If you have spent any time in the hemp CBD space at all, whether it has been on the production side or on the consumer/retail side, you have inevitably come across terminology like “full spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” and “isolate.” So what does that mean exactly? How are products made with each different from the others? And what does that mean for the end consumer? Let’s dig into that a little bit here. Please look at these other post on “Know Before you buy” series, The Differences in Hemp Extract, Hemp Seed Oil, and Cannabis Oil in part 1, Types of Extraction for CBD products in part 2, and How to be Website and Label Savvy in part 3.
Whenever you hear the aforementioned terms, they are referencing the type of CBD oil that is being put into products. Ultimately, all three come from the same starting material, but all three go through vastly different degrees of processing to get to the end result. Within the cannabis/hemp plant, there are the main cannabinoid compounds, namely CBD, CBG, CBC, THCV, THC, and CBN, in this case. But that’s not nearly the complete picture – also produced within the plant are other beneficial compounds such as terpenes, flavonoids, steroids, fatty acids, and various phenolic compounds, to name a few. Each one of these can possess various therapeutic effects in their own right, and their collective interaction in the body together with the various cannabinoids is what’s known as the “entourage effect.”
Starting out with full spectrum, this is the most natural and “complete” version of oil, and goes through the least amount of processing. This type of oil can vary from a minimally filtered version of the oil that comes directly out of the extraction machine, to a slightly more purified version that has gone through a distillation process. In either, the only outside solvent that is used is ethanol during the filtration step, and, as such, can be certified USDA Organic CBD or Hemp Extract if the particular manufacturer follows the correct protocols. This type of oil leaves the vast majority of the compounds listed above intact, and is viewed as the most effective type of oil from a therapeutic perspective.
Next, we have broad spectrum. Broad spectrum oil is referencing oil that has had the THC nearly completely removed. From a therapeutic perspective, the presence of THC alongside CBD has been found to be a very important contributor to that ‘entourage effect.’ Now, that ‘nearly’ is extremely important here, because it has actually been the source of a number of lawsuits around the country. Many manufacturers who use broad spectrum oil in their products will tout that it is THC-free, leading consumers into a false sense of security that it will be safe to consume if they are concerned about being drug tested. This, however, is not reality. In addition to the harsh hydrocarbon solvents that are commonly used to “remove” THC, most notably hexane or pentane, which prevents this oil from ever being able to be certified organic, the THC is never actually completely removed. It is just brought down to a level that avoids detection by most testing facilities.
The oversight here that most people are not aware of is that while the equipment used in screening for cannabinoids is quite sensitive (most often a HPLC is used), in the world of analytics, these machines are not nearly sensitive enough (compared to LC-MS or proton NMR). For example, a very popular testing facility here in Colorado lists on their test reports the LOQ (limit of quantification) for THC as 0.14%, which is around 1400 ppm. Now, there is a lower limit known as the LOD (limit of detection) that I won’t delve into the technicalities of, but the point is that if the THC content is anything from 0-1399 ppm in any given test, they will report it as 0%. You can see the issue with that if someone then has to get drug tested for THC.
Finally, we have CBD isolate. As the name implies, this is CBD that has been completely isolated from all of the other beneficial compounds normally present via a crystallization process, and achieves a >99.9% purity (if done properly). Out of the three, this is by far the least effective product from a therapeutic perspective, and a number of studies have been done to reflect that point. This process also heavily involves use of harsh hydrocarbon solvents, which prevents the products from ever being able to be certified organic. Some CBD manufacturers who are unable to produce their own in-house will source their isolate from China or areas in eastern Europe, where testing requirement are not nearly as stringent. As such, isolate sourced from these areas very frequently contains high levels of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium, which are extremely harmful if ingested in high enough quantities. Isolate products do have some potential advantages for people if they are concerned about consuming even trace amounts of THC.
At the end of the day, each person will have their own reasons for choosing products made with each type of CBD. Here at One Farm, where we are committed to providing only the highest quality and most effective CBD, as a USDA Organic Full Spectrum CBD Tincture, CBD Softgel, USDA Organic CBD Water Soluble, or our new CBD infused skincare line made with our organic CBD.