Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum vs. Isolate: What's the Difference?


The use of cannabis for therapeutic reasons has been a topic of interest that’s exploded over the past few years. Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is one of the most prevalent active ingredients in the cannabis plant. As such an essential ingredient to many popular products on the market, cannabis industries are constantly evolving and employing new processes to satisfy all types of CBD-lovers.  


With new advancements comes new terminology. Terms like full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate are being used more often which has stirred up some confusion for consumers. Fortunately, these three forms of CBD have key differences that will help you familiarize what exactly they are. A better knowledge surrounding the language used for CBD helps both producers and consumers alike. Whether you’re looking for a more well-rounded version of CBD that includes THC or you're looking for something both rich and pure in CBD, this article will help you discover the key differences. 


How is CBD Extracted

Before diving into the three forms of CBD, it’s important to understand the process of CBD extraction. While all reputable CBD industries work to produce their own version of CBD extract, many of them use a similar method to one another. This initial process includes: 


  1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction: this is a process that uses pressurized CO2 to pull all the desired phytochemicals from the plant. Using this method on a hemp plant, it works to pull all essential cannabinoids, terpene oils, waxes, etc. out of the plant. Some manufacturers use a different step here, depending on their resources. The CO2 extraction can be accomplished similarly to the ethanol or butane extraction methods. 


  1. Steam Distillation: this process helps to purify the CBD liquid using steam. It’s important to not overdo this step in the process as too much steam can begin to damage the desired essential oils which can ruin the cannabinoid extract entirely. 


  1. Solvent Extraction: this process works to further separate the compounds based on their relative solubilities. In other words, solvent extraction uses a specific fluid that has the ability to dissolve (and eliminate) another substance. 


  1. Lipid Infusion: lastly, lipid infusion is a process that uses organic fats to absorb and surround other fatty compounds. This helps to preserve the hemp plant’s natural qualities without the use of any harsh solvents, or alcohol. 


These initial extraction steps are used to remove the desired therapeutic compounds from the hemp plant to create a CBD-rich oil. Each method varies depending on the desired quality, purity, and amount of hemp-derived CBD. After this process is complete, the fate of the CBD oil will depend on which form of CBD product is created. Let’s take a look at how these three forms differ from one another. 


Full Spectrum CBD 

Full-spectrum CBD is an all-encompassing version of your cannabis supplement. In other words, you can think about this form of CBD as “having it all”. Full-spectrum CBD is manufactured following the same 4 steps above to extract the following key elements:


  • Cannabinoids (CBD): This substance is responsible for providing consumers with therapeutic effects. There is a variety of naturally occurring cannabinoid compounds involved in this element once broken down further. This includes the lesser-known cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromevarinic acid (CBVA), and cannabicyclol (CBL) — all of which are advantageous in this mixture. 


  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This substance is more well-known to cannabis consumers and is responsible for any psychoactive effects. However, only trace amounts of THC are used in a majority of full-spectrum products (less than 0.3%). At such low doses, most full-spectrum products are considered federally legal, having no indications of intoxication after use. 


  • Terpenes: there are over 150 different terpenes of cannabis that work to affect the plant’s scent and flavor. Terpenes are also thought to have therapeutic effects at a lower strength than cannabinoids. 


  • Flavonoids: every cannabis plant contains about 20 different flavonoids. These can also be found in other naturally grown grains, fruits, and vegetables. Much like terpenes, flavonoids are also thought to have some therapeutic characteristics. 


Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad-spectrum CBD is another popular form of CBD sold in various therapeutic products. Much like full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum contains other components of the cannabis plant including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. The major difference here is that a broad spectrum is made without any THC. This feature can be beneficial to those looking to enjoy CBD without any concern for intoxicating effects due to THC. 


Broad-spectrum CBD is made the same way as full-spectrum but is taken one step further by using state-of-the-art chromatography. This step helps to remove any trace elements of THC from the initial full-spectrum extract. Chromatography is a specialized treatment of hemp oil to ensure all desired elements are maintained in the final product. It’s important to note that broad-spectrum CBD products have a distinct scent and flavor to them, much like full-spectrum CBD does due to the presence of terpene oils.


Isolate CBD

Lastly, we have isolate CBD. This type of CBD is, as the name describes, isolated to create the purest CBD oil. Isolate CBD is made through further extractions to remove all elements of the hemp-plant, leaving 99+ percent pure CBD. 


Similar to the technique used in broad-spectrum CBD, isolate CBD is accomplished by using chromatography. Rather than simply removing the THC content in the final product, this method of extraction goes one step further to also remove the flavonoids, terpenes, and other unwanted cannabinoids. This process will leave you with a white, powdery substance.


Due to the absence of any terpene oils, many people prefer isolate CBD because of its neutral flavor and taste. This feature makes it much easier to add isolate CBD to food, drinks, or topical products. Isolate products are also great if you’re looking to avoid the risk of ingesting any THC.


What’s the Difference Between Full-Spectrum, and Broad-Spectrum CBD?

When comparing and contrasting the three main forms of CBD, it’s best to check out how they differ side-by-side. 

Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum

The main difference seen between these two forms of CBD is the use of THC. Full-spectrum products contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) whereas broad-spectrum products contain 0% THC. Both of these products will still have a distinct scent and flavor due to the presence of terpene oils. It’s likely that full and broad-spectrum products are created in combination with other tasty flavors, such as cool mint or lemongrass, to make them even more enjoyable. 


Full Spectrum vs. Isolate

There are a few differences seen when comparing full-spectrum and isolate CBD products in terms of product content, psychoactive ingredients, as well as taste and odor. 


Full-spectrum products contain all the therapeutic compounds removed from the initial extraction of the raw hemp plant. On the other hand, isolate CBD further extracts all of these compounds, including essential oils, terpenes, and other cannabinoids. After the initial extraction, isolate is then stripped away of its primary psychoactive ingredients (THC), leaving you with a 99% pure CBD extract.


Another key difference between these two types of CBD can be quickly noticed using your senses. Full-spectrum CBD products tend to have a distinct odor and taste whereas isolate CBD is an odorless, tasteless white powder. 


Broad Spectrum vs. Isolate

When comparing broad spectrum vs. isolate CBD products, there is one major similarity and one major difference. Neither of these products has any trace elements of THC making them both purely based on therapeutic properties. On the other hand, they are different in that broad-spectrum still includes an assortment of cannabis compounds (essential oils, flavonoids, and cannabinoids) while isolate CBD does not. This means that broad-spectrum CBD also has a distinct odor and taste to it. 


Can all forms of CBD be used the same?

The simple answer to this is yes! While each form of CBD is unique in what it provides you, all of them can be used in a way that works best for you. Here are the most common ways you can enjoy full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate CBD products: 


    • Oil tinctures: these are used by placing a droplet under your tongue
    • Topicals: including creams, moisturizers, etc. are used by applying a small amount directly onto your skin and massaging it in
    • Capsules, gummies, and edibles: these are a more common form of CBD that are orally ingested (may be chewable or not)
    • Vape products: these are battery operated products used to inhale an aerosol containing the CBD product


  • Beverage enhancers: these products are added into a drink of your choice 



No matter how you choose to enjoy the three different forms of CBD, it’s important to always start by taking smaller quantities and increasing slowly as needed. If you have any concerns about the product, you can check out third party testing results on the company website. This will help provide you unbiased information about the cannabinoid profile, its level of purity, the presence of any heavy metals, and so much more.