How to Evaluate CBD Products

UPDATED ON FEBRUARY 13, 2019

The CBD industry is still in its infancy, and it’s a bit of the Wild West. As of early 2019, there’s no quality control of CBD products sold to consumers, which means that you have to know what to look for and what to avoid.

There have been CBD products sold that had no CBD, and that contained heavy metals, mold, e-coli, salmonella, and other harmful chemicals. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Bonn-Miller of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and his team bought 84 different CBD products and had them tested by an independent lab. The results:

  • Only 31% of the products tested contained the precise amount of CBD that was advertised on the label.
  • 26% contained less than what they advertised.
  • 43% contained more than what they claimed.
  • Around 50% of the CBD extract oils were inaccurate, and 90% of the vaporization liquids were inaccurate.

The FDA has sent letters to several companies that produce CBD products for making medical claims as well as containing inaccurate levels of CBD compared to what they claim, as well as containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high).

The Importance of Third-Party Testing of CBD Products

For this reason, it’s best to purchase CBD products from companies that provide a COA (certificate of analysis) from third-party labs to verify exactly what the product contains. This is the best way to make sure you get a CBD product that has no toxins or harmful chemicals, no THC (if you don’t want any), and has the amount of CBD that it claims (which can be important for dosing).

How to Evaluate CBD Products

1. Does it Contain THC?

Depending on what plant the product is sourced from, a CBD product could have no THC, or a small amount (.3% or less, or three-tenths of 1%). If you use a product that has 3% THC content, it’s impossible to make you high, and in order for it to show up on a drug test, you would need to be using more than 1,000 mg/day. Most people 120 to 160 mg/day. CBD also reduces the effects of THC.

But several companies have been warned by the FDA for selling CBD products that contained THC.

2. How Much CBD Does it Contain?

The first thing is that you don’t want to purchase a CBD product that has no CBD (this has happened before), or a very low amount that won’t help you.

It’s important for dosing, especially if you’re giving the product to a child or a pet. If you’re taking it yourself, you want to find the amount that works best for you. And if you switch brands, you want to be able to keep taking the same dosage.

There are two ways to look at the amount of CBD in a product. The first is how much is in the product in total, and almost all products will list the amount on the bottle, such as “1,000 mg CBD.” If you’re taking 100 mg/day, then that bottle will last you 10 days.

The second way is to look at the amount of CBD/ounce. You could look at two products on the same shelf and see that product A is $50 while product B is $100, yet both are 1-ounce bottles. You may want to buy bottle A because it’s cheaper, but A only has 50 mgs of CBD, while B has 1000 mgs. Bottle B has 20 times the amount of CBD compared to A, yet it’s only double the price, and it’s ten times cheaper. Doing simple division will give you an answer:

  • Bottle A: $50/50 mgs= $1/mg
  • Bottle B: $100/1000 mgs = $.10/mg

3. Is Your CBD Product “Polluted”?

One of the most important things a COA tells is the presence of a number of toxic substances:

Heavy metals

Cannabis is used in phytoremediation, which is using plants to get rid of pollutants in the soil and groundwater. Cannabis was used in Chernobly after the nuclear disaster and is especially effective because of its fast-growing roots, and its ability to sometimes turn the toxic substance into something harmless. Contamination can come from the soil, or from processing the cannabis. According to Analytical Cannabis, common heavy metals can include:

  • arsenic
  • cadmium
  • lead
  • mercury
  • barium
  • chromium
  • selenium
  • silver

Most soil contains trace levels of some of these heavy metals, so you’re normally looking for products that are within the acceptable limit for heavy metals. It’s for this reason some CBD companies have decided to grow their plants with other methods, such as with hydroponics, which doesn’t require soil.

Chemical solvents

There are different ways to extract CBD from the plant, and one common method is to use chemical solvents, which can end up in the product. One of the best ways to extract CBD is to use CO2 (carbon dioxide) under high pressure and very low temperatures, which uses no chemical solvents.

Mycotoxins

These are toxic substances produced by a fungus.

Herbicides & Pesticides

Herbicides are also known as weedkillers which are used to kill plants that can compete with resources of the principal crop being grown. Pesticides are chemical that kills insects that can destroy the plant being grown.

Microbes

These are microscopic organisms that can be bacteria, viruses, or fungi. They can be good or bad, and high-quality CBD products contain no “X factors.”

4. Full-spectrum, Broad-spectrum, or Isolate?

There are 3 different types of CBD extracts.

  • Full-Spectrum: Contains everything the plant contains, including terpenes, fatty acids, cannabinoids, flavonoids, and up to .3% THC. All of the components of the plant work synergistically to produce possibly provide more benefits (depending on many factors).
  • Isolate: 99.9% pure CBD without terpenes, fatty acids, cannabinoids, flavonoids, etc.
  • Broad-spectrum: is full-spectrum CBD without the THC.

Research from Israel has suggested that for various cases of inflammation, CBD isolate was less effective than full-spectrum CBD. More research is needed to understand the effects of isolate vs. the other forms.

One thing to consider regarding the presence of other cannabinoids found in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum extracts is that there are potential health benefits to these other cannabinoids as well. CBD and THC are the most popular cannabinoids, but there are many others that are worth considering such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiolic acid (CBGA), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).

5. 1st Party of 3rd Party Testing?

If the company selling a product conducts testing, 3rd party reports are much more reliable. A 3rd party lab is an independent agent and less likely to be biased.

6. Are There QR Codes on the Label or box?

A QR code is a digital “fingerprint” that’s unique to a product. Some CBD products have QR codes on the bottle or box so that you can use a QR code reader on their phone to view the lab results/COA. And it’s preferable to have a QR code that’s part of the label, not a sticker put on a product.