CBD Isolate vs Full Spectrum (Whole Plant): Beginner’s Guide

For those of us who have chosen to augment or replace modern medicines with cannabis products, the sheer number of choices on the market today can be overwhelming. There are edibles, oils, and tinctures; there are products to be ingested, products to be smoked or vaporized, and products to be rubbed on the skin. Even within these categories, there are a number of sub-categories. Also, there is the question of who’s product to use. We’ve gone over that question in other articles on this site, where we talked about the different methods of extraction, cultivation and preparation of various available products.

But one over-arching decision should be made before delving into the myriad other choices available today. That is the simple decision of whether to use a CBD isolate product, or a full-spectrum product. While you will eventually have to settle on a delivery medium, a provider, a dose, and all of the other decisions outlined above, every single CBD product will fall into one of two categories. It will either be an isolate of “pure” CBD, or else it will be a full-spectrum product containing other cannabinoids.

So, let’s back up a minute, here.

Say you have a plant. It’s either hemp, or else it’s run of the mill cannabis, various strains non-withstanding. Now, that plant will be full of cannabinoids; molecular structures like CBD (cannabidiol), THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and others. In addition, it will also be full of various terpines, the organic structures that provide flavor, aroma, and other benefits too diverse to go into in any real detail here.

So at some point, you figure out that one of these structures (CBD), has excellent health benefits. It seems to help with anxiety, weight management, sleep disorders, PTSD and loads of other issues, and might even have some benefit controlling seizures and even possibly slowing cancer cell development. On the other hand, another of the structures, in this case THC, seems pretty much just to get you “high”. It has a definite, noticeable, and (perhaps more importantly) detectable psychoactive effect, and doesn’t seem to really be good for too much else. Then you have a bunch of other stuff in there that just seems to be along for the ride.

Now, if your goal is to get high, plain and simple, you’re going to try to isolate the THC if possible. That is the compound that provides the effect you’re looking for, while the rest seems to just kind of be there.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to maximize the health benefits in a way that are legal (assuming you live somewhere where getting high isn’t), you are going to want to try and isolate the CBD.

So we now have two basic forms of CBD product. A full-spectrum product, which will contain other compounds of cannabis such as CBG, CBN, and THCV, as well as various organic terpines and very small amounts of THC, and “isolate” CBD, which is a chemically pure product containing negligible amounts of anything but the CBD compound.

Now, instead of the “full spectrum” of compounds provided by the plant in its natural state (or in some concentration thereof, as is the case with hemp and cannabis oil), you are isolating and extracting the compound that provides the benefit you desire most from that spectrum.

This is how we arrive at CBD isolates. Many, many products exist today that present CBD in an isolated and relatively pure state.

We’ve covered the isolation and extraction processes before, but essentially what happens is that through a chemical process, CBD is filtered out of raw plant matter, and allowed to separate from the rest of the plant. It is then cooled into crystals, which are crushed into a powder. This powder is “pure” CBD- that is, it has no appreciable amounts of any other cannabinoids, including THC, or any other chemicals or compounds. That is why CBD isolates are typically legal in most places, and can be bought even in some grocery stores. These isolates are made by processing the isolated CBD into creams, oils, tinctures and what have you.

Initially, it appeared that isolated CBD would provide the most health benefit of the two options, while eliminating complications such as legal and other issues attached to cannabis as a plant. And so an industry was born, prompting demand for high-quality CBD isolates among many. As cannabis becomes more and more socially acceptable (probably as an extension of it becoming legal in more and more areas), we’ve seen this demand skyrocket, to the point where everyone seems to be using a CBD product of one kind or another.

And this is all well and good. But then something interesting happened. Or rather, a few interesting things. First, as the medical and scientific community began to get on board with CBD as a possible alternative to sometimes dangerous prescription medicines, they began to closely study the effects of CBD use by a variety of patients for a variety of reasons. It was already well-known that certain patients with certain medical conditions (like glaucoma and some types of cancer) used cannabis for various reasons “recreational y”. Therefore, scientists realized the importance of studying the effects of isolate CBD against a control group of full-spectrum CBD use, as well as cannabis use in general (so, what if any benefits arise from isololateisolate use ONLY as opposed to using full-spectrum oil or just plain using pot).

Given the legal status of the cannabis in most parts of the world, this would be difficult. But an Israeli group eventually got things going.

The Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology in Jerusalem began testing the effects of Isolate CBD vs Full-spectrum CBD in mice. You can read the paper they published detailing their study here. It’s pretty heavy stuff for the layman, but very interesting nonetheless. The Israeli scientists went into the study assuming that Isolate CBD would have the most benefits, and for good reason. All of the various compounds present in the cannabis plant have their own health benefits, even THC. However, we had known from early on that CBD had all of these benefits in and of itself. CBD had the bases covered, and so no further compounds were needed. Therefore, isolate the CBD and you have the best approach to whatever you’re trying to treat.

However, what no one had counted on was what is known as the entourage effect. It appears that, when combined with the other compounds in the cannabis spectrum, CBD’s health effects are increased. So too are the benefits of the other compound. It’s a kind of synergy and it makes sense; cannabis evolved over millions of years to have the chemical make-up it does for a reason. Who are we to try to assume that we can improve on what is already amazingly helpful organism?

So, in the end, there’s no definite winner i n the Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum CBD question. Both have their benefits. If legality is a major concern (in areas where THC is still illegal, or if you may need to pass a drug test), it may be best to use an isolate product. Also, if you’re adding CBD to food or drink, an isolate would likely be the better choice as it will be mostly tasteless.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for maximum benefit regardless of dose, you may want to take the full-spectrum approach. There are, of course, a wide variety of options available.

As always friends, be sure to do your research. Be sure you are responsible with your health. If the issue you are trying to medicate is critical or life-threatening, don’t do anything until you speak with a doctor who understands your condition.

Most importantly, have fun!