CBD Isolate vs. Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum | What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate? What’s CO2 extraction? How does nano CBD work? Here’s what you should know.

Gleb Oleinik Updated on December 21, 2021

Millions across the world are using cannabidiol (CBD) to improve their health. Despite that, many people have lingering questions about this natural compound.

One common source of confusion is the different types of CBD and the methods used to produce them.

You’ve probably seen terms like “broad-spectrum CBD,” “nano CBD,” and “CO2 extraction” on CBD oil labels and product descriptions. But what do they mean? How should they affect your buying decision?

Here’s a quick primer for the different types of CBD, extraction methods, and other CBD terminology to help you make an educated choice.

The Different Types of CBD

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid present in cannabis plants.

Most CBD products are sourced from hemp, a type of cannabis with low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high CBD levels. In comparison, any plant with over 0.3% THC is considered marijuana, which is illegal in the U.S. and most other countries.

Although CBD is a single compound, it can come in three types: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and CBD isolate. All of these can be formulated into a wide array of products, including oils, capsules, gummies, topicals, vape e-liquids, beverages, and more.

It’s vital to understand the difference between the three types of CBD so you can choose the one that suits your individual preferences.

Keep in mind that reputable CBD companies will always make it clear what type of CBD is present in a particular product with info on the label and product description.

Full Spectrum

Full-spectrum is a whole-plant hemp extract that contains all of the plant’s main active compounds. ¹

Although CBD is still the main ingredient, this extract also carries small concentrations of THC, other cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, and CBC, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals.

Full-spectrum CBD can also contain waxes, chlorophyll, and other inactive plant material, although their presence depends on the exact manufacturing process used.

CBD in the form of full-spectrum hemp extracts has been shown to have increased potency due to what researchers are speculating to be the “entourage effect” — the synergistic relationship between cannabinoids, terpenes, and other components of cannabis. ²

CBD Tincture

An easy way to imagine this is to think of an orchestra. When the piano, violin, and other components of an orchestra are played together, the resulting sound is more pleasing than any instrument by itself.


Similarly, whole-plant cannabis preparations may be more potent because of the interplay between all their components as well as their individual effects.


It’s also possible to make a full-spectrum extract from marijuana. However, this terminology is typically used to refer to hemp products, and it will often be clear if a product is made from marijuana rather than hemp.

Broad Spectrum

Broad-spectrum CBD is similar to full-spectrum but includes an additional step during preparation to remove THC. Some trace amounts of THC can remain, but they’re typically below levels detectable by third-party testing.

This type of extract is ideal for those who wish to completely avoid THC for any reason (e.g., employee drug testing, high sensitivity to THC).

Full-spectrum CBD products can result in a positive drug test and even cause a little intoxication in susceptible people at higher doses.

Still, you should verify that your broad-spectrum product is actually free of THC by checking the third-party lab test reports.

Broad-spectrum CBD also benefits from the cannabis entourage effect since you’re getting numerous cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial phytochemicals. However, its effects may be slightly weaker than a full-spectrum extract due to the absence of THC.


As the name suggests, CBD isolate is pure CBD. It’s made by isolating CBD from all other compounds pulled from hemp during the extraction process, leaving behind a white, tasteless, odorless crystalline powder that typically contains over 99% CBD.

CBD isolates can sometimes contain very small (less than 1%) amounts of other cannabinoids, particularly CBDV because it has a similar molecular structure and gets left behind during the extraction process.

Since CBD isolate lacks all of the other phytochemicals found in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum extracts, researchers speculate that it doesn’t benefit from the entourage effect, leading to a lower potency compared to whole-plant hemp extracts. So you may need to take higher doses to get similar effects.

Having said that, CBD isolate has several advantages:

  • It’s free of THC
  • It’s easy to formulate into oils, capsules, gummies, and other products
  • It tends to be cheaper than full-spectrum CBD
  • You can use it in a wide variety of ways and can even make DIY CBD preparations
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Carrier Oils

Aside from cannabidiol, every CBD oil will contain another key ingredient called a carrier oil. Carrier oils may help the body absorb CBD by binding to it and encouraging the release of enzymes involved in fat absorption.

Carrier oils also make it easier to dose CBD by diluting it and can offer health benefits of their own.

Thanks to its affordability, long shelf-life, effective absorption, and other favorable properties, the most popular carrier oil for CBD is coconut-derived medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.

However, any other plant-based oil can work just as well, including hemp seed oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, black cumin oil, as well as vegetable glycerin.

CBD Extraction

Another concept to be aware of is CBD extraction. Before formulating CBD oil, capsules, or other CBD products, you first need to pull CBD and other beneficial compounds out of the hemp plant. This process is called extraction and it can be done via different methods.

Hemp extraction usually involves a solvent — a compound that helps isolate the CBD-rich oil from the hemp plant.

The two most popular CBD extraction methods use alcohol or CO2 as solvents. Neither method is superior to the other as they both have their strengths and limitations.

Other solvent extractions, such as butane, hexane, and propane, can be used as well. However, they’re not widely utilized by the CBD industry due to their high flammability and the possibility of leaving harmful residual solvents.

Alcohol Extraction

One of the crudest ways of creating cannabis extracts in the industry is by using alcohol as a solvent. Ethanol is usually the alcohol of choice but isopropyl alcohol is also used.

For this method, cannabis plant material is soaked in ethanol to dissolve cannabis trichomes — the hair-like structures abundant on the flowers and leaves of the plant. Trichomes are rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active ingredients. ³

After this, the plant material is removed, and the alcohol is purged to leave behind a full-spectrum CBD extract.

Alcohol extraction is popular because of its relative safety, effectiveness, and ease, allowing it to be done at home or scaled up to meet the high-volume needs of a CBD company.

Although it started out as the go-to extraction method for marijuana, it has since grown equally common for CBD-rich hemp extraction.

CO2 Extraction

Although CBD extraction using ethanol is an effective method, most companies these days opt for carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction.

This advanced and highly efficient extraction method involves pressurizing and heating CO2 to turn it into a supercritical fluid and passing it over hemp plant material to dissolve the trichomes and create a CBD-rich oil.


The main advantage of the CO2 extraction method is that it’s highly tunable — by adjusting the temperature and pressure, you can choose which compounds to target and what to leave behind. ⁴


However, the CO2 extraction method requires expensive equipment, which is why it’s favored by bigger CBD companies. Some brands even utilize both ethanol and CO2 extraction.


Nano Processing

Another concept that can create confusion is what’s called nano CBD or water-soluble CBD. The truth is, CBD can never truly become water-soluble. But the industry uses the term when nanotechnology is being used to improve the absorption of CBD. You’ll sometimes see the term used in various CBD products like CBD oils, capsules, beverages, and other liquid CBD preparations.

Nanotechnology is already widely utilized in the pharmaceutical industry to enhance the oral and topical delivery of drugs into the body. ⁵

The central idea behind nano CBD is to break down the active plant compounds into tiny (nano) sized bits to increase their surface area and make them more bioavailable — that is, to increase how quickly and to what extent they’re absorbed by your body. ⁶ There are two main approaches to increasing their bioavailability. The first is to protect the tiny CBD molecules with nano-sized fatty shells called liposomes, allowing more CBD to reach its destination. The second is the nanoemulsion method, where CBD oil is broken down into even smaller, nanosized particles, making them behave very similarly to water-soluble compounds, increasing your body’s ability to absorb it.

These approaches are especially beneficial for CBD because of its naturally low bioavailability from being a fat-soluble compound that doesn’t dissolve in water and first-pass metabolism – needing to be processed through the digestive tract and liver. ⁷ ¹¹

For example, oral CBD has an estimated bioavailability of 13–19%, which means you’re losing out on over 80 percent of the CBD you ingest. ⁸

Simply put, CBD is difficult for our water-based bodies to absorb. Companies using nanotechnology claim that they can solve this issue, enhancing CBD’s effectiveness in the process.

Does Nano CBD Work?

This brings us to the key question — does nanotechnology improve CBD’s effectiveness?

One study compared the absorption of cannabis-based drug Sativex to a nanoemulsion drug containing the same active ingredients: THC and CBD. The nanoemulsion had greater absorption, with 31% higher bioavailability for CBD and 16% for THC than Sativex. ⁹

A similar study compared Sativex with a THC/CBD nanoemulsion infused with piperine — a black pepper compound used to enhance the bioavailability of supplements. Here again, the nanoemulsion showed much higher bioavailability. ¹⁰

While these findings are certainly promising, the studies were conducted on very small groups using a very specific nanoemulsion drug. Nano CBD products may vary in their formulation methods, making it difficult to conclude which form of CBD on the market is superior. For now, take any claims you see on nano CBD products with a grain of salt.

Watch Out for High-THC Cannabis Products

Another thing to keep in mind is that because CBD is present in both hemp and marijuana, you should always take care to check which type of cannabis a given product is derived from.

Although the vast majority of CBD products are sourced from hemp, this isn’t always the case.

For example, it’s possible to find marijuana-derived oils, capsules, gummies, and similar products in states where recreational marijuana is legal, such as Colorado and Washington.

Your best bet is to only buy products that come with third-party lab tests so you can confirm that they contain minimal THC.

Rick Simpson Oil

One prominent example of a marijuana-derived product that resembles CBD oil is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). Although RSO is a full-spectrum cannabis oil that contains CBD, its levels are relatively low and THC is the main active ingredient.

It was invented by Canadian cannabis activist Rick Simpson, who reportedly used RSO to cure his skin cancer and help other cancer sufferers. RSO and other marijuana-derived products are not the same things as CBD oil and other high-CBD, low-THC preparations.

Cannabis Plant

Get the Knowledge Before Buying CBD

Concepts like different CBD types, extraction methods, and nano CBD shouldn’t be intimidating. In fact, they can help you make a better decision by finding a safe, high-quality product that meets your specific needs.

As one final tip, we recommend doing some research before buying a CBD product. You should check where it’s sourced from, which extraction method is used, and any other manufacturing information. Some companies, such as CBDistillery, the same products in different extract types. If you’re interested in selections as such, we invite you to use our CBDistillery coupon code.

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3.  Happyana, Nizar, et al. “Analysis of cannabinoids in laser-microdissected trichomes of medicinal Cannabis sativa using LCMS and cryogenic NMR.” Phytochemistry 87 (2013): 51-59.

4.  Rovetto, Laura J., and Niccolo V. Aieta. “Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction of cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L.” The Journal of Supercritical Fluids 129 (2017): 16-27.

5.  Patra, Jayanta Kumar, et al. “Nano based drug delivery systems: recent developments and future prospects.” Journal of nanobiotechnology 16.1 (2018): 71.

6.  Price, Gary, and Deven A. Patel. “Drug Bioavailability.” StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, 2020.

7.  Millar, Sophie A., et al. “A systematic review on the pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol in humans.” Frontiers in pharmacology 9 (2018): 1365.

8.  Mechoulam, Raphael, Linda A. Parker, and Ruth Gallily. “Cannabidiol: an overview of some pharmacological aspects.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 42.S1 (2002): 11S-19S.

9.  Atsmon, Jacob, et al. “PTL401, a new formulation based on pro-nano dispersion technology, improves oral cannabinoids bioavailability in healthy volunteers.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 107.5 (2018): 1423-1429.

10.  Cherniakov, Irina, et al. “Piperine-pro-nanolipospheres as a novel oral delivery system of cannabinoids: Pharmacokinetic evaluation in healthy volunteers in comparison to buccal spray administration.” Journal of Controlled Release 266 (2017): 1-7.

11. Huestis, Marilyn A. “Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics.” Chemistry & biodiversity 4.8 (2007): 1770.

Gleb Oleinik

Gleb Oleinik is a freelance CBD & cannabis writer from Vancouver, Canada. He’s read thousands of studies about cannabinoids and other beneficial natural compounds, helping him translate complex science into plain language. He’s also written third-party lab test reports of CBD products and knows the industry inside and out. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

The two main types of CBD are whole-plant CBD extract and CBD isolate. Whereas isolate contains pure CBD, whole-plant extracts contain CBD plus a wide range of hemp cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds.