Most people that are new to the CBD industry, or CBD products, will eventually need to choose between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products. A third type of CBD product known as a ‘CBD isolate’ also exists. While the differences mainly revolve around THC content, it’s still important to be able to identify full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD products.
A simple answer is broad spectrum has little to no THC content, while full spectrum can have up to 0.3% THC content.
For the purposes of this article, we will stick with discussing the differences between full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD. We’ll briefly touch up on the CBD isolate as well, but we won’t spend too much time on isolate.
CBD isolate is a whole different category that probably warrants its’ own article.
There are a lot of myths and generally incorrect information out there about this topic, and I’ll do my best to set you in the right direction. An interesting thing to keep in mind when it comes to broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD, is the fact that there’s currently no established regulatory definition of full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD extracts.
A lot of industry leaders believe that the FDA will define the terms officially, once they approve CBD for use as a dietary supplement.
As you can imagine, this creates a rather confusing, and annoying, environment for consumers and business owners alike. Broad spectrum? Full Spectrum? What’s the difference? This is exactly what most first time CBD buyers think before purchasing.
Don’t worry. You will completely understand the differences between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products after finishing up this article.
What is a Cannabinoid Spectrum?
A cannabinoid ‘spectrum’ is a term used to describe the presence, or absence, of certain cannabinoids in a product. A cannabinoid is just a fancy word that means ‘plant chemical.’
The cannabis plant is rich in several plant-based chemicals including: essential oils, cannabinoids and terpenes. When dealing with broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD, the cannabinoid content is the big difference.
Some people aren’t aware that cannabis accounts for both hemp and marijuana. Hemp extracts will contain less than 0.3% THC, by federal law. Marijuana, on the other hand, can have as much THC as the grower wants. For this reason, marijuana is heavily controlled, while hemp is federally legal.
Legal CBD products will come from hemp extract. These types of CBD extracts can not, and will not, get the user high. It simply isn’t possible since the THC content is so low.
Controlled products come in the form of medical marijuana. While medical marijuana products can have CBD in them, their THC content is likely very high.
Major Compounds That Make Up the Cannabis Plant
There are three major compounds that make up cannabis plants:
- Cannabinoids – another word that simple means “plant chemical”. This is a natural compound within plants.
- Essential oils – these are largely extracted for their smell or taste. For example, you may see a lavender-scented candle at a shop. This likely utilizes the essential oils from lavender to achieve that particular fragrance.
- Terpenes – these are compounds within many different plants and even some bugs. Their intense aromas serve as a defense mechanism from herbivores or other dangers.
Figure 1.0 – Different Cannabinoid Molecules
The combination of the cannabinoid content in a CBD product is largely what defines its type of hemp or CBD spectrum. The cannabinoid family consists of over 124 different (known) members with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol) and CBN (cannabinol) as the most studied members of the spectrum.
For decades, only a few cannabinoids were in the medical spot light. For that reason, more research desperately needs to be conducted on cannabis extracts to help discover new cannabinoids. More research would also be warranted to solidify some claims on already discovered cannabinoids, too.
A CBD spectrum can be classified as full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or even pure CBD isolate. For this article, we will focus on the differences between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products.
CBD isolates will be spoken about, but briefly.
Terpenes and Spectrums
You may see some talk about the spectrum of CBD being a bi-product of both terpenes and cannabinoid content. While this isn’t incorrect, it’s also not entirely accurate. Ninety-nine percent of businesses and consumers are only concerned about the cannabinoid profile when it comes to the different types of hemp CBD spectrums.
When analyzing the differences of full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD extracts, terpenes do not play a role.
While terpenes are included in either of the spectrums, most people aren’t concerned about them.
Terpenes mainly affect the smell and taste of the cannabis plant and it’s extracts. The strong odor that some terpenes give off can help define that exact plant. For example, have you ever walked through a pine forest? That strong pine odor is actually a terpene called α-Pinene.
Figure 2.0 – Pine Forest
Terpenes play a prevalent part in our world. Most people will be able to smell the ‘pine’ from simply looking at this picture.
Some insects even use terpenes as a defense mechanism.
Some people tie terpenes with the psychoactive effects of some strains, with different smells often being associated with certain effects. While this sounds neat, there are very few scientific reports done that can prove terpenes offer therapeutic or psychoactive effects for humans.
All things considered, I am excited to see more research that shows how terpenes can be included in the types of CBD spectrums to offer a greater relief.
To wrap up the terpene discussion, no, they don’t play a roll in full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD extracts or products.
Broad Spectrum vs Full Spectrum CBD
If you’re familiar with CBD products, the terms ‘full spectrum’ or ‘broad spectrum’ CBD pop up frequently.
These terms describe the cannabinoid content of that particular CBD product. The terms broad spectrum vs. full spectrum hemp are very important in giving the consumer a general idea of what to expect from the CBD product in terms of therapeutic benefits.
There is a third, less popular type of product known as an isolate. An isolate is not full spectrum hemp. It’s also not a broad spectrum extract. CBD isolate is just the isolated CBD molecule in large amounts. It has no CBG, CBN, THC – nothing else but CBD. We’ll talk about this briefly after touching on the different types of hemp CBD extracts.
If you are just coming across these terms for the first time, don’t worry. This article will discuss the differences between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD in a simple to understand way.
Why Two Extract Spectrums?
Two spectrums? Why not just stick with one type of spectrum? These are excellent questions. Remember, hemp wasn’t officially decriminalized until 2018 via the Agricultural Improvement Act. This made hemp-derived CBD legal at a federal level, as long as they contain less than 0.3% or less of THC. This basically birthed broad spectrum CBD extracts. I’ll get into broad spectrum hemp products later on, but they contain almost no THC.
Broad spectrum extracts would not even come close to being rejected for distribution since they don’t contain any THC. Plus, some people don’t want anything to do with THC, at all. These are the main reasons that broad spectrum CBD extracts exist.
Full Spectrum CBD Products
Full-spectrum CBD products contain all of the naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. These compounds include but are not limited to: terpenes, essential oils and cannabinoids (THC inclusive).
Full spectrum CBD is prepared with the sole aim of offering the entire spectrum (hence the name full) of plant chemicals within the hemp. Information gathered from scientific research has shown that the presence of CBD and terpenes can inhibit the psychoactive side effects of THC. This is one reason why THC is often found in full-spectrum products. The other reason is due to the current buzzword known as the ‘entourage effect.’
The entourage effect is an interesting area of research that revolves around the claim that the entire cannabinoid spectrum, as an entourage, offers a more complete benefit. We will talk more about the entourage effect later on. For now, let’s stick to conversation about full spectrum products.
To remain federally legal, all full-spectrum CBD products contain no more than 0.3% of THC. This means you should be looking for CBD products that are made from hemp – not marijuana. Marijuana derived CBD is likely very high in THC, which causes the product to become psychoactive and extremely regulated by US law.
Figure 3.0 – Full Spectrum CBD Content
The picture above is a snapshot of what’s known as a certificate of analysis. Have you noticed the QR codes on the packaging and/or labeling on hemp products? It links to a certificate that looks very similar to this one. Under the cannabinoid profile, you can see the exact content of the more popular cannabinoids. If there are values located in the mg/g or mg/mL section, then that product has that cannabinoid in it.
You can reference these certificates of analysis to help determine if your hemp CBD products use a full spectrum bs broad spectrum CBD extract. There are much more to these certificates of analysis, so we went ahead and wrote an article on how to read them.
Benefits of Full Spectrum CBD
Each spectrum has their own differences. Full spectrum products may offer the following benefits:
- Full-spectrum CBD products offer a little bit of THC – this is the main, and potentially only difference.
- Potentially produces psychoactive or sedative effects – depending on the THC content. Be sure to purchase only hemp-based CBD products if you want your THC content to remain low.
- May cause a false positive during a drug test.
- The use of full-spectrum CBD may be illegal in some parts of the world. Double check your local laws before purchasing a full spectrum product.
The Entourage Effect and What It Means For You
The entourage effect is quite possibly the biggest buzzword in the CBD world right now. Almost every company that tries to sell you CBD products will undoubtedly mention ‘the entourage effect’ and how their products help capitalize on this. What is the entourage effect, exactly?
When a bunch of different cannabis plant chemicals are together, their medicinal effects may be different. This difference is claimed to be a positive enhancement when compared to a product without all of the different cannabis chemicals in the spectrum. However, a majority of the scientific studies on this entourage effect revolve around interactions that occur between THC and CBD.
Studies on the Entourage Effect in Full Spectrums
What we do know, is that CBD affects THC – to an extent. One neurologist by the name of Ethan Russo claims CBD might work to enhance THC’s therapeutic effects. His key area of evidence points to a 2010 clinical trial of Sativex (nabiximols), a botanical drug that comprises a mixture of THC and CBD extracted from cannabis…
“The study involved 177 people experiencing pain from cancer and compared three approaches: one group of participants received a placebo, another was given a drug containing high levels of THC and a third group was treated with Sativex. Participants were asked to score their pain throughout the two-week study and to confirm at the end by how much their pain had lessened, if at all. A reduction in pain of 30% or more was considered clinically important. Around 40% of the people treated with Sativex reported this level of pain relief — almost twice as many as those who received either placebo or THC alone.”
This is definitely an interesting find.
Take the entourage effect claims with a grain of salt. There is still a lot of research needed to prove what the entourage effect is, and how it affects ALL of the cannabinoids and terpenes that make up this effect.
Broad Spectrum CBD Products
THC will still be present in broad spectrum products, it will simply be in miniscule amounts that aren’t measurable. This type of CBD product is widely used in cases where people are interested in enjoying the full benefits of the cannabis plant, but don’t want to mess (at all) with the presence of THC.
Figure 4.0 – Broad Spectrum CBD Content
If you look at this certificate of analysis, you’ll notice it looks a little bit different than the other. First of all, the THC content is listed as “ND.” Non-detectable, or ND, just means that the content of a particular cannabinoid is so small, that it cannot be detected by this test.
It doesn’t mean there is absolutely no THC in it, it just means that the amount is non-detectable. There is a difference, and it’s important to know this. If companies claim their broad spectrum has absolutely no THC in it, they aren’t being entirely accurate – unless they deliberately separated all of the THC molecules during the extraction process. This is possible, it’s just highly unlikely.
Remember earlier when we spoke about how there is no set regulatory definition on broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD terms? This is where things get weird.
For the most part, companies widely regard broad spectrum CBD extract as containing all of the beneficial compounds that hemp contains – minus the THC. There are some companies that actually define broad spectrum as “containing at least two of the major cannabinoids from the full cannabis spectrum.”
This would mean, technically, that a product could contain THC and CBD and still pass as broad spectrum. Do you see how this can be confusing? This is exactly why we need an official definition from the FDA, or other federal level.
Benefits of Broad Spectrum CBD Products
Broad spectrum products are probably the most popular CBD products. They contain a minute amount of THC, and are legal in areas where THC is illegal in amounts over 0.3%. It seems that people prefer to just avoid THC completely in hemp-based items. Here are a few things to keep in mind when comparing broad spectrum extracts:
- It contains little to no THC, thus regarded as legal in most regions of the world
- It does not produce adverse side effects
- No false positives on drug tests
- No negative connotations tied to it since it lacks THC
As you noticed, there is really no huge differences between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products. It’s simply the THC content.
Broad Spectrum vs Full Spectrum CBD – Which is Best for Me?
Choosing the right CBD spectrum is purely user preference – nothing else.
Please, do not let people tell you that one of these spectrums is significantly better than the other. When choosing between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products, it is completely up to you and your own body.
You should keep in mind your health condition, body chemistry and rules guiding the use of the different CBD spectrums. Some people have seen incredible, life changing results by only using broad spectrum hemp. Others have seen the same results, but only with full spectrum.
If you truly don’t know what to go for, I always recommend picking premium, broad spectrum CBD drops and going from there. See how you respond to them.
Then, try a nice full spectrum product. Compare your results. You will figure out which one you prefer, I guarantee it!
Both products produce outstanding results. Most of the times it genuinely doesn’t matter between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD. Remember, you can also consult with your personal CBD expert or doctor for information on which CBD spectrum best suits your condition or bodily needs.
CBD isolates are not as common as full and broad spectrum products. Interestingly enough, the only FDA approved pharmaceutical drug uses a CBD isolate. This drug is known as Epidiolex, and it helps treat different types of seizure disorders.
Figure 5.0 – CBD Isolate Powder
Some people believe that by isolating the CBD molecule, you can pack a ton of it into one serving. Some people prefer this, others don’t. In an isolate product you get NO OTHER CONTENT other than the CBD. That’s it! This isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just a product in it’s own class.
Since CBD isolate is in its’ own category, it doesn’t play a role in the differences between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD extracts.
Conclusion | Full Spectrum vs Broad Spectrum CBD
To wrap it up, the main difference between broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD is simply the cannabinoid content – that’s it. Full spectrum is likely to have a higher THC content than broad spectrum. If you are looking to completely avoid THC for whatever reason, you should probably stick with broad spectrum CBD products.
If you don’t mind the THC content, then either option will suit you well. From a personal point of view, I cannot tell a difference between the two products. However, everyone is different. You be the judge.
Please keep in mind the legalities of purchasing hemp-derived CBD products unless you are in a state where marijuana is recreationally legal, or you have a medical marijuana card. This type of card allows you to have marijuana products in possession. Marijuana products have over a 0.3% THC content.
Hemp-CBD products, on the other hand, are federally legal within the United States. As a general rule of thumb, if it has more than 0.3% THC, it’s probably not legal. If it has less, you’re good to go.
At the end of the day, go with whatever product you feel will help you most. It will take some trial and error if you are completely new to the CBD world, but the results will be outstanding either way you go.
I trust you now have a much better understanding of broad spectrum vs full spectrum CBD products, and how to make the best choice for yourself.
Frontiers in Psychiatry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3797438/
Journal of Membrane Science and Technology: https://www.longdom.org/peer-reviewed-journals/terpenes-29359.html
Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/cbd-isolate
PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0230167
United States Department of Agriculture: https://www.usda.gov/farmbill
Web MD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20190809/pure-cbd-wont-make-you-fail-a-drug-test-but#1