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Shopping for CBD products, you may have noticed, can be overwhelming. A quick Google search for “CBD oil” yields about 108 million results, and perusing the pages of products offered by popular online retailers can feel nearly as daunting. There is such a seemingly endless number of choices among potency, carrier oils, added ingredients, and other variables that choosing the best CBD oil can be a difficult decision.

For example, you’ll find that many CBD products are labeled as either full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD. But what’s the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? Which choice is best for you?


It’s All About the THC

The difference between full-spectrum CBD and broad-spectrum CBD comes down to the presence (or lack) of THC, the chemical largely responsible for marijuana’s intoxicating effects. Due to THC’s psychoactive properties and status as a Schedule I drug, many people who want the benefits of CBD try to avoid THC. Therein lies the difference between full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products: One has THC, even if trace amounts, and the other has no presence of THC. 


Full-Spectrum CBD

Full-spectrum CBD is a cannabis extract that contains the full range of botanical compounds usually found in the plant’s flowers, branches, stems, leaves, and sometimes roots, too. In addition to CBD and THC, full-spectrum oil — and the products made from it — also contain terpenes, essential oils, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds. 

Full-spectrum CBD should also contain the other cannabinoids found in the plant. So far, more than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis. While CBD and THC have been studied the most, minor cannabinoids including CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol), and CBDV (cannabidivarin) may also have therapeutic benefits.

Research has shown that when taken together, the different cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds work in tandem. This is known as the entourage effect or ensemble effect. The cannabinoids modulate one another in ways that could enhance cannabis’s therapeutic effects while mitigating unwanted side effects. For example, both CBD and THC are effective pain relievers when taken alone. When taken together, however, the two compounds’ pain-relieving qualities can work together while CBD can reduce the intoxicating or anxious effects of THC.

Most full-spectrum CBD oil is produced from hemp, which was legalized nationwide with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. To be legal, hemp and products made from it, including CBD formulations, must have less than 0.3 percent THC. While this amount of THC isn’t enough to get anyone high, even a small amount can still work synergistically with the plant’s other beneficial phytonutrients. In states with legal marijuana, full-spectrum CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC are also available.


Broad-Spectrum CBD

Even though CBD products that are made from hemp contain only a negligible amount of THC and are unlikely to get you high, many people would rather avoid the psychoactive cannabinoid altogether. For those consumers, many companies offer broad-spectrum CBD products. To make broad-spectrum CBD oil, manufacturers start with a full-spectrum extraction, which is then further processed to remove the THC. 

Since broad-spectrum CBD products still contain the minor cannabinoids and other botanicals that make whole-plant medicines superior, the user will still get the benefits of the entourage effect, albeit minus the many benefits of THC. 

Which Is Right For You?

For most people who wish to enjoy the benefits of CBD, the tiny amount of THC found in full-spectrum products will offer the complete entourage effect without enough psychoactivity to produce a buzz. Full-spectrum CBD products are now legal and available in all 50 states (so long as they contain less than 0.3 percent THC; states with medical or recreational marijuana can contain higher THC content), making them a convenient and potentially superior option to broad-spectrum CBD products. However, since full-spectrum CBD does contain some THC, it is possible for consumers who use them to drug-test positive for marijuana use.

For this reason, broad-spectrum CBD may be a better option for those who are subject to drug screenings. Since all of the THC has been removed, using broad-spectrum CBD should not produce false positives for THC use on a drug test (though some research suggests even pure CBD products should be avoided if you’re screened for drug use). 

Also, some people are hypersensitive to the effects of THC, which may make broad-spectrum CBD products a better solution for them. Price-conscious consumers may prefer broad-spectrum CBD products over full-spectrum since the former are usually more affordable, as well. The high cost of precisely monitoring THC levels to ensure that they do not exceed 0.3 percent and the greater demand for full-spectrum products can make them more expensive.

Whichever you choose, both full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products are preferable to ones made with only CBD isolate. This highly refined form of CBD has a purity of 99 percent or higher, which means it offers little to no entourage effect benefits. Now happy shopping!

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