About 3,000 CBD companies sell their wares in the United States with a dizzying array of products — from Delta-8 and tinctures to vapes to topicals to edibles. But one thing CBD customers notice is the notable price difference between products. Why does one tincture cost $75 while another from the same company costs $25? Is one really three times more effective than another?
Now is the time to be curious about CBD, but make sure you take simple steps to get the most benefits and don’t expose yourself to risks. Here’s a quick explainer of what CBD companies mean when they label products “whole spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” “isolate” or “hemp oil,” and even Delta-8.
All CBD products are not the same, and the reason for the cost difference can generally be traced to the product’s purity, efficacy and the manufacturing process.
The so-called “entourage effect” is a theory that CBD in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, plus terpenes and other components, “works in a synergistic fashion to produce a greater pharmacological effect.”Deepank Utkhede of Vantage Hemp
The cannabis plant can be cultivated as “marijuana” or “hemp” depending on the levels of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance that causes a psychoactive effect and gets you high.
Hemp plants are defined by the 2018 Farm Bill as containing less than .3% THC by dry weight. But CBD and THC are just two of dozens of cannabinoids found in cannabis, whether grown for marijuana or hemp. These include CBD, CBG, CBN and THC, in addition to terpenes, flavonoids and cannaflavins.
CBD and other cannabinoids are thought to affect the human endocannabinoid system, a signaling mechanism in the human body that regulates biological processes such as pain sensation, metabolism, neuron activity and immune function.
The so-called “entourage effect” is a theory that CBD by itself may be effective, but CBD in combination with THC and other cannabinoids, plus terpenes and other components, “works in a synergistic fashion to produce a greater pharmacological effect,” Deepank Utkhede, the chief operations officer of Greeley, Colo.-based Vantage Hemp, a medical CBD provider, told the News Station.
CBD and THC usually walk hand-in-hand in equal amounts in the cannabis plant, as this chart from the Colorado Department of Agriculture shows.
So, if you’re smoking regular THC cannabis, you are also ingesting CBD, and likely experiencing the entourage effect.
But hemp-derived CBD comes from cannabis that has been selectively bred to have less than .3% THC, breaking up the partnership between the two cannabinoids. Still, even hemp has trace amounts of THC.
Full spectrum CBD oil, or full-plant extract, is obtained from the first processing of the plant matter into “crude oil,” which removes waxes and lipids.
“That full-spectrum oil is as close to a whole plant extract as you’re gonna get,” Utkhede said.
But distilling the plant matter also concentrates the THC content to levels that need to be diluted, usually with a fractionated carrier coconut oil called MCT.
To verify that a product is full spectrum, check the cannabinoid profile on the company’s lab report for the presence of multiple cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC. The THC in full-spectrum CBD products has a chance of showing up on a drug test.
For CBD users with drug-testing concerns or who have sensitivity to THC, broad spectrum CBD removes all but trace amounts of THC and leaves the other cannabinoids and terpenes, for a partial entourage effect. Again, the company’s online lab reports should show other cannabinoids and terpenes but very trace levels of THC.
Isolate is 99% pure CBD extracted from hemp flower and condensed into a purified powder. That powder is then mixed with carrier oil or used in other products, such as kombucha, pet treats, topicals or gummies.
Isolate CBD is used as a medical product in the FDA-approved epilepsy seizure medicine Epidiolex, and it’s a strong pharmaceutical that will be used as an ingredient in medical products going forward as research advances, Utkhede said.
“The pharmaceutical world isn’t interested in whole-plant products because they are not consistent,” he said.
Delta-8 does not appear naturally in any significant amounts in cannabis plants, but has to be synthesized from large amounts of crude oil. Delta-8 products contain a concentrated minor tetrahydrocannabinol, a decayed version of Delta-9 THC that can be derived from hemp. Nicknamed “marijuana light,” Delta-8 is outlawed in multiple states but is for sale in some states where adult-use cannabis is still prohibited.
There’s controversy over Delta-8, which has zero manufacturing oversight or standards and appears on sketchy smoke shop shelves in Southern states and other places where THC cannabis is outlawed. Adulterated products have led to an uptick in calls to poison control centers.
Hemp oil and hemp seeds
Finally, hemp oil, in its purest form, does not contain CBD or THC. Hemp oil is made from hemp seeds, which are dehulled and crushed to make Omega 3- and Omega 6-rich oil, much like flax seeds. (Cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are found on resin on the cannabis flower.)
Hulled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, contain a complete protein as well as beneficial fatty acids and fiber. A 30-gram serving sprinkled on salads or added to a smoothie has 9.7 grams of protein.
You don’t need to go to a CBD shop or THC dispensary to find healthful hemp oil or hemp seeds. They’ve been for sale in health food stores for decades, and are now even appearing in major grocery chains. Look for food scientists to roll out new hemp food products regularly, from hemp burgers to hemp granola bars to hemp milk.
“The pharmaceutical world isn’t interested in whole-plant products because they are not consistent.”Deepank Utkhede
The world is only now learning about how hemp-derived cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and cannaflavins may interact with the human body and how they work together and separately.
Meanwhile, CBD is still not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), even though the agency admits that it is widely used by residents of the United States. The FDA has limited its regulation to going after companies that flagrantly claim unfounded health benefits, such as curing cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of the extreme variety and volume of companies and products, it’s best to buy CBD products from a trusted source, like a health food store. Stay away from gas station CBD, if you can, and make sure that the company you buy from posts a lab analysis of its products on its website.
As research advances, the health benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids are destined to become clearer, and the entourage effect may lead to other wellness breakthroughs as well.