The CBD market is young and booming. It is an unregulated market, which means “buyer beware.” But what are you supposed to beware of?
Don’t worry—we have your back! Here are the top 10 things you should know when shopping for CBD.
1. Legal Limits for THC
Make sure that your product is legal! By federal law, it must contain less than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. The best way to check this is to look at the lab reports (see #2 below). The explosion in the CBD market also means there are unscrupulous people out there. CBD has been taken off the DEA’s list of controlled substances, but THC is still there.
Aside from the legal issue, why should your product contain less than 0.3 percent THC? One of the first reasons is that THC has intoxicating or psychoactive effects, which can affect your behavior and, frankly, your safety!
This is important for several reasons:
- It lets you know that the company is confident in its product
- You know exactly how much CBD is in the product
- You can be assured that it contains no more than 0.3 percent THC by weight (dry mass)
- You know how much CBD you are getting in a single serving or dose
- You know if they test for heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides and microbial contaminants
Lab reports should be easily accessible for every product—they shouldn’t be hidden deep within the website.
You should also check to ensure that the lab is accredited and licensed. If that information is not clear, there should be a number or an email to ask about its accreditation and licensing. Each state may also have a listing of accredited labs.
You should also ensure that the lab analysis is recent. CBD can be a very shelf-stable product, but the fresher it is, the better.
Finally, make sure that the lab tests for heavy metals and other contaminants—they should follow the requirements of whatever state they are located in. Remember, hemp can absorb heavy metals and get infested with mold, fungi and microbes. You will want to check that the lab tests for those things, as well as for any residual solvents and pesticides.
3. Decide for Yourself: Full- or Broad-Spectrum
Both full- and broad-spectrum CBD contain over 100 different cannabinoids, but full-spectrum extracts may also contain some THC—still under the 0.3 percent legal limit, but in measurable amounts. Depending on your state, your particular situation and your goals, full-spectrum extracts may not be the best for you.
For example, if you live in a state where cannabis products are not legally available, you may be in violation of those laws because of the THC—it can be a pretty murky area. Also, if you work in a place where random drug testing can occur, you may come up with a positive test after using a full-spectrum product.
THC is contraindicated in people at risk for certain psychiatric disorders, including personality, addiction and psychotic disorders. THC can also interact with several different prescription drugs, with potentially serious adverse effects (see #4).
Broad-spectrum extracts are those from which THC has been removed, leaving behind the CBD and other cannabinoids. Broad-spectrum CBD appears to be gaining in popularity, possibly because of some of the potential issues with full-spectrum extracts.
4. Potential for Interactions
CBD can interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). After all, that is what it is supposed to do. However, just about anything can interact with pharmaceuticals—foods, vitamins, minerals and herbal products. CBD is a safe product when used correctly, but if you are on any of the medications listed (the list only includes those with major interactions), please talk to your physician first.
Most of the time, the potency of the CBD is too low to affect the medication while it is giving you the benefits you are looking for, but sometimes combining CBD with these medications can cause changes in how the medication works, increasing or decreasing its effects. Here is the list of medications that may interact with CBD:
5. Where and How Was the Hemp Grown?
All plants derive nutrients from the soil and produce energy from the sun. To get the highest-quality plant, the soil in which the hemp plant was grown must be of high quality and preferably organic—meaning that no residual pesticides, herbicides or chemicals, including plant hormones, were added to the soil. That is one of the reasons we look at pesticide residues in lab results.
Overall, hemp grown in the U.S. under organic and sustainable conditions produces the highest-quality plants—and the highest-quality CBD. The farm doesn’t necessarily have to be USDA-certified organic, because that takes many years, lots of paperwork and is expensive. But you do want to know that those growing the hemp use organic methods, ensure proper soil conditions, use no GMO products and use only natural methods of pest control.
You also want to check that the company producing the CBD either owns the farm or has a very close relationship with the farmers. The company should be able to track a plant from the farm to the bottle.
6. How Is the CBD Extracted From the Hemp?
There are only a few currently acceptable ways of extracting CBD and other cannabinoids from the hemp plant. The first is based on the traditional alcohol-extraction method, in which the dried parts of the plant are soaked in alcohol, and the cannabinoids and terpenes dissolve in the alcohol. Another method is to use a carrier oil like hempseed or coconut oil to dissolve the cannabinoids.
In either the ethanol or carrier-oil method, the plant should be decarboxylated first, which is done by heating the material. The drawback to both these methods can be thought of as an advantage for those looking to get more THC—decarboxylation tends to produce more THC—but it is a disadvantage when you want less THC and more CBD. A third method that uses organic solvents like benzene, acetone or hexane is not recommended because these can be difficult to remove and are carcinogens.
CO2 extraction is a bit more expensive, but avoids the pitfalls of the alcohol and the carrier-oil methods. The extraction can be adjusted so that little or no THC is extracted into the final product. It can also be adjusted to retain all the potentially beneficial terpenes from the hemp plant. CO2 extraction is likely to become the most common method of extraction.
7. Which Delivery Method Is Best for You?
The answer to this question depends on your goals and circumstances. There are three delivery methods:
- Oils, tinctures, capsules and gummies fall into this category. In general, these are the ways to go when you have a general issue that you want to improve. They all take about the same time to get absorbed (30-45 minutes), and the effects can last for hours. With oils and tinctures, you may be able to speed up the absorption by allowing the liquid to stay under your tongue for about 60 seconds.
- Topical creams and lotions are ideal for specific and localized problems.
8. The Company’s Reputation
As we said at the beginning, the CBD market has exploded and continues to grow at a rapid pace. In the U.S., the regulatory system is way behind the market. Unfortunately, this opens the door to shady operators and get-rich-quick scammers.
The best way to check out a company’s reputation is by looking at reviews, seeing how easy it is to find information about a company, if they produce lab reports that are easily accessed, and whether they have an easy way to get in touch with their customer-service department and are readily available to answer your questions. None of these is a guarantee, but they can give you a better idea if the company is someone worth dealing with—and someone you want to deal with.
9. Know Your State Laws
The 2018 Farm Bill removed CBD from the DEA’s controlled-substance list, but at the federal level, we are still waiting for FDA guidance. At the state level, you want to make sure that buying CBD online and in-person is legal. Check here for the most up-to-date information.
Depending on how you earn your living, you should be aware that you may test positive on some drug-testing panels, depending on the type of assay used. The reasons? If you used CBD that was not tested by a third-party lab you may be getting more THC than you thought.
Another reason is that the test may be giving you a false positive, or other cannabinoids that are not psychoactive can result in a positive. CBN or cannabinol is one such cannabinoid that can cross-react with THC on some tests. If your job depends on your passing a drug test, make certain you are buying high-quality CBD that contains no THC.
10. Are There Added Ingredients, and Are They There for a Reason?
Some companies are adding all sorts of extra ingredients: melatonin, lemon balm for relaxation, theanine or ginger for energy and so on. You may or may not want these, but you do want only natural ingredients.
MCT oil, which is a natural extract, is added as a carrier oil and has some reported benefits. You may see other ingredients like lecithin, glycerin and stevia. You may also see “hemp extract” or “hempseed oil” as an ingredient, and these are fine as well.