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Which CBD Products Deserve Our Trust?
In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its blessing to “Epidiolex,” a purified CBD pharmaceutical, for treating severe pediatric epilepsy. Six months later, Congress passed the Farm Bill, which legalized the cultivation of hemp for many uses, including the production of biomass for CBD oil extraction. The 2018 Farm Bill defined hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or less.
In theory, these momentous developments should make it easier to access safe and effective CBD products. Thus far, however, the FDA has refused to regulate nonpharmaceutical, hemp-derived CBD. Federal policy continues to privilege CBD isolates while discriminating against artisanal, full spectrum, CBD-rich products that may be more effective than single-molecule pharmaceuticals. Project CBD favors policies that afford wide and easy access to high-quality, lab-verified, artisanal CBD-rich products, in addition to expensive pharmaceutical options.
Project CBD encourages consumers to seek out products made from the unfertilized female flower tops of high-resin CBD-rich cannabis, which is much better suited for medicinal oil extraction than low-resin fiber hemp or industrial hemp grown for seed oil and protein. But the debate over sourcing cannabidiol from “marihuana” (any cannabis with more than 0.3 percent THC) rather than hemp is already moot, as most high CBD hemp – or “hemp wink wink,” as we like to say at Project CBD – actually gets 90 percent of its genetics from high resin marijuana, not low resin hemp, according to a 2021 genomics study by the University of Minnesota and Sunrise Genetics. If grown, extracted, and processed well, such plants qualify as decent starter material for producing CBD-rich oil formulations.
But choosing among the many unregulated CBD brands – which “typically have less manufacturing oversight than kitty litter,” as one industry insider put it – can be problematic. Many hemp-derived CBD products are mislabeled. To cite one of several examples, a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that 69% of 85 products surveyed had an incorrect amount of CBD and/or THC on the product label.
Another survey found significant discrepancies among some of the leading hemp-derived CBD brands that falsely claim full-spectrum CBD-rich oil is in their products, while lab tests of several samples revealed only one cannabinoid – CBD – was present, indicating that these products were made with a CBD isolate rather than a more efficacious whole plant CBD-rich extract. Another problem: some overly processed hemp-derived CBD products are tainted with toxic solvent residues, corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, and other contaminants. But good quality CBD-rich products are also available. Which products deserve our trust?
Shopping Tips for Buying CBD Online
- Consumer Reports suggests that you look for products made by companies in states that have legalized the recreational and medical use of cannabis “since they tend to have stricter standards.”
- If you live in a “CBD-only” state, choose CBD products made with American-grown hemp (from Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, Tennessee, etc.) rather than foreign sources.
- If possible, seek out CBD-rich products derived from high-resin cannabis grown sustainably in accordance with certified regenerative organic standards.
- Choose “full spectrum” CBD-rich oil extracts, not isolate, distillate, or products labeled “pure CBD” or “no THC.” Full spectrum means it includes numerous cannabis compounds, including a small amount of THC.
- If THC is completely illegal in your state or if drug testing is an issue, opt for so-called “broad spectrum” CBD oil products that include other cannabis components but no THC.
- Look for product labels that indicate the amount of CBD and THC per serving – not just the total cannabinoid content for the entire bottle.
- Beware of companies that make explicit health claims about CBD products (this is not allowed by the FDA).
- Check the Certificate of Analysis (COA) to verify that a product has gone through independent lab testing for quality assurance. A CBD manufacturer should be able to produce a third-party COA that shows how their products performed on screenings for CBD, THC, and any contaminants. Some states also require—and many manufacturers provide—a QR code on the label of CBD products, so you can download their COA to your mobile device and inspect it before you try or buy.
- Avoid CBD oil vape cartridge products with toxic thinning agents (such as propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol), thickening agents (Vitamin E acetate), flavor additives, and other harmful ingredients.
- Avoid poor quality CBD-infused gummies and drops made with corn syrup and artificial colors.
- Beware of “CBD” companies that sell megadose intoxicating hemp products and unregulated synthetic cannabinoids.
- Beware of multilevel marketing schemes and companies that seek to sign you up right away for recurring purchases.
- Think twice about brands that claim their CBD is derived from the seed and stalk of the hemp plant. CBD is not present in hempseed and barely any CBD is present on the stalk of the hemp plant.
- Don’t be afraid to contact CBD companies directly and ask questions. And if you cannot reach them directly, try another brand.
How Do We Vet CBD Brands?
The Project CBD Marketplace is a platform for high-quality brands and stores that support our work. We screen our partners carefully, using several flexible criteria — with an emphasis on safety and transparency — to evaluate their organizations and products.
Here are some of the factors that we consider when evaluating CBD companies:
- Ethics and culture, diversity and inclusion, social responsibility
- Truthfulness and transparency
- Availability/accessibility of information
- Educational focus
- Emphasis on wellness
- Sources of CBD
- Focus on whole plant, full-spectrum products
- Methods of production
- 3rd-party testing by batch
- Healthful, naturally-derived ingredients
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