When buying CBD products, it’s important to understand the meaning behind those terms you might see on the package.

Existing in the midst of a hazy unregulated market, CBD consumers need a clear explanation of key terms that CBD products often put forth to differentiate themselves. We are regularly seeing a lot of confusion around the words “full-spectrum,” “broad-spectrum,” and “isolate.” Here is our quick guide to understanding the differences in these three choices.

Due to the fact that there are not currently CBD regulations overseen by the FDA, we can offer insight as to what these terms should mean — but keep in mind: Seeing this terminology does not confirm that the product in your hand was correctly labeled.


Also referred to as “full plant” or “whole plant”, full-spectrum is a specific type of extract where the entire plant is used for extraction. That means that everything, including the leaf, stalk and seeds, are processed to make the full-spectrum oil. The final product includes all naturally present cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. Varying extraction methods determine the outcome of the final product — both visually and through its molecular content. Full-spectrum hemp extracts are celebrated for the entourage effect they can deliver. The entourage effect is the idea that the hundreds of compounds in the cannabis plant work synergistically together to provide a wider range of medicinal benefits.

Full-spectrum CBD typically comes from hemp plants. That’s because federal law considers hemp (defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC) legal, but criminalizes the cannabis plant with more than 0.3 percent THC. If you’re in a state with legal adult-use cannabis, you should be able to find cannabis-derived full-spectrum CBD products with more than 0.3 percent THC in a dispensary. But if you’re buying CBD products online or outside of a licensed cannabis dispensary, that’s almost certainly going to be hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD. In full-spectrum CBD from hemp, a legal, trace amount of THC is present (less than .3 percent).

Often, full-spectrum CBD from high-THC cannabis will be referred to as full-spectrum cannabis oil. Used within the medicinal and recreational cannabis market, these products contain high levels of THC and are going to be more expensive than full-spectrum CBD oil from hemp.


Entirely lacking THC, broad-spectrum extracts are produced in one of two ways: (1) THC is removed from the full spectrum extract, or (2) CBD isolate is combined with other isolated cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, in an attempt to mimic the full spectrum effect without THC.

To better understand the product, it’s fair to ask the product company which of the previously mentioned methods they used to create the broad-spectrum formula in question. If the company says they combined together different isolates (Option 2) to make the product, look into lab results to determine which isolated compounds were used to help decide if this is the best product for you.

CBD Isolate

As the name suggests, CBD isolate products are made with an isolated CBD molecule. These products contain just the singular CBD molecule. There are not any other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids or fatty acids naturally present in the product unless they were added separately.

Without the ability to offer an entourage effect, it’s often assumed that CBD isolate lacks the efficiency that full-spectrum products provide. Though there may not be naturally synergistic effects occurring in CBD isolate, products containing this isolated molecule still have the potential to offer therapeutic benefits.

CBD isolate has a wide variety of application possibilities. Particularly, CBD isolate is beneficial to balance dosage when consuming cannabis extract or cannabis products high in THC content.

Bonus: What Is Hemp Seed Oil (HSO)?

Hemp seed oil is a nutrient-rich oil that extracted from the seeds of hemp plants, typically cold-pressed. Consumers shouldn’t assume that because a product contains hemp oil, it’s going to contain CBD. Hemp seed oil contains zero cannabinoids — free of THC and CBD. Therefore, products containing strictly HSO typically do not label “dosage.” Hemp seed oil is non-psychoactive, non-psychotropic, and non-intoxicating.

Because hemp seed oil is a food product, products containing strictly HSO are federally legal, and have been regulated by the FDA for decades.

Hemp seed oil has a wide variety of application possibilities. When applied topically, HSO is deeply hydrating, non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores), and is naturally absorbent. It is often used as a carrier oil in full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate hemp products.

Many products are incorrectly labeled, so while it’s important to understand what these terms mean, it’s also important to do research and ask the right questions as you shop.

To learn more about shopping for Hemp products, check out The Complete Guide to Shopping for Hemp Products.

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