By Jenny Menzel
Along with the 2018 legalization of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) came a rush of suppliers eager to cater to consumer demands. As a result of sparse FDA oversight regulating this exploding industry, studies have revealed only 31% of tested CBD products sold online are labeled correctly — leading to confusion over which products actually yield the therapeutic health benefits of CBD.
While there is a vast array of CBD products to choose from that may assist in relieving anxiety, depression, pain, and more, one of the most popular products on the market is CBD oil — a fast-acting CBD extract diluted into a carrier oil such as coconut, olive, or hemp seed.
It's no secret that CBD oil isn't cheap. The reason is the many difficulties faced in the manufacturing of CBD, such as farming practices and the extraction process. Making a CBD oil purchase, then, should be approached as an investment, with the first step being the most important — education.
What do you need to know in order to confidently choose a safe, high-quality CBD oil from a reputable supplier? Heed these tips to get the best return on your CBD investment.
Finding the Best CBD Oil: 10 Things to Consider
1. US-Grown Hemp
Produced by cannabis plants, CBD is found in two main plant types — hemp and marijuana.
Hemp-derived CBD differs from its cannabis cousin, the marijuana plant, in that it contains less than 0.03% of THC — cannabis’ psychoactive compound. The location where hemp crops are farmed matters. China, for example, has very few regulations within its agricultural industry, leading to a higher possibility of contamination with toxins like heavy metals and pesticides, according to one study. Choosing a CBD oil from a US hemp farm increases the chances of it being free of toxic ingredients.
2. Listed as CBD Oil — Not Hemp Seed Oil
Since CBD comes from the hemp plant, hemp seed oil is the same thing, right? Wrong. Due to the “green rush,” suppliers and manufacturers have hastily promoted hemp seed oil products as owning the same therapeutic qualities CBD oil has been hailed for — and consumers rarely know the difference. Whether this is an innocent or intentional marketing tactic, it is up to the consumer to check the label. Often listed as Cannabis sativa seed oil, hemp seed oil is void of CBD. CBD oil can be listed in a few ways — cannabidiol, full-spectrum hemp extract, or just plain hemp oil. Another good way to discern the difference is to look at the bottle size. If the bottle carries a volume higher than 100 mL, it’s likely to be hemp seed oil — not CBD.
3. Contains Trace Levels of THC Only
If your CBD oil comes with a certificate of analysis (COA), you can be sure your product has the federally legal amount of THC in it — again, it’s less than 0.03%. However, higher levels of THC have been found in some CBD oils due to loose regulations and lack of third-party testing. But a reputable, full-spectrum CBD oil won’t trigger a failed drug test — neither will broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate options that can guarantee 0% THC. The THC limit that can cause a failed drug test is 50mg/ml, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. If you need more information, check your state laws for more information on CBD regulations.
4. Proof of Third-Party Testing
Has your CBD oil been tested by an ISO 17025-compliant lab? Researchers analyzed 84 CBD products and found 43% had a higher concentration than stated, and roughly 26% had less CBD than claimed on the label. Lab reports aren’t the most interesting reading literature, but it’s important to become practiced in at least asking your CBD supplier to direct you to where you can view the COA and potentially ask for an interpretation. Check the date of the lab report, and see if the advertised numbers match the report numbers. If you identify the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) logo on the product label or its manufacturing company’s website — you’re in good hands, as ISO regulates safety and ensures accurate strength and dosage information.
5. Free of Toxic Contamination
If your CBD oil is nicely labeled with terms like “organic,” “natural,” or “pure” — that’s not enough to trust the product is safe or therapeutically effective. A COA will tell you whether your CBD oil has passed or failed acceptable contamination limits for pesticides, heavy metals, microbial contamination, and even mold — another reason third-party testing is so valuable. Checking your CBD oil’s lot or batch number with an online COA lookup tool may be a good place to start to verify if the product of interest has had any contamination issues.
6. CBD Spectrum
There are three main types of CBD oil: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate. Full-spectrum CBD oil has many of hemp’s other natural cannabinoids like terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids. As mentioned, it does also include 0.3% of THC, which serves to enhance the effects of CBD. Broad-spectrum is the same as full-spectrum, except the THC is completely excluded. CBD isolate is the closest thing to pure CBD extract, as it is isolated from all other hemp plant cannabinoids. Again, this is important to distinguish because while CBD is legal on a federal level, some state laws differ.
7. Potency and Dosing
Third-party tested CBD oil that has a COA will usually provide potency and dosing directions on the product label or their company website. Dosing is very individual, but the general consensus is to approach prudently — start low and go slow. The reason you are using CBD oil will play a role in dosing as well. This is where you can rely not only on research conducted in the field for using CBD therapeutically but also on serving standards from experienced CBD consumers. If you purchase from a store that has a cannabis doctor on-site or within the company, it may be helpful to consult with them, as well as your primary care physician.
As previously mentioned, CBD oils can be pricey, with a rough average between $50-60 per bottle. Be sure to compare products’ serving sizes, potency, shipping, and other ingredients if applicable. Because CBD oil may range in quality, determining what a fair price should be is a challenge. Lab-tested CBD oil that passes safety and potency accuracy tends to be more expensive because it comes with a higher likelihood of therapeutic benefit.
9. A Supplier with an Excellent Reputation
Your CBD oil supplier should not only supply third-party lab reports, but they should also have an excellent BBB rating prominently displayed on their website. Do they have good reviews on third-party sites as well as on their own website? A company with integrity will never make any unsupported medical claims, nor have received FDA warning letters. Words like “cure” and “treat” are red flags to be avoided.
10. A Satisfaction-Guarantee
If you find a reputable supplier of quality, lab-tested CBD oil, the chances are high that a satisfaction guarantee is offered in some capacity. Check the company website or call their customer service phone number and ask about their return policy. Always keep your receipt and know it’s likely that shipping and handling may not be covered in a refund if purchased online.
Research, research, research. Learning about CBD oils and how to determine the subtle differences in products and suppliers will empower your ability to take control of your health. Feeling confident in your product choice is just as important as choosing a quality product. Consult with your doctor before purchasing CBD oil, and reach out to companies or expert forums where community members are happy to further educate you on your health journey with CBD.
- Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708–1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
- FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products: Q&A. U.S. Food & Drug Administration website. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd
- Wei W, Ma R, Sun Z, et al. Effects of Mining Activities on the Release of Heavy Metals (HMs) in a Typical Mountain Headwater Region, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(9):1987. Published 2018 Sep 12. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15091987