CBD isolate is the pure form of CBD (cannabidiol), while full-spectrum CBD is an extract containing other compounds of the cannabis plant.

People use CBD for a variety of health reasons, such as pain and anxiety. While more research could clarify their mechanisms of action, clinical trials demonstrate that CBD is as effective as SSRIs and benzodiazepines at treating stress and its manifestations (anxiety, depression, burnout, PTSD) and promoting cognition and long-term brain health.

This article aims to help demystify the differences between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD. We explain the differences and potential benefits of both forms, and end with tips to help you decide which is right for you.

CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD: What's the difference?

An infographic for an article on CBD isolate vs. full-spectrum CBD displaying the differences between 3 Types of CBD - CBD Isolate, Broad-Spectrum CBD, and Full-Spectrum CBD. The text reads: Full Spectrum: Whole Plant + Terpenes, flavonoids, waxes, and lipids. CBD, CBG, CBN, THC, + More. Broad-Spectrum: Whole Plant Minus THC + terpenes, flavonoids, waxes, and lipids. CBD Isolate: Only CBD

The difference between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD relates to the contents of each form.

A full-spectrum CBD product contains multiple cannabis plant extracts, including essential oils, terpenes, and other cannabinoids, such as cannabinol. This profile of compounds found in the plant is referred to as its phytochemical profile.

Full-spectrum CBD products also contain up to 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that produces the high. However, such a low amount is not strong enough to have significant psychoactive effects.

CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD. It contains no other cannabis plant compounds. It usually comes from hemp plants, which typically contain very low amounts of THC. CBD isolate is a crystal form of CBD, and it is often ground up and sold as a powder. It may also be called CBD crystals.

The CBD extraction process is no different for each of these products, which usually involves:

  • carbon dioxide extraction
  • steam distillation
  • solvent extraction
  • lipid extraction

However, CBD isolate is a much more refined product and undergoes additional processing.

CBD isolate: What is it?

CBD Isolate Oil with 3,000mg CBD isolate per bottle (Front)
My Supply Co.'s CBD isolate oil comes in two clinical-level doses: 1,500mg and 3,000mg.

CBD isolate refers to a CBD product that exclusively contains CBD. Because it doesn’t contain any other compounds from the hemp plant, it doesn’t appear on a THC drug test.

Unlike CBD isolate, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD contain a wide range of cannabinoids, terpenes and other naturally occurring compounds from the hemp plant that work synergistically to create the entourage effect, which suggests that consuming both CBD, THC, and other naturally occurring cannabinoids in unison has a greater effect than taking them separately. However, research is still determining to what extent this is true.

How is CBD isolate made?

Image of CBD isolate powder in a petri dish with CBD isolate oil for a guide to the difference between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD.

Distilling CBD exclusively from the hemp plant involves an intricate process that gives producers enhanced control over what is and isn’t in the finished product, THC for example. All CBD isolate extraction methods utilize solvents, such as ethanol and carbon dioxide, which strip the plant material of all compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, and more—except for cannabidiol. The resulting product is generally a crystallized form of CBD that can be crushed into a powder and added to products like gummies and oils.

Our Isolate CBD oil contains clinical levels of organic hemp-extracted CBD isolate suspended in MCT oil for maximum absorption. The CBD is 3rd-party lab-tested for purity.

Full-spectrum CBD: What is it?

Full-Spectrum CBD with 3,000mg full-spectrum CBD per bottle (Front)
My Supply Co.'s Full Spectrum CBD oil comes in two clinical-level doses: 1,500mg and 3,000mg.

Full-spectrum CBD is one of three main types of CBD and refers to products containing CBD alongside other active compounds found in the hemp plant, such as terpenes (a class of natural chemical compounds that contribute to the characteristic scents and flavours of many plants), flavonoids (natural substances found in plants with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties), and other cannabinoids, including THC.

Under Canadian law, CBD products derived from hemp plants can contain a maximum concentration of 0.3% THC by dry weight.

As opposed to other types of CBD, full-spectrum CBD's phytochemical profile contains a wide range of compounds that work together to create what’s known as the entourage effect. The entourage effect occurs when plant compounds work synergistically to enhance the main ingredient’s effects, which can include changes in mood, thoughts, and feelings, though more research into this mechanism is needed.

How is full-spectrum CBD made?

Photograph of a dropper full of full-spectrum CBD for an article on the differences between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD

Production methods for extracting compounds from the hemp plant to create a full-spectrum CBD product vary widely from one manufacturer to another. A growing trend in the industry is the use of solventless extraction (without chemical solvents), a method that’s been used for hundreds of years but has improved with modern technology, to preserve the plant's phytochemical profile.

Solventless extraction utilizes specific levels of heat and pressure to ensure the preservation of beneficial plant compounds while removing the risk of residual solvents in the finished batch.

Our Full Spectrum CBD oil contains clinical levels of organic hemp-extracted full-spectrum CBD suspended in MCT oil for maximum absorption. The CBD is 3rd-party lab-tested for purity.

CBD isolate benefits.

CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD. It may be a suitable product for first-time CBD users who wish to experiment with the potential health benefits of CBD on its own, without the effects of other cannabis compounds that may alter the experiment. CBD isolate is also refined, so it has no discernible taste or odor.

2015 animal study concludes that while CBD isolate may offer certain health benefits, the effects may be less notable than when using a full-spectrum CBD product. The researchers found a bell-shaped dose-response curve for CBD isolate's effects, but a linear dose-response for a high-CBD full-spectrum product. That means that CBD isolate’s effects against pain and inflammation may only occur within a specific dosage range. In contrast, the effects of full-spectrum products increase as the dosage does.

For this reason, people who wish to take high doses of CBD may prefer a CBD isolate. This is not necessarily a negative quality of CBD isolate. Some people may prefer a product without THC, or they might be sensitive to this substance.

As there is no THC, this substance should not show up in any drug tests. However, people should be careful when purchasing CBD products. Items with a THC-free label may still contain traces of the compound. Thoroughly reading packaging, labels, and third-party test results will help ensure a person gets all the information they need to avoid adverse effects.

Full-spectrum CBD benefits.

Because full-spectrum CBD contains all cannabis plant compounds, it may have a more potent effect than pure CBD. Research suggests that CBD’s health benefits may be more prominent when multiple compounds from the cannabis plant are present. This is what researchers call the entourage effect.

Full-spectrum CBD products contain some THC, but these are typically low quantities that sit at 0.3% or less THC. However, during the manufacturing process, THC levels can rise as the CBD converts into a concentrate. People should do their research and look up independent test results before purchasing a CBD product.

With a range of reported health benefits, uses for full-spectrum CBD include:

  • antianxiety
  • antidepressant
  • stress management
  • pain relief
  • anti-seizure
  • muscle spasm relief
  • treatment for psychotic disorders
  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • sleep
  • neuroprotection
  • anti-cancer

One 2018 study found that certain CBD compounds may also have neuroprotective effects.

Another 2018 study suggests that full-spectrum CBD is more effective for pain than CBD isolate because of the combined effects of CBD and THC.

A 2021 review of clinical studies on CBD for stress published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that there were 7 double-blind placebo-controlled studies on the effects of CBD for stress. All showed that CBD was effective in significantly reducing the stress response and its manifestations (anxiety, fear, depression, and burnout). Two clinical trials included a comparator (benzodiazepines and/or 5HT1A agonists), and both showed that the CBD effect was non-inferior to that of the pharmaceutical drugs.

Another advantage of full-spectrum CBD is that it is less processed and more natural than CBD isolate.

Broad-spectrum CBD benefits.

Broad-spectrum CBD is very similar to full-spectrum CBD in that it contains additional cannabis plant compounds.

Most broad-spectrum CBD products zero or trace amounts of THC, but there should be less than the 0.3% contained in full-spectrum products.

Like full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum products may have a higher likelihood of producing beneficial health effects than CBD isolate because of the entourage effect.

How much CBD to take depends on the phytochemical profile.

Photograph of colour-less CBD Isolate (Left) and golden Full-Spectrum CBD (Right)

On average, clinical studies show that 150mg - 300mg of CBD are ideal for managing stress and its manifestations (anxiety, depression, burnout, and PTSD). However, clinical literally also demonstrates that there's a difference between the efficacy and effects of CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD. This section examines the clinical literature for the most effective doses of each and their intended purpose.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, preclinical research by Gallily and colleagues observed a bell-shaped dose-response curve for the anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (pain from inflammation and injury) effects of CBD isolate, while a linear dose-response was noted for a full-spectrum high-CBD product.

In a 2021 study on CBD for stress and burnout, 300mg of CBD was sufficient for reducing emotional exhaustion and burnout symptoms among frontline health care professionals.

In 2022, researchers published results from a clinical trial indicating that a 4-week treatment with a high-CBD (full-spectrum) sublingual product effectively reduces moderate-to-severe anxiety. Patients experienced significant anxiety reduction within a week, with all achieving and maintaining treatment response by week 3; this is notably faster than conventional pharmacotherapy which can take up to 12 weeks. These findings confirm and expand on prior research.

Notably, treatment response was achieved with a much lower dose (~30 mg/day) in this trial compared to a previous one using a single CBD isolate (~300 mg/day). This difference might be linked to the "entourage effect," where the combined action of various compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids, can enhance the overall effects of cannabinoids when they work together synergistically.

A 2022 case study showed that pure CBD worked well for treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in childhood but stopped being effective during puberty, leading to increased hyperactivity and aggression. The solution was enriching pure CBD with a specific blend of calming terpenes, which significantly reduced aggressive behavior. Importantly, this improvement was achieved with significantly less CBD, less than half the amount used in pure CBD treatment (0.19 mg/bw vs. 0.48 mg/bw, respectively).

A meta-analysis published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology revealed that patients with refractory epilepsy needed lower average doses when treated with full-spectrum, high-CBD products compared to single extracted CBD isolates. Patients using CBD-rich extracts had a lower average dose (6.0 mg/kg/day) compared to those using purified CBD (25.3 mg/kg/day). For somebody weighing 70kg, that's 420mg of full-spectrum CBD vs. 1,771mg of CBD isolate.

Furthermore, single extracted CBD products were linked to more frequent reports of mild and severe side effects than full-spectrum, high-CBD products.

How much CBD should I take?

The short of it is, there isn't necessarily a "perfect dose," as it depends on a number of factors, like your concern, body chemistry, weight, and more.

Based off of the available data, it appears that benefits are greatest within the realm of 150 - 300mg of full-spectrum CBD, although in some cases it is as low as 30mg.

Our CBD Dosage Calculator is the perfect tool to help you find an introductory dose based off of your health goals, weight, and severity of concern where applicable. You can also refer to our CBD dosage guide to help you better understand how to find your ideal CBD dosage and what to expect from your CBD protocol.

What side effects can I expect from either?

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that CBD is generally safe and well-tolerated, but some studies note potential side effects, including:

  • changes in appetite and weight
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue

Furthermore, CBD isolate products are more likely to cause mild and severe side effects than full-spectrum CBD products.

It’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional before trying CBD. That’s especially important if you’re taking any medication, since CBD can interact with certain medications, including those that carry a grapefruit warning.

Studies also show that ingesting CBD products with high-fat meals can dramatically increase CBD concentration in your blood. This may increase your chances of experiencing either benefits or side effects.

While CBD is generally safe, it has the potential to interact with some medications. Refer to our guide to CBD's potential interactions and speak to a health care professional to figure out if it's right for you.

CBD isolate or full-spectrum CBD: Which should you pick?

Now that we've delved into the distinctions between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD, you might be wondering, "Which one should I choose?" The decision ultimately hinges on your specific needs and preferences.

Pros and cons of CBD isolate:

  • CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD available, containing only cannabidiol and nothing else from the cannabis plant.
  • It's an excellent choice for those who are new to CBD and want to experience its potential health benefits without the influence of other cannabis compounds.
  • However, you will likely have to take much higher levels of CBD isolate to get the same benefits from a lower dose of full-spectrum CBD.
  • It is also more difficult to dose with CBD isolate, as it only works within a specific dosage window.
  • Some people prefer CBD isolate because it has no discernible taste or odor, making it a versatile option for various applications.
  • However, some studies show that it is more likely to cause adverse effects than full-spectrum CBD.
  • If you are concerned about THC and potential drug testing, CBD isolate is a safe choice, as it does not contain any THC.

Pros and cons of full-spectrum CBD:

  • Full-spectrum CBD contains a wide range of cannabis plant compounds, including CBD, other cannabinoids, terpenes, and a small amount of THC (less than 0.3%).
  • Research suggests that full-spectrum CBD may offer a more potent effect due to the "entourage effect," where these compounds work together synergistically.
  • Dosing with full-spectrum products is as simple as increasing the dose for greater effects, whereas CBD takes more trial and error because it only works within a specific window.
  • It may be more beneficial for certain health conditions, such as pain management, muscle spasm relief, anti-anxiety, and antioxidant properties.
  • Full-spectrum CBD products are less processed and closer to the plant's natural state.

A few things to consider.

Ultimately, the choice between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD depends on your individual goals and concerns. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:

  1. Desired Effects: If you're seeking specific therapeutic effects and believe in the entourage effect, full-spectrum CBD may be the way to go. For general wellness and milder symptoms, CBD isolate might suffice.
  2. THC Sensitivity: If you are extremely sensitive to THC or need to avoid it entirely (e.g., due to drug testing requirements), CBD isolate is the safer choice.
  3. Taste and Odor: Some individuals find the taste and aroma of full-spectrum CBD products more appealing, while others prefer the neutral profile of CBD isolate.
  4. Regulations and Testing: Ensure that you purchase CBD products from reputable sources that provide third-party test results to confirm the product's composition and purity.
  5. Consultation with a Healthcare Professional: Before making your decision, it's always advisable to consult with a doctor or healthcare provider, especially if you have specific medical conditions or concerns.

In conclusion, both CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD have their advantages and are suitable for different situations. As more research unfolds, we may gain a clearer understanding of their respective benefits. Regardless of your choice, ensure you make an informed decision and prioritize product quality and safety. Your path to wellness is a personal journey, and your choice of CBD product should reflect your unique needs and goals.

How to use CBD.

It can be hard to find the right dose when using topical CBD products, but a good rule of thumb is to use about as much as you would with a non-CBD topical cream.

When taking an oil or gummy, always start with the lowest dose and work your way up. Edibles may take longer to kick in than other types of products, so wait a bit before you take more.

One week after starting CBD, reassess your symptoms. If you haven’t noticed much improvement, increase the dosage by about 5 mg per day. This should help you find the right dosage for you.

If you need more help figuring out CBD dosage, check out our CBD dosage guide.

The takeaway.

Research suggests the entourage effect may increase the effects of full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products.

However, more research is needed on the health benefits and effects of all three CBD types.

People may still want to try CBD isolate, especially if they want a product that is THC-free. However, unregulated CBD markets may mean that this substance is still present in trace amounts, even if labels claim their product is THC-free.

Both CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD products have their advantages. People should always carefully read labels before buying them and discuss using CBD with a doctor or healthcare provider.

CBD isolate vs. full-spectrum CBD FAQs.

  • What's the difference between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD?

    CBD isolate contains only pure CBD, while full-spectrum CBD includes multiple compounds from the cannabis plant, such as other cannabinoids and terpenes.

  • Which one is more effective for treating conditions like anxiety, depression, burnout, and PTSD?

    Clinical trials show that CBD is as effective as SSRIs and benzodiazepines at combating the effects of stress and its manifestations, including anxiety, depression, burnout, and PTSD. Full-spectrum CBD might have an advantage due to the entourage effect, but more research is needed.

  • Are there any psychoactive effects from full-spectrum CBD due to the presence of THC?

    Full-spectrum CBD contains up to 0.3% THC, which is not enough to produce significant psychoactive effects.

  • How is CBD isolate made, and is it suitable for first-time users?

    CBD isolate is a highly refined single-compound extract made by extracting pure CBD using some type of solvent. It's a good choice for first-time users due to its purity.

  • What are the potential side effects of CBD products?

    Possible side effects include changes in appetite, diarrhea, and fatigue. CBD isolate products may have a higher risk of side effects than full-spectrum CBD.

  • What are the benefits of full-spectrum CBD, and what is the entourage effect?

    Full-spectrum CBD may have more potent effects due to the entourage effect. It can be beneficial for various health conditions, including relieving mental health conditions, balancing inflammation, regulating the stress response, relieving inflammation, treating neurodegenerative disease, supporting a healthy gut microbiome, and more.

  • Is there a recommended dosage for CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD?

    Clinical studies suggest that 150-300mg of full-spectrum CBD is effective for managing stress and its manifestations. CBD isolate may require higher doses for similar effects. However, we suggest starting with 50mg of CBD per dose and working your way up. After a week, assess your symptoms, and adjust your dose accordingly.

  • Will CBD show up on drug tests?

    CBD isolate does not contain THC and should not show up on drug tests. However, full-spectrum products contain trace amounts of THC, so it's essential to read labels and test results.

  • What factors should I consider when choosing between CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD?

    Consider your desired effects, sensitivity to THC, and taste preferences. Full-spectrum CBD has a more earthy cannabis flavour, while pure CBD isolate is nearly devoid of either aroma or flavour.

  • How should I use CBD products, and what's the best approach for finding the right dosage?

    Start with a low dose, assess your symptoms after a week, and gradually increase it if needed. The dosage may vary based on the type of product and individual factors. It's important to monitor your symptoms and adjust accordingly.

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