We’re going to switch gears a bit for this piece and get a little scientific on you….don’t worry, it will only hurt for a moment and you’ll be thankful afterwards! Chances are, if you are a cannabis connoisseur, you’ve at some point, taken a dive into the world of CBD products. We all know CBD as “THC’s non-psychoactive cousin”. While this may deter some recreational users who simply consume bud to get high, we would urge you to not throw out the idea of CBD as a potentially beneficial cannabinoid just yet!
As if waltzing into a dispensary and selecting a THC product wasn’t confusing enough given all of the options, CBD products present even more choices for the consumer to make. Proponents of CBD (which to the naked eye, is no different than THC products) are heatedly divided regarding which CBD ingestion method provides the best results. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version, we will give it to you like this: there’s no specific CBD consumption method that provides substantiated evidence of higher efficacy rates. In other words, each person is unique in what most activates their endocannabinoid system. For some people this might be vaping, for others, smoking CBD flower is the optimal choice, while some swear by edibles, and so on. The point being, when it comes to deciding what works “best” for you, be prepared to do some experimenting. Along with that, don’t be discouraged if one intake method doesn’t seem to provide the desired results, this doesn’t mean that you’re a lost cause but should be looked at as an opportunity to try a different approach! Before we get too much into the weeds (pun intended), let’s explore one of the first questions you will face when shopping for a CBD product.
Broad Spectrum vs. Full Spectrum vs. Isolate….lolwut
This is a new one, huh? The budtender has never asked you to choose between these when you’re stocking up on some weed for the weekend. While it may sound like you’re answering a question from that AP chemistry exam that you tanked in high school, it really shouldn’t be as complicated or complex as most retailers want you to believe. Afterall, their job is to provide you with a service and information so obfuscating information may be the prerogative of the more nefarious players (it should be noted that not ALL budtenders practice shady moves like this, we have mad love for our essential dispensary employees). We bet that if you take just a moment to familiarize yourself with the info below, you’ll know exactly how to answer the next time you’re asked your preference instead of standing there looking like you just took a dab that would make Snoop proud.
Let’s take a look at what it actually means when a CBD product is labeled as “full-spectrum”. To do this, we need to back up to the origin of CBD…the cannabis plant (or hemp, which is just what we call a low THC Cannabis Sativa plant). All cannabis plants have what are referred to as “Phytocannabinoids”. This is simply a blanket term for all of the goodies you’re trying to get out of the plant by consuming it. THC, CBD and all of the other familiar cannabinoids all fall into this category. When a person consumes a product containing all cannabinoids, they’re using what is referred to as a “full-spectrum” product. Think of it like so: A full spectrum product contains the full or entire spectrum of phytocannabinoids that are produced by a plant. Of course, the ratios of these can vary greatly from plant to plant which is why it is important to check out the certificate of analysis (COA) of your products. This handy document will give you the exact breakdown of cannabinoids in your product. If you ask any budtender for a COA, they should be able to present it on the spot and will likely respect you a bit more as a responsible consumer!
When should you opt for a full spectrum product? Here are a few aspects:
- When you don’t have to worry about being drug tested - Even though the low amounts of THC included in full spectrum products aren’t enough to get you high, they’re still entering your body and could show up in a drug test.
- When you want the “purist’s experience” - In other words, when you want a product that hasn’t undergone “remediation” which burns off certain compounds from the plant. We discuss this a bit more below.
- You want to experience the full “entourage effect” - As researchers are learning, cannabinoids tend to work differently as a team rather than when isolated. This means that a 15% CBD isolated product could work differently for you than a 15% CBD product that also has small percentages of other cannabinoids.
- Want to guarantee a true full spectrum experience? Opt for a flower product! That’s because smoked or vaped dry flower still contains all of the phytocannabinoids. Bonus points if you’re using a low temperature hemp wick or dry vape for your flower as this will preserve a lot of your cannabinoids! [Check out this article for more info on this - Size Matters: How Flames Affect Weed ]
If you’ve had your thinking cap on this entire time, chances are you’ve figured out that broad spectrum products consist of phytocannabinoid ratios which have been altered from their original levels. What is typically seen in a broad spectrum product is the remediation or the (partial) removal of THC. This is to target users who may be sensitive to THC but could still benefit from non-psychoactive cannabinoids. As stated before, you should always ask for that COA, especially if you’re looking to use a broad spectrum product. There are a lot of unscrupulous players out there who, unfortunately, think that they can throw a broad spectrum label on a full spectrum product without consequence. As we saw with full spectrum products, broad spectrum products still contain other non-psychoactive cannabinoids which can work symbiotically in producing that “entourage effect”
When should you give broad spectrum products a shot:
- If you’re sensitive to THC - As we said, broad spectrum products have had MOST of the THC removed (this is why it is important to check the product’s COA to ensure you’re getting a true THC-free experience)
- If you’re worried about being drug tested - Most broad spectrum CBD product users report that they are able to pass a drug test with flying colors but we should note that THC tests vary greatly and there are reports of consumers using a broad spectrum product and still testing positive for THC. There’s no way to know if this person’s product was simply mislabeled or if the test gave a false positive but before risking your job or freedom, you may want to consult with your prescribing dispensary before incorporating even broad spectrum products into your routine.
- Stay away from flower - As mentioned, there’s no such thing as a “broad spectrum flower” product, so if you’re looking for a THC-free experience, you’ll want to save the flower for another day.
Last but not least…CBD Isolate
This variation is the easiest to grasp and exactly what it sounds like. Through various extraction processes like Supercritical CO2 distillation, solvent based extractions and/or various cannabinoid remediation methods, labs are able to isolate cannabinoids into nearly pure forms. CBD isolate, which is used in many “bargain” CBD products, typically comes in a white powdered or crystalized form factor. Being that it has been isolated and all other cannabinoids removed, there will be no entourage effect. CBD isolate is typically 98-99% pure CBD which means producers can get more bang for their buck while still being able to sleep soundly at night knowing that they’re technically not lying to consumers. Before we beat CBD isolate up too much, it should be said that users still report (unsubstantiated) benefits from products made of CBD isolate. You may consider CBD isolate if:
- You’re on a shoestring budget - However, don’t give up on CBD if you find that a product made using CBD isolate doesn’t work for you! We would recommend dropping the extra coin on a broad or full spectrum product before completely dismissing CBD as snake oil.
- You’re absolutely going to be drug tested - This is another one of those times when our attorney sighs deeply with a furrowed brow…we get it, false positives can happen on any drug test. On paper however, CBD isolate should not trigger a positive read for THC in any circumstance but that is never worth risking your livelihood or life for. If you’re hell-bent on trying, we recommend discussing your interest with the lab administering your drug test beforehand.
Hopefully, this abbreviated look at how CBD products differ provides a foundation for you to build on if you decide to incorporate CBD products into your life. Our best advice is to approach CBD with an open mind. Don’t think that just because one type of CBD product didn’t provide the desired results that no CBD product can. Until regulators lessen their grip on the world of cannabinoids, we, as consumers, are continually forced to play the “trial and error” game until we find something that works for us.