CBD: Understanding the Terminology

Definitions, legalities and marketing considerations of 3 cannabidiol forms
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CHICAGO — As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) works to bring the legal landscape of selling cannabidiol (CBD) products into focus, another element of this trending product segment finds itself in need of definition: specifically, the difference between full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate products.

Colleen Lanier, executive director of Phoenix-based Hemp Industry Association, said these “commonly used industry terms” are not “standardized by federal legislation,” which further confuses matters.

Floyd Landis, founder of CBD product manufacturer Floyd’s of Leadville, Leadville, Colo., said the biggest difference between the three product types from a consumer perspective is what other cannabinoids are in the product and, significantly, whether they have any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the cannabinoid that gets a user high.

“The only difference between any of these is how it’s processed,” Landis said. “There’s a lot of big words and confusion, but it’s actually not that complicated: There’s a plant and it’s got desirable attributes, so we process it in certain ways to have more or less of one attribute or another.”

CSP turned to Lanier, Landis and other experts to break down what retailers need to know about these different types of CBD options. 

Full Spectrum: Whole Plant, Including THC

  • Definition: Lanier defines full-spectrum hemp products as “the total extract of the flower, including THC and all cannabinoids.”
  • Legality: To be considered hemp—and therefore legal under the Farm Bill—Lanier said full-spectrum products must have less than 0.3% THC; however, the FDA is still developing its rules for use of such products in food, beverage and supplements.
  • Benefits: “As more people become educated about the space, full-spectrum/whole plant is thought to be the most premium product,” said Tony Sparks, co-founder of West Des Moines, Iowa-based CBD distributor Betterment Retail Solutions. That is due to the fact that full-spectrum hemp includes all the cannabinoids, terpenes and other beneficial parts of the cannabis plant, which many describe as an “entourage effect.”
  • Concerns: The biggest concern for retailers and full-spectrum product is the inclusion of THC. “There does appear to be a significant group of people who either don’t want THC or for whom THC specifically creates a liability,” said Miguel Martin, president and CEO of Reliva CBD LLC, Natick, Mass.

Broad Spectrum: Whole Plant, No THC

  • Definition: "Broad spectrum" is a relatively new and evolving term in the industry. Lanier said the current general definition is “the extract of the flower, without THC, but most other cannabinoids. The THC has been removed entirely.”
  • Legality: Broad-spectrum products are legal under the Farm Bill but subject to FDA oversight.
  • Benefits: Broad-spectrum products seem to offer the most benefit for consumers who either don’t want or can’t have THC but still want the other beneficial aspects of the cannabis plant.
  • Concerns: Because it’s a relatively new—and not federally regulated—segment, there’s a lot of mislabeling of broad-spectrum products, Sparks said. Some may not include other cannabinoids as promised, he said. Also, the process of removing the THC is costly, which can drive up the price for consumers.

Isolate: CBD only

  • Definition: “Isolate is the isolated cannabinoid from the extraction of the flower such that it contains a singular chemical compound, such as CBD, and no other cannabinoids,” Lanier said.
  • Legality: Initially, there were concerns that, because the FDA has approved a CBD isolate drug called Epidiolex, either the agency or the maker of that drug (GW Pharmaceuticals) would treat CBD isolate differently than products using whole-plant extract. That has not come to fruition. In statements made so far by the FDA, the focus has been on CBD as a whole, not isolate compared to full or broad spectrum. “Not one of the state regulations has drawn a distinction between the different formats,” said Martin.
  • Benefits: Though broad spectrum is now an option, for those consumers who can’t have any THC, isolate is probably the safest bet due to the way it’s produced, the experts said. “When you just isolate out CBD, you take away any concern about THC,” said Martin. “The value and assurance of 0% THC with an isolate product makes it a strong option for retailers looking for consistent, high-quality 0% THC products.”Also, there are some types of products for which isolate powder is the best—or only—option. For example, water infused with full-spectrum CBD oil probably wouldn’t taste or appear as desirable as water infused with isolated CBD powder, according to Sparks. “Isolate strips away terpenes, flavor profiles and more,” he said. “If you’re looking to produce a product that doesn’t have a lot of the cannabis flavoring, isolate is the primary way to do so.”
  • Concerns: Some have argued the inclusion of just CBD means these products are not as effective as the whole-plant options. While it’s true that isolate products do not contain THC or other cannabinoids, Landis said the isolate process has proven to be an effective option across a plethora of consumer product goods, such as caffeine.“Caffeine is derived from different plants, isolated into a powder and reintroduced into food products,” he said. “Nothing’s really been invented here: The processing techniques already existed in all types of food manufacturing. CBD works perfectly fine on its own.”

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