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The 3 Types of CBD and What Makes Them Different?

Full Spectrum? Broad Spectrum?? Isolate???

If you’re new to cannabidiol (CBD) products, you likely noticed that some of the products contain different forms of CBD. It’s easy to dismiss the different CBD types and assume the difference isn’t slight, but you’d be making a grave mistake. It’s crucial to determine what type of CBD you want in your oils or tinctures, and it’ll differ depending on why you use CBD products.

The three main types of CBD are CBD isolate, broad spectrum CBD, and full spectrum CBD. They all boil down to hemp seed oil, derived from the legal hemp plant, but they differ in how they’re extracted, their composition, and what they’re used for. So, follow along to learn more about the types of CBD oils and their differences!

The Short Answer

CBD Isolate

Pros:

  • Doesn’t contain THC (less than 0.3 THC)
  • No risk of getting high or failing a drug test
  • No odor or flavor
  • The purest and most concentrated form of CBD
  • Versatile and can be taken with other prescriptions or oils
  • Easy for a doctor to prescribe
  • No side effects

Cons:

  • Won’t cause the entourage effect
  • Can be too faint for many people
  • May not even make it past the barriers in your body and into your system

Best For:

  • Those sensitive to other compounds in cannabis apart from CBD
  • Users who can’t afford to fail a drug test
  • Those who prefer a tasteless and odorless product
  • Pets
  • Those living in areas with harsh THC or cannabis laws

Broad Spectrum CBD

Pros:

  • Doesn’t contain THC (less than 0.3 THC)
  • Cause the entourage effect
  • Less processed than isolate
  • Won’t lead you to get high

Cons:

  • More neglected in the industry, and thus less researched and harder to find
  • Has a noticeable scent of hemp plants

Best For:

  • People whose conditions require more care than what isolate can provide
  • New CBD users afraid of THC
  • Those living in areas with harsh THC or cannabis regulations

Full Spectrum CBD

Pros:

  • Causes the entourage effect
  • The least processed and most “raw” of all the types
  • Contains all the compounds in hemp plants, which all work together harmoniously

Cons:

  • May trigger a false positive in drug tests
  • Is often misunderstood because of its THC content
  • Has a noticeable scent of hemp

Best For:

  • Users who want the full benefits of CBD/hemp
  • Those who suffer from severe conditions that full spectrum CBD can help with
  • Those living in areas where cannabis is legal

 

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What You Need to Know About CBD

First of all, we need some context to understand cannabidiol (aka CBD) to understand the different types.

What Is CBD?

CBD is essentially cannabis extract. However, it isn’t psychoactive like marijuana, as it’s derived from the legal hemp plant, which contains a small amount of the THC compound. The THC compound is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that causes a high.

Many people often confuse CBD oil with hemp oil, but they’re not the same. Hemp oil is made by pressing hemp seeds under cold pressure until the oil is released, whereas CBD oil is made by pressing the leaves and stalks of the hemp plant in a similar fashion. So the key is pressing the seeds or the plant itself.

CBD products have been proven to cause positive health effects. Because they’re versatile, they can be prepared in many different ways and even mixed with other ingredients like coconut oil to enhance their health benefits. Nowadays, many physicians recommend doses of CBD products in tinctures for pain and anxiety relief.

How Can CBD Oil Help?

Your body has an endocannabinoid system that stimulates your brain and nervous system. Essentially, the compounds found in CBD products interact with the endocannabinoid system, which, in proper doses, helps relax your nerves and provide anxiety relief.

These compounds are different depending on what type of CBD you’re using, which we’ll get into in more detail as we analyze the differences between the different types of CBD.

 

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What Is Each Type of CBD?

Before we get into how CBD is extracted from hemp, we need to know each of the three types of CBD at the fundamental level.

CBD Isolate 

CBD isolate is the purest way to take or apply CBD extracts as the products are often 99-100% pure CBD. All other compounds apart from CBD are filtered out of the final product during the extraction process, most notably including THC.

Because of the crystal form of pure CBD, isolate is often ground up and sold as a white crystalline powder.

Unsure how to use an isolate legal hemp derived CBD product? Don’t worry; we’ll cover that in a minute. But first, let’s look at how it’s extracted in the first place.

Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad spectrum CBD oils contain almost all of the compounds found naturally in the hemp/cannabis plant but without the psychoactive THC cannabinoid naturally occurring in hemp. It’s a favorite among many people who want to use CBD products without intaking THC.

Many legal hemp derived CBD products you’ll find in shops will contain broad spectrum THC, so look out for it in CBD oils and tinctures, body butter, gums, and others.

Full Spectrum CBD

As you could probably tell from the name, full spectrum CBD contains all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids present in hemp, including trace amounts of THC.

Just like broad spectrum CBD, it’s widespread among the products you’ll find in shops.

If you’ve ever heard of the entourage effect, know that this type of CBD causes it due to the trace amounts of THC. If you haven’t heard of it, well, read on, as we’ll talk more about it in a bit!

 

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CBD Extraction Explained

All CBD products are made from hemp, but to make different types of CBD, you have to choose what ingredients and compounds to filter out from hemp.

How Is CBD Extracted?

Manufacturers extract CBD by solving the hemp plant in a solvent, most commonly in supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2), ethanol, or a hydrocarbon solvent like butane or propane.

If you’ve looked this up before, then you’ve probably bumped into supercritical CO2 as it’s the most popular method for CBD extraction in general, but we’ll look at the three methods for comparison as not every method is the most popular for each type, and different methods can yield different results.

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Supercritical CO2 extraction is one of the more “sciencey” methods of extracting CBD from hemp. Because it’s so scientifically backed, it gives us a lot of control over which compounds to isolate and keep in the CBD product.

The science behind this lies in the word “supercritical.” It’s a state that happens to the CO2 under precise pressure and temperature. This state gives CO2 properties of both liquids and gases, importantly for us, the ability to dissolve and act as a solvent.

Advanced machines give us a lot of control over the physical properties of supercritical CO2 to target the exact compounds we want our CO2 molecules to bond with.

The main drawback of supercritical CO2 is that it requires surgical precision to get the results you want, and it can take a very long time due to fluctuations in pressure and temperature.

Ethanol

There are many ways to extract CBD using ethanol, and it’d take an entire article to go over them. Generally, the process involves heating a large quantity of hemp until a specific process called decarboxylation starts – a process we use to extract the compounds we want from cannabis.

One of the more popular ethanol extraction methods is the Soxhlet technique, which involves boiling the ethanol in a jar or flask, then condensing it on a cold surface to drip through the hemp. This process extracts the cannabinoids and terpenes, and it’s swift and efficient.

Hydrocarbon Solvent

The most common hydrocarbon solvent for extracting CBD from cannabis is butane hash oil or just butane for short, but other hydrocarbons like propane or even a blend of two or more can work just fine.

Butane is ideal for CBD extraction because it boils at the low point of 30.2°F (-1°C), so it can be used as a liquified gas to extract volatile terpenes without wasting them.

The first process is washing the hemp with liquified butane or another hydrocarbon, which will dissolve the cannabis to give you a funny-looking waxy solution. Yes, waxy as in containing waxes which you’ll have to remove yourself using another method such as winterization, which we’ll look at soon.

Even after you get rid of the wax, you’ll still have to run your liquid through some more refinement processes to eliminate excess waste. I find this method the most tedious, but it has its positives, including giving you a lot of control over what compounds you want to extract by tweaking your hydrocarbon solvent.

Refinement

After extraction, the crude CBD extract will often contain some undesired residuals that stick like plant wax, fats, and lipids. This is why we have some refinement methods such as winterization, distillation, and decarboxylation to purify the CBD before it goes on a store shelf.

Refinement processes are relatively easy and straightforward. For example, in winterization, you freeze the CBD with 200 proof alcohol for a night, run the CBD-alcohol solution through a filter paper, then re-heat the solution to remove unwanted alcohol.

 

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What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Each?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the three different types of CBD. The benefits of CBD are deeply tied with the entourage effect, which we need to understand well before we delve into the benefits and drawbacks of each type.

The Entourage Effect Explained

Despite its fancy name, the entourage effect is actually a simple concept. It refers to how all the compounds in cannabis interact with each other to enhance the potential benefit your body can receive. Each compound in cannabis contributes substantially to health and wellness, providing tons of benefits you can get from CBD products.

Because of the effect, you’ll often see a full spectrum CBD product priced higher than an isolate counterpart. But it’s not just that; it’s also more challenging for manufacturers to maintain a consistent ratio of all the compounds in their products all the time, so the production costs are higher too.

We know that the entourage effect works, and is indeed beneficial, but this is relatively new. As recently as 2015, we thought isolate was the way to go, but this was debunked in a study by the Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology in Jerusalem.

The center treated their subjects with both isolate and full spectrum CBD and found that the latter made the most improvement compared to the former, so they concluded that the full spectrum of cannabinoids in cannabis is more effective. Their effectiveness increases with more doses, whereas the effects of isolate are stagnant even with increased doses.

CBD Isolate

As we’ve discussed, CBD isolate is just pure CBD without the other ingredients. However, I must admit that, relative to the other different types of CBD, it’s very mild, but maybe that’s what you want for some situations.

Benefits

Since CBD isolate contains nothing apart from CBD and no THC, you’re never going to get high off it and never fail drug tests. And one of the best things, in my opinion, is versatility – you can mix CBD isolate with almost anything.

CBD isolate is also flavorless and odorless, so it’s straightforward to use, and you won’t be raising any misjudging eyebrows.

Additionally, because CBD isolate is so pure and mild, it’s a great way to give your pet CBD if they’re suffering from some of the symptoms that CBD can treat, such as a suppressed appetite, agitation, or anxiety.

Drawbacks

If you take pure CBD isolate, there’s a good chance the compound won’t even make it into your system. This chance depends on factors such as the exact product you’re taking, but it exists in any case.

Some of the other compounds found in cannabis help pass the CBD itself through the skin and other barriers in your body, so when those are absent, it creates a chance that what you’re taking will have no effect.

Moreover, you won’t enjoy the entourage effect with CBD isolate because the other cannabinoids aren’t there to amplify the benefits.

Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad spectrum CBD is one of the most popular ways to intake CBD because it gives you the whole experience without any THC, so it’s the best of both worlds between CBD isolate and full spectrum CBD, in a way.

Benefits

The best part about broad spectrum CBD is that it offers you similar benefits to full spectrum because it contains many shared compounds without any THC. So you know there are no psychoactive elements in your product.

And while broad spectrum CBD oil is a tad more processed than its full spectrum sibling, it’s still much less processed than CBD isolate.

Drawbacks

It’s important to note that even though broad spectrum CBD may sound like the holy grail of CBD, it’s often the neglected member in the family.

If you can find a broad spectrum CBD product in your area, then congratulations because it’s actually relatively hard to find one compared to full spectrum CBD. And even research on broad spectrum CBD isn’t as abundant as the other two types, so there are still some unknowns at play here.

One last thing that may or may not be relevant to your situation or age is that broad spectrum CBD products typically carry the noticeable smell of hemp. So if you can’t have that for whatever reason, it’s something to keep in mind.

Full Spectrum CBD

At last, the all-in-one full spectrum CBD is practically indistinguishable from hemp products as much as it’s a CBD product. It contains everything you’ll find in hemp, even some trace amounts of THC.

Benefits

Obviously, the entourage effect that we went over is the main attraction in full spectrum CBD. It contains all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that enhance health and wellness.

And no matter how controversial some trace amounts of THC are, their presence in full spectrum CBD can help relieve many of the conditions that CBD aims to help in the first place. It isn’t so rare to see a doctor prescribing full spectrum CBD nowadays, after all.

We also must talk about the procession. Because full spectrum CBD is practically the same as hemp, it’s the least processed or “washed down” of the three types.

All things considered, full spectrum CBD is wonderful for people who suffer more severe symptoms that broad spectrum CBD may not be enough for.

Drawbacks

With so many benefits, full spectrum CBD also has its share of drawbacks. Most notably, it can be challenging for some people to distinguish it from plain marijuana simply because it contains THC, even in such a small amount.

If you live in an area where cannabis or THC is more restricted, you’ll likely face the most issues. First of all, full spectrum CBD can trigger a false positive in a drug test, so you could fail one despite being completely sober.

Second, because it’s relatively unfiltered, full spectrum CBD carries a strong scent of hemp, which can also raise a lot of suspicion among people who don’t know the health information of CBD. So, it’s advised to be careful with it depending on where you live. But either way, you should be fine in most places.

 

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Who Should Use What Type of CBD?

So CBD oils, products, hemp products, cannabinoids, and all that gibberish – just what type of CBD should you use? Well, it depends on your needs and situation. Let’s look at which types are best for who.

CBD Isolate

Because it’s not as potent as the other types, I wouldn’t recommend CBD isolate for most people since the odds are it won’t even have much of an impact on them.

However, there’s still an audience for isolate. It mainly consists of two groups: newbies who are still getting into CBD products and those who need to intake large amounts of CBD without overdosing on the other compounds.

Perhaps surprisingly, it also has some benefits for cats and dogs, so maybe it’s worth exploring this idea if your pet has issues.

Broad Spectrum CBD

For users whose conditions can’t be helped by the less potent isolate, you go up a notch to broad spectrum CBD.

Broad spectrum is so similar to full spectrum CBD and offers the benefits for the most part; the only difference is the lack of THC, so it’s an ideal pick if you live in an area with harsh THC regulations, are sensitive to THC, or just a first time user afraid of THC.

Full Spectrum CBD

The maximum potential of hemp found in hemp is in full spectrum CBD, which is what I recommend for those with more severe symptoms, or those who can enjoy it because they live somewhere where THC is legal.

However, keep in mind that full spectrum CBD has the pungent smell of hemp, so that alone might be a dealbreaker for you, depending on where you live.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a solid idea about the three main types of CBD, what makes them different, and which one you should take.

To recap, the three types from least to most potent are isolate, broad spectrum CBD, and full spectrum CBD. Isolate is pure CBD, with all the other compounds in cannabis filtered out. Full spectrum is pretty much unfiltered hemp and contains all the compounds found in hemp, including THC in a small quantity. Broad spectrum is just like full spectrum but without the THC.

About the Writer

Shelley W.

Shelly is Saha's Head of the Editorial Team. In addition to personally contributing blog articles, Shelly is responsible for sourcing new writers and editing their work. Shelly is driven by her passion to educate about cannabinoid relief while finding ways to support those most impacted by the industry. Shelly has a degree in Media Communications and is currently working on a Masters in Digital Media and Integrity.

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