Maybe you’ve heard about cannabidiol (CBD) on a major news network, from a friend who’s been using it or seen hemp-derived CBD products on the shelf at your local organic grocery store. This prolific chemical compound has never been more popular than it is now.
But this increase in popularity means there are now a vast array of CBD products to choose from. How do you choose which CBD product to buy? The first question to consider is whether to use whole-plant or isolate CBD. So, let’s dive into the differences between the two.
Before we can discuss the difference between whole-plant CBD and CBD isolate, it’s important to get the basics down. CBD is an active chemical compound found naturally in cannabis and hemp plants. To offer an incredibly simple understanding of how CBD works, when consumed, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in mammals, activating certain ECS cannabinoid receptors that cause cells to behave in different ways.
CBD has gained much fame in recent years after what feels like endless positive news stories regarding its potential therapeutic effects. And in the past decade, over 50% of states in the U.S. have legalized some form of medical CBD.
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CBD shows promise in treating:
And these therapeutic effects can be felt without the high that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other most well-known chemical compound in cannabis, is known to produce. Because CBD doesn’t make consumers feel that THC high, it’s been hailed as a mild but effective alternative to highly potent THC products or pharmaceutical drugs.
When choosing CBD, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is between whole-plant or isolate CBD. Let’s talk through the difference so you can make an informed decision.
As mentioned above, CBD is an activated chemical compound found in cannabis, known as a cannabinoid. But it’s not the only one. In fact, there are hundreds of different ingredients that make the cannabis plant what it is. There are:
They all come together and influence the taste, smell and the therapeutic effects of the plant. Whole-plant CBD products contain all of these ingredients. They’re made using the entire hemp or cannabis plant, keeping as many of these ingredients intact as possible.
So, what’s the benefit of whole-plant CBD? Researchers have discovered evidence of something called the “entourage effect.”
In an Israeli study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the leading research institutions for cannabis, observed that in mice, CBD was more effective when used alongside other compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant. This research provides scientific evidence of the benefits of whole-plant CBD over isolate. \t
CBD isolate is exactly as it sounds. It’s made by isolating CBD from all other cannabinoids or ingredients naturally found in the plant, like terpenes and fatty acids. When all of this processing is done, the CBD is typically left as a white powder.
Before research on the entourage effect came out, many believed isolating CBD from the other components of the plant would help it work more effectively. It wasn’t until more recently that this idea of isolate was challenged.
That said, isolate CBD can be effective against inflammation, but its effectiveness is also tied to dose; too much or too little can render isolate CBD as ineffective. Luckily, consumers can easily and precisely dose CBD isolate powder by the milligram.
On a less positive note, isolate CBD doesn’t seem to be as effective as whole-plant CBD because it lacks the synergistic components from the plant that can increase effectiveness. It’s also a less environmentally conscious option as it takes much more hemp to extract enough CBD for isolated CBD products.
The rise in CBD’s popularity and new research about its effectivness and versatility has skyrocketed its profile. There are so many products to choose from when it comes to CBD, which can make it confusing to sort through. Understanding the difference between whole plant and isolate is a great place to start.
Photo credit: Alex Person
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.