CBD Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum Oil [Beginners Guide]
September 11, 2018

CBD Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum Oil [Beginners Guide]

Explaining the difference in simple terms
Jeff Yauck Jeff Yauck / Updated on September 11, 2018

A Beginner’s Guide To CBD Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum Oil

People tend to make a huge discussion out of the whole CBD isolate vs. full-spectrum debate, treating it as if it’s some sort of ultra-complex riddle that takes years and years of advanced scientific study to figure out. In reality, though, it’s really not that difficult.

In this article, we’ll talk about what’s exactly meant by the terms “isolate” and “full-spectrum,” and we’ll also discuss which particular products are best suited for which specific medical conditions (and hint-hint, you may be surprised to find out what some new research has to say).

There’s no denying that CBD oil is one of the fastest rising industries North America (and not to mention the globe) has seen in decades, so it pays to be up-to-date on what the medication is, how it works, and how it’s made.

What is CBD, first of all, and how is it made?

CBD Cannabidiol

CBD is simply an active chemical compound, or cannabinoid, that’s found in the cannabis plant. The reason it’s becoming so popular across such a wide audience of people right now though is because unlike the other main compound in cannabis (THC), it doesn’t get you high. There have been thousands upon thousands of medical studies showing all of the health benefits that CBD has, but “average” people are loving it because it doesn’t produce any mind-altering psychoactive effects.

Also, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the terms “hemp,” “marijuana,” and “cannabis.”

Basically, cannabis is an umbrella term that includes both hemp and marijuana plants. Cannabis sativa is actually the scientific name of the cannabis plant (Cannabis = genus; sativa = species), and hemp and marijuana are just two different “varieties” of it (i.e. you could refer to both marijuana and hemp plants as “cannabis” plants, but you would not, for instance, refer to a “marijuana” plant as a “hemp” plant). Hopefully that’s not too confusing.

The key difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp contains practically zero THC. In fact, in order to be classified as hemp, a cannabis plant must contain less than 0.3% THC by volume. This is really important because it’s actually the reason why hemp products are legal to buy, sell, and ship. If they don’t get you high, then why would they be illegal?

Also, it’s important to understand that the majority of CBD oils and other CBD products come from hemp. This is why the industry is seeing such a monstrous spike in popularity – anyone can get online and order CBD medication straight to their doorstep.

If you’re trying to keep track of all this, basically just remember the following:

  • Marijuana mostly contains both THC and CBD, it gets you high, and, depending on the state you live in, it is illegal
  • Hemp contains minor amounts of THC.
  • Hemp contains other cannabinoids, one of them is CBD
  • Both hemp and marijuana plants fall under the larger umbrella term of “cannabis” plants

In terms of how CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant, there a few different techniques that can be used. The most popular used to be by running harsh chemicals like butane (lighter fluid) or hexane over the raw plant material, but people quickly found out that this resulted in trace amounts of carcinogenic compounds (like formaldehyde) being left over in the end product. Not good.

While a bunch of manufacturers still use this method (do your research on the products you’re buying), many are now switching over to a method called CO2 extraction, which is much cleaner and believed to be much more healthy.

Also, cold ethanol extraction is supposedly another good method, but the verdict is still out on how much safer this is than actual butane extraction.

In any regard, the exact extraction process determines whether the active CBD compound is removed from the plant as an “isolate,” or as a “full-spectrum” oil.

CBD isolate vs. full-spectrum oil: A general comparison

A CBD isolate is exactly what it sounds like; pure, isolated CBD compound, all by itself. It exists as a white-ish powder, and contains no other active compounds – nothing.

It was initially believed that pure CBD was the “gold standard” of non-psychoactive cannabis therapy, but recently people are figuring out that this is hardly the case (more on that later).

Full-spectrum oil, on the other hand, contains other active plant compounds in addition to the CBD. This includes other cannabinoids such as CBN, CBL, and CBCVA, as well as aromatic (nice smelling) cannabis terpenes like pinene and limonene.

So other than the presence of cannabis compounds, what’s the difference between full-spectrum CBD oil and CBD isolate? How do you know which one you need?

How to choose between full-spectrum CBD oil and CBD isolate

Like we mentioned a moment ago, it used to be the belief that “pure CBD,” or CBD isolate, packed the most potent punch in terms of cannabis therapy. And that would make sense too, right? If we know that CBD is primarily the active compound in the plant that provides the medical relief and therapy, then wouldn’t it make sense to make a 100% pure powder out of it?

Well not necessarily, as it turns out.

Not too long ago (2015, actually), researchers out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology discovered what’s now called the “entourage effect.” This refers to the functioning of CBD along with other cannabis plant compounds, rather than just by itself.

(And a quick side note, it’s important to point out that Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem is kind of the Epicenter of CBD research. It was here that Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first identified the chemical structure of the cannabinoid back in the 1960’s).

Anyway, the research showed that in mice, CBD was much more effective when used along with other compounds of the cannabis plant, than when it was used by itself. While they haven’t yet figured out why exactly this is the case, it’s now generally accepted that full-spectrum CBD oil is more effective at treating the majority of medical conditions, than is CBD isolate.

And if you ask around, you’ll find that the vast majority of frequent CBD users strongly agree with this. In fact, for conditions like anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, nearly every single CBD patient will claim that full-spectrum oil is by far the superior option.

Final notes: CBD isolate vs. full-spectrum oil

That being said, though, CBD isolate still has a very relevant place in the cannabis market. A lot of people, for instance, use it to concoct their own personal daily CBD remedies – they mix the pure powder with oil, or they add it into their coffee, or they make edibles out of it. Since it comes in an easily-measurable powder, it’s a great option for those individuals who are trying to calculate exact personal dosages of CBD medication by the milligram.

For the large majority of average users though, a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil will be the better, more efficient option. These concentrated oils have delivered incredible results so far, and have been observed to effectively treat everything from anxiety, to diabetes, to severe chronic pain. And with the inevitable continued research that’s to come, it’s expected that the quality of full-spectrum products will only continue to get better and better. (And of course, given that hemp products are legal in all 50 states, you don’t even need a medical marijuana card to purchase it).

That being said, though, it’s still important to do plenty of research and find a reliable CBD manufacturer, before you go throwing money at any old product. Since the market is still unregulated by the FDA, there are loads of phony companies out there that are selling completely bogus products. We recommend only using oils from reliable companies with a proven track record.

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  • Full-spectrum Hemp extract
  • No pesticides, solvents or chemical fertilizers
  • 3rd party laboratory tested
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  • Maximum potency and purity
  • Compounded by a licensed pharmacist
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  • Full-Spectrum Extract (Made in USA)
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  • Contain no artificial flavors or preservatives
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  • CBDPure uses a chemical-free CO2 extraction process
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  • Certified hemp grown in Colorado
  • Price Range ($29.99 – $79.99)
  • Full-spectrum Extract
  • Derived from Non-GMO Hemp
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  • Over 5 Years Experience
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  • Organic hemp CO2 extract tincture
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  1. Elizabeth Bradshaw
    THC in extract

    Isn’t there a risk of over-the-legal-limit THC levels in full-spectrum, since it’s concentrated during the extraction process?

    1. Adam

      You should always know that in the full spectrum process the oil may contain traces of THC. When you are purchasing from a quality brand that should be under 0.3% . Isolates are a different story.

  2. Alph

    Is it possible to add full spectrum CBD to vape juice or can it only be done with CBD isolate? From the article, I would assume that full spectrum CBD would be better for my anxiety.

    1. Adam
      Depends what you are looking to treat

      Generally speaking a full spectrum would work better for anxiety.

  3. Meli
    Which is the best CBD isolated brand?

    So which is the best pure CBD isolated brand? And which is the best full oil?

  4. Toni

    Have you looked into Creating Better Days CBD products?

  5. Wilma Krach

    My pick – Isolate, I am pretty impressed

  6. Julie
    Drug test

    So if you use the oil, will you still pass a drug test?

  7. Flossie Miles
    Isolate more Accurate

    Most of the CBD oil products independently tested have been shown to have inconsistent and insufficient dosage levels, often outrageously below stated claims. For instance, a bottle claiming 250mg of CBD actually had 7mg. This is unfortunately quite common. CBD Isolate is much more reliable for accurate dosing, so you are much more likely to get what you pay for. And it doesn’t cause the stomach upset that oil does.

  8. Peter

    Yes, Amazon prohibits the use of the term CBD, so all the sellers use the term Hemp Oil to circumvent this policy.

    Great article, very useful categorization of the plant.

    All my products are Independently lab tested for purity.

    1. Sharon
      So interesting and quite confusing...

      There’s this iVitamins full spectrum hemp oil, with apparently high concentrations, on Amazon. Says “Zero THC CBD Cannabidiol”. What does that mean? No THC and no CBD as well?
      Pricing is not so bad, though. 2000mg in 4oz for $71.99.

  9. Bart
    Best CBD products on the market !!!

    Best CBD products on the market !!!

  10. Cris Coleman

    I see products labeled CBD oil and other products labeled hemp oil and still others labeled hemp oil extract but haven’t been able to find anyone who can tell me the difference. I do know the difference between full-spectrum CBD oil and isolate and would prefer the synergistic effects of the whole plant. I notice no one answers any of the questions on this page. Hopefully, that will change. Thanks.

    1. Dennis S

      Hi Chris, the whole “product labeling” thing from brand to brand is definitely super confusing. Because the industry is so unregulated, companies can label their products “hemp oil,” “CBD oil,” “hemp extract oil,” etc, and there’s really no way to distinguish between them or tell what’s actually in them — unless they have a lab report. Basically, if you don’t see the word “CBD” anywhere on the label or on the product description, the oil is probably made from hemp seeds (in which case it has no CBD). The only sure way to know you’re getting an oil with CBD in it is to find something with a certified lab report showing the exact amount of CBD (and even still, some companies have been known to fudge their way around this). I know this isn’t the most clear-cut answer, but again, given how unregulated the industry is, there’s really no “perfect” answer. Hope this helps a little bit 🙂

      1. Rx_

        It amazes me how people buy “cbd” to put into their own products. They claim the CBD is good but also cheap. When I ask them to send to me a Certified Laboratory Report…. they don’t have one!
        I worked about a decade for the Colorado State Dept of Health and Environment to modernize process such as the Drinking Water Compliance system. I automated the process of over 1 M certified samples from State Certified Water Samples each MONTH. If you expect it for your water (and many other services) why wouldn’t anyone expect it for a product with “CBD” on the label?
        Anyone can view over 2,000 Public Water System Drinking Water certified laboratory results on the web.
        Yet, persons who choose to buy a product they are told is “CBD” to add to their own product can’t provide a copy of the Certified Lab for what they claim is “CBD”?
        The good quality CO2 (and other more expensive systems) should be happy to verify 100% CBD with no detectable residue of any other containment.
        Who would buy a car that didn’t have a title?
        The State of Colorado is moving ahead to make the distinctions better. Even as it moves ahead, the web site may not be updated for months. In the mean-time, encourage consumers to expect certified lab results for their products.

        1. Terri
          Pure CBD is KING

          CBD should be used as a whole plant in my own opinion. Why would you want any additives or “blends” of other products in the bottle? I would be happy to talk to you more about this.

      2. Scott

        I’ve also seen full spectrum hemp oil and full spectrum cbd oil. Is there a difference? If they are full spectrum, wouldn’t they be pretty similar?

        The wording on the full spectrum hemp oil says it uses the entire plant. Leaving me with the impression it would contain cbd then, but doesn’t mention cbd on the site or packaging. And by site, I mean a certain retail site called Amazon.

        I’m starting to think they have a rule or something about any product having cbd mentioned specifically since all of them are labeled hemp oil. Even if they are full spectrum.

        I’m currently trying to research all this. I have general anxiety and depression and am on a couple medications for it. If this really does work for this, I would much rather take this than these medications.
        But like you were saying, some of this can be really confusing.

        1. K

          Yes, they have a rule. As does etsy. Something to keep in mind!

  11. cylus tree

    So “marijuana” was the name given to the cannabis plant to make it illegal. “Marijuana” is not a different strain of cannabis. A full spectrum oil does obviously do more but cbd is great by itself. It helps stops seizures and anxiety just on its own. Saying Cbd isolate is not effective as a full spectrum oil is actually false in a way. Cbd will do everything on its own without any high at all. And it’s great that cbd products are legal. Getting a medical cannabis card causes a person to give up their rights to have a carrying permit or hunt with rifles. I support cannabis but not the medical card

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