Full Spectrum vs Isolate Hemp Oils – What’s The Difference?

When it comes to the hemp oils extracted from the cannabis or hemp plants there are a number of differing types to be aware of, each with differing advantages and containing differing chemical make ups. You might’ve heard different terms like ‘full spectrum’, ‘isolate’ or ‘whole plant’ but what do each of these mean? Do I need to take note of anything particular about these differing oil types? The answers to these questions are what we’ll be exploring as part of this article, examining what full spectrum and isolate hemp oils are and why their differences matter. You would’ve already seen both types of oil on sale or around the internet so its important to understand their particular characteristics and where the place of each is.

What is full spectrum and isolate hemp extracts?

When you see the term ‘full spectrum’ it really just means some of the plant matter that was processed to refine the extract down to an oil has been retained in the final tincture – it still contains some of the ‘raw’ plant that has a high quantity of potentially useful chemicals like phytocannabinoids and chlorophyll. It may also contain other naturally occurring compounds like phytochemicals. These are all removed when an isolated hemp oil is created, retaining only the pure CBD or THC extract. Final composition and chemicals retained in the end product depends strongly on what refinement and extraction methods were used, which will leave more or less plant matter or ‘whole plant’ elements remaining in the product.

These organic plant chemicals contain molecules of various substances like terpenes – pungent, scent compounds originating in many plants like fruits and flowers. They’re also able to pair with and enhance the effects of cannabinoids like CBG and CBD..

The entourage effect in hemp oil

One of the biggest arguments for full spectrum extracts over isolate oils is what’s known as the entourage effect. This is a phenomenon purported by many scientists which states that the effects of the key compound (cannabidiol) becomes enhanced due to supporting nutrients and compounds like antioxidants, omega 3 and phytochemicals present in hemp. These supplementary compounds help to strengthen and bring out the effects of the plant therapeutically for better overall results. Essentially the different chemicals work better in combination than separately, resulting in better outcomes for sleep, mood and bodily function.

Research studies have been showing that full spectrum hemp oil has been delivering better results and help with symptoms than isolates due to containing supplementary compounds like phytochemicals. Cannabis oil rich in terpenes and flavonoids are able to enhance and magnify the existing effects of full spectrum hemp oil. An example is the terpene called pinene which is known as being able to help with reducing the cognitive reduction caused by THC. Other similar terpenes (organic scent compounds) like myrcene, pinene and caryophyllene are also known to pair well with full spectrum hemp oil and assist in providing anti anxiety and anti inflammatory effects. More research is needed to hone in on the exact interactions between terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoid compounds.

Compounds in the cannabis plant

There are close to 500 chemicals in the cannabis plant including CBD and THC but not all are relevant and useful. Taking a full spectrum oil means you take in cannabinoids outside of just CBD – which may include CBA, CBG, CBN and other trace compounds like terpenes, chlorophyll, flavonoids and more which all help in improving health.

Full spectrum extracts are produced in labs, usually via CO2 extraction or a solvent extraction method. Full spectrum hemp oil usually has low or no THC content (below 0.3%).

CBD Concentrates

A product range of extracts that contain high levels of cannabidiol, CBD concentrates are able to be transformed into many different formats including sublingual, inhalers, edibles, capsules and more. Typically they will contain from 50 to 100% cannabidiol, making them very high dosage and only requiring small amounts usually. 

Whole Plant Full Spectrum Hemp Oil

Usually whole plant extracts are developed when heat and solvents aren’t used when the plant oil is being extracted. The plant product stays partially intact through this process, enabling some of the key nutrients and phytocompounds to remain in the end product. It also allows more cannabinoids to be included in the final extract with varying benefits, such as CBG and CBA. The final product will also contain valuable compounds like chlorophyll, flavonoids and terpenes. As some plant matter remains and is not removed by heat or solvents, you’re able to get the ‘full spectrum’ of plant compounds contained in hemp without removing key phytonutrients. 

What is phyto-cannabinoid rich Hemp Oil?

To answer this we first need to understand what phytocannabinoids are. Phytocannabinoids are those cannabinoids which are inert and don’t activate the endocannabinoid system. They’re produced in the buds of the cannabis plant and are beneficial to the body due to antioxidant content. PCR or phyto-cannabinoid rich hemp oil is a product which contains a high level of phytocannabinoids compared to standard hemp oil. Typically oils like full spectrum hemp oil already contain a high amount of phyto cannabinoids. PCR is separate from the typical CBD concentrates you may have heard of which fall under the banner of isolate, full spectrum or broad spectrum hemp oils.

CBD Oil Isolates

The real difference between isolates, full spectrum and broad spectrum oils are just the chemical contents of each and their potency. Full Spectrum contains more plant compounds that are raw and haven’t been removed in the extraction process – it also doesn’t necessarily contain CBD. Isolates contain only the pure CBD crystal which is 99% CBD content. Full spectrum hemp oils or broad spectrum also typically contain CBG and CBA. Isolates are made in the same method as other formats of hemp oil, however it is chilled after being extracted via winterisation, that utterly removes any other chemical remaining in the mixture apart from CBD. This chemical processing results in a crystal white powder form of CBD which can then be transferred into items like sublingual strips. Isolates are usually lower price than their full spectrum counterparts but can miss much of the plant compounds which similarly carry benefits to the brain and body as CBD. These help to draw out and trigger the entourage effect and enhance the overall therapeutic application of the hemp extract.

What is hemp typically used for?

Hemp can be both female and male as an individual organism. This is called being dioecious, with both types of flowers being able to be active on one plant simultaneously. One of the biggest industrial uses of the plant is for its fibres that it naturally produces in its stems. The fibrous and incredibly strong stems of hemp can be used in concrete to strengthen it, for clothes and many other products (ego bags). Flowers and buds of the plant contain far more cannulations and other beneficial fats and oils than the stems which are mostly just plant fibre. Hemp’s stems do contain cannabinoids however and are not completely useless for nutritional purposes. Terpenes and Phyto cannabinoids are the other products generated in the leaves, flowers and buds of the hemp plant that provide other important benefits for the gut and immune system. Hundreds of types of cannabinoids (CBD and CBDA being just a couple examples) exist within the hemp plant in varying quantities. 

Most people only consume the leaves or buds of the plant in supplements like hemp protein powder and oils. The stems with its incredibly strong fibrous walls are much less appetising for consumption and difficult to break down. Products made from the fibres are highly sustainable, green and biodegrade organically which is great in reducing environmental impact. It’s also a crop type that germinates and grows to full height very quickly making its yield and material density very high per hectare of land used which is much more effective and efficient for both the land and water needs than comparable fibre crops like cotton. 

Most hemp is also resistant to insects, mould and fungus which means minimal herbicide and pesticides can be used to further reduce environmental damage as well as potential harm or side effects to humans. Versatility and extremely high utility are the key tenets of hemp as a material – it can be strung into rope, twisted into yarn for thread and clothes, worked and developed into brick and insulation or added into concrete for reinforcement as we described. With very high tensile strength and ability to also flex under strain it’s ideal for a huge range of applications – even paper and textile goods for creative purposes.

How Can You Tell High Quality Hemp Oil Apart?

The key differences are the chemical makeup, appearance and how (as well as where) each plant is grown. Subspecies can have marked differences in quality and nutrient content. Chemically, as we mentioned the biggest factor to ensure is the plant contains no THC. Hemp can’t get you high as it contains no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is what provides the psychoactive effect and high of cannabis. It can still relax you however and help to reduce inflammation or bodily pains (e.g., in joints or from bruising in training) through its cannaflavin and phytonutrient content (which is legal). This oil can be ingested through smoked forms or eaten directly via other ingestible forms of hemp extract. The plant can contain significant amounts of both THC and CBN or CBG depending on the subspecies or strain and how it was cultivated. The amount legally allowed in cannabis can vary by country and even states or regions within countries. In the United States this is particularly the case with certain counties and states having much more relaxed laws compared to others where low THC or even full THC may be allowed.

Looking at just the physical appearance of hemp and cannabis can be deceiving. They’re often mixed up but the subspecies of these two cannabis plants have some typical common themes in terms of their structure and looks that distinguish them. Height is a key one – varieties of hemp subspecies are typically much taller (almost tree like in stature) and can be meters taller than their cannabis subspecies counterparts. These look more like shrubs or short bushy trees with lower stem heights. Hemp also has differing leaf and bud shapes. Its leaves look much thinner and more elegant, with less broadness to them and wider, longer reaching expanses end to end. Marijuana leaves and buds are shorter and stockier, with a tighter look and often have hairs and crystals which is not typical of hemp (called trichomes). Although they are both technical cannabises, compared side by side you would think they are completely different species as they look very dissimilar (hemp being much longer, taller, and thinner as a plant).

Full Spectrum Hemp Oil

These oils are very different to isolate products, as they don’t go through chilling and winterisation to remove the plant compounds and matter from the end product that provide plant nutrients and phytocompounds. There are also critical fatty acids and terpene plant compounds in full spectrum oils which may contribute to the entourage effect. Full spectrum oils still typically remove THC from the extract due to its psychoactive risks. Thus they also won’t get you high but are able to provide a full spectrum of hemp oil’s benefits to the body and drive anti-inflammatory effects. This has been demonstrated from studies in the early 2000s and indicates the benefits obtained from full spectrum hemp oil are enhanced by other compounds. Broad spectrum is slightly different again, where THC is completely removed from the final extract.

These three types of oils usually are contained within a carrier oil which holds the substrate compound in it and is more palatable. When combined with a carrier the final mixed product is known as a tincture, which is usually a liquid mix. You might see full spectrum hemp oil be called a tincture or straight oil – tinctures contain carriers like coconut oil or MCT oil. Because of the long chain fatty acids and omegas in the carriers, the overall nutrition and health profile of hemp oil is enhanced. Their use and lifespan also increases as a tincture, making cooking and combination in drinks possible for each user. Tinctures have a longer lifespan and carry the product for greater periods.

Final Thoughts – Full Spectrum vs Isolate

Hemp oils and concentrate varieties come in a range of differing oil types, styles, strengths and final product makeup. We’ve looked at how isolates, full spectrum and broad spectrum hemp oils compare in their makeup and characteristics, what to look for in each and how the numerous additional nutrients like phytocompounds and flavonoids in full spectrum oils drive benefits via the entourage effect. We’ve heard how decarboxylated products from CO2 extraction can avoid the solvent process and how isolates versus full spectrum hemp oils are crafted. We also briefly looked at PCR or phyto-cannabinoid compound rich hemp oils. We also looked at how broad spectrum oils differ from full spectrum oils and how products from tinctures to pure extracts can be taken as oil, sublingually applied or inhaled even when in isolated form.