How Full-Spectrum CBD products are different from isolate.

The recent popularity of CBD products has resulted in CBD being added in everything from beverages, facial washes, lip balms, creams, salves, pet treats, edibles and tinctures, of course. With this, confusing jargon being thrown around a CBD product like full spectrum and isolate to describe the CBD additives themselves isn’t always apparent or understood by consumers. It’s important to understand the differences between the terms full spectrum and isolate as they relate to what people have been buying, how they interact with people and a CBD product’s overall effectiveness.

CBD isolates refer to single-molecule CBD extractions from hemp or cannabis plants that are often entirely the CBD molecule. When you see references to “99.x% pure CBD isolate” means the resulting compound is literally 99.x% CBD, with the remaining x being very trace amounts of whatever else may have been left from the extraction process. A CBD isolate is usually clear and nearly tasteless as an oil tincture.

In contrast, Full-Spectrum CBD is extracted from hemp or cannabis using the whole plant, that in the case of “hemp” extracted CBD include CBD, and more than 400 trace compounds, sometimes including trace amounts of THC. Full-spectrum CBD is often a green or dirt-like colour that has an earthy notes that sometimes hints of chlorophyll and a rustic blend of cannabis derived flavours that may or may not include citrus, berries, flowers and many more natural essences from nature. Mostly terpines.

It is analogous to — roughly, of course — the difference between vodka, which can be mixed and flavoured thousands of different ways but itself is as tasteless and flavourless as possible, and a fine Bordeaux blend wine. One was distilled to be a way of delivering its active ingredient — alcohol, as cleanly as possible,  and the other is the transformation of a variety of grapes and growing conditions to a drink that celebrates all the nuances and notes from grapes and the very places and processes that a fine wine is created.

What is the Entourage Effect and why is it important?

The key difference between the two, besides my own hyperbolized opinion, is full spectrum CBD delivers something called the “entourage effect” which describes how the “…(more than 400) compounds interact synergistically to create what scientists refer to as an ‘entourage effect’ that magnifies the therapeutic benefits of the plant’s individual components—so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.” This means that isolate and full-spectrum CBD are not equivalent — 100 milligrams of a single-molecule CBD isn’t equivalent to 100 milligrams of a CBD rich cannabis or hemp plant, and the whole of the plant is in effect greater than the sum of its parts.

The Entourage Effect

Especially important are the terpines (or terpenoids) which are aromatic molecules that exist in the many different strains of hemp or cannabis, giving the flavours, smells and colours that are the elements that distinguish between the many different breeds and effects of each strain or plant.

Of the 200 terpenes that have been found in cannabis and hemp, so far, only a few of these oily substances are commonly found in amounts large enough to be clearly identifiable and research on terpines exact effect on people is in its infancy. Dr. Ethan Russo’s 2011 report in the British Journal of Pharmacology describes the potential and large number of therapeutic attribute of terpenoids which are lacking in CBD-only or isolate products. Of the many terpines found, they have been cited for their anti-inflammatory properties, protect the gastro-intestinal system, increased blood-flow, enhances cortical activity, supports respiratory systems, exhibits anti-bacterial properties, and may support other treatments of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy and other diseases.

Although clinical research still needs to be done around the veracity of CBD itself, this entourage effect looks to be very real and significant factor to consider when finding the right support and wellness CBD products. Remember, read labels carefully — most full-spectrum products on the market explicitly state that they are in fact “full-spectrum”, while isolate based products often don’t clearly label themselves. If you are supporting specific symptoms such as inflammation or pain management, anecdotally full-spectrum CBD solutions are said lead to better results.

The best approach is to start low and go slow (though you can be more liberal as the link references cannabis use, not CBD) and determine the best course for you.

Photo: Jens Johnnson

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