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Isolate or Full Spectrum: Which CBD Should You Choose?

Much like cannabis itself, CBD can now be found in just about any form. Sugary desserts, entrées, coffee, lip balm, even dog treats.

If you can ingest it or rub it on yourself, chances are you can find someone adding CBD to it.

But not all CBD products use the same kind of CBD.

While many CBD products don’t contain THC (the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis), many others do. These are known as full-spectrum CBD products, because they contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids that naturally occur in the cannabis plant.

It’s not enough THC to produce a “high” effect, but for those concerned, there are rare cases in which full-spectrum CBD products can show up on drug tests. So to understand what you’re getting into when you’re CBD shopping, let’s break down the different varieties.

What are the differences between CBD Isolate and Full-Spectrum CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is found in cannabis and has been shown to help treat pain, inflammation, and seizures. It may even cause cancer cells to self-destruct.

To make CBD products, many manufacturers pass highly pressurized and extremely cold CO2 through the cannabis plant material.

For CBD isolate, the extracted CBD is then refined into a crystal or powder form. This can then be dissolved into oil or another carrier. CBD may also be extracted along with other cannabinoids and terpenes, including THC, to produce full-spectrum CBD.

Both “hemp” and “marijuana” strains of cannabis may produce CBD, and manufacturers can use either type of strain to make CBD isolate or full-spectrum CBD extract. But because hemp is bred to have a very high ratio of CBD to THC, most CBD products come from hemp.

Want to learn more about the differences between hemp and marijuana? Read this next: Industrial Hemp vs. Marijuana.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Both full-spectrum and CBD isolate products carry the potential for legal issues (even though isolate doesn’t contain THC).

That’s simply because they come from cannabis, which is not yet federally legal across the US. If you’re worried about the legal status of marijuana-based CBD products, this chart can offer some (non-legally binding) guidance.

The larger argument that’s been brewing is whether full-spectrum CBD is therapeutically more effective than CBD isolate.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence in favor of full-spectrum CBD. Some consumers claim that terpenes such as limonene and pinene (which give cannabis its citrus and pine scents) can lessen the short-term memory loss associated with THC and enhance the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Proponents refer to this phenomenon as the entourage effect.

There is a lack of rigorous studies on the impact of adding other terpenes and cannabinoids to CBD, though. In other words, there is no concrete evidence that the entourage effect is responsible for making full-spectrum CBD more effective than CBD isolate.

Looking for 2018's best CBD Isolate and Full Spectrum CBD Oils? Click here.

THC, which is medically effective for many conditions, might enhance the therapeutic effects of full-spectrum CBD products, but what’s not yet proven is whether the terpenes and cannabinoids besides THC actually contribute to any enhancement.

Some studies have indicated that full-spectrum products can be more beneficial. For example, epilepsy patients given full-spectrum CBD reported having fewer convulsions and fewer side effects than patients given CBD isolate. But even that study noted the entourage effect is not yet confirmed in controlled clinical studies.

Should you avoid THC?

For those wondering if CBD products might make them fail a drug test, it’s unlikely. Normal dosages of both CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD don’t have enough THC to show up on drug tests.

One joint of ordinary weed might contain between 36 and 90 mg of THC, enough to show up in a drug test up to one week after smoking. But average full-spectrum CBD products only have up to 0.3% THC, so an 1000mg bottle of full-spectrum CBD oil only contains about 3 mg of THC.

However, it’s not unheard of for CBD users to report failing drug tests, so plan your usage carefully. Or, if you have a medical marijuana card and feel comfortable, talk with your employer about your CBD treatments beforehand.

Bottom line, not enough hard data exists to prove that full-spectrum CBD is significantly more potent than CBD isolate. If you’re curious to see what so many CBD users are raving about, give full spectrum a try. If you want to stick to the purely scientifically recognized CBD, isolate is the way to go.

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The Author

Nic Dobija-Nootens

Nic Dobija-Nootens

Nic Dobija-Nootens lives in New York and writes about skateboarding, podcasts, TV, and many other things he refuses to grow out of. See what ails him at @noochens.

You can also find more of his writing about CBD at the Growers Network and the National Hemp Association.