Not all CBD is created equal.
Though the CBD molecule itself does possess some pretty amazing qualities, sometimes it’s the little details that matter most. In this case, the degree to which one experiences CBD’s health-boosting qualities may depend largely on the form it comes in.
Why’s that? Mostly because of something which scientists call the entourage effect. Before we dive into that phenomenon, let’s first take a look at the two major types of CBD oil: full spectrum, and isolate.
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Full Spectrum Oil, Full Spectrum Benefits
The hemp plant itself is full spectrum. In other words, it naturally contains a huge variety of plant compounds. There are cannabinoids like CBD, of course… but that’s not the only phytochemical capable of activating our endocannabinoid systems.
Far from it, in fact. Hemp is nature’s medicine cabinet, providing a full spectrum of dozens of terpenes in combinations not really seen elsewhere in the plant kingdom. It’s no wonder that the godfather of cannabis research, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, calls cannabis a “pharmacological treasure trove”.
The compounds present in full spectrum hemp extracts can be grouped into three major categories:
Cannabinoids | CBD is the most famous cannabinoid. But hemp also contains very small amounts of other cannabinoids, including THC, CBN, CBG, CBC, and more. Full spectrum hemp oil may also contain small amounts of acid-form cannabinoids like CBDa and THCa.
Though trace cannabinoids are only present in, well, trace amounts, don’t discount them. These ingredients may potentiate the effect of CBD by ‘opening up’ the body’s endocannabinoid receptors. Even that .3% THC is helpful.
Terpenes | Terpenes can be thought of like scent molecules — and the hemp plant is full of them. There’s limonene, pinene, myrcene, beta-caryophyllene. Different strains contain different terpene blends, which may make them ideal for different health conditions.
Though more time and more research are needed to really elucidate what cultivars are best for what, scientists have already determined that the beta-caryophyllene terpene hits ECS receptors just as strongly as most cannabinoids. In other words, terpenes are important!
Flavones and chalcones | These compounds are also among hemp’s trace ingredients, but their functions are diverse enough to warrant an article of their own. Hemp contains rare flavones like Cannflavin A and B. It also contains chlorophyll and intermediary compounds like the chalcones.
As if this type of diversity wasn’t impressive enough, decades of research have shown that hemp’s individual components synergize in vivo — aka in real life.
Imagine this: assign cannabinoids 3 hypothetical points, terpenes 2, and the other phyto-compounds one. If you take them all together in the form of hemp, you won’t experience [3 + 2 + 1]’s-worth of health benefits. You might instead experience a grand total of 12 or 10. That is the entourage effect.
CBD Isolate: Still Helpful, Still Valuable
As you might expect, CBD isolate is simply pure CBD that’s been isolated from the rest of hemp’s major ingredients. Devoid of any accompanying terpenes or oils, CBD isolate often takes the form of whitish crystals.
Even the molecular structure of the CBD in CBD isolate gets affected. That’s because cannabidiol in its natural, full-spectrum state is surrounded by fatty acids that help maintain a certain structure to its chemical bonds. Strip away this insulation, and a new stereoisomer of CBD may form.
This new type of CBD still works, but it might not ‘fit’ the endocannabinoid system quite as well as normal. Indeed, many users report that they need to take more CBD isolate than the full-spectrum stuff — just to get the same effects.
And more CBD than usual means a greater chance to experience side effects. CBD doesn’t have many of them, and the side effects it does have are very mild. Still, the inefficient nature of CBD isolate makes overshooting one’s optimal dose pretty easy.
Does that make sense? Let’s look at a prototypical CBD user, Joe. Joe is 60 years old and has been taking full spectrum CBD oil for severe back and knee pain. He generally takes about 20 milligrams of his CBD oil per day…and with that comes several mgs of entourage-producing trace compounds. Joe loves his CBD for the simple fact that it works! It’s even seemed to improve his sleep.
Joe switches brands to a cheaper option that uses CBD isolate in its oils. He knows he does best on 20 mg’s/day, so he doesn’t change that. Days pass, and Joe notices something strange: some of his pain’s coming back! So he ups his dose to 30 mgs daily, and then 40.
Things get better again — finally, he thinks — but Joe notices that he has a little bit of dry mouth after taking his daily dose. He also experiences occasional blood sugar fluctuations; that’s not good, either, because Joe takes insulin for his diabetes. Joe’s Dr. tells him something about the liver and just how unproven taking CBD is…
This story’s somewhat of a worst-case scenario, but it’s helpful in illustrating that CBD isolate usually isn’t worth it, even if it’s cheaper than other options. We’d encourage those doing well on full spectrum CBD oils to stick with them!
Despite all these potential downsides, CBD isolate has a place. Those who undergo mandatory drug testing for work may find isolate to be the best option for them. So may people who, for better or worse, still have a phobia surrounding THC. In many cases, CBD isolate may work wonderfully. It seems to be great for anxiety and other stress-related conditions, too.
If everyone had to take just one type of CBD, we’d absolutely recommend a full spectrum CBD oil. Thankfully, though, today’s market gives us the freedom to choose. Combine this freedom with education, and it’ll be easy to find the type of CBD that’s right for you.
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