How to Tell the Difference Between Broad and Full Spectrum CBD

Jessica McKeil August 11, 2020 0 comments

CBD products come in full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate. What does this mean?

In many cases, these labels have been applied haphazardly, with few brands accurately depicting what’s contained inside the bottle. But the truth is, without regulatory oversight, there is no official definition for broad spectrum CBD products or any other superficial categories currently in use.

Cannabidiol (CBD) operates within a strange legal landscape. Hemp-based CBD is technically legal across the US, but not approved for use as medicine nor as a supplement. CBD-rich products from medical cannabis (may contain THC), are federally illegal, but can be legal at the state level. While the Food and Drug Administration promises an update shortly, there is no real oversight of what CBD brands slap on their labels, nor where they come from.

With so many descriptions and no regulatory guidelines, how can a patient determine the best product, best dose, and most appropriate course of action? Patients have to teach themselves the lingo and use their powers of deduction to settle on the best CBD product for their specific intentions.

What are the Different Types of CBD Oil?

First, patients should familiarize themselves with the everyday language they can expect to encounter on a CBD label. While nothing is regulated, generally speaking, most CBD oil products should fall into one of the following categories:

Full Spectrum CBD Products

Full-spectrum CBD oils are the most prevalent CBD products today. Full-spectrum indicates a relatively simple extraction process, which preserves at least some of the other compounds in the cannabis (or hemp) plant. These may include minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, waxes, and more. Whatever compounds existed in the plant material, theoretically, these are refined into the final CBD product.

It is worth noting that full-spectrum products may not always be as advertised. According to one extractor, Tilray, many cannabinoids, and other more volatile compounds don’t survive the extraction process. If this is true, some full-spectrum CBD products may contain insignificant levels of minor cannabinoids and terpenes, despite what they claim on the label.

broad spectrum cbd represented by plant in doctor's hand

Broad Spectrum CBD Products

A relatively new category is broad-spectrum CBD products. These products are virtually full-spectrum extractions, but with one additional step to remove any lingering THC.

Almost all the commercially available CBD oils on the market today come from legal hemp sources. According to American law, hemp is permitted if it contains under 0.3 percent THC. But, being a natural plant growing in dynamic environments, sometimes crops grow ‘hot’ and contain slightly more THC than is legal. This could theoretically lead to a situation where the CBD oil would also be ‘hot’ and thereby federally illegal.

Broad-spectrum CBD products rose in popularity because of this possibility. If producers take the additional step of removing THC from the final formulation, they don’t risk running into legal issues. Patients can also entirely trust that they have zero risk of intoxication or accidental THC consumption following a dose of CBD oil.

That said, how likely is it that a hemp crop would run hot? In some cases, like in Colorado, thirty percent of the state’s crops ran too hot — but they were all destroyed before processing. The likelihood that a reputable brand of CBD oil would come from a ‘hot’ hemp crop, and also pass through several rounds of lab testing during processing, is extremely low.

Isolate CBD Products

The third and final category of CBD products are CBD isolates. These require the most technical extraction, typically a combination of mass spectrometry and gas or liquid chromatography. Following a lengthy and often costly extraction process, it’s possible to achieve isolates with up to 99 percent purity.

These contain no other cannabinoids, terpenes, or other plant-based materials. Isolates form the basis of many different CBD products, from vapes to edibles and beyond. With CBD isolates, it doesn’t matter what the source material was (THC containing or not) because these end up as a single isolated compound. As Tilray confirmed, a CBD molecule is still a CBD molecule no matter where it comes from —although CBD isolates typically come from hemp due to legalities and profit margins.

A Patient’s Guide to Choosing a CBD Product

As a patient seeking relief from CBD, there are three questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is your concern if the product runs hot (contains a measurable level of THC)?
  2. Are you treating a chronic condition or looking to target general wellness?
  3. What format will be effective and practical to your condition?

If you have serious concerns about THC, then you should immediately cut out all full-spectrum products. While the risk is extremely low that full-spectrum CBD oils would contain illegal levels above 0.3 percent, it is technically a possibility. Choose broad-spectrum CBD products or isolates.

If you are treating a chronic condition, requiring 100 or more milligrams of CBD a day, you might want to consider an isolate. Thanks to purity levels, isolates allow for the more cost-effective and hassle-free dosing. It may be easier to take 100 mg of CBD via an isolate than through a tincture or CBD oil. But what if you are using CBD for general wellness? In this case, you may appreciate full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD products.

broad spectrum cbd represented by dropepr bottle

When Should I Take Broad Spectrum CBD?

What format is best for you? Topical CBD products are typically purchased for skin irritations, muscle stiffness, joint inflammation, and acne. Edibles, candies, and most over-the-counter CBD oils are favored for general wellness concerns, like stress, daily inflammation, and arthritis. Patients with chronic conditions tend to select  stronger products. This means CBD concentrates (shatters, isolates, etc.) and CBD isolate capsules.

What about the many alternative CBD products popping up across the country? CBD clothing, CBD infused french fries, and even CBD candles have been making headlines. But in reality, there is no scientific evidence for these multitude of CBD infused products. Are you choosing to consume CBD for your health? If so, it’s best to follow along as research develops and stick with the staples: CBD oils, edibles, and topicals.

It’s a Patient’s Responsibility

With the nearly total lack of regulation about what a CBD label says, it’s a patient’s responsibility to do their own research. That means understanding the CBD lingo, avoiding the scams, and understanding your unique medical needs. Always work with your physician when incorporating CBD products into your daily life. There are some contra-indications with CBD, but your doctor will be able to help with that.

Are broad-spectrum CBD products better than CBD isolates? Or is a full spectrum product better? Ultimately it all comes down to patient preference and therapeutic application. These are all useful extractions, but often for different therapeutic applications.

Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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