Full Spectrum CBD Vs Isolate CBD

Lydia K. RN November 25, 2018 7 comments

Studies show that isolate loses effectiveness outside of a narrow dose range, whereas full spectrum may provide benefit at every dose. 

There has been a lot of debate regarding the superiority of whole plant medicine versus extracts, and the converse. For a long time the belief was that THC was the most beneficial part of the cannabis plant (at least when it came to medicinal value) and that all of the other bits didn’t really matter. Now we know that many, many parts of the plant (cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes) have tremendous value in healing. Not only that, these parts work together, within full spectrum medicine, to amplify the pharmacological activity of the whole via the entourage effect.

The cannabis plant has over 140 different cannabinoids with medicinal value because they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a signaling system of receptors found on the surface of certain cells that are critical for the control of many bodily functions. Such as digestion, nervous control, pain, immune functioning, and homeostasis.

The most abundant and psychoactively potent cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), followed by cannabidiol (CBD). Other significant cannabinoids include: cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol CBG, and cannabinol (CBN).

What is an Isolate?

It takes a lot of effort to isolate CBD or THC from the cannabis plant. Even though you are processing the plant, the isolate that comes out the other end is not synthetic; this is a common misconception. Refining plant down to pure CBD is the first step, this is typically a white powder. It used to be that an isolate was the gold standard of cannabis medicine. But, as further research occurred on how CBD interacts with the human body, something strange happened. Patients consuming high CBD strains tended to have faster healing and less pain than those solely consuming CBD isolate.

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The Bell Curve Study

For example, a study looking at the anxiety of public speakers noted that with the isolate, CBD followed a bell curve for therapeutic effectiveness. This means is that when the amount of CBD ingested exceeded a certain point, its therapeutic impact declined dramatically. Observation of a therapeutic effect only occurred when CBD doses were within a very limited range. Whereas no beneficial effect happened at either lower or higher doses.

Following this interesting finding, further studies took place to determine how to overcome the bell shaped dose response curve effect. One notable Israeli study, published in Pharmacology & Pharmacy (2015), investigated the dose-dependent effects of CBD on mice.

It’s interesting to note that one of the co-authors, Lumir Hanus, was instrumental in the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide. The Israeli team obtained a CBD-rich strain called “Avidekel” which has only trace amounts of THC and studied it against a CBD extract referred to as “clone 202.”

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Lab mice received both forms of CBD and the therapeutics effects were under clinically observation and charted. The pure CBD isolate, once again, revealed that single-molecule CBD administration produced a bell-shaped dose-response curve with a small therapeutic window.

Direct Inhibition of Pain

However, rather than showing a bell-shaped curve, the whole plant CBD-rich extract caused a direct, dose-dependent inhibition of pain. Moreover, the Israeli researchers discovered that a smaller amount of full spectrum CBD managed to achieve significant pain relief compared to the much larger amount of CBD isolate required to achieve a similar analgesic effect.

When the delivery of the CBD isolate occurred in excess of therapeutic dose, there was a decline in efficacy. However an excess of whole plant CBD-rich extract did not undermine its therapeutic potency. When full spectrum extract was given in excess the therapeutic effect reached a plateau and levelled off, rather than declining.

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Cannabis Therapy

These results revolutionized how people understand cannabis’ therapeutic effects. Consequently, they influenced how pharmaceuticals are packaging their cannabis products. So much so, that we can confidently call this a landmark study in the cannabis space. Subsequent studies have further proved this finding.

The effect mentioned above is now referred to as the entourage effect, achieved when consumption of the plant as a whole occurs. That could be be flower, oil, or tincture. Full spectrum CBD oil contains terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. These compounds work synergistically to produce a more potent and longer-lasting effect than a single compound on its own.

Author avatar

Lydia K. RN

RN, Expert medical writer who is passionate about cannabis!

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  1. Kim Pridgen

    By” full spectrum” you are saying there is THC in it ? I am subject to random drug tests so I have to steer clear of THC

    • Jennifer Grant

      Yes, it will have all cannabinoids (including THC) plus terpenes and flavonoids. Not a good choice if you are having to undergo drug testing.

      • Dr. Applesauce

        That statement is not accurate. Each cannabis strain as well as hemp have their own unique cannabinoid, terpene and flavonoid profiles. The part of the plant used as well as the processing method will determine what the profile or spectrum includes. You can’t say “It will have all cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids” Most manufacturers and processors are using mass quantities, low grade trim in their products. Additionally, most of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids go through a physical conversion or are destroyed during processing.

        Also, the term “bell shaped curve ” is being misused in this article. In statistics, “bell shaped curve” is a reference to the estimated distribution of the sample statistic from a given population.
        As the sample size increases, All data begins to normalize and take on the form of a bell shape curve.
        This means that both of the analytes sampling date would look like “a bell shaped curve”
        A statistical Inference study should have been completed with at least an 80% power using a validated test method in order to provide the desired confidence level in the test results. Because none of this is mentioned in the article, there’s a high degree of certainty that the appropriate testing never happened. All manufacturers and Processors need to develop validated methods for design verification/ validation as well as process validation in house. A company may choose to compete testing and qualification activities using verified compendial methods. Third party COA for content needs to be used in order to maintain the integrity of the data.
        Also, “theraputic effect” is not an acceptable parameter or attribute used to describe the test data. The #1 rule in quality is your sample statistic, at large, needs to be well defined and measurable and using Variables type data if possible.

        My point here, is don’t believe everything you hear or read. Make sure you are doing your due diligence and if you’re citing someone else’s work, make sure those individuals are qualified to do the testing that they are reporting on. The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and making claims as to effectiveness of outcomes associated with the use of the product is irresponsible without the data to prove it. Doing so contributes heavily to the amount of Misinformation that is distributed about Cannabis.

  2. Kirsteen Thompson

    I suffer from mild anxiety regarding claustrophobia. I would love to travel on a plane,would this help to ease my symptoms a bit?

  3. so then the best way to get the full effect is to smoke it?