by Sarah Mann, MD

With all the CBD flooding the market, it is hard to know how to choose the product that is right for you. The first priority is safety, there are a lot of toxic and misleading products on the market. If you haven’t heard that yet, read my recent blog so you can protect yourself from these dangers. Once you have narrowed it down to reputable companies, which one to choose?!

What is the cannabis spectrum?

You will notice the word “full spectrum” promoted heavily in CBD marketing. Wondering which spectrum they are referring to? The cannabis plant is made up of cannabinoids and terpenes. There are hundreds of cannabinoids, but the most prominent and the most studied are THC and CBD. There is a growing body of evidence on CBC, CBG, CBN, THCA, THCV and CBDA. Which leaves hundreds that we are only aware of their existence. The terpenes are the molecules that you can smell. They have many of their own medicinal properties, and can enhance the medicinal effects of the cannabinoids. These terpenes have a lot to do with the large range in effects by different cannabis strains.

How do we get CBD out of a plant?

There are many methods of extraction. This article will use CO2 extraction as an example. It is the recommended use due to residual hydrocarbons (like propane) when it is used as a solvent. In Illinois, organic extraction like CO2 is the law. During this process, cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted from the plant. The resulting product will have a spectrum of terpenes and cannabinoids that depends on what was in the original strain and how it was extracted. Once that is done, the company can further refine it to select for certain components.

What is CBD Isolate?

Crystalized CBD isolate.

An isolate is the purest form of a compound. So CBD isolate is pure CBD without contamination of other cannabinoids or terpenes. It was originally believed that CBD isolate would be more effective than full spectrum CBD, but this was debunked in a 2005 Israeli study when patient had far greater relief with full spectrum CBD. Not only that, but when patients took a higher dose of full spectrum CBD they got more relief. CBD isolate provided the same relief even when the dose was increased.

What is Full Spectrum CBD?

Full spectrum CBD is an extract that contains all compounds found naturally occurring in the plant, including terpenes, essential oils, and other cannabinoids. These components work together to magnify the therapeutic benefit of each component, or the entourage effect.

What is Broad Spectrum CBD?

Broad spectrum CBD does preserve most of the cannabinoids and terpenes, but the THC is completely removed. Keep in mind if you are purchasing your product anywhere other than a dispensary, it is already <0.3% in order to be legal. There is still a component of the entourage effect occuring between the remaining cannabinoids and terpenes, but it should be noted that even these trace amounts of THC can help the CBD to work better. Some people will not get relief from CBD alone (and many others need more than 0.3% for relief. 

What Type of CBD Should You Use?

CBD isolate is best for 

  • Those who need very high doses of CBD. 
  • People with extreme cannabinoid sensitivities. 
  • People who can’t tolerate the terrible taste.
  • It is good for those that are very worried about a drug test. The truth is, a normal drug screen should not detect levels that low in a person, it would require forensic level analysis. Companies do not pay for that. But it isn’t impossible, so if you are very concerned about drug tests, then isolate or broad spectrum would be a good option. 
  • Enhancement of flower. 
    • you love the effect and terpene profile of Purple Haze, but respond better to a balanced strain, you can add the isolate powder
    • Your symptoms respond well to Durban Poison, but you get way too impaired and sedated. The addition of CBD to balance the strain with block the THC from getting you high without detracting from the medicine.
  • Patients with conditions that respond to CBD alone without THC. 

Full Spectrum CBD is best for:

  • People with conditions requiring the full spectrum of the cannabis plant
  • People who can tolerate the strong natural odor and taste (if it tastes good, it has extra additives)

Broad Spectrum CBD

  • Individuals with conditions that require at least some entourage effect but are opposed to consume THC
  • Those with very sensitive jobs that may do extremely expensive forensic level lab testing.
  • Patients with symptoms not relieved by CBD isolate.
  • People with extreme THC sensitivity
  • Those living in states with strict THC laws

There is no right or wrong type of CBD. There are innumerable genetic variations in both the plants and the patients. Different conditions will respond differently, even different people with the same condition may respond differently. In general, the full spectrum affords the most benefit due to the entourage effect, with the most number of components contributing. When very concerned about THC, broad spectrum is the best choice. CBD is less effective in isolation, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective for you. However, in practice, I find it most useful as an additive to balance a strain of THC dominant flower. You will have to try different variations to see what is the best. And remember, just because you want it to be the best, doesn’t mean it is the best. Just because you don’t want to need THC doesn’t mean it won’t be effective.