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Broad Spectrum vs Full Spectrum vs Isolate

Updated: May 18, 2020

What is the difference between Broad Spectrum and Full Spectrum?

I hear this question often. Unfortunately, the answer is muddied by the fact that different companies (and people) use the terminology differently. I will start by providing technically correct definitions of each and then discuss how they are currently used.

Full Spectrum Extract

Full spectrum extract is the oil that is obtained after extraction. It is unrefined (it hasn’t been through any other processing except extraction and winterization) and it contains all of the items that the solvent removed from the biomass with the exception of fats, lipids, and chlorophyll which are removed during winterization. These include all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds that the biomass contained. It is brown to dark brown in color and is highly viscous.

I include winterization as part of the extraction process. Unless a cryogenic ethanol process is used, the extraction process does pull “less desirable” compounds from the hemp biomass. Winterization is a time-intensive filtration process to remove those compounds (fats, lipids, and chlorophyll) from the raw extract. After winterization, you have full spectrum extract.

Broad Spectrum Extract

Broad spectrum extract is any extract that has had something removed, usually during a refining process like distillation or chromatography. It is no longer “full”. What was removed? It could have been one or more cannabinoids or some/all of the terpenes. Traditionally, broad spectrum was used to describe extract after distillation. Hemp distillates are usually a light, honey color to tan. They are also highly viscous and have a tendency to crystallize, at least partially, at room temperature – especially if the terpenes have been removed.

What about an isolate?

Using the Google define: search for "isolate" yields the following (under the Biology/Chemistry section): “obtain or extract (a compound, microorganism, etc.) in a pure form”. That is exactly what isolates are – pure. They are the purest form of an individual compound. CBD (cannabidiol) isolate is the most well-known today. Purity is usually greater than 99%. It has only the smallest (usually non-detectable) traces of any other cannabinoids that existed in the extract prior to the isolation process. CBD isolate is a crystal, not a liquid. There are over 100 cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. CBD is only one of those. A lot of recent attention has been given to CBG (cannabigerol) and CBN (cannabinol) isolates.

So, how have these terms changed over time?

Full Spectrum is being used more now to describe hemp distillate. This is a shift in that a refinement process has occurred. Compounds have been removed. While it’s no longer a full spectrum extract, it should still contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes that were present in the hemp biomass (although potentially not in the same ratios because the refinement process may have stripped some away).

Broad spectrum is being used more to describe THC free distillate. THC is the compound that was removed, leaving most, or all, of the other cannabinoids behind. Again, the refinement process used may impact the other cannabinoids and/or terpenes so the ratios of each may be different.

What is distillation?

Distillation is a refinement process that utilizes varying temperatures and pressures to allow certain compounds to evaporate while others remain in liquid form. The evaporated compounds are then cooled and condensed in a separate vessel. This allows separation of all of the compounds with a boiling point (at the pressure used) equal to or lower than the temperature of distillation from all of the compounds with a boiling point (at the pressure used) higher than the temperature of distillation.

Ascent Naturals uses a two-step distillation process. The first pass through distillation utilizes a lower temperature and higher pressure to separate all the terpenes from a full spectrum extract. The remaining material is reprocessed through the distillation equipment at a higher temperature and lower pressure to remove all the cannabinoids. The cannabinoids and terpenes can then be combined to offer a “full spectrum” hemp distillate or left separate to provide a “full cannabinoid” hemp distillate (all the cannabinoids, but little else).

What is better?

It really depends on your usage. (I know, no one likes “it depends” as the beginning of an answer, but…) Making a product with a delicate taste profile? A hemp distillate, without terpenes, may be your best option. Want to take full advantage of the “entourage effect*”? The best bet may be a true full spectrum extract (remember the definition at the top of this post). Want a “cleaner” extract but still want to the “entourage effect”? The hemp distillate plus terpenes may be your best option. If you want THC-free, then your limited to an isolate or a broad spectrum hemp distillate. Is really depends (yes, there is that word again) on what works best in your end product.

*The Entourage Effect: The belief that all the cannabinoids and terpenes in a full spectrum extract can work together, synergistically, to provide a better effect that any one compound can provide alone.

Why is this important?

You have to understand the various hemp extracts that exist, and the terminology used to describe them so you can be certain you are getting the product you want and/or need. Always ask as many questions as needed to ensure you and the extractor are using the same terms in the same way. Ask to see certificates of analysis (COAs). Order samples (most extractors will send small samples -less than 10 grams - with little or no charge). Evaluate it for yourself. Ask more questions if needed.

Still have questions, please reach out to us. We are here to help in any way we can. Education is just one way we do that.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about us. We hope you will come back for more.

Stay safe and healthy,

Marty Ford

Co-Founder and CEO, Ascent Naturals

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