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What is full-spectrum CBD oil and is it better?

A hand holding a bottle of full-spectrum CBD oilCBD, aka cannabidiol, is one of numerous chemical compounds known as cannabinoids naturally present in cannabis and hemp plants. It’s a popular wellness product which is either added to carrier oils such as hemp or olive to make CBD oil, or to vaping liquids, edible gummies, capsules, creams and cosmetics.

If you use CBD or have been looking into it, you’ve probably also heard of full-spectrum CBD and may be wondering exactly what it is. Here, we’ll examine the differences between pure CBD and full-spectrum products (as well as broad-spectrum CBD), their potential health benefits and safety, and the role played by THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the high feeling associated with recreational cannabis use.

What’s the difference between CBD oil and full-spectrum CBD oil?

CBD generally comes in three forms: CBD isolate, broad-spectrum CBD and full-spectrum CBD. All of these are used in CBD products but there are important differences in their chemical make-up.

CBD isolate is the ‘pure’, fully refined, crystalline form of CBD, containing no more than trace amounts of other chemicals.

Broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD, meanwhile, are resinous substances that contain a wide array of chemical compounds from the cannabis plant, including other cannabinoids and natural substances called terpenes and flavonoids, which provide health benefits of their own.

The only difference between these two forms of CBD is that broad-spectrum does not contain THC and full-spectrum CBD does.

Types of CBD extract

  • CBD isolate – pure CBD in crystal or powdered form
  • Broad-spectrum CBD – resin containing terpenes, flavonoids and other cannabinoids but no THC
  • Full-spectrum CBD – same as broad-spectrum but also contains legal levels of THC

When it comes to specific CBD products, there can be confusion over the terms broad-spectrum and full-spectrum, not least because laws on THC content differ from country to country.

In the United States, CBD products can contain up to 0.3% THC. In the majority of European countries, the legal limit is 0.2%. However, in the United Kingdom things are a little different.

Here, the amount of THC in a CBD product is measured not by percentage but by weight. Any single packet or bottle can contain no more than 1mg of THC, no matter what it’s size. So for instance, a 30ml bottle of CBD oil containing 1mg of THC would be around 0.003% THC while a 10ml bottle containing the same amount would be 0.01% THC.

In most cases, therefore, it’s effectively illegal in the UK for a product to contain more than trace amounts of THC, meaning that products called full-spectrum in the UK would probably be considered broad-spectrum elsewhere.

What are the benefits of full-spectrum CBD oil?

There’s an increasing amount of scientific evidence that CBD itself can help in treating conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, sleeping disorders, epilepsy and cancer symptoms. But the extra plant substances present in broad- and full-spectrum CBD also have their own health properties.

  • Cannabinoids – THC is in use in several medicines and pre-clinical research suggests therapeutic potential for CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene) and CBN (cannabinol) among others
  • Terpenes – found in essential oils, they help to create the aromas of plants. They have health benefits and may also contribute to the entourage effect (see below)
  • Flavonoids – present in many foods, they have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties

While cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids may each convey their own health benefits, there is a theory that goes further, suggesting that when taken together these effects can be more than the sum of their parts. This is known as the entourage effect.

The entourage effect

The entourage effect is the theory that the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids found in cannabis act on one another to produce different, often more beneficial, effects than if their individual properties were simply added together.

Most studies that lend support to the theory have looked at how other substances in cannabis influence the actions of THC. The presence of CBD, for instance, can reduce some of THC’s adverse effects, such as anxiety, raised heart rate, hunger and sedation, while the terpene pinene may counteract short-term memory loss that results from THC use. A combination of THC and CBD in the medication Sativex (nabiximols), meanwhile, has been shown to effectively treat pain in some cancer patients where neither THC or CBD alone did.

One review of studies concluded that the complementary activities of cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis may increase their range of potential clinical uses and their therapeutic effectiveness.

Another looking specifically at the effects of terpenes found that they performed “far beyond expectations considering their modest concentrations in the plant” in terms of both their own benefits and their roles in modulating the actions of other substances in cannabis.

While it seems clear that some substances in cannabinoids can influence the way that others work, further research is required to determine whether the entourage effect as a whole – involving the combined modulatory effects of every component of cannabis – really does exist.

Either way, what does seem clear is that both full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD oils include extra substances that convey their own health benefits.

Does full-spectrum CBD oil get you high?

CBD itself is not an intoxicating substance. And although full-spectrum CBD oil does contain small amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, when made from legal strains of hemp it is not enough to get you high.

In the United Kingdom, hemp must contain no more than 0.2% THC, which is further diluted when it is blended into products. In the United states, the THC limit for CBD products is 0.3%.

Although some products in the UK have been shown to contain more than the allowable amounts of THC, even these fall far below the level that could create an intoxicated feeling. The only scenario in which a CBD product could get you high is if it’s produced illegally, or in countries where cannabis is decriminalised, from plants that contain higher levels of THC.

That’s why you should always choose a trusted brand of CBD oil that demonstrates its THC content via publicly available independent laboratory tests.

Does full-spectrum CBD oil show up on a drug test?

CBD itself does not how up on drug tests. Instead, tests aiming to detect cannabis use look for the metabolites of THC. However, the amounts of THC in most full-spectrum CBD products are unlikely to be enough to give a positive result once they are excreted in saliva, urine or hair.

Nevertheless, the same caveat applies here as above: if you are regularly using CBD products from an illegal or untested source that contain unusually high levels of THC, it may show up on a drug test.

Crystal Drug & Alcohol Testing, which provides workplace and individual legal drug tests, says: “If you consume CBD oil, you should not test positive for cannabis on a workplace drug test[…] If the oil does contain trace amounts of THC, this should fall below the cut-off levels of the drug test. However, if you have bought a product outside the UK, this could be a different matter. Some unregulated CBD oils can contain up to 5% content of THC. As a result, if used regularly, you could test positive for THC.”

Safety and side-effects of full-spectrum CBD

Along with their main health benefits, terpenes derived naturally from food are generally seen as safe.

Flavonoids also appear to have therapeutic value and are considered safe in the amounts naturally present in a diet high in vegetables. However, there is evidence that they can become toxic at unnaturally high levels, with particular implications for pregnant women.

CBD itself has been described by the World Health Organization as having “a good safety profile”. Side-effects are rare and when they do occur are generally minor, consisting most commonly of tiredness or fatigue, dry mouth, diarrhoea and appetite changes, as well as irritability and nausea.

However, if you are taking medication or supplements you should consult your doctor before using any form of CBD. That’s because CBD and other cannabinoids can interact with some prescription drugs, potentially leading to dangerous levels in the bloodstream and increasing any side-effects they may have.

Drugs that CBD might interact with in this way include those that carry grapefruit warnings, such as some (but not all) statins and blood pressure medications. However, CBD may also interact with drugs that do not come with warnings so you should talk to your doctor before using CBD if you are on any medication.


The author of this article is not a medical expert and nothing in this article constitutes medical advice or gives rise to a medical practitioner/patient relationship. You should seek specialist medical advice where required. Never disregard professional medical advice or refrain from seeking it because of something you have read here.

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