There are thousands of CBD companies out there, meaning there’s probably over 50,000 CBD products to choose from.  Yet they are all made from CBD/hemp extract that comes in just three primary forms:  Isolate, Distillate (Broad-Spectrum), and Full Spectrum CBD.  You might think to yourself “What’s the difference? CBD is CBD is CBD”.

That would be true if the only compound present in all CBD oils was cannabidiol (CBD).  Upon closer inspection, however, we learn that “CBD oil” is a phrase used interchangeably.  The term refers to Isolates, Distillates, and full spectrum oils.  The term misrepresents certain products though, because Distillates and full spectrum oils contain far more than just CBD.  To be accurate in our nomenclature, we should technically be calling full spectrum oils “hemp extract”.  Instead, most of us dismissively toss them into the “CBD oil” category.

The Entourage Effect

Full spectrum hemp extract is widely regarded as the superior variety of the three types of CBD oils.  This results from a phenomenon called “The Entourage Effect“.  This phrase refers to the synergistic properties of the different compounds from the cannabis plant.  Alone, each compound may not do that much, but when combined, they strengthen and amplify one another.  When acting as a team, it’s widely thought that the benefits of these compounds far exceed the sum total of the benefits of the individual parts.

If the Entourage Effect is so powerful, why make byproducts with fewer cannabinoids?

If you’re scratching your head wondering why anyone uses anything but full spectrum hemp extract, you aren’t alone.  From a logical perspective, isolates and distillates don’t make as much sense as full spectrum extracts.  But although subtle, there are several reasons to make isolates and broad spectrum distillate.

Reason #1:  Drug Tests

For one reason or another, many of us have to undergo regular or random drug tests.  In most cases, even the smallest amount of THC may result in a positive reading, and various consequences.  Here are a few of the reasons that people are drug tested:

  • Annual Biometric Screenings – These are increasingly popular in organizations like hospital systems.  Testing positive for THC will result in termination for most employees.
  • Random Screenings – When unexpected incidents happen in the workplace, many employers require immediate drug tests.  Testing positive for THC will result in termination for most employees.
  • Court – Many courts mandate frequent drug tests as a condition of certain sentences.  This isn’t necessarily unreasonable, but it would be terrible for someone who is trying to follow the rules to be punished or incarcerated for trace amounts of THC from a CBD product.

Reason #2:  Stigma

Although state and local governments continue to relax marijuana legislation, many people still stigmatize anything with cannabis.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, since many CBD products come from hemp rather than marijuana.  The two get grouped together all the same.  Those who have a less favorable view of marijuana will sometimes take a similar stance on CBD products made from hemp.  If they hear that a product is completely THC-Free though, their ears tend to perk up.

Reason #3:  Fear

CBD products made from hemp are required to be below 0.3% THC, a far cry from any concentration that would be psychoactive.  When people try cannabis for the first time though, they don’t necessarily know how much THC will cause a “high”.  These individuals tend to feel much safer venturing into the world of CBD if they know they can get products that are completely THC-Free.

People seek THC-Free products for any or all of the reasons above.  The world grows more familiar with cannabis every day though. As cannabis comes into the mainstream, reasons #2 and #3 are quickly diminishing.  Reason #1 will probably take several years and more sophisticated testing to start subsiding.

Reason #4:  The Wonderful Fragrance of Cannabis

This one is relatively self explanatory.  Some folks simply don’t like the strong smell and flavor of cannabis.  1000 Hemp says it better than anyone else in one article, stating, 

Those who are trying to dodge the unavoidable musky, plant-like flavor of unrefined CBD oil may want to try something a little bit purer. For them, supplements made with either CBD distillate or isolate may be far preferred.”

How Isolates are made

Isolates are the most common answer to the issue of THC.  They undergo a dubious extraction process though.  To make isolates, companies often use harmful chemicals like butane, hexane, and pentane in their extractions.  

We should note that it’s impossible to remove 100% of any solvent from an extract.  So consuming these products might mean that you are taking in trace amounts of those harsh chemicals listed above.  Some of these chemicals have been shown to cause both short and long-term health problems, so always investigate the extraction processes of a company before buying their products.

How Broad Spectrum Distillates are made

Distillates, on the other hand, simply use heat. Industrial Hemp Farms summarizes this in their article on the topic, stating, 

After passing through the processes of extraction, winterization, and decarboxylation, the mixture is finally ready for the distillation process and removal of excess compounds. Two methods are prevalent in the hemp industry: steam distillation or fractional distillation. These techniques can be reproduced to create an even more refined product […]”

The process works much like the distillation of alcohol.  Different elements evaporate at different temperatures, producing a “head”, a “body”, and a “tail” to the resulting distillate, each condensing and depositing into separate chambers.  

Terpenes make up the head, and due to heating, degraded cannabinoids make up a good portion of the tail.  So, by process of elimination, manufacturers use the “body”.  The body of the distillate can then be subjected to a process called chromatography to separate or “remediate” the THC from the other compounds found in the body.

Isolate vs Distillate: Which is superior?

You get to decide the answer to this question.  Although these products may not deliver the same “entourage effect” that full spectrum extracts provide, many people still find them helpful, especially products made from distillate since they still contain several cannabinoids other than CBD.  In the grand scheme of things though, the closer you get to an Isolate, the further you depart from how nature has designed the plant.  If you are on the fence about trying an isolate, consider the following statement from Detroit Metro Times article CBD Isolate vs. CBD Distillate: Why Should You Care?:

While having only CBD is not harmful and contains some benefits, it is definitely not the way that nature intended these products to work. Hemp plants have developed over thousands and thousands of years to work a certain way. Today, scientists know that many of the compounds in hemp work together to create an entourage effect.”

Don’t just take any company’s word for it

As a rule, always try a few different products so you can draw your own conclusions.  Just remember to look past the tactics and buzz words that many companies use to draw you in.  

So when company “x” wants you to try their “Pure CBD, Nano-amplified Isolate”, try to look at objective measures to see if it’s the right product for you.  

For instance, what does the word “pure CBD” mean in this example?  It sounds positive, but it doesn’t seem to be quantifying anything.  Many companies proclaim “Nano-amplified” on their labels, another nebulous term.  More than anything, it creates the illusion of scientific authority, when it simply refers to a different approach to emulsifying various CBD products.  The only portion of the phrase that tells us anything meaningful is the straightforward part – the “CBD Isolate” part.

Long story short: always do some extra research if vague or confusing word choice is being used.

The real factors to consider

Obtaining lab reports for products and examining the experience of other customers are far better ways to find safe, reliable products to try and compare.  Furthermore, if you reach out to the company that you’re researching, they should be able to clearly communicate the steps they go through between the raw hemp and the final product.

At 4 Corners Cannabis, we now offer several new products made with our own THC-Free distillate.  If you feel so inclined, you can request lab reports or information for any or all of them. Just reach out to us here.  To learn a bit more about the entourage effect, click here.

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