In 2018, Congress passed the farm bill which removed hemp from its Schedule I status under the requirement that it contains less than 0.3% THC. The passing of the farm bill initiated substantial growth in the number of companies that offer hemp-based products. This growth has resulted in extensive product diversity for hemp-based products which enables the industry to cater to a variety of needs, however, it makes it difficult for newcomers to navigate. In this blog post, I'll outline the differences between the most common types of hemp-based products and define some basic terms required to understand the industry.
Before I get into the details, it's important to recognize a subtle difference between two common terms: "hemp-derived CBD products" and "CBD products". Hemp-derived CBD products is a narrow term which only includes products produced exclusively from hemp (hemp contains very low, often trace amounts of THC). CBD products, however, is a broad term. This term can include hemp-derived CBD products but it also includes products that contain any amount of CBD and THC. Here we'll focus on hemp-derived CBD products only.
There are three types of hemp-derived CBD products: Full spectrum, broad spectrum, and CBD isolate. While all three of these terms describe hemp-derived CBD products, they are fundamentally different from one other. Therefore, it is important to fully understand the differences between the products before you tap into the CBD hype. Here's what you need to know:
To understand the difference between various types of hemp-derived CBD products we first need to lay the groundwork by defining some key concepts and terms such as the endocannabinoid system, endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids, THC, and CBD. If you already understand these concepts feel free to skip to the next section.
In 1992, researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem discovered what is now known as the ECS (endocannabinoid system). This is a molecular signaling system found in the body that regulates certain physiological processes such as appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory, and more. The ECS interacts with chemical compounds created by the human body known as endocannabinoids. The interactions between endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system are what help regulate the aforementioned physiological processes.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system acted as a landmark for cannabis research because the cannabis plant contains chemical compounds that function in a very similar manner to endocannabinoids - these chemical compounds are known as phytocannabinoids (more commonly referred to as just cannabinoids). This is why cannabinoids induce the therapeutic, medicinal, and psychoactive effects that cannabis is known for.
Cannabis contains over 60 different types of cannabinoids, but the two most common and most researched cannabinoids are THC and CBD. The focus on these two cannabinoids is primarily because they are the two most abundant compounds in cannabis. Both cannabinoids have very different effects, with THC being psychoactive (it creates the sensation of being "high") and CBD being non-psychoactive (it does not create the sensation of being "high"). The focus on these two cannabinoids has created to main categories of cannabis. There is cannabis containing mostly THC and there is cannabis containing mostly CBD. The cannabis plants containing mostly CBD are often referred to as hemp, which is what the 2018 farm bill legalized and also what this blog post focuses on.
So, why is CBD so different from THC? Simply put, it interacts differently with your endocannabinoid system which is why it does not produce the same effect as THC (in fact, research shows that CBD can decrease some of the side effects of THC due to the way it interacts with cannabinoid receptors). So, while both cannabinoids offer positive medicinal effects, hemp-derived CBD has become increasingly popular since it is non-psychoactive and is now easily accessible throughout the United States. With those concepts out of the way, let's break down the different types of hemp-derived CBD products.
Full spectrum hemp products contain all the naturally occurring cannabinoids from the hemp plant, which includes trace amounts of THC. Since full spectrum products do not remove any cannabinoids or terpenes from the original plant, it is also often referred to as "whole plant" products. Although full spectrum products contain small amounts of THC, they are legally required by the farm bill to have less than 0.3% THC which is not enough THC to induce the sensation of being "high". So, in essence, full spectrum hemp is the most natural of the products, often coming straight from the plant with little processing.
Many people prefer full spectrum hemp because there is some research showing that the combination of all the natural cannabinoids and terpenes increase the overall medicinal benefits of cannabis, something commonly known as the "entourage" effect.
Broad spectrum hemp products are very similar to full spectrum with the exception that the THC is removed. This means that all the other naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes, including high concentrations of CBD, remain in the final product. Since all the other cannabinoids remain intact, broad spectrum products can still have an "entourage" effect like full spectrum products. Broad spectrum products are also sometimes advertised as "THC Free".
CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD that one can buy. It goes through a process in which all other cannabinoids and terpenes have been removed, leaving only the CBD. This removes any possibility of having an "entourage" effect, but if you're only seeking the effects of CBD, then CBD isolate is the product you should look for.
So, to summarize, there are three types of hemp-derived CBD products:
Full spectrum: Also known as "whole plant" hemp, containing all natural cannabinoids and terpenes including trace amounts of THC (though, full spectrum products are legally required to have less than 0.3% THC).
Broad spectrum: Similar to full spectrum, broad spectrum hemp products contain all of the natural cannabinoids and terpenes, but THC has been removed.
CBD isolate: The purest form of CBD, meaning that it only contains CBD and all other cannabinoids and terpenes have been removed.
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