AUTHORED BY: GENESTER WILSON-KING, MD FACOG & SARAH RUSSO
Whole Plant versus CBD Isolates
Whole plant (or broad-spectrum) CBD is cannabidiol that is naturally extracted from the entire cannabis plant. This means it not only contains CBD (if it is a CBD dominant plant) and other cannabinoids, but also terpenes, flavonoids, and additional botanical compounds. The end product is minimally refined, leaving most of the cannabinoids and terpenes intact.
CBD isolate, also called single-molecule CBD, is just that. CBD is the only substance in the preparation. It has been purified and separated from other components in the plant. They are generally labeled as being 99% (or more) “pure” CBD. They have no other active ingredients. 
Isolated CBD has the advantage of standardized dosing and may be beneficial for some people. However, this has its limitations.  Research and anecdotal user feedback have reported that the synergistic effects of various cannabis compounds may help to potentiate its therapeutic potential. Whole plant CBD products (when produced responsibly and properly labeled) have been found to be more effective than isolated products. 
However, there is a place for CBD isolates. Some patients require higher doses of cannabidiol, such as those with seizure disorders or cancer. If larger doses are required, whole-plant CBD can be expensive. Cannabidiol isolate products are more affordable, and therefore may enable people to continue dosing at higher amounts. 
Both whole plant and CBD isolate products can be useful. However, studies have shown that the whole plant CBD has a wider range of effectiveness, especially at lower doses. The premier study demonstrating this finding was done in 2015 in Israel.  A preclinical (mouse) study compared the use of purified cannabidiol isolate to a whole plant CBD dominant chemovar called Avidekel. They found the CBD isolate had a narrow therapeutic window of effectiveness, while the whole plant was effective at a wide range of doses, especially lower doses. Other studies have confirmed these findings. [5,6]
What about “Full-Spectrum” or “Broad-Spectrum”?
The words “full-spectrum” and “broad-spectrum” are used interchangeably but they are not synonymous. To add to the confusion, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum mean different things to different people. Full-spectrum generally means there is no THC at all (0%). Full-spectrum can be a misnomer because some components are generally lost during the extraction process.
Broad-spectrum generally incorporates “the whole plant”, including varying amounts of THC.3 This process works to preserve the wide diversity of components of the plant. This distinction between full and broad-spectrum has been reported by Dr. Dustin Sulak of Healer.com. However, there are various other sources that state the opposite. In conclusion, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum are marketing terms that are ill-defined.
Be cautious and make sure you check the Certificate of Analysis (COA) so that you know what type of cannabidiol you are purchasing. Look to see if the company is using CBD isolate or is incorporating the whole plant in its product. And also consider why you are using CBD and the outcome you hope to achieve.
Genester Wilson-King, MD FACOG is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and gynecologist with over 25 years of clinical experience providing compassionate and research-driven care to patients. After years of working as a full-service OB/GYN, she founded Victory Rejuvenation Center (VRC), a private holistic and preventive medicine practice that provides life-transforming management modalities and customized medicines to patients. She is the Medical Advisor to Treadwell Farms.
As the Medical Director of VRC, Dr. Wilson-King provides services that help her patients age gracefully and achieve holistic well-being. She focuses on plant-based medicine, integrated health, nutrition, supplements, cannabis education, and hormone balance.
Dr. Wilson-King is Co-Vice President of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC). The SCC is an educational and scientific society of physicians and other professionals dedicated to the promotion, protection and support of cannabis for medical use. Dr. Wilson-King co-authored the Best Practices Guidelines for Cannabis Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, and Cannabis Use in Women – Special Considerations (in progress). She is also on the Board of the Doctors For Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and regulation of cannabis for adults. Advancing the DFCR’s commitment to addressing the disproportionate criminalization of cannabis use among communities of color and the nation’s poor, she regularly provides expert opinions for legal cases involving cannabis.
Dr. Wilson-King is a nationally recognized advocate, clinician, and educator for cannabis and hormone and wellness therapies. She presents on cannabis use in obstetrics and gynecology, hormone therapy for PMS, various stages of menopause, and for applications in nutrition.
Sarah Russo is a longtime plant enthusiast and globetrotter. She got her degree in environmental studies and social justice, with a focus on plant medicine from the Evergreen State College. She is a freelance writer, consultant, and project manager with over 13 years of experience in the cannabis and herbal medicine space. Her main objectives are fighting for the right to use plants, implementing social justice approaches in the cannabis industry, as well as encouraging sustainable agricultural practices. She is currently based on an island in the Mediterranean. Sarah is a content creator for Treadwell Farms.
- Sulak, Dustin. Healer Certified Program. Accessed on 5/28/2020.
- Devitt-Lee, Adrian. (2019). “Dosing Pure CBD”. Project CBD
- Healer.com. (2018). CBD & CANNABIS DOSAGE GUIDE – Project CBD Interview with Dr. Sulak. Healer. Accessed on 5/28/2020.
- Gallily, R., Yekhtin, Z., & Hanuš, L. O. (2015). Overcoming the bell-shaped dose-response of cannabidiol by using cannabis extract enriched in cannabidiol. Pharmacology & Pharmacy, 6(02), 75.
- Maa, E., & Figi, P. (2014). The case for medical marijuana in epilepsy. Epilepsia, 55(6), 783-786.
- Sarris, J., Sinclair, J., Karamacoska, D., Davidson, M., & Firth, J. (2020). Medicinal cannabis for psychiatric disorders: a clinically-focused systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1), 24.
- Cadena, Aaron. (2019). "Full Spectrum vs Broad Spectrum vs CBD Isolate: The Difference Explained". Medium. Accessed on 5/28/2020.