Full Spectrum vs CBD vs Broad Spectrum: What's Best?

Here’s a quick break down of the popular CBD categories:

CBD Category CBD THC Other Cannabinoids
Full Spectrum
Broad Spectrum
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

First things first, many CBD companies do not follow the rules. They lie. That’s why we test all CBD products at two labs. Even if the CBD company gets the category right, many CBD products do not contain meaningful levels of the cannabinoids claimed.

So, what are these cannabinoids?

CBD

CBD or cannabidiol is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. You can find CBD in hemp--any strain of cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC. Hemp is federally legal and that means we can buy CBD products made from hemp. CBD does not have an intoxicating effect (no “high”). CBD is best known as a therapy that comes without the side effects of THC.

CBD Category CBD
Full Spectrum
Broad Spectrum
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

THC  

THC is the reason marijuana gets people “high” or impaired. THC is also found in hemp in low concentrations (under 0.3% THC). Some hemp products contain enough THC to cause side effects in sensitive individuals. THC may cause a failed drug test. However, THC has a lot of research behind it, and THC may add to CBD's medicinal benefits.

CBD Category THC
Full Spectrum
Broad Spectrum
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

Other cannabinoids

In addition to CBD and THC, there are over 100 other cannabinoids. My labs test for about a dozen, including CBDa, THCa, CBN, CBC, CBG, and more. The other cannabinoids have much less research on them but bring potential. For example, CBG is popular in the consumer market, but the research on its anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and pain relief properties is in its infancy stage. Recently, THCP was found to be 30 times more potent than THC. It's unknown if THCP will produce the same effects in humans as it did on lab rats. None of the other cannabinoids are backed up by hard science. We know that certain strains of cannabis produce additional medicinal effects. However, we don't know which cannabinoids are responsible for the added therapeutic effects. That brings us to the entourage effect.

CBD Category Other Cannabinoids
Full Spectrum
Broad Spectrum
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

Entourage effect

The entourage effect is what researchers refer to as the synergy of multiple nutrients found within the hemp plant that increases medicinal benefits, counters side effects, and maintains benefits at high doses. Researchers don't know exactly which cannabinoids or nutrients are responsible for increasing the therapeutic benefits of CBD. For example, seizure research shows that cannabis extracts can have increased benefits over the same dose of CBD or even the same ratio of CBD and THC. The strain of cannabis makes a difference. There have been reported cases of cannabis strains that reduce seizures but the patients lost all benefits when switching to another cannabis strain with similar CBD and THC potency. The entourage effect says: "certain cannabis strains may add or increase the medicinal benefits of CBD, but we don't know what cannabinoids, terpenes, or other nutrients found within the hemp plant are responsible for those benefits."

CBD Category Entourage Effect
Full Spectrum
Broad Spectrum
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

Jeremy’s take

There are pros and cons to each category. There’s no "best" category. It’s logical to believe full-spectrum extract is the best because it comes with CBD, THC, other cannabinoids, and other nutrients—the entourage effect. But full-spectrum is not the best choice for everyone. Everyone has a different response to cannabinoids. Some people have negative reactions to THC. Some people have bad reactions to certain cannabis strains and researchers don’t know why. I might feel best from a low-dose of CBD isolate and you might require a high dose of full-spectrum extract to feel anything at all. What product suits you is entirely up to your individual tolerance, conditions, and endocannabinoid system.

The only way to know which type of CBD product works for you is to try it out. Look at the pros and cons of each category. Please take a peek at my guide on CBD oil for more info on dosing and things to look out for before you buy a CBD product. Remember that many companies lie about what’s in their CBD products.

Full spectrum

Full-spectrum extracts have it all: CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids. This extract is for someone who wants all the hemp plant benefits and doesn't mind the risks that come with THC.

CBD Category CBD THC Other Cannabinoids
Full Spectrum

Pros

  • Full-spectrum extracts come with the entourage effect: CBD, THC, other cannabinoids, and other nutrients. It’s the most potent category of CBD oils. Some people believe that full-spectrum oils are the only form of CBD oil that is effective.
  • There’s a lot of research on THC’s medicinal benefits, which may increase or add to CBD's benefits.
  • Many people feel happier and more relaxed from THC.
  • Full-spectrum extracts are more potent and, therefore, typically require lower doses than broad-spectrums or CBD isolates.

Cons

  • THC can have side effects in sensitive individuals. The low doses of THC in hemp may cause sedation, fatigue, mental slowness, etc. Hemp extracts do not intend to make you high. However, research shows that doses as low as 2 to 3 mg of THC can impair attention, memory, and basic functioning. Yes, some hemp extracts come with over 2 mg of THC. Many people have also complained about THC side effects in hemp products from much lower doses than research has confirmed.
  • Full-spectrum oils cost more on average than the other categories of CBD oil. However, the benefits of additional cannabinoids often give people more relief with smaller doses.
  •  You should expect to fail a drug test with full-spectrum hemp products. Drug tests look for THC, and full-spectrum extracts contain THC.
  • Some full-spectrum products may not have the cannabinoids or quantity of cannabinoids that help you. Look at a handful of full-spectrum extracts that I’ve lab tested. They all come with different cannabinoid levels. These extracts may also have other cannabinoids that we don't test for and don't understand. We don't know what compounds are responsible for the entourage effect. It's challenging to find the right full-spectrum extract when they're all different and we don't know which combination of cannabinoids will help you.
  • Hemp has a bitter and earthy taste. Many full-spectrum extracts taste awful, but there are exceptions.

Broad spectrum

Broad-spectrum extracts aim to remove THC from a hemp extract while keeping CBD and other cannabinoids. Broad-spectrum products typically come with fewer “other cannabinoids” than full-spectrums. Broad spectrums are for someone who wants the benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids without any of THC's disadvantages. However, this category still comes with some risks.

CBD Category CBD THC Other Cannabinoids
Broad Spectrum

Pros

  • Broad spectrums shouldn’t come with THC or its psychoactive effects—there’s no high.
  • The risk of failing a drug test is low.
  • Broad-spectrum extracts may come with other cannabinoids, terpenes, and nutrients that improve CBD’s effects.
  • Broad-spectrums extracts typically cost less than full-spectrum extracts. However, they contain no THC and usually have fewer "other cannabinoids" than a full-spectrum extract.
  • Broad-spectrum extracts typically taste better than full-spectrum extracts because they remove many terpenes (flavors) while extracting the THC.

Cons

  • It doesn’t come with any of the benefits of THC: psychological or medicinal.
  • The removal of THC typically removes most of the “other cannabinoids.” Take a look at my lab tests of broad-spectrum products. Most of them contain meager amounts of other cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, CBN, etc.) compared to full-spectrum extracts.
  • You’ll need a higher dose of a broad-spectrum oil than a full-spectrum product because they come with no THC and fewer other cannabinoids.
  • My lab tests have found that “broad-spectrum” products are the most likely category to be mislabeled. Many are nothing more than CBD isolate. Some come with trace levels of THC. It’s also unknown if the low levels of other cannabinoids found in broad-spectrum products--correctly labeled broad-spectrum products, that is--will be enough to have positive effects.
  • There’s still a risk of failing a drug test. Drug tests look for THC. However, we don't know if the other cannabinoids in a broad-spectrum extract will trigger a positive drug test. For example, a cannabinoid called CBN was recently found to trigger a failed drug test.  CBN may be found in broad-spectrum extracts as well as other cannabinoids.
  • Broad-spectrums cost more on average than CBD isolate but often come with little more than CBD. The cost per rare cannabinoid in each of my broad-spectrum product reviews is almost always higher than full-spectrum products.

CBD oil (CBD isolate)

CBD oil that is made from CBD isolate is CBD with no THC or other cannabinoids. This is for people that want the benefits of CBD without the risks of THC or other cannabinoids.

CBD Category CBD THC Other Cannabinoids
CBD Oil (CBD Isolate)

Pros

  • CBD has a lot of positive research and user testimonials for treating a variety of conditions.
  • CBD isolate does not come with the psychoactive effects of THC—it doesn’t make you high. THC can also cause a sedative feeling, which is less likely with CBD.
  • CBD isolate should not trigger a failed drug test because it contains no THC or other cannabinoids.
  • CBD isolate is, on average, 25% cheaper than full-spectrum extracts.
  • CBD isolate has no taste, and therefore, pure CBD products usually taste good.
  • CBD isolate removes toxins found in natural hemp extracts. Hemp absorbs toxins from the soil (e.g., lead, pesticides, etc.) in the same way that fruits and vegetables do. A company that provides accurate levels of cannabinoids will rarely fail a test for toxins. However, there are full-spectrum extracts that fail both tests for proper cannabinoid levels and toxins. CBD isolate comes with a much lower risk of toxins because they separate it from all other hemp extract components.

Cons

  • CBD isolate does not come with the entourage effect (THC, other cannabinoids, and other nutrients).
  • CBD isolate typically requires a higher dose than a full-spectrum product because it's missing the additional cannabinoids.
  • Some people say that pure CBD (at any dose) does not give them the positive effects that full-spectrum extracts provide.
  • While pure CBD shouldn’t trigger a failed drug tests, there are a few risks you need to be aware of. One faulty drug test (GC-MS with TFAA) can't tell the difference between THC and CBD. Many cheap drug test field kits used by law enforcement don't know the difference between CBD and THC. Many companies lie about THC content, which is why I test all products at two independent labs. However, aside from bad products and faulty testing, CBD isolate should not trigger a failed drug test.
Headshot of Jeremy Orozco, founder of CBD Examine
Author: Jeremy Orozco

Jeremy is a former firefighter turned health writer. He is a co-founder of CBD Examine and migrainekey.com, where he pioneered CBD and migraine research. His latest book, Hemp for Migraine, was the largest collection of peer-reviewed research relating to CBD, cannabinoids, and migraine relief.

This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Our content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Read the disclaimer.
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