Does CBD Need THC to Work? 

You may have heard someone say something like, “CBD works better along with some THC.” 

Is that true? And do you need THC in a product to get benefits from CBD?

The short answers are, respectively: yes, and no.

Let’s dig into why that is.


The “Spectrum” of CBD Products

You may have heard mention of “full-spectrum” cannabis products before. Perhaps you’ve also heard the term “broad-spectrum”. 

What does this “spectrum” mean?

This term refers to the amounts and variety of components from the source plant material that are maintained through processing into the final finished products. These components include bioactive compounds such as cannabinoids (like CBD), terpenes, and flavonoids.

Let’s explore the spectrum of products.

Full-Spectrum Products

The term “full-spectrum” signifies products that are minimally processed, and thus are the closest in chemical makeup to the whole cannabis or hemp plant. 

These products have a complex botanical profile, containing as much as possible of the many components in the plant source material – ideally in their same natural ratios. That means that these products will likely contain trace amounts of THC.

Full-spectrum products offer the greatest range of potential therapeutic benefits.

Broad-Spectrum Products

“Broad-spectrum” is the term used to describe moderately processed products that fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. 

Often, this term is used for CBD-rich products in which THC has been left out or eliminated through processing. However, some people may use “broad-spectrum” to describe products that do include THC, so be sure to check labels and test results if this is important to you. 

Broad-spectrum products are a bit less chemically complex than full-spectrum products, and thus offer a reduced range of potential benefits.

Narrow Spectrum Products

“Narrow spectrum” products are those that are heavily processed and much less chemically complex – such as those made from distillates and isolates. This end of the spectrum resembles pharmaceutical-type products rather than plant products. 

This is particularly true for isolates, in which the plant has been highly processed into a crystalline form that preserves only the CBD molecule itself. CBD isolate is often created synthetically in labs through intensive chemical processes. 

Lacking the complexity and nuance of the spectrum, these products offer the smallest range of potential benefits. These products will not be labeled “narrow spectrum”, but may disclose CBD isolate or distillate in the ingredients.

Why More Benefits?

Full-spectrum products offer the greatest range of benefits because of a principle called The Entourage Effect (also called the Ensemble Effect).

The Entourage Effect describes the way that all of the many active components in cannabis and hemp plants work: they’re much more effective together in combination than when taken separately. The effects don’t just add together – they actually multiply and magnify one another. It’s a powerful synergy.

Experimental evidence is limited and more research is needed, but studies on pain and inflammation, breast cancer, epilepsy, and other conditions have found a greater therapeutic effectiveness of whole-plant or full-spectrum cannabis products than isolated cannabinoids.

Researchers have also found that cannabis compounds such as CBD and THC offer greater therapeutic effects with fewer side effects when they are maintained as part of the full spectrum than when they are isolated. CBD can offset and balance out some of the potential less desirable side effects of THC. 


A Power Couple

CBD works through different pathways in the body than THC does, and THC can positively activate some receptors that CBD cannot. 

This is why these two compounds are often called a “power couple”. Together, they can create a product with maximal benefits and fewer drawbacks than just one or the other alone.

Cost Versus Quality

Narrow spectrum products are by far the cheapest to produce, as they use industrial chemical processes and a large production scale. These types of products also are often flavored with artificial flavoring and colorings, or “food grade terpenes” which do not originate from the cannabis or hemp plant. 

Conversely, full-spectrum products are generally artisanal botanical items made in much smaller batches from higher quality source material, through much more involved processes. Therefore, they cost more to create than the more industrial products. 

Broad-spectrum products can vary towards either end of this continuum.

Unfortunately, “full-spectrum” and “broad-spectrum” are not regulated terms, and some companies do stretch the meanings or outright misuse them. 

Some companies also misleadingly market narrow spectrum products as premium items, with luxurious packaging and presentation – when they are made from cheap synthetic CBD or industrial isolate.

Be sure to look for clear and transparent information about CBD sourcing and manufacturing from product makers – so that you know what you are getting, where it came from, and how it was produced. The source matters!


The information provided here is for educational purposes only, and is not medical advice. For advice specific to any health conditions, consult a medical professional before consuming CBD products.