum or not. 

This is helpful as the THC content in these products cannot exceed 0.2% in most countries. There are also 'broad-spectrum' CBD extracts, which refer to products that contain some of the other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids but no traces of THC.

CBD isolate on the other hand is pure CBD and is often used in clinical trials. It is produced by refining an extract via the removal of all the other compounds found within full spectrum products. CBD isolate comes in the form of a powder or crystals that are colourless and odourless

This composition is usually ingested either directly or by adding it to your food. If you're looking for the most efficient method of absorption, then apply the CBD isolate sublingually (i.e. underneath the tongue).

Like other cannabinoids, CBD is lipophilic (binds to fats). This property makes CBD unsuitable for mixing with water and other non-fat drinks. Although you can still put CBD in these beverages, it will not dissolve fully and can leave clumps of powder or crystals behind.

It is thought that full spectrum CBD provides a wider range of health benefits due to the number of additional and potentially beneficial compounds. While this is the case, CBD isolate is becoming increasingly popular amongst athletes and individuals who have frequent drug tests.

No matter which type of CBD product you end up choosing, know that they both have their benefits. In some cases, the differences between the two can be marginal. Choosing either full spectrum CBD products or CBD isolate is a choice of personal preference or convenience. Now that you understand the differences between the two, you are hopefully better equipped to make the decision that's right for you.

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Josh Griffin
Josh Griffin

Josh is a Perth-based writer with a background in psychology and pharmacology. Through his studies he has gained an interest in abnormal psychology, mental health and psychopharmacology and has reported on these topics. Currently, his main focus is on cannabinoids and their medical potential.

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