CBD Isolate vs. Full Spectrum CBD: What’s the Difference Anyways?
Author: Brett Ayers

In the emerging CBD industry, the market is flooded with many different varieties and delivery methods of CBD. In particular, one of the most common things you see is different products that will use one of either CBD Isolate, Broad Spectrum CBD, or Full Spectrum CBD. But despite there being an overload of information out there, do you really understand the difference, and do you understand what that means for you as a consumer?

The Beta-Carotene Experiment

Beta-carotene is a phytochemical that is found in carrots, onions, spinach, and other dark coloured fruits and vegetables. It’s a powerful anti-oxidant with anti-cancer and anti-aging properties. It’s a big reason why carrots are so good for you! With that in mind, let’s flash back to the early 1990’s. This was a time when the US National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for the Health and Welfare of Finland were researching if a high dose of isolated beta-carotene/vitamin A supplements could help prevent lung cancer amongst a group of smoking individuals.

Nearly everybody thought that by isolating beta-carotene we could prevent lung cancer. But boy, did they ever turn out to be wrong. Throughout the clinical trials, cases of lung cancer, heart disease, and death from these causes skyrocketed in the patients who took the high-dose beta-carotene supplements as opposed to those who took a placebo. The supplements were ultimately linked to a 28% increase in the risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer, and a 17% increase in the likelihood of death from all causes. All studies and clinical trials were halted by 1996, but patients continued to suffer lingering damages for decades afterwards.

You will either find this incredibly alarming, or you may even find this tough to believe considering that beta-carotene is naturally occurring in so many foods we enjoy on a daily basis. But keep in mind that this study is the perfect illustration of what an isolate is. This isn’t to say that all isolates are bad, but very rarely is a phytochemical found as an isolate in nature. Beta-carotene is never found by itself; it’s always surrounded by a number of other carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. And when beta-carotene is surrounded by other phytochemicals, or it’s “entourage”, it does incredible things. But chemically isolate it from its natural environment, and the results are – to put it mildly – disappointing.

So how does this relate to CBD? CBD is a member of the cannabinoid family – a family of approximately 100 plant compounds. Similar to in the aforementioned beta-carotene experiment, to isolate CBD is to chemically separate it from its natural environment of other cannabinoids, terpenes, etc. While the ability to chemically isolate these phytochemicals has made understanding them much easier, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to use CBD. Just like the beta-carotene, when CBD is isolated from it’s family of cannabinoids and terpenes, the effects we feel as consumers are materially different.

More Than Just CBD

You may notice that a Full Spectrum product and a CBD isolate product can contain the exact same amount of CBD – but any product made with Full Spectrum CBD will contain way more than just that. Any full spectrum product will also contain the CBD’s powerful entourage. Part of this entourage is made up of terpenes, which are aromatic chemicals that are found in many different plants like cinnamon and ginger. These terpenes (also referred to as terpenoids), in addition to the other cannabinoids, help the CBD do its job better. The way all of these plant compounds synergistically work together is called the entourage effect.

The Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is ridiculously easy to understand, and to an athlete it will make a ton of sense as to why you want the entourage effect. Just for demonstration purposes, we’ll use professional football as an analogy to really help hammer this home.

How many Super Bowls have been won by teams without a great quarterback? Not very many. But how many great quarterbacks have come and gone through the league without ever taking the Lombardi Trophy home? A few more, right? This is because the best teams don’t just have a great quarterback, they have a great supporting cast that complement each other. For example, a weak offensive line means your QB is going to be under a lot of pressure to get the ball out quickly, and it will limit your ability to run the ball. Alternatively, you can have an all-time offense, but if your defense is weak and allows the opponent to run up the score on you, your offensive prowess doesn’t matter. 

Pretty simply put, the supporting cast in your CBD products is just as important as the CBD itself, just like the quality of your offensive line is just as important as the quality of your quarterback. On their own without the proper supporting cast, the players are like the isolates in the plant chemical world. They may be incredible at what they do, but they need their supporting cast in order to achieve the bigger goal. The players, much like all the different cannabinoids and terpenes, work together to achieve the best possible results. 

So the next time you’re debating whether or not you should get a product made with CBD isolate or a product made with Full Spectrum CBD, consider this. Would you rather have just a good QB, and nothing else? Or would you rather have a roster built around that QB that all but guarantees success?

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