Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has been touted for its many health benefits over the years.

From helping with anxiety and sleep to reducing pain, it’s become a popular go-to for those searching for alternative treatments.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges the interest in cannabis (including CBD specifically), it still points out that more research is needed. And so far, there’s only one FDA-approved prescription CBD drug for the treatment of epilepsy.

That means any over-the-counter (OTC) CBD product you buy does not have the FDA stamp of approval.

That’s why it’s so important to take your time when choosing a CBD product, whether it’s full-spectrum or broad-spectrum. Here’s what you need to know before you make your choice.

You’ll find CBD products in three forms: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and CBD isolate.

  • Full-spectrum CBD. Full-spectrum CBD contains several components of the cannabis plant, including trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Federally legal full-spectrum products will always have less than 0.3 percent THC. In states where cannabis is fully legal, you may also be able to find full-spectrum products with higher THC levels.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD. This type of CBD does not contain THC. It does contain other components of the cannabis plant, though, so it won’t be 100 percent CBD. Consider it the middle child of the three CBD choices.
  • CBD isolate. Your pure CBD product, isolate contains no other compounds found in cannabis, except for the CBD itself.

One of the biggest benefits of full-spectrum CBD is that you’ll get what’s known as the entourage effect. This is a theory that says when multiple components of cannabis work together, you reap more benefits than when taking each individually.

These components include:

  • phytocannabinoids (like CBD and THC)
  • flavonoids
  • terpenes (compounds that affect cannabis’s scent and flavor)

If you want to maximize the benefits of cannabis, full-spectrum CBD could be your best bet.

One 2011 review found that phytocannabinoids and terpenes taken together may help with pain, inflammation, and anxiety. Researchers noted that CBD showed the most promise for certain brain-related disorders and skin conditions.

However, a potential downside to full-spectrum CBD is that if you take a large enough dose of a potent enough product, you may feel “high” due to the THC.

But that does not mean that all full-spectrum products will make you feel intoxicated. Small doses of lower potency products are unlikely to produce any euphoric effects.

Finally, since full-spectrum products contain THC, you may run a higher risk of testing positive for cannabis should you take a drug test.

One potential plus of broad-spectrum CBD is that you have the highest chance of keeping a clear mind — no THC means no “high” feeling.

A drawback, though, is that CBD sans THC may not be quite as effective as the two together. More research is needed, but the entourage effect suggests they may work best together.

That’s not to say broad-spectrum products won’t give you any of the entourage effect benefits at all. Broad-spectrum CBD still contains some other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, which may offer benefits beyond the CBD alone.

If you’re looking for a health boost from CBD but want to skip the THC effects, broad-spectrum is probably your best bet.

If you don’t mind THC and want to potentially get more benefits out of your CBD product, full-spectrum is probably the way to go.

CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD, with none of the other cannabinoids or compounds from the cannabis plant. That means there’s no chance of benefiting from the entourage effect. Still, there is research that suggests CBD isolate may offer some benefits.

Unless you’re shopping for flavored products, isolates tend to be free of both flavor and odor. That makes them a good choice for people who don’t like the earthiness of regular CBD.

Products made with CBD isolate can also be a good option if you want to avoid THC altogether.

You may see various claims about the benefits of CBD, but clinical studies are still limited. At this time, scientific evidence backs up health benefits in these areas. Keep in mind that besides seizures, all of these are off-label uses. The only FDA-approved CBD product is prescription Epidiolex.

Pain

A 2018 research review of CBD looked at studies between 1975 and early 2018, concluding that cannabis, including both CBD and THC, has shown some benefit for pain in animal studies.

However, human research on CBD for pain is more limited.

  • A small study of people with chronic pain published in 2019 found that CBD improved pain and reduced participants’ opioid use. Another study also published in 2019 supported CBD’s potential to reduce cravings for opioids. It involved individuals with heroin use disorder but drug abstinent.
  • Another human study involving people with osteoarthritis published in 2018 found that 250 milligrams (mg) of CBD daily produced a statistically significant reduction in knee pain compared to a placebo. In this study, CBD was administered daily via a transdermal patch containing synthetic CBD gel.
  • An early study involving 75 people with rheumatoid arthritis found that Sativex, a medication that contains both THC and CBD and is not approved for use in the United States, was shown effective in relieving pain.

Anxiety and depression

CBD may help with different kinds of anxiety, including social anxiety disorder (SAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Two studies — one from 2011 and one from 2019 — found that CBD helped reduce anxiety levels in people with SAD, while multiple studies have shown that CBD can help with symptoms specific to PTSD.

Sleep

Since research has shown CBD has the potential to reduce symptoms of pain and anxiety, it may improve sleep quality if those are issues keeping you up at night.

Epilepsy

The FDA has approved CBD-based Epidiolex to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. It can be used to treat the conditions in adults and children over 1 year old.

Ongoing research shows that both full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD may offer benefits for specific conditions. Since this could be due to the entourage effect, full-spectrum CBD may be most appropriate for conditions like chronic pain or anxiety.

However, there may be reasons that someone wants to avoid THC altogether. In that case, broad-spectrum CBD products will still offer most of the naturally occurring cannabinoids and compounds in the cannabis plant.

Keep in mind that using CBD is very much a trial-and-error process. It may be worth exploring both full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products to find what works best for you.

To help narrow your CBD search, we rounded up some of the best full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products out there.

Each product we chose meets the standards we set for safety, quality, and transparency. That means each item on this list:

  • is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant lab
  • is made by a company that discloses the source of their hemp
  • contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, according to the certificate of analysis (COA)
  • passes tests for pesticides, heavy metals, and molds, according to the COA

We also considered:

  • company certifications and manufacturing processes
  • product potency
  • overall ingredients
  • indicators of user trust and brand reputation, such as:

To learn more about our product vetting process, go here.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $40
  • $$ = $40–$60
  • $$$ = over $60

Best full-spectrum CBD oil

Absolute Nature Full Spectrum CBD Oil Drops

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 1,000 milligrams (mg) per 30-milliliter (mL) bottle
  • COA: available online

This CBD oil is made from non-GMO hemp that’s grown on a farm in Colorado. For every milliliter serving, you get 33 mg of CBD, plus other cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG).

The product has just two ingredients: whole-plant full-spectrum CBD extract and MCT oil, which works as a carrier oil. A 2020 study found that terpenes were preserved longer in MCT oil than they were in olive oil, another common carrier oil used in CBD products.

Best full-spectrum CBD softgels

CBDistillery Full Spectrum CBD Softgels

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 30 mg per softgel
  • Count: 60 softgels per bottle
  • COA: available on product page

Softgels provide an easy, on-the-go method for taking your CBD whenever and wherever you need it.

These softgels from CBDistillery contain just coconut oil, hemp extract, and gelatin — no unnecessary, chemically derived ingredients. Keep in mind that since they contain gelatin, they won’t work for vegans.

Use code “healthline” for 20% off.

Best full-spectrum CBD balm

Lazarus Naturals Relief + Recovery Full Spectrum CBD Balm

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 3,000 mg per 2-ounce (oz) container
  • COA: available on product page

Not only will the fresh scent of this balm soothe you, but the full-spectrum CBD may also help any achy area feel better.

In addition to CBD, the product contains moisturizing ingredients like beeswax, sunflower seed oil, and jojoba seed oil.

Best broad-spectrum CBD gummies

CBDistillery Broad Spectrum CBD Anytime Gummies

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 30 mg per gummy
  • Count: 30 gummies per bottle
  • COA: available online

These gelatin-free gummies offer 30 mg of CBD each — but zero THC. Buy them in either tropical fruit or mixed berry flavor and the sweet taste feels like a treat.

Made from non-GMO hemp, the gummies contain no artificial colors or chemical flavoring. Instead, they offer natural flavoring and a light sugar coating.

Use code “healthline” for 15% off.

Best broad-spectrum CBD balm

Go Green Hemp CBD Stick

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 1,000 mg per 2.2-oz. stick
  • COA: available on product page

This topical product features just three ingredients: beeswax, MCT oil, and CBD from organic hemp.

Reviewers love the easy application and the fact that this stick is unscented, so you don’t have to worry about a strong smell after use.

Best broad-spectrum CBD bath bombs

Joy Organics CBD Bath Bombs

  • Price: $
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 25 mg per bath bomb
  • Count: 4 per package
  • COA: available online

You have the promise of zero THC and a money-back guarantee with this broad-spectrum product. Pop one in a warm bath for the ultimate relaxation experience, as they’re also infused with the calming scent of lavender oil.

Use code “healthcbd” for 15% off.

When you’re shopping for CBD, keep in mind that the more info the brand shares about their products and manufacturing standards, the better.

CBD is not regulated by the FDA in the same way as drugs or supplements, so it’s possible for subpar products to slip onto the market.

To make sure you’re getting a quality product, the first thing you’ll want to look for is an up-to-date certificate of analysis (COA) from a third-party lab. It’s best if the lab is ISO-17025 certified — basically, that means they’ve been certified that they produce accurate results.

Look over the COA to make sure the product contains as much THC and CBD as advertised. The best products will also display contaminant testing so you can be sure you’re not ingesting any potentially harmful substances.

It’s also a good idea to check where the company grows its hemp and how it actually manufactures its products — like what extraction methods it uses.

All this information should be pretty accessible on the company’s website, although sometimes you may need to reach out by email.

You have plenty of options when it comes to how you can use CBD products depending on what you buy.

Some of the most popular products include:

Pills and gummies are pretty straightforward. With oils, you’ll usually want to place them under your tongue or add them to foods or drinks.

With topicals, you can apply them wherever you want to experience targeted relief. However, it’s always best to read the package directions. Especially if you’re using a topical, let your doctor know where you intend to apply it and ask if it’s safe.

One thing you’ll want to pay attention to is dosage. Everyone differs in what they need, depending on individual factors like weight, health, and how their body reacts to cannabis.

It’s best to start small, see how the product is working for you, and build up from there if you need more. Additionally, talk with your doctor or a knowledgeable cannabis clinician to get a recommendation.

CBD is generally considered safe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but that does not mean it’s without side effects.

In studies examining those with epilepsy and psychotic disorders, a few side effects popped up, like:

  • sleepiness
  • diarrhea
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

Keep in mind that if you take a large dose of a potent full-spectrum product, you may also feel some of the effects of THC, especially if you’re new to cannabis.

It’s best to talk with your doctor before taking CBD. CBD can interact with some medications, so your doctor should be able to help you navigate any potentially harmful mixing.

Research also suggests that having a high fat meal can actually increase CBD in the blood, enhancing your risk of side effects. So keep that in mind when you’re having CBD around mealtime.

What’s the difference between full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate CBD?

Full-spectrum CBD includes many of the cannabinoids and compounds of the cannabis plant, including up to 0.3% THC.

Broad-spectrum CBD contains all the same compounds as full-spectrum CBD, minus THC.

CBD isolates contain CBD only — none of the other cannabinoids and compounds from the plant are included.

Will CBD make me ‘high’?

CBD does not cause the same kind of “high” associated with THC. CBD is non-intoxicating, but potent products or large doses of full-spectrum products could cause a euphoric effect.

Does CBD show up on a drug test?

Most drug tests look only for THC. In that case, it’s unlikely that a CBD product would trigger a positive test unless you’re using a potent full-spectrum product.

Additionally, some drug tests do check for CBD. In that case, any CBD product could show up.

If you’re concerned about drug testing, you may want to consider broad-spectrum or isolate CBD products or skip CBD altogether. Be aware that any CBD product has the potential to include trace levels of THC.

Which type of CBD is best?

CBD can affect people differently, so it’s hard to call one form better than another.

Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate CBD products. If you’re choosing between different kinds of CBD, consider the condition you’re hoping to treat. If you need to avoid THC, investigate broad-spectrum and isolate products.

Whatever form of CBD you decide to use, make sure to only buy and use products that are independently tested, with current and comprehensive COAs.

Is CBD safe for everyone?

CBD is generally considered safe, but some people may still experience side effects. These include:

  • changes in appetite or weight
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue

Children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use CBD.

Talk with your doctor before you try CBD, whether it’s broad-spectrum or full-spectrum.

The biggest difference between the two is the THC content, so it’s important to decide if you want THC in your product or if you prefer to skip it. Then make sure you read the labels and choose a quality product before you make your purchase.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.