Comparing Cannabis Extracts: Isolate vs. Full Spectrum

Jamie Hadfield

Written by Jamie Hadfield

The world of hemp extracts can get confusing. Terms like “cannabinoid,” “cannabidiol,” “terpenes,” and “hemp oil” get thrown around, often used as misnomers in the hemp Industry’s quest for marketing perfection. Two especially prevalent terms used to describe hemp extracts are isolate and full spectrum.

At Legends Health we believe that those who take CBD deserve to understand the full extent of its health benefits. When a person is educated, they also become empowered to appreciate the process of selecting and taking a hemp product.

In the case of this article, we’ve made it our mission to educate you about the benefits of isolated and full spectrum extracts - and the subtle but important differences between them.

First, though, keep in mind that CBD Isolate and full spectrum extracts (sometimes called PCR, or phytocannabinoid-rich, extracts) are not as different as you might believe.

The marketing surrounding these two types of extracts can get more than a little dualistic, but both types contain Cannabidiol as their main ingredient. Both are extracted primarily from the mature flowering tops of the hemp plant. Both extracts also benefit the Endocannabinoid System and interact strongly with its endogenous receptors.

In the current market, there’s a wonderful and critical role for both kinds of hemp products. Some people prefer full spectrum, and others prefer CBD isolate!

For example, those in the military, or those who undergo frequent drug tests for work, often choose to take CBD isolate because it doesn’t usually result in positive drug screenings.

Full spectrum extracts, on the other hand, sometimes trigger what are known as ‘false positives’, because initial tests use antibodies that do not always differentiate between THC and CBD. This is rare, but it can happen, and illustrates one area where CBD’s medical backing has not yet caught up to its legal status. In other cases, full spectrum extracts may contain more THC than they should, which also leads to positive test results.

From a chemical perspective, there are more similarities between the two types of hemp extracts. The CBD molecule present in CBD isolate has the same qualities as the CBD molecule present in full spectrum hemp. It has the same atomic weight, the same chemical properties, and the same health effects - with one possible exception.

A CBD molecule stripped of its fat-soluble covering, as seen with CBD isolate, may be perceived by the body as different than a CBD molecule that has its original structure intact. More research needs to be done in this area of science, which is called stereochemistry, before anyone can really say for sure.

That’s not the only difference, though. Full spectrum extracts contain several important classes of other plant compounds not found in CBD isolate. Compare their respective makeups below:

CBD Isolate:
Cannabidiol (CBD) (98%+)

Full Spectrum Extract:
Cannabidiol (CBD) (90%+)
THC, CBG, etc (~5%)
Terpenes (trace)
Flavonoids (trace)
Chalcones (trace)

As you can see, full spectrum extracts contain a pretty diverse set of plant compounds. In addition to CBD, there’s also a small percentage of hundreds of other cannabinoids: THC, CBG, CBN, CBDa, THCa, THCV, etc. These are sometimes referred to as trace cannabinoids.

That’s not all. In addition to its cannabinoids, full spectrum CBD contains small amounts of terpenes, volatile aromatic molecules that give the cannabis plant family its unique smell. Terpenes can be thought of almost like essential oils, and each terpene - pinene, myrcene, and limonene are often most common in hemp - carries with it unique health benefits.

Hemp also contains hundreds of other terpenes, making it an interesting example of a plant that contains the scent elements found in most other plants. Not to get too confusing, but cannabinoids are actually terpenes, too, subclassified as they are because of their especially strong effects on the Endocannabinoid System!

The significance of these trace ingredients is still being studied, and it will likely be many years before science can elucidate all of them, let alone their collective, synergistic effects.

For now, though, we do know that the unique blend of compounds found in hemp is there for a reason: the synergistic effects of the blend is actually greater than the sum of its parts. In this case, 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 doesn’t equal 4; it equals 10.

Scientists call this synergy the ‘entourage effect’. It’s the same reason that broccoli is superior to vitamin C, and fresh fish is superior to fish oil - or a similar concept, at least. As usual, nature knows best!

Pharmacologically, there are a few implications to all this. 10 mg of full spectrum goes farther than 10 mg of CBD isolate, and 100 mg of full spectrum extract will have little to no side effects, whereas 100 mg of isolate may cause mild side effects, like drowsiness or dry mouth.

Compared to CBD isolate, full spectrum hemp is easier to dose right and easier to tolerate at high doses. A 2015 Israeli study concluded that the dose-response curve for CBD isolate is bell shaped, meaning it’s easier to ‘overshoot’, while the curve for full spectrum hemp is more linear and continues to go up as dosing is increased. In the medical world, that’s a win-win.

In addition to full spectrum and CBD isolate, there’s a third type of hemp extract that you may have also heard of. Called nano-emulsified CBD, or sometimes just ‘nano CBD’, this type of extract promises high bioavailability and faster onset times.

The premise behind nanoemulsification is that it takes the CBD molecule, which is pretty big as far as molecules go, and breaks it down into smaller pieces. These pieces can then be absorbed by the body more quickly, thanks to their size, and more efficiently, thanks to their higher surface area, than conventional CBD can.

That’s the theory, at least. The scientific backing, however, is less than clear. Some researchers say that while nanoemulsified CBD is indeed more readily absorbed into the bloodstream, its effects are also more transient. Others say that nanoemulsification is better for those who have fat absorption issues. More research is definitely needed in this area.

Nano CBD also has the somewhat cool advantage of being water soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. CBD is usually only fat soluble, so this is another significant benefit in the eyes of CBD companies and their consumers. If you’ve been wondering why CBD-infused drinks are trending, this is what makes it all possible!

Unfortunately, though, there are some potential downsides to the nanoemulsification process. Quality control is an issue, as some manufacturers use toxic chemicals to complete the process. Others might use these same unhealthy practices, but just not disclose them. Taste can also be an issue, and it’s probably a related one. Many companies store in a plastic bottles and CBD will adhere to the plastic. For these reasons, Legends currently does not carry a nano CBD product, but is actively searching for more holistic sourcing options!

All in all, a lot’s going on in the world of hemp extracts. As the CBD Industry continues to grow, it’s become easier than ever to find an option that works best for you. And, as we at Legends also continue our growth, we’re committed to providing you with the best quality and variety of extracts possible.


Jamie Hadfield is a RN, MBA with the help of Functional Medicine and Understanding the Endocannabinoid System was able to reverse 4 autoimmune diseases. She was in the pharmaceutical space and help put 15 different drugs on the market. She was a clinical educator at Yale and other top medical institution. Today, Jamie has created her own CBD line of products where she is anti-aging specialist and CBD educator. Legends Health Wellness and Performance is committed to helping other create contagious energy and freedom so they can live out their legacy of a happier healthier life. 


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