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Full Spectrum or Isolate: Which is Better?

Understanding Types of CBD:

full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate

CBD products currently on the market are generally categorized into three distinct extraction types, each with a different chemical profile. The key difference among these extraction types is the “purity” of the CBD found in them.

  • Full Spectrum extraction provides all the beneficial terpenes, cannabinoids, and essential oils found in the industrial hemp plant. The physiologic effects of any given cannabinoid or terpene may change in the presence of other compounds, producing stronger effects – this phenomenon is known as the “entourage effect,” which we will explain in more detail later.

  • Broad Spectrum extraction leaves all the beneficial terpenes, cannabinoids, and essential oils found in the industrial hemp plant – but with no THC. THC is legal in CBD products under 0.3% concentration, but for those who are worried about THC, or already know that particular cannabinoid does not give them the desired effect, Broad Spectrum is a great choice.

  • CBD Isolate is CBD in its purest form. This extraction method removes all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils of the hemp plant, leaving behind 99% pure CBD. This is a great option for those curious to see what effect CBD alone causes.

The Benefits of Full Spectrum

Modern pharmaceuticals are considered (by western medicine) to be more effective than botanical therapies because they are “pure” single-molecule compounds. That idea has been challenged with the utilization of CBD in a 2015 animal study that compared pure CBD isolate to a cannabis extract and found that other components in the extract worked with CBD to promote a stronger anti-inflammatory response than that found in CBD Isolate experiments.

This study highlighted a bell-shaped dose-response curve found in isolate applications - which meant that once the amount of CBD exceeded a certain dosage amount, its therapeutic impact would decline.

The intent of the study was to discover whether or not the utilization of a whole plant CBD extract, like Full or Broad Spectrum, would also create these results. The extract they used had very little THC, so it would not cause a “high.”

The researchers gave pure CBD to one group of mice and administered this full extract to another group while assessing the response. The pure CBD group exhibited the same bell-shaped dose-response curve, but a different pattern made itself apparent in the mice that were administered the full spectrum extract. They found that with each dose, the anti-inflammatory response increased, overcoming the bell-shaped curve. Furthermore, these researchers found that even though the extract had a smaller amount of CBD than the isolate, the extract produced a stronger anti-inflammatory response. When an “overdose” of the extract was administered, instead of the therapeutic benefits tapering off into a bell curve, they simply plateaued.

The researchers attributed these results to the entourage effect – the synergistic interactions between CBD and the other botanical chemical compounds present in the plant. This means that when multiple botanical compounds are present in a dose, they interact with each other, and the body, to exert stronger or more varied effects. The entourage effect is also thought to promote better balance and protect against too much of any given effect.

The Benefits of CBD Isolate

The results of this single study do not mean that CBD Isolate is inferior to Full or Broad Spectrum forumations. The same researchers compared both extraction types to over-the-counter painkillers and commercial anti-inflammatory drugs – and found that both extraction types had greater efficacy than aspirin.  

There are also a couple other benefits that may have you reaching for a CBD Isolate product instead of a Full or Broad Spectrum formulation.

CBD Isolate has no THC whatsoever. If you are looking to avoid THC for any reason, Isolate is going to be your best choice. Keep in mind, however, that all legal CBD products contain the federally mandated minimum 0.3% of THC. This amount of THC makes it extremely unlikely for THC to show up on a drug test – and there is no chance of it causing a “high.” If you’ve taken products with THC and know that it does not give you the effect you’re looking for, CBD Isolate is a good choice for you.

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The greatest benefit to taking CBD Isolate over Full or Broad Spectrum extracts is the ease with which you can figure out dosage amounts. Full and Broad Spectrum have different results depending on the strain of cannabis used to make the extract, dosage amount, and individual. CBD Isolate is a pure CBD product, so measuring the dosage down to milligrams gives you the exact amount of CBD you need. For example, in a 1:1 isolate, every one milligram of CBD powder (or milliliter of oil) ingested provides one milligram of CBD. If it is a 1:2 ratio, then one ml would provide 2mg of CBD.

CBD Isolate requires a personalized approach to therapeutic management. Dosage amounts vary between things like body weight, liver function, genetic ability, intended benefit, health status, etc. Start with a low dose and keep track of your symptoms. If you feel you need to, increase the dosage amount after three days or so and record those effects.

Whichever extract you use, you are going to need to research how CBD affects you through a slow and intentional process of dosing and recording your reactions. This may seem a little daunting, but CBD has few recorded side effects and is very forgiving to experimentation. Start with a small dose and work your way up to the best dosage amount that suits you. Always consult with your physician before starting any new therapy to make sure it’s the best choice for your treatment plan.

Read more about CBD with our CBD 101 Guide, and if you decide to incorporate CBD into your daily life, choose Well Theory for safe, surgeon-designed, and 3rd party-tested CBD products!


Dr. Meredith Warner is the creator of Well Theory and The Healing Sole. She is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Air Force Veteran.

She is on a mission to disrupt traditional medicine practices and promote betterment physically, spiritually and mentally to many more people. She advocates for wellness and functional health over big pharma so more people can age vibrantly with more function and less pain.

At Well Theory, Our surgeon-designed products are FDA Registered and formulated to help people:

  • Manage the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain
  • Recover vibrantly from orthopedic related surgeries
  • Fill the gaps in our daily diets
  • Manage pain associated with inflammation

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