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Exploring the Differences Between Isolates and "Spectrum" Extracts

With new regulations governing the legal production and sale of cannabis extracts, topicals and edibles beginning in October 2019 – a wider variety of consumption options are coming online. More than ever, it’s important to understand how oil potency is defined, whether it’s formulated oil or pure extract. This article focuses on three terms that cannabis consumers – particularly cannabidiol (CBD) users – should familiarize themselves with right now.

CBD Isolate vs. CBD Distillate vs. Full Spectrum Extracts: Is there a Difference?

The clear answer is yes, although the degree of separation remains subject to interpretation due to something called the “entourage effect.”

The entourage effect is the concept that consuming cannabis using the full range of cannabinoids together produces the most synergistic outcome. This idea was first popularized by a 1998 study demonstrating that the biological activity of the 2-Arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid was enhanced by the presence of endogenous cannabinoid compounds. This concept continues to hold widespread appeal today and has been backed by clinical studies.

Since different types of extracts contain varying amount of terpenes and cannabinoids, the entourage effect will be different for each product. We break down three of these extract sub-types below:

CBD isolate is the purest form of cannabidiol, often manufactured to pharmaceutical standards and in crystalline form. By definition, to isolate is the action of setting something apart. Thus, CBD isolate is simply the purest form cannabidiol-only extract, separated from co-mingled terpenes, flavonoids and associated cannabinoids. GW Pharmaceuticals Plc drug Epidiolex – a CBD Isolate-based drug approved by the Food & Drug Administration last year – is an example of such products with proven science-based therapeutic applications.

The benefits to consuming CBD in isolate form are specific: it is not likely to contain any THC, while odour and taste are generally inconspicuous. However, a lack of entourage effect will nullify the whole plant experience for consumers who desire it.

CBD distillate is similar to isolate in that virtually all terpenes have been stripped away from the end solution, thus limiting the entourage effect. Since the extraction process doesn’t isolate any specific cannabinoid, the final product will have a cannabinoid profile similar to that of the input material. For example, the end solution could contain a 50/50 THC:CBD profile or various other cannabinoid ratio combinations. The most common use in the current Canadian market for CBD Distillate is the production of cannabis products in capsule format.

Full Spectrum Extracts are extracts that preserve the full cannabinoid and terpene profiles of the input material. This results in varying ratios of THC and CBD along with secondary cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes. One popular method of extraction uses CO2 to extract the input material. The extracted material is then blended with a carrier oil in a secondary process. Some formulated oils in the Canadian market are full spectrum, including JWC oil products.

Final Thoughts

With the upcoming emergence of the Canadian topicals, edibles and extracts market, it’s important to understand the difference between isolate, distillate and full spectrum extracts. Please discuss with your health care practitioner to find out which product is right for you.


With any consumption of cannabis products by whatever method or means, the general rule is to start with a low amount, and only increase slowly. Here at JWC, we would like to remind you that determining your dosage should be based on the information provided on your medical document. Do not change your dosage without first consulting with your healthcare provider. As always, make sure that your cannabis consumables are properly labelled and stored out of reach of children and pets. When creating cannabis consumables, try to maintain the ratios between the amount of cannabis and the ingredient (such as butter or oil) which is being infused. If your cannabis ingredient is potent, consider reducing the amount used in a recipe by increasing the portion of non-infused ingredient. This caution applies for cannabis whether obtained on the recreational or the medical market, such that you should carefully monitor your use in order to determine a dosage which is predictable and appropriate for you.

The recipes and other information presented in this site are intended for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and for use by persons having appropriate technical skill, and for use by persons solely at their own discretion and risk. JWC makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the content of the articles presented on this site. It is your responsibility to determine the value and quality of any content, or recipe or other instructions provided on this site and to determine the value, if any, and the safety of the preparation and use instructions. To the extent permissible by law, JWC disclaims all warranties, express or implied, including but not limited to implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose and of non-infringement. JWC shall not be liable for any damages of any kind, whether indirect, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages, or damages for loss of profits, revenue or use, incurred by the user or by any third party, even if JWC has been advised of the possibility of such damages, which arise or may arise out of your use of or reliance upon this site or the content hereof.

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