Is Full Spectrum CBD Better than CBD Isolate
Oh...we've been waiting to write on this.
There is so much misinformation out there on the subject.
Best case, just a lack of it!
People (and brands) tend to repeat what they've heard.
We want research.
Everything we do is based on actual NIH research.
So let's have at it.
We'll see if we can track down those "studies show" results that dozens of brands use to sing the praise of full spectrum CBD.
Look...we have read 100's of NIH studies on CBD, endocannabinoids, cannabinoids, and almost every facet of how they work in the brain in body.
You know what we haven't read yet?
Studies that back up the entourage effect (aside from a very specific vein which we'll discuss).
It goes deeper than that and we'll get into ALL of it.
No stone left unturned.
Finally, we can put this one to rest.
You can check out any section here:
- What is CBD Isolate
- What is Full Spectrum CBD
- Is full spectrum CBD better than CBD Isolate
- What is the entourage effect
- Is the entourage effect real
- What else is in hemp oil besides CBD
- What research has to say about CBD Isolate versus Full Spectrum CBD
- Which kind of CBD is better for allergy or histamine issues
Let's start with the basics.
What is CBD Isolate
CBD Isolate is just CBD by itself.
In this form, it's usually a white crystalline substance like sugar or salt.
It is odorless, tasteless, and doesn't break down easily or quickly.
This CBD Isolate is usually added to a base oil:
- MCT or Coconut (MCT is just an extract of coconut oil)
- Hemp oil
- Olive oil
Any smell or taste will come from the underlying oil.
Almost 99% of the research out there on the benefits of CBD are based on CBD Isolate.
We'll get into the 1% later.
Just know that CBD Isolate is researched. We can't speak for the full spectrum.
So what is full spectrum?
What is Full Spectrum CBD
Full spectrum is just a fancy way to say hemp oil.
It's generally made by extracting hemp oil and adding back in CBD Isolate.
The big selling point of full spectrum is that you have all the other plant material in there.
It's sold as a bit of alchemy in that these other substances either affect how each other is processed (call the entourage effect) or have their own positive effects.
We'll deal with the whole histamine response to all this plant material below but first, what about all those other substances?
Besides CBD, full spectrum is generally marketed as having the following:
- Other cananbinoids (CBG, CBN, CBC, etc)
- Fatty acids
- Can have up .3% THC
It makes for a great story.
The whole plant goodness working together for your health.
So what's the story?
Is Full Spectrum better than CBD Isolate or is that just great marketing?
Is full spectrum CBD better than CBD Isolate
Apples and apples, for full spectrum to be better than CBD Isolate, the other substances in the plant would have to:
- Have positive effects according to research (without corresponding negatives like THC)
- Have sufficient quantities to elicit an effect
- Work to enhance the function of the other substances in the plant
The first two are pretty easy to research.
Any brand worth looking at has the cannabinoid, terpenes, and sometimes flavanoids listed on their 3rd party testing.
We'll use one of the biggest brands as an example.
We'll break out cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids below since those are the main substances pointed to for full spectrum's benefits.
Let's first tackle the third item since it's become a catchphrase of the CBD industry.
The so called "Entourage Effect".
What is the entourage effect
Just Do It. I'm Lovin' It. Can You Hear Me Now.
We have to put Entourage Effect right up there with some of the catchiest slogans around.
It captures a concept with just a dash of pop culture reference.
It was originally given to this concept by the godfather of cannabis research but a swirl of pop culture adoption doesn't hurt.
It refers to the original HBO show, the entourage effect.
Basically, 4 pretty weak characters by themselves who somehow pull off a show when they're combined.
The sum is greater than the parts.
Every CBD brand out there will eventually fall back on this term.
"Well yes, but did you see our entourage effect??"
With CBD, they mean that all those plant materials above will work better together.
They will augment or enhance the other substances including CBD for a fuller effect.
That's the entourage effect in a nutshell.
But is it real?
Is the CBD entourage effect real
Let's get our hands dirty now.
What does research say?
There's a great deal of research on THC versus the plant itself as a manifestation of this entourage effect.
The issue is that the research shows that CBD counters many of the negatives of THC (anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, addiction, etc).
In fact, CBD has almost an opposite effect on the brain from that of THC.
So when they talk about entourage effect, they mean that CBD helps to mitigate and even block some of the negative effects of THC.
It literally blocks its metabolism in the liver.
There's a whole range of NIH research on these effects but it's an argument for CBD, not THC. Definitely not the entourage effect.
Keep in mind that the only way to get the extensively studied benefits of CBD was via cannabis (full plant) until recently.
CBD and THC have both been extensively studied down to specific pathways in the body.
We can write this aspect of the entourage effect off because CBD by itself does not have the side effects of THC (see Do you need THC to activate CBD or THC versus CBD).
There's a great NIH review of the different studies here:
If you read through this, 3 things become apparent:
- CBD helps to offset psychoactive effects of THC (which isn't really present in legal market CBD products anyway)
- Each cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid has been studied by themselves
- No specific studies point to these various chemicals working together (besides the CBD offset of THC...less of an additive benefit than the removal of a negative)
Most importantly, read down below under heading "Selected possibilities for phytocannabinoid-terpenoid synergy"
There's one CBD or THC reference after another with effects from other hemp-derived substances having similar effects when studied by THEMSELVES!
At the end of each paragraph, there's a "might be", "could offer", "should be studied", etc if you combined the two.
It isn't to say that these substances by themselves don't have positive attributes.
It's just that if both substances (especially cannabinoids) use the same CB2 receptors, they would likely cannibalize the signaling in that system.
THC uses the CB1 receptors but there are negatives and it's not legal Federally or available in full spectrum CBD (beyond .3%).
There are studies comparing cannabis versus components but most of the effects are to THC and again...maybe a vehicle for CBD:
The majority of patients used cannabidiol (CBD)-enriched artisanal formulas
THC does have specific effects within the body beyond the "high". All the cannabinoids do.
That doesn't speak to the entourage effect though.
There was one mouse study on pain which showed a positive effect to other cannabinoids versus just CBD after a specific dosage amount and time.
Again, the 2nd largest constituent is THC so we can't separate that from full spectrum CBD.
THC has known effects on pain and sleep. It also has known negative effects in terms of anxiety, addiction, and other negatives.
We need to look at the whole picture.
Either way, this does not support full spectrum unless you're talking about cannabis.
That study is here:
Look, if you really want to understand why we're talking about CBD full spectrum and not CBC full spectrum or CBN full spectrum or CBG full spectrum (the three other big cannanabinoids aside from THC), just look at this chart.
Look at the wide range of pathways that CBD interacts with versus the other three.
In fact, they each have a subset of what CBD does.
This means that the different cannabinoids (aside from THC and CBC in one channel) would cannibalize the same CB2 pathways.
This speaks to why CBN, CBD, and CBG have similar but narrow effects when compared to CBD.
You can't have an entourage effect if THC (Turtle??) is never on screen and Johnny Drama and E are never on screen together.
Sorry...we had to go there.
Scientific American has a pretty good write up on the whole question of the entourage effect here:
It speaks to the same issue that this term generally refers to CBD's ability to calm the negatives of THC.
It has taken a life of its own behind terms like "seems to", "appears to", "studies show" and a host of highly non-descript language.
Keep in mind that some of these substances have negatives as well.
This all assumes that we even have levels that matter!
Let's look at that piece next.
Levels of cannabinoids and other substance when comparing full spectrum and Isolate
These substances can have good benefits. They can also have negative effects as well.
We'll get into that but here's where's it's misleading.
THC and CBD are the two largest cannabinoids in industrial hemp BY FAR.
For example, I'm looking at the 3rd party-tested full spectrum results of arguably the largest CBD brand on the market:
- CBD makes up over 4 mg/ml by weight
- CBDA makes up about the same (CBDA is just an unactivated form of CBD)
So over 8 mg per ml of liquid in the bottle.
What's the total level of cannabinoids per ml?
So 95% of the "cannabinoids are CBD".
The others range from .04's to just over 2 (which happens to be THC).
THC has its own issues especially for the 24-36% of the population that's allergic to it.
Check out the Do you need THC to activate CBD article for more insight there.
So, even if these other cannabinoids had great properties, we're not really getting enough to matter.
As it is, that very popular brand and bottle of "full spectrum" CBD has at best 300 mg of cannabinoids!
An NIH study showed that the range needs to be over .05% to even matter!
Maybe more importantly (and frustratingly), the levels in these big brands can be irrelevant.
If you've read anything on this site or at www.howcbdworks.net, you'll see that most of the research is based on 300-600 mg of CBD (isolate).
Even wellness dosages are 25-30 mg.
You would need 3 droppers of this very popular (1000's sold daily) full spectrum to even get there!
I hope you like your oil.
You're going to need a lot of it to get to 160 mg (sleep research).
That's 20 droppers. You'll go through a bottle in a day and half.
What about the Terpenes?
Terpenes are chemicals that give scents to plants and fruit.
Terpenes can also have positives in the body.
Again, their levels are measured in parts per million!
Same thing goes for flavonoids which we're actually big fans of (see quercetin for example).
Again, such small numbers in full spectrum that you're better off eating a carrot or fruit.
We actually don't want these substances at too high a level or they can be toxic.
As for research specifying flavonoid and terpene's ability to enhance CBD's effect?
Nothing we can find.
We welcome anyone to point us to something we're missing.
Now, let's talk about a big issue that none of the purveyors of full spectrum seem to mention.
CBD Isolate versus Full Spectrum for Histamines!
Which kind of CBD is better for allergy or histamine issues
If you have ever tried CBD and had a bad reaction (increased anxiety, gut issues, allergic reactions, hives, etc)....read on!
We have seen countless people try full spectrum CBD and have a bad reaction to it.
In fact, we believe a lot of the "side effects" are due to this mechanism.
First, a lay of the land.
Roughly 40% of the US population has allergy or histamine issues.
That number goes up for women and even higher if over age 40.
See CBD and Histamines to understand why.
There are numerous articles on how CBD Isolate calms the histamine and allergic response.
All that plant material in Full Spectrum CBD does not get the same pass!
You have 100's of potential allergens in hemp oil naturally.
Heck, some of the terpenes, flavonoids, and even cannabinoids act as natural pesticides!
Histamine release is a kind of inflammation in the body and brain.
It also helps to modulate very important neurotransmitters in the brain.
That's why we focus on CBD Isolate!
Everything we do is for a reason. Based on research.
Look...Full Spectrum is actually cheaper and easier to produce.
We could offer it tomorrow and charge the same amount (since we're already lower than the full spectrum out there) but we know first hand that many people will have bad reactions to the plant material.
Much more than an offset to any positives of the so-called "entourage effect" if it ever bears out in research.
We already have ZERO THC because we don't like the negatives there and 75% of people with histamine issues are allergic to THC (anxiety, greening out, etc).
We'll keep our eyes on new research and if we see something that points the other way, we'll move that direction.