Full Spectrum vs Isolate CBD

In today's rapidly growing cannabis market, a lot of terms are crafted and used without much in the way of explanation. This can cause a lot of confusion for us, the consumer, about what exactly it is that we are purchasing and what to look for in products.


CBD (cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring compound within the cannabis plant. Just one of over 100 cannabinoids that can be present in the plant, research indicates that CBD is the main powerhouse cannabinoid that propels our bodies into true health. While THC tends to hog the spotlight in discussions about cannabis, research shows that CBD encourages our natural endocannabinoid system to start repairing damage we have accumulated over time, while the other compounds can fine tune the effects.

For example, consider a broad spectrum antibiotic like Doxycycline versus a highly potent yet targeted antibiotic, such as a Z-Pac. CBD acts as a broad spectrum health booster, while other compounds specifically target certain diseases.

There are two main types of CBD available today: isolate and full spectrum or “whole plant” CBD. Both of these options have pros and cons, and while generally speaking a full spectrum CBD is going to be more effective, but there are a few scenarios in which isolate may be a better choice for you.


What's the difference between full spectrum and isolate?

Full Spectrum CBD is extracted from hemp plants, whether stalks and seeds or the flowers of a hemp plant specifically grown for a high CBD content, and contains the full range of cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds present in the plants. While still not capable of getting you high, having the full range of cannabinoids provides what's known as the entourage effect, where all the compounds present work together and boost healing to higher levels than single, or isolated, compounds alone.

A good example of this entourage effect is Tylenol-3, where mixing Tylenol with a slight amount of Codeine boosts the effectiveness of both far beyond what they can achieve independently.


Isolate is what it sounds like: CBD that has been isolated from all the other compounds found in its original cannabis plant, with some products testing as high as 99% pure CBD. While we might think this is the best, most effective form of CBD due to its purity, research from Canada has actually shown the reverse is true (Scientific Research Publishing).

When comparing isolate to full spectrum, Canadian researchers found that isolate has a minimum and maximum threshold: in other words, you have to take at least a certain amount for effectiveness (minimum threshold), and there's a limit on how much you can take in a day before the  effects rapidly taper off (maximum threshold).

The full spectrum CBD, on the other hand, did not show the same minimum and maximum threshold values for effectiveness, showing that the entourage effect encourages our endocannabinoid system to more effectively use the compounds present.


Why would you choose to use isolate instead of a full spectrum?

While full spectrum CBD is federally legal, there is a chance that the trace amounts of THC and other cannabinoids present could show up in a drug test. For people who may be concerned about this, sourcing a reputable isolate is a good idea.

We have not found any reports of people having issues with this, but it’s important to note that it could happen; THC is stored in fat, so if you use a full-spectrum product over a period of many months, there is a chance that it could build up over time and cause you to register positive during a drug test.

A couple ways to combat this issue would be to take a week-long break every couple of months to let the THC clear from your system entirely, or to combine  both full spectrum CBD and isolate to minimize the THC being ingested while still enhancing the medicinal qualities of the isolate.


  • Scientific Research Publishing. “Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol.” Advances in Infectious Diseases, Scientific Research Publishing, 5 Feb. 2015, www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=53912#.VP4EIildXvY. (Full paper here)

This article was written by Joshua Lee and published on October 9, 2018. Copyright © 2018 Hempsley, All Rights Reserved