Full Spectrum CBD vs CBD Isolate: Which Should You Choose?

For most people, the science behind cannabis is pretty confusing.

The precise ways cannabinoids like CBD interact with a human organism are complex and multifaceted, and choosing a CBD product through an educated decision can’t be considered simple.

The sole purpose of this article is to acquaint you with all the important information related to full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and CBD isolate products.

We’ll be looking at several scientific studies that help explain the differences between these formulations.

What’s important to note from the start is that there is no correct answer here, and each of these blends has its strengths and weaknesses.

There are only two essential aspects to consider when choosing a CBD product:

  1. The synergic cooperation of various chemical compounds from hemp/cannabis, known as the “entourage effect
  2. The bell-shaped response curve of isolated CBD

The entourage effect

Even though the entourage effect still isn’t wholeheartedly accepted by the scientific community,  a few studies have made some very convincing points that directly corroborate the existence of this chemical cooperative effort.

In the last century or so pharmacology has generally been focusing on isolating crucial compounds from plants, and creating single-molecule formulations which target specific mechanisms in the body.

The entourage effect proposes that if we consume all of the compounds a cannabis plant has to offer, we are maximizing the therapeutic potential, and of course vice versa – if we consume single compounds such as isolated CBD, we are limiting the therapeutic potential.

Let’s check out some of the scientific works that deal with this correlation.

This perspective article from 2019 (1) was published in the Frontiers in Plant Science, and written by Dr. Ethan Russo, a world-renowned cannabis expert.

Russo is adamant that single-molecule synthesis (like isolating CBD molecules) is not the proper way of utilizing the powers of cannabis.

He suggests that the pharmacological contributions of minor cannabinoids and terpenoids greatly assist in the overall beneficial effects of cannabis.

Here’s a direct quote from the study:

“The case for Cannabis synergy via the “entourage effect” is currently sufficiently strong as to suggest that one molecule is unlikely to match the therapeutic potential of Cannabis itself as a phytochemical factory.”

A preclinical research from 2018 (2) was looking into the difference of effects between  single-molecule treatments (with isolated THC), and botanical cannabis drug preparations (full-spectrum), on different types of breast cancer.

The research reported that the majority of previously conducted studies were performed with isolated compounds (primarily THC), but stated that:

“The cannabis plant, however, produces hundreds of other compounds with their own therapeutic potential and the capability to induce synergic responses when combined, the so-called entourage effect.”

The results showed that standardized cannabis preparations (full-spectrum) offered better antitumor effects compared to isolated compounds.

The researchers concluded that full spectrum cannabis preparations (rather than isolated molecules) should be implemented for managing different models of breast cancer.

The bell-shaped dose-response curve

The bell-shaped dose-response curve (also known as the inverted “U” dose-response curve) is a pharmacological trait of isolated CBD.

It basically implies that when using a purified CBD product (without any other cannabis constituents), the overall beneficiality of the CBD treatment greatly depends on the dose.

This implies that if a user consumes too much (or too little) of isolated CBD, the therapeutic effectiveness is going to be diminished.

This animal study from 2015 (3), published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacy deals with this negative characteristic of isolated CBD.

The researchers have compared the effects of the purified CBD with a standardized full-spectrum plant formulation (extracted from a high-CBD/low-THC strain Avidekel, called clone 202 in the study).

Here are several conclusions from the scientists behind the research:

“When given [isolated CBD] either intraperitoneally or orally as a purified product, a bell-shaped dose-response was observed, which limits its clinical use.”

“In stark contrast to purified CBD, the clone 202 extract, when given either intraperitoneally (IP) or orally, provided a clear correlation between the anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive responses and the dose, with increasing responses upon increasing doses, which makes this plant medicine ideal for clinical uses.”

The researchers have also noted the potential beneficiality of other compounds (minor cannabinoids and terpenes) being present in the Avidekel strain, noting:

“It is likely that other components in the extract synergize with CBD to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory action that may contribute to overcoming the bell-shaped dose-response of purified CBD.”

A brand new double-blind human study from 2019 (4) was observing if CBD’s anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects also follow a dose-dependant bell-shaped response curves.

The 57 male volunteers were given either:

  • 150 mg of isolated CBD
  • 300 mg of isolated CBD
  • 600 mg of isolated CBD
  • Placebo (no CBD)

The volunteers were performing a standardized simulated public speaking test (SPST), which is a well-tested method specifically designed to induce anxiety.

The results confirmed that a bell-shaped dose-response curve also occurs in humans, showing that a 300mg dose of CBD greatly diminished anxiety during the simulated speaking test, while the placebo, 150 mg and 600 mg of CBD produced no significant changes.

The researchers concluded:

“Our findings confirm the anxiolytic-like properties of CBD, and are consonant with results of animal studies describing bell-shaped dose-response curves.

Optimal therapeutic doses of CBD should be rigorously determined so that research findings can be adequately translated into clinical practice.”

As you can see, there are direct indications that the compounds from both hemp and cannabis function in cohort, increasing their overall effectiveness through the synergical cooperation known as the entourage effect.

Also, evidence suggests that isolated CBD molecules are therapeutically effective only if the dose is precisely determined (the bell-shaped response curve), unlike when CBD is consumed with other cannabis/hemp constituents (full-spectrum), where the beneficiality is present at any given dosage.

Let’s now check out the three main commercially available variants of CBD products, and their distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

CBD isolate

Cannabidiol isolates contain (as the name suggests) just CBD molecules.

The purity of these products is usually 99% CBD, and the main advantage of these products is that they cannot be responsible for a failed drug test, as they contain absolutely no THC.

An FDA-approved medication for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (forms of epilepsy) called Epidiolex is a well-known form of a CBD isolate.

The main negative aspect of CBD isolates is as they contain no other compounds from cannabis/hemp (other cannabinoids and terpenes), they are unable to induce the synergical cooperation known as the entourage effect.

Another flaw of these products is that isolated CBD possesses a bell-shaped response curve.

Full spectrum CBD

Full spectrum CBD products can be considered as the best possible option, as they contain all of the compounds a hemp/cannabis plant has to offer.

This means that the entourage effect is in full swing, and also that there is no bell-shaped response curve, which means that every dose of full-spectrum CBD (no matter how large or small) has it own beneficiality.

The greatest weakness of full spectrum products is that there is a slight probability of failing a drug test.

Products from reputable CBD producers contain a maximum of 0.3% THC in their products, which is extremely miniscule, and completely non-intoxicating.

The possibility of failing a drug test can only occur if a user consumes very large quantities of full spectrum CBD over extended periods of time.

Broad spectrum CBD

Broad spectrum products are quality-wise somewhere in between isolated and full spectrum CBD products.

They contain numerous other compounds other than CBD (minor cannabinoids and terpenes), but what makes them unique is that THC is chemically separated from the formulation.

This essentially means that broad spectrum products have a diminished entourage effect (because they lack THC), but are 100% safe as far as drug testing goes.

In regards to the bell-shaped response curve, broad spectrum CBD products are superior to CBD isolates, but inferior compared to full spectrum formulations.

References

  1. Ethan B. Russo; The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain; 2019 Jan
  2. Sandra Blasco-Benito, Marta Seijo-Vila, Miriam Caro-Villalobos, Isabel Tundidor, Clara Andradas, Elena García-Taboada, Jeff Wade, Stewart Smith, Manuel Guzman, Eduardo Pérez-Gómez, Mara Gordon, Cristina Sanchez; Appraising the “entourage effect”: Antitumor action of a pure cannabinoid versus a botanical drug preparation in preclinical models of breast cancer; November 2018, Pages 285-293
  3. Ruth Gallily, Zhannah Yekhtin, Lumir Hanus; Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol; January 2015
  4. Linares IM, Zuardi AW,2, Pereira LC, Queiroz RH, Mechoulam R, Guimarães FS, Crippa JA; Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test; 2019 Jan-Feb
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