When it comes to purchasing hemp and CBD products, one is presented with a dizzying array of options at hand and a number of terms to understand before making a decision. One of the biggest question is: Do you want to use a whole plant extract, or a CBD isolate? Let’s break it down!

Whole Plant Hemp Extract

Whole plant hemp extracts contain ALL of the available cannabinoids within the hemp material used to create your product. These extracts are also commonly known as full spectrum extracts. They may contain any combination of CBD, CBD-A, THC, THC-A, CBG, and so on. Note, that the cannabinoids present may be altered by the extraction and processing techniques used (ex: decarboxylating the hemp to create a CBD product instead of one with CBD-A).

Legally speaking, the only restriction on whole plant hemp products is that they must contain less than, or equal to, 0.3% THC by weight. Anything over 0.3% THC by weight is considered a marijuana product; for which you need a medical marijuana card in the state of Vermont.

Why is THC beneficial? The cannabinoids in whole plant extracts act in synergy, which increases the potential number of medical conditions that the extract may treat. This is called the “Entourage Effect”: essentially, where 1 + 1 = 3. The small allowed amount of THC in hemp products is not believed to cause a psychoactive “high.” In fact, CBD will attach to your CB1 receptor, (where THC also binds) to create a high, but in reverse; thus decreasing psychoactivity. This is similar to how THCV works as an appetite suppressant, as opposed to THC, which gives you the munchies.

A disadvantage of whole plant hemp extract is that because it does contain trace amounts of THC, these may build up in a user’s system over time, posing a liability in drug testing and other screening.

CBD Isolate

CBD isolates contain 99.9% cannabidiol and 0.1% water — they contain 0% THC and no other cannabinoids. They are also referred to as single molecule cannabinoid products. The advantage is that one can use these and pass a THC drug test. However, without the entourage effect, CBD isolates have a more narrow therapeutic window; they are more hit-or-miss, and thus, generally less effective. But for conditions that respond well to CBD isolate, it can be just as therapeutic as a whole plant extract. There are several epileptic conditions where CBD isolate has shown to be extremely helpful.

Hemp can be obtained from low-resin cannabis, which is traditional hemp; tall and stalky, great for rope. It can also be attained from high-resin cannabis, which is traditional marijuana that has been bred down in THC to less than 0.3%. It takes a lot of the former hemp type to create CBD isolates, so beware of hemp that is grown overseas or in unregulated markets. Low-resin, traditional hemp is a very efficient bio-accumulator, meaning it sucks up toxins and other compounds from the soil. In fact, hemp was planted to clean up heavily contaminated soil after the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine.

You don’t want your hemp products to come from low-resin hemp due to the risk of bio-accumulated toxins. Instead, look for US-grown high-CBD hemp from high-resin plants (traditional marijuana cultivars). They don’t carry the high risk of bio-accumulation and also take less raw material to create your product, which is more earth-friendly.

Prescription Drug Interactions

Project CBD has stated that studies indicate that whole plant extracts appear to have little to no interaction with pharmaceutical Rx drugs. The synergy between CBD and other cannabinoids seems to negate notable drug interactions. Moderate doses of CBD isolates in the 25+mg range have been shown to interact with prescription medications by inhibiting the Cytochrome P-450 enzyme system in the liver, essentially delaying the metabolization of prescription drugs so that they stay within the body longer. This can possibly have positive effects on opioid-based medicines. Pain killers last longer in the body, allowing the prescribed user to lower their usual dose.

Slow drug uptake can have negative consequences for medications containing toxic ingredients, which should not linger in the body. Please speak with your physician if you are using heavy pharmaceuticals, especially if there are drug interaction warnings with grapefruit. Both grapefruit and CBD can inhibit your Cytochrome P-450 enzyme system. Your doctor can help you to properly taper down on Rx drugs that are affected by CBD. Also read up on ProjectCBD.org for more information about CBD and prescription drug interactions.

Extraction Processes

A good hemp product will be extracted without leaving a residual solvent. Carbon dioxide (CO2) extracts are a solid choice. Extracts may be further refined via winterization (removing plant waxes and fats from the cannabinoids by dissolving the extract in ethanol, filtering out the lipids, then evaporating the alcohol) and/or distillation (evaporating and collecting specific compounds by group). Choose a product that has as few additional ingredients as possible; If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, be wary.

There is still much to learn about hemp and CBD products! Wellness is a journey. With perseverance and knowledge, it is an adventure that will benefit you. 

Cheat Sheet

  • Cannabis can be hemp or marijuana, based on THC percentage
  • Hemp may not exceed 0.3% THC by weight
  • Whole plant extracts contain all available cannabinoids
  • CBD isolates contain only one cannabinoid, cannabidiol

  • JT Bedard

    This is generally a decent overview, but for the idea that hemp-derived cannabinoids are a higher risk for bioaccumulated toxins. All Cannabis bioaccumulates. Hemp grown on organic land with organic practices will be as clean as any other Cannabis, if not moreso. Further, isolates come from fractional distillation, which allows for the clean separation of individual cannabinoids without contaminants.

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