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Full-Spectrum CBD vs. CBD Isolate: What’s the Difference?

Full-Spectrum CBD vs. CBD Isolate: What’s the Difference?

This article was originally published on Leafwell.

The main difference between full-spectrum CBD (cannabidiol) and CBD isolate is that full-spectrum CBD contains other Cannabis sativa compounds in the final product. In contrast, CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD, having no other hemp plant compounds.

Full spectrum CBD has small amounts of THC content (legally no more than 0.3%), terpenes, flavonoids, and different cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN).

Isolate CBD products can come in their crystalline form (CBD crystals), with the crystals often ground up and sold as a powder. Many products contain CBD only and no other cannabis/hemp compounds (so 0 THC), including various edibles, oils, and topicals.

Full-spectrum CBD products benefit from the entourage effect; That is, the combination of various cannabis compounds synergistically modulates the overall psychoactive effects of the plant as well as increases their potential therapeutic effects. CBD isolates do not benefit the entourage effect but could be helpful for those who are extra sensitive to THC or need to avoid it entirely for employment purposes.

What Is Full-Spectrum CBD?

Full-spectrum CBD refers to products that contain various cannabis compounds from cannabis, including THC and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Full-spectrum CBD products refer to hemp-based products with 0.3% THC or less, but technically could be a term applied to CBD-rich psychoactive cannabis.

CBD products that contain no THC but do contain other cannabis compounds are referred to as “broad-spectrum CBD.”

How It Works

The precise mechanism of how CBD works in the human body is unknown, but CBD is an antagonist of CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists. This means that, in the presence of THC, CBD dampens THC’s effects. It is also thought that, even though CBD has a low affinity for binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors, the compound “behaves as a non-competitive negative allosteric modulator of CB1 receptor,” reducing the potency of THC and anandamide. However, this effect may also increase the amount of time THC or anandamide spends in the body by inhibiting their reuptake and degradation.

CBD’s potential as a mood regulator and treatment of anxiety and depression could be due to its action on serotonin receptors. CBD interacts with serotonin receptor 5HT1A, modulating serotonergic transmission.

CBD is also biphasic, so it has different effects at different dosages. CBD has more stimulating effects in low doses and more sedative effects in higher doses. Anecdotal and some lab-based evidence suggest that doses lower than 50 mg may be more stimulating, and higher doses of 300 mg or above may have more sedative properties. Doses of 100 mg or above may also be sedative. However, as everyone has a different endocannabinoid system (ECS), the effects of CBD may differ from person to person. So what may be a stimulating or sedative dose for one person may not be for another.

Adding in other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids complicate matters when it comes to the pharmacology and pharmacokinetics of cannabis. The presence of CBN may enhance a product’s sleepy effects, whereas the presence of CBG may have more stimulating effects. Terpenes like myrcene, linalool, and humulene have sedative effects, while products lower in myrcene and higher in terpinolene (alpha-terpineol) and limonene may be more stimulating. Flavonoids affect not only the taste and color of the plant but also have anti-inflammatory effects similar to aspirin. Atypical cannabinoids like beta-caryophyllene (a terpene) also have anti-inflammatory properties that can contribute to CBD’s overall effects.


There is no definitive evidence that full-spectrum CBD works for any specific condition, but anecdotal reports and current scientific research suggest that it may help manage:

Potential Benefits

Many believe that the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and hemp lie in the unique combination of various compounds in every plant. Phytocannabinoids (plant cannabinoids) work together and balance each other out, contributing to cannabis’ anti-inflammatory effects and tempering its negative effects. Full-spectrum CBD products benefit from the entourage effect.

Risks and Drawbacks

Although full-spectrum CBD products are not intoxicating in the way THC-rich products are, it may be possible to mistakenly purchase a full-spectrum CBD product that contains a percentage of THC higher than 0.3%. Even though hemp-based formulations tend to contain 0.3% THC or less, some products may have more than this due to inconsistencies in production. In rare instances, getting a psychoactive level of THC may be possible.

The more THC-containing CBD oil you administer daily, the more THC builds up, even if it’s extremely low at 0.3%. For example, a 60 ml bottle of full-spectrum CBD oil can contain up to 18 mg of THC. Although it is unlikely that you will consume a whole bottle in one sitting, using a few milliliters of full-spectrum CBD oil several times a day can still mean consuming more THC than you intend. Regular consumption over time also means that you may fail a drug test, even if you never got “high” from the THC.

This buildup of THC can also cause other potential problems, especially for those sensitive to the cannabinoid. Those who have epilepsy, for example, may need a highly purified form of CBD to prevent the THC from potentially counteracting CBD’s anti-seizure properties and/or causing aftereffects like post-seizure oxygen deprivation.

It is worth noting that the biphasic effects of THC may give it both anti-convulsant and pro-convulsant effects, so for many, the risks associated with it may be best avoided. On the other hand, some people may require a little THC to get the effects they need. However, full-spectrum hemp-based CBD oils may not be ideal for this purpose, and a medical marijuana card may be required to access the high-quality, CBD-rich cannabis products you need.

What Is CBD Isolate?

CBD isolate is a purified form of cannabidiol with no other compounds from the cannabis plant. It is usually 99%+ pure CBD and can be bought in its crystalline solid or powdered form. CBD-only products made using CBD isolate, such as oil-based tinctures, edibles, drinkables, and topicals, are also available. 

How It Works

We have described how CBD works above. CBD isolate does not have to contend with or work with other plant compounds; there could be several differences in pharmacokinetics. However, to what extent CBD’s mechanism of action changes when taken with or without other cannabis plant compounds is not precisely known.


CBD isolate may be helpful for many of the same health concerns full-spectrum CBD may be beneficial for, such as chronic pain, stress, and anxiety.

Epidiolex, a purified form of cannabis-derived CBD suspended in an oral solution, is prescribed for forms of epilepsy like Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex. Epidiolex contains a very high level of CBD required for its sedative properties, and it is not usually considered a CBD isolate product.

Potential Benefits

The big benefit of CBD isolates is that you are extremely unlikely to test positive for THC in a drug test. Those working in federal employment or highly sensitive to THC may prefer a CBD isolate product.

CBD isolate also has no distinctive smell or taste, so it is ideal for cooking.

Risks and Drawbacks

The main drawback of CBD isolate is that you cannot take advantage of the entourage effect, and it is suggested that the combination of the various compounds in cannabis boosts CBD’s therapeutic properties.

Another drawback is that higher doses of CBD isolate may be required for therapeutic effects compared to full-spectrum CBD. This can also increase the chances of negative side effects, such as dry mouth, GI upset, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue.

Similarities and Differences Between Full-Spectrum CBD and CBD Isolate

Both full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate contain cannabidiol, but that is where the similarities end. It is best to think of the two as different products, as the presence of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in full-spectrum products significantly changes CBD’s pharmacology.

How to Decide Which Is Best For You

There are pluses and minuses to both full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate. In general, full-spectrum CBD is considered to have greater therapeutic effects, but there are some scenarios where pure CBD may be ideal.

When to Use Full-Spectrum CBD

As full-spectrum CBD contains many different cannabis compounds, it is thought to have greater therapeutic benefits. Full-spectrum CBD may be a better choice for chronic pain management and insomnia.

When to Use CBD Isolate

CBD isolate is best used if you are particularly sensitive to THC or have to avoid THC due to your job.

You may prefer to use both CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD. For example, low doses of CBD isolate during the day for its stimulating and anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) effects and myrcene-rich, full-spectrum CBD at night for its more sedative effects.

The Bottom Line

Both CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD have their place in cannabis. Even though full-spectrum CBD is believed to have a greater therapeutic effect, there are some instances where CBD isolate is useful. This could be said of any purified cannabinoid from the psychoactive cannabis or hemp plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does full-spectrum mean?

A product claiming to be “full spectrum” is a product that contains low levels of THC (no more than 0.3% in the U.S.), other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids from the cannabis plant. Legal, full-spectrum CBD is extracted from hemp plants.

Which is better: CBD isolate or full spectrum?

Although there is no “better” option, it is arguable that a full-spectrum CBD product is more effective as an anti-inflammatory due to the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Is CBD isolate stronger?

It is thought that larger doses of CBD isolate are needed for therapeutic effects compared to full-spectrum CBD, but there is no definitive evidence that this is the case. The entourage effect suggests that the synergy between various cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids in cannabis boosts the effects of CBD. This would mean that full-spectrum CBD is stronger than CBD isolate.

However, a purified substance can differ from a full-spectrum, botanical preparation. Purified CBD may have stronger effects on the human body, as there are no other compounds to balance out its effects. However, as CBD tends to have no intoxicating effect, it can be difficult to say which is stronger and at what dosage.


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