Understanding Full Spectrum CBD

Due to the recent explosion in popularity of cannabidiol, new products are popping up every day, including products featuring full spectrum CBD. Before purchasing any cannabidiol product, it’s important to do your homework and understand what qualities to look for. Our guide below clears up common myths and explains the most important factors you need to know about full spectrum CBD products.

Table of Contents

What Is Full Spectrum CBD?
Full Spectrum vs CBD Isolate
What Is Broad Spectrum CBD?
Can Full Spectrum CBD Get You High?
Will Full Spectrum CBD Cause You to Fail a Drug Test?
Is Full Spectrum CBD Legal?
Where Can You Buy Full Spectrum CBD?
How Do You Take Full Spectrum CBD?
Why Buy Full Spectrum CBD?


What Is Full Spectrum CBD?

Cannabidiol is just one of over a hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp. Cannabis has high levels of THC (the psychoactive compound that gets you high) and low levels of CBD (a non-psychoactive compound that some studies have associated with anxiety relief, pain relief, seizure reduction, and other potential benefits).

Most conventional cannabidiol products are derived from hemp due to its high cannabidiol concentration. If a product contains only CBD, it’s referred to as “CBD isolate.” If a product contains all of the cannabinoids, vitamins, terpenes, and flavonoids from the hemp plant, it’s referred to as “full-spectrum.”

Full Spectrum vs CBD Isolate

There’s a lot of debate regarding the merits of full-spectrum vs CBD isolate. Since isolate formulas contain only the active ingredient extracted from the plant, they have the most bioavailable cannabidiol. However, the terpenes and cannabinoids found in full-spectrum products may actually contribute to greater efficacy because they promote what’s known as the entourage effect.

The entourage effect is the synergy that occurs when multiple compounds work together. The terpenes and cannabinoids are believed to amplify the effects of the cannabidiol, resulting in greater and more noticeable benefits than isolate can produce.

Consider terpenes as an example. These are the aromatic compounds found in all plants, including hemp and cannabis. They’re also the primary ingredients in essential oils. There are over 100 known terpenes, and each has its own unique effects. Limonene, for example, has been associated with antibacterial properties, and beta-caryophyllene (another common terpene) may have an anti-inflammatory effect.

To better understand the mechanisms, we spoke with Dr. Thomas G. O’Brien II, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and author of Medical Marijuana: Real Life Success Stories. According to Dr. O’Brien:

“CBD isolates have a U-shaped therapeutic window—meaning low and high CBD dosages have limited benefits, where moderate doses work best. Conversely, full-spectrum CBD does not have a U-shaped therapeutic window. Therefore, benefits are dose-dependent. Higher dosages work best. The mechanism of action is directly related to the synergistic relationship between CBD, flavonoids, and terpenes.”

When you’re taking CBD for anxiety, a full-spectrum product will afford you the greatest benefit. Hemp contains the terpenes limonene and linalool, both of which are associated with stress and anxiety relief. When all of these compounds work together, you don’t need as much of the active ingredient to derive the maximum benefit. That’s why we recommend full spectrum CBD.

What Is Broad Spectrum CBD?

When comparing full-spectrum and isolate products, you’re also going to stumble across options labeled Broad Spectrum CBD. These are similar to full-spectrum, but the THC has been removed.

Whereas a full spectrum CBD derived from hemp can have up to 0.3% THC by law, broad-spectrum products have no traces of the psychoactive compound. The terpenes and other cannabinoids are still present, but the THC has been eliminated using a state-of-the-art chromatography process.

Broad-spectrum formulas appeal to people who want the entourage benefits of full spectrum CBD but are concerned about having THC in their system.

Can Full Spectrum CBD Get You High?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that causes intoxication. While full spectrum CBD does contain a small amount of THC, it’s usually not enough to get you high. Hemp-derived cannabidiol contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive compound. You’d have an easier time getting buzzed from cough syrup.

When you purchase a marijuana-derived cannabidiol product from a dispensary, the THC content may be much higher (often between 3% and 15%). In those cases, the THC may be adequate to get you high, but these formulations are regulated as marijuana products, so you usually won’t find them online or in your local drug store.

Will Full Spectrum CBD Cause You to Fail a Drug Test?

Given the growing appeal of broad spectrum CBD, it’s worth exploring whether the THC in full-spectrum products can actually show up on a drug test. In most cases, the answer is no. The THC exists in such trace amounts that most conventional drug tests won’t detect it. However, there are some exceptions:

  • If you use cannabis-derived products. Most full-spectrum products are hemp-based, but as more states legalize recreational use, some manufacturers are offering cannabis-derived alternatives. These commonly exceed the 0.3% concentration found in hemp-based products and may therefore flood your system with traceable amounts of THC.
  • If your CBD comes from a less-than-reputable manufacturer. Because cannabidiol isn’t FDA-regulated or subject to testing requirements, the ingredient concentrations and disclosures are largely at the manufacturers’ discretion. As a result, some products are not what they seem. Some tested samples were found to have less of the active ingredient than advertised, while others had far more. When buying cannabidiol, make sure it includes a third-party certificate of analysis from a lab that meets ISO 17025 standards.
  • If you use an excessive amount of cannabidiol. Most regular users consume between 2 and 30 mg per day. This amount is usually safe for people subject to drug testing. However, for habitual users who exceed 50 to 100mg per day, there is a heightened risk that THC may appear on a drug test.

Is Full Spectrum CBD Legal?

If trace amounts of THC can be found in full spectrum CBD, that also raises the obvious legal question. The Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) legalizes the production of hemp-derived cannabidiol at the federal level, as long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC.

Hemp and cannabis are actually the same plant (cannabis sativa); the only difference is the amount of THC contained in the buds. As long as it doesn’t exceed the 0.3% threshold, it’s not subject to the restrictions and penalties defined under the Controlled Substances Act.

Though federal restrictions have been lifted, the legality gets more complicated at the state level. The following are just some of the states that have cracked down on retailers offering cannabidiol:

  • Arizona
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Take some time to research the laws in your state. Most buyers aren’t subject to fines or jail time, but some states continue to create barriers for sellers and cultivators of hemp-derived cannabidiol products.

Cannabis-derived cannabidiol products can only be acquired legally in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Some medical marijuana states will also allow you to purchase cannabis-derived products with a doctor’s recommendation or prescription.

Where Can You Buy Full Spectrum CBD?

Full spectrum CBD can be purchased online from a number of reputable retailers. Just make sure to research the brand and product before ordering, and always look at the certificate of analysis. The U.S. Postal Service has confirmed that it will ship hemp products that comply with federal and state laws.

If you want to shop in a brick-and-mortar store, your options will depend on where you live. In some states, you can find these products in drug stores like Walgreens and CVS. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Tennessee

Major health food chains like Whole Foods are looking to offer these products as well, so you might see them on shelves before too long. In many states like Nevada and Montana, hemp CBD stores are also becoming popular. Research the available options in your area, and order online if nothing is immediately available.

In states where cannabis is legal, such as Colorado and Washington, you can purchase full spectrum CBD at any adult-use dispensary. You may even find cannabis-derived options with higher THC content.

How Do You Take Full Spectrum CBD?

These products are available in a wide range of configurations. There are tinctures (just place a drop or two under your tongue), vape oils, edibles, dissolvable tablets, and topical creams, just to name a few.

The best delivery method will vary from person to person. According to Dr. O’Brien:

“For fast onset, vapor is best. But there’s a downside: fast in, fast out. If medium onset and duration is preferred, the tincture is best. If onset of action is not a factor at all, but duration of action, specifically long-lasting, then oral is best.”

Dr. O’Brien explains that edible solutions can take up to 90 minutes to work, but they have the longest duration at 4 to 6 hours. “But there’s a downside,” he notes. “It’s the least controllable, meaning there is no way to determine when the liver will release the metabolites.”

In addition, consider what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re looking for anxiety relief, you want a product that easily delivers the compound to your brain, such as an oil. For localized pain relief, you might benefit more from a topical solution.

Always use as directed. For most beginners, 2 to 5mg is plenty. You can increase the dosage gradually as needed.

Why Buy Full Spectrum CBD?

To recap, full spectrum CBD is the way to go if you’re looking to try cannabidiol. Unlike the alternatives, it:

  • Contains a whole-plant extraction including all cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
  • Allows for heightened potency due to the entourage effect.
  • Contains enough THC to support the whole-plant profile without getting you high.

That’s not to say that full-spectrum is right for everyone.

  • Use CBD isolates if you want just the CBD or you prefer to customize your solution (such as by creating vape juices with a custom terpene profile).
  • Use broad spectrum CBD if you want the benefits of full-spectrum but with zero THC in your system.
  • Use full spectrum CBD to achieve the full entourage effect and the maximum potency.

Only you can decide if full spectrum cannabidiol is worth the hype. Try it for yourself, and discover the effects firsthand.

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