CBD: Isolate vs Distillate [Beginners Guide]


CBD has become increasingly popular over the last 5 years as a number of states have loosened their legal restrictions on cannabis and cannabis/hemp-derived products. While this has allowed more people to enter into the world of potential benefits that can be derived from CBD, the language used to discuss these products can be overwhelming for beginners.

After reading this, you will have all the information you need to understand the differences between CBD isolate and distillate, as well as definitions of terms like “full-spectrum” and “entourage effect”.

What is CBD distillate?

CBD distillate is produced by taking a primary extract (typically ethanol crude) and distilling it to increase purity. It is the most common base ingredient in vape pens and tinctures. Distillate can contain up to 0.3% THC while still being federally compliant, and contains other cannabinoids and terpenes.

A container full of amber colored CBD distillate.

Distillate is cheaper to produce than isolate, as isolate requires more processing than distillate does.

There are a few “sub-categories” of distillate that are frequently discussed which can be confusing for beginners. These categories are full spectrum and broad spectrum.

Full spectrum refers to distillate that contains up to 0.3% THC, as well as up to 100 other naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes. Other primary cannabinoids present besides CBD include CBC, CBG, and CBN.


Broad spectrum refers to distillate that has had all measurable amounts of THC removed but still retains the other naturally occurring cannabinoids, similarly to full spectrum. Broad spectrum distillate may contain only very trace amounts of THC.

In the case of both broad spectrum and full spectrum, studies point to there being potential for what is referred to as the “entourage effect”.

The entourage effect is a proposed means by which the various compounds present in the cannabis plant work together to enhance the effects of each other.

Research is still being done to determine the validity of the entourage effect, as well as the biological mechinisms that are in play. However, many consumers claim to have positive experiences that they claim are due to the entourage effect.

What is CBD isolate?

CBD isolate in crystalline form, before being ground into powder

CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD, with no other cannabinoids or terpenes present.

Isolate is commonly purified by chromatography or recrystallization that results in a crystalline end product that is crushed down into a powder.

Due to the purity levels, isolate is a popular choice among consumers who submit to random drug testing.

It is highly unlikely that a person consuming CBD isolate will fail a drug test, but it can happen on rare occasions where trace amounts of THC are detected.





Extraction considerations

We’ve outlined the distillate extraction process in our Introduction to CBD Extraction blog post, which we recommend to anyone curious about the fundamentals of CBD extraction.

The process for creating isolate begins with distillate, which is then brought through a more specific finishing process.

After the traditional distillation process, isolate goes through a chromatography process as well as the crystallization process to purify to 99% CBD in most cases.

Some processors are equipped for both distillate and isolate extraction, however in some cases you may need to contract two different processors.

When to use distillate vs isolate 

Many new CBD users find themselves questioning what the best way for them to begin taking CBD is. Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this question. The best thing that a consumer can do is learn about the similarities and differences in products, and begin with a product that aligns most with their specific goals.

Isolate may be an appealing choice to those looking for a product that has high purity CBD content, having a low chance of testing negatively on a drug test.

Isolate has also been a popular choice among chefs and those looking to incorporate CBD into meals or beverages without impacting the flavor profile.

Alternatively, distillate is a popular choice for tinctures due to the appeal of enhanced benefits that can potentially be achieved through the entourage effect.

Distillate was also the most commonly used CBD product used for managing symptoms of epilepsy in children with treatment resistant conditions1Ben-Zeev B. Medical Cannabis for Intractable Epilepsy in Childhood: A Review. Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2020;11(1):e0004. Published 2020 Jan 30. doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10387 prior to the FDA approval of Epidiolex2https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/other-treatment-approaches/medical-marijuana-and-epilepsy.

Ultimately, the decision about what form of CBD is best for any person is highly personal and depends on a number of different factors. In both cases, there is often an adjustment period of finding the appropriate dose to achieve your desired outcome.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.



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