Products containing phytocannabinoids have been flooding the market since the passage of the 2018 United States Farm Bill, which lifted the prohibition under the Federal Controlled Substances Act on possessing, using, buying, selling, or cultivating cannabis. This bill gave states the liberty to legalize cannabis species containing less than 0.3% of the psychoactive phytocannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which previously drove all phytocannabinoids under the cloak of Schedule 1 drugs.

Aside from THC, cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp (Cannabis sativa) is the most abundant and well-researched cannabinoid and does not possess psychoactive properties.1 Clinical studies show that CBD imparts multiple health advantages, with hemp falling within the legal limits of possessing no more than 0.3% THC.1 Therefore, the legalization of certain species of cannabis raised the curtain upon CBD and phytocannabinoids more broadly.

The wide range of therapeutic potential associated with phytocannabinoids has piqued interest among both health care practitioners and consumers. Research to date has supported its potential as a beneficial therapy for chronic pain, anxiety, depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, dementia, insomnia, chronic inflammation, nausea, diabetes, epilepsy, addiction, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.

CBD and other phytocannabinoids offer neuroprotection, making them useful for a variety of mood disorders and as effective antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These phytocannabinoids are well tolerated according to human studies employing high doses for long periods.

With such promising potential, consumers are eager to ride the wave of cannabis’s new legalization and test its medicinal power. Signs promoting CBD pepper the roadsides and are painted on the windows of health food stores, revealing a growing market of independent retailers dedicated to selling CBD products exclusively. As the options for CBD products grow, practitioners and consumers are faced with the challenge of understanding the differences between products and determining the selection criteria for credible, effective formulas. Most CBD products are identified as either full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or an isolate. Each of these forms delivers a different therapeutic outcome, making it important to choose the ideal form.

CBD isolate represents the most refined form of CBD, meaning all other compounds present in the hemp cannabis plant are removed, leaving a purified form of cannabidiol. At face value, this may seem beneficial, but as with many botanicals, the extracted compounds often have synergistic value.

In an observational data meta-analysis comparing CBD isolate and CBD extract on the treatment of refractory epilepsy, purified CBD isolate resulted in a greater frequency of adverse side effects. Further, greater doses of the purified CBD were required to reach therapeutic potential.

Full-spectrum CBD contains the naturally-occurring complement of CBD and other phytocannabinoids, aromatic terpenes, and essential oils. Additional phytocannabinoids may include cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidivarin (CBDV), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and others.

Terpenes present in cannabis often include limonene, myrcene, α-pinene, linalool, β-caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, nerolidol, and phytol. The quantities and types of additional compounds in a full-spectrum CBD product are dependent upon the hemp cannabis variety and strain selected, sourcing, and the method of extraction.

Full-spectrum phytocannabinoid products are considered the gold standard of phytocannabinoid formulas because their wide range of constituents synergistically enhance the function of one another, resulting in a highly efficacious product that leads to greater clinical outcomes.

This synergistic interaction between phytocannabinoids and terpenes is coined the “entourage effect” and distinguishes products with the greatest therapeutic potential. The power of the “entourage effect” was shown in clinical studies comparing CBD isolate with full-spectrum CBD for analgesia in animals. CBD isolate resulted in a biphasic, dose-response curve in which the therapeutic effect had dose limits; however, full-spectrum CBD displayed analgesic effects with no identified ceiling effect.

Broad-spectrum CBD products contain properties of both isolates and full-spectrum, yet they are a different form of cannabinoids. They contain many of the same phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and essential oils as full-spectrum CBD products; however, the THC has been completely removed from the product.

Therefore, broad-spectrum CBD offers benefits to those who want to experience the positive effects of CBD but without even the slightest amount of THC due to personal, religious, or medical reasons.

The THC content in full-spectrum, hemp-derived CBD products falls below the legal limit and any psychoactive properties are canceled by its antagonist, CBD. Historically, THC has been considered the most medicinally effective cannabinoid. Its broader use was only limited because of the false belief that it lacked any therapeutic potential but had a high probability for addiction and abuse, which caused it to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

A large and growing body of research now substantiates the potential of CBD across an array of health concerns. The high CBD content and extremely low levels of THC in full-spectrum hemp phytocannabinoids, along with the synergistic entourage effect, beneficial terpenes, and array of other constituent phytocannabinoids with various health-promoting properties, suggest that full-spectrum phytocannabinoid formulas have the greatest potential therapeutic index.


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