• January 26, 2021

Buyer Beware: Many CBD Products are Mere Snake Oil

 Buyer Beware: Many CBD Products are Mere Snake Oil

Hemp plants being examined by scientists from Florida’s Agriculture and Consumer Services Department, filling in for the lack of regulations from the U.S. FDA. Photo by Matt Laslo

Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, is taking the health and wellness world by storm—and for good reason. Evidence shows that CBD may have therapeutic potential when it comes to treating anxiety, insomnia, pain, and more.

Still, fresh statistics show that the CBD industry has a way to go when it comes to CBD brand accountability in the United States—particularly with the transparency of labeling. According to our recent report, 1 in 3 CBD edibles are mislabeled, and 63% of CBD edibles contained more CBD than advertised. 

Unfortunately, such inaccuracies are common in the CBD industry—in fact, additional studies have shown an overwhelming number of CBD brands mislabel their products and paint a rosier picture about their offerings. Even well-known brands that are perceived to produce higher-quality or safer products may receive poor quality ratings, due to the lack of oversight in the industry. 

This situation demands that consumers educate themselves through news articles, original interviews, in-depth reports, product reviews, and industry news to be informed about what makes for effective, high-quality CBD. From there, consumers should use their buying power to hold the industry to a quality—and transparency—standard.

The first step in assessing the quality of a CBD product, and protecting yourself as a consumer, is to understand what kinds of CBD are available and to address any misconceptions you may have. 

For instance, many people believe all CBD products are essentially the same, but actually, a CBD product can be made with three types of CBD concentrate: isolate, a form of highly-pure CBD completely devoid of THC,  broad-spectrum, a form of CBD containing all the components naturally existing in the hemp plant except THC,  or full-spectrum, a form of whole plant CBD that contains all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and plant matter naturally occurring in hemp.

The efficacy of each of these types of concentrates changes depending on the type of product the concentrate is used in and the application. Studies show that CBD isolate may be less potent and less effective over time for more severe issues like chronic pain, as compared to full-spectrum CBD. This is because isolate has been processed to eliminate compounds that may create the heightened impact of the entourage effect. For this reason, a higher percentage of CBD in a product doesn’t automatically mean it is more effective. 

Once you know what type of CBD product you’re looking for, you can learn how to assess a brand’s transparency by reading product labels and comparing the labels with third-party studies. This is very important since many times we notice gaps between what’s on the labels and in the lab tests—or sometimes, a brand won’t make test results available at all. 

Any brands worth supporting will provide the consumer access to certificates of analysis (COA) or third-party testing—and their testing procedures should be sound. Best practices include doing full-panel testing in a clean third-party lab that has all the certifications, knowledge and relevant equipment.

We use full-panel testing because it not only provides proof that the amount of CBD present in the product is what a brand says it is, but also examines its full cannabinoid profile and screens for contaminants like heavy metals, microbials and pesticides that may be harmful to the consumer—which confirms whether or not a product is full-spectrum, and also gives insight into the way the product was produced.

Along those lines, you should also use the third-party study to confirm your CBD product was manufactured safely, especially since there are many processes involved with creating a CBD product that, if done poorly, can degrade and devalue the end result.

For instance, if your brand says it extracts its CBD using ethanol, but you find residual solvents like butane in the report, you know that they likely were lying about their extraction method.  This matters because a) it shows you that they aren’t transparent about their products, b) it’s proof they didn’t take the time to process the residual solvents out of the concentrate after extraction, and c) because this residual butane solvent can be harmful to consumers. Hence, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of how your product was extracted and manufactured, so you can vet the brand’s transparency in its labeling and third-party studies. 

In the end, an informed consumer is the best weapon against poor-quality, overpriced CBD. Use a myriad of resources to educate yourself, and you will not only find a CBD product that is safe and works for you, but you will encourage better transparency and accountability throughout the industry.

Lital Shafir

Lital Shafir is the head of product at Leafreport, an educational platform that aims to cut through the clutter of CBD information by providing medical-based, peer-reviewed content for consumers. The platform also conducts independent industry testing and conducts transparent and objective reviews of CBD products.

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