Question the Cannasseur: What’s the Difference Between CBD and Full-Spectrum CBD?

As the cannabis and hemp industries continue to expand, consumers may be confused by industry jargon. Not all cannabis and hemp products are created equal, so this week's question from Quora gives us the opportunity to review the terminology so you can make the appropriate choice. So, let's answer this question:

What's The Difference Between CBD and Full-Spectrum CBD?

cbd oil and hemp leaves

To understand the difference between CBD and full-spectrum CBD, we need to talk about the plant first. It’s important to realize that hemp and cannabis are the same species of plant, cannabis sativa L. Hemp is grown in outdoor fields and produces less than .3 percent THC by legal definition. Marijuana, on the other hand, is grown in highly controlled, ideal conditions specifically to generate higher amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes, explaining why cannabis is more valuable and more aromatic than hemp.

Besides being low in THC, the fact is hemp produces fewer cannabinoids and terpenes than cannabis in general. Due to this decreased cannabinoid production, it takes much more plant material to produce the same amount of product. Another fact to note is that the flowers and leaves produce the majority of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant. Stalks and seeds contain few cannabinoids and terpenes and have little value beyond fiber and oil.

The Evolution of the Extraction Process

cbd and thc extract in glass beakers to be made into full spectrum cbd

After harvesting the plant, the processor extracts the cannabis oils from the plant material using a variety of extraction methods such as butane, ethanol, or CO2 extraction. In the early days, many of the minor cannabinoids and terpenes were lost during the extraction process. However, as extraction methods evolved, manufacturers learned how to preserve more of the volatile components found in the plant.

Using purification processes like short path distillation and chromatography, producers can also isolate particular cannabinoids. FDA-approved Epidiolex is an example of a CBD isolate. Although isolates are pure, there's a debate on how well they work.

The Benefits of Full Spectrum

hemp leaves and cannabis oil that could be full-spectrum cbd

Also called “whole plant extracts,” full spectrum cannabis and hemp extracts contain a variety of active compounds from the plant, such as minor cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and others. Additionally, a full-spectrum extract also contains the flavorful, aromatic terpenes, like limonene or linalool. Together, these compounds alter the way we respond to cannabis and hemp.

The Entourage Effect is a well-known phenomenon in the cannabis industry. Defined by the way cannabinoids and terpenes compliment each other, it is theorized that cannabinoids work better together than they do alone. Often compared to cooking a recipe, if you're baking cookies and forget to add the sugar, chances are good your result won't be what you expected. Likewise, some believe that the true benefits come from a natural recipe of ingredients, not just one compound alone.

The best, scientifically proven example of the Entourage Effect is the way CBD counters the adverse effects of THC. Thus, a full-spectrum CBD oil that contains trace amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes may or may not enhance the results or benefits of the product.

Don't Fall for a Buzz Word

hemp seeds and hemp oil in a bowl

No one wants to be taken advantage of, but unfortunately, the current state of the CBD market very much allows buzzwords and snazzy marketing schemes to get the better of us. Due to the lack of regulation and standards, as well as, a severe lack of public cannabis education, many CBD products are not what they claim to be. Watch for a few clues:

  • If the product says full-spectrum, it should come with test results showing the full cannabinoid and terpene profile. If they don't have test results, how can they attest to full-spectrum?
  • If it states "Full-Spectrum Hemp Seed Oil" – it’s likely misleading you. Hemp seed does not have a spectrum at all. The oil, produced by cold-pressing hemp seeds, contains fatty acids and is rich in Vitamin E, which is excellent for the skin, but it does not contain CBD or any other cannabinoid.

CBD isolate does have pros of its own or Epidiolex never would've made it to market. However, most agree full-spectrum extracts are superior to singular cannabinoids. As with all CBD products, do your homework on the product, learn how its produced, and research the company before you commit to purchase. Ask for proof of the "full-spectrum" designation and avoid companies that can't provide adequate test results for their products.