How to Find the Best Quality CBD Products
Written By: Dr. Jonny Lisano, Ph.D.
A step by step guide on how to be a knowledgeable consumer of cannabidiol (CBD), and what you need to know about CBD products to ensure that you are choosing the product that is the best quality.
Due to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the cannabidiol (CBD) industry is growing at an exponential rate in the United States. With this rapid growth, more products like CBD capsules, tinctures, and gummies are becoming available on the market. However, whether you are a veteran user or just getting started you should be aware that CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other federal entity. Regulation of these products falls upon each individual company. Due to this self regulation, there is high variability between the claimed CBD content and the actual CBD content of these products. In fact, in a 2017 study, it was found that 70% of tested CBD products were inaccurately labeled (Bonn-Miller et. al. 2017), meaning, that what was on the label was not in the bottle. Some studies have even found that CBD products actually contained less than 1% of the product’s claimed CBD content (Bonn-Miller et. al. 2017). Further, it has been scientifically observed that the content of CBD in oil based products can change over time and is dependent on the type of oil that the CBD concentrate is resuspended in (Pavlovic et al. 2018).
So, knowing that CBD products can be inaccurately labeled or vary over time; how do we separate out the good from the bad and the ugly? And how do we truly find the best CBD oil tincture products?
Step 1: Research the company and see how open they are.
The first thing you’ll want to address when you’re interested in a specific CBD product is; does the company making the product have an online presence? If you are unable to find a website or additional information on the company, you won’t be able to continue on to steps 2 or three of this process. If this is the case, I’d suggest starting your search over and looking for a new product. However, if you can find the company’s website you’ll want to see if you can easily find their method of extraction and if the provide certificates of analysis from a third-party lab. Reputable 3rd party laboratories include Botanacor and ProVerde Labs. 3rd party testing (instead of testing from the company itself) is important to maintain the integrity of the testing, and proper standards. If you can find these two things, you can proceed to steps 2 and 3.
Step 2: What method of extraction are they using to produce their CBD concentrate?
There are multiple methods to extract CBD concentrate from the hemp plant, but not all of these methods are of equal quality. Some methods yield higher, more consistent concentrates but are more expensive to perform. While other methods are cheaper but sacrifice quality and content of the concentrate. So what are the four most common extraction methods to obtain full spectrum CBD oil from the hemp plant?
- Supercritical CO2 Extraction
Supercritical CO2 refers to CO2 having properties of both gaseous and liquid state. This supercritical solvent is the same compound as the CO2 in the air that we breathe in and out, but is much more concentrated. In the extraction device, The supercritical CO2 is pumped through a chamber containing the hemp plant. The CO2, in a supercritical state, emulsifies the plant allowing for separation of the oil concentrate from the plant. The oil and CO2 are then moved to another chamber in which the CO2 is allowed to return to its gaseous state leaving only the concentrated oil behind.
This method produces high purity CBD concentrates, leaves behind no harmful residues and doesn’t damage the contents of the concentrate (i.e. cannabinoids and terpenes). However, because of the equipment needs for this process it is expensive to perform.
- Steam Distillation
This method uses vaporized water to break up and dissolve the hemp plant, allowing the essential oils that contain CBD to be released. The water vapor and oil mixture is collected and then distilled in a manner similar to how alcoholic spirits are made, leaving the oil behind that contains the concentrate.
While this method is more cost effective than CO2 extraction, this process is highly inefficient, yields lower concentrations of CBD, and can damage the active ingredients (i.e. cannabinoids and terpenes) if the water gets too hot.
- Hydrocarbon Solvent Extraction
Hydrocarbons are refined solvents like heptane, hexane, petroleum, butane and propane. Yea, you read that right: petroleum and propane. Those are the exact same chemicals used to fuel your car and your gas grill. While this process is fairly similar to CO2 extraction; there is one major difference. It’s difficult to fully evaporate these active solvents, and harmful residues can be left behind. These residues when consumed can produce extremely negative health effects. For example, chronic exposure of hexane has been observed to produce neuro and liver toxicity (Spencer et al. 1980 & Goel et al. 1988).
Again, while this method may produce highly concentrated extracts and is relatively inexpensive, it can contain harmful residues that produce negative health effects.
- Natural Solvent Extraction
Natural solvents like olive oil and ethanol can also be used to extract CBD concentrates. Unlike hydrocarbons these solvents do not leave behind harmful residues. However, while this method is inexpensive and uses natural products; similar to steam distillation this process is largely inefficient and can have an undesirable “off taste” in the final product.
What’s the best method of extraction?
In the CBD industry, CO2 extraction is viewed as the gold standard. It yields pure, highly concentrated uncontaminated extracts. While this method may be more expensive, it does mean you’re getting the most for your money, and you don’t have to worry about negative side-effects from residues.
Step 3: Look to see if they openly provide product certificates of analysis.
As previously stated, CBD products in the U.S. are not regulated by the FDA or any other agency. Due to this, each individual company is responsible for determining what the actual content of their product is. How much CBD does the product actually contain? Does it have any harmful residues? Are there any heavy metals present? These are all questions that can be answered by having the company obtain a certificate of analysis from a third-party lab, like Botanacor or ProVerde Labs, as previously mentioned.
The third-party lab that the company sends a sample of their product to should not be affiliated with the company in any way, and this ensures an unbiased analysis of the contents of the product. This third-party lab then provides a certificate of analysis of this testing. If companies are confident in the quality of their product, they will freely provide these certificates of analysis on their website, and should be relatively easy to find. However, even if the company is providing these certificates, there are still some tricks these companies use that you should be aware of.
- They analyze the bulk concentrate, and not the individual products. Companies that offer multiple products often produce these products from the same batch of initial concentrate. And while this may tell you how pure the initial concentrate is, it won’t tell you the content of the specific product. If your certificate of analysis says 90-100% CBD… the certificate is meaningless, because you only know what the amount of cbd started with was, not what they put in your bottle. A good calculation of what percentage of CBD you should have in your bottle would be:
mg of CBD in the bottle/1000
______________________ x 100 = % of CBD
ml of fluid in your bottle
A real-world example of this would be:
600mg of CBD in the bottle/1000
______________________ x 100 = 1% of CBD
60ml of MCT oil
Why might a company post inaccurate test results? Third-party testing is very expensive. And if a company is providing multiple products it might be tempting to analyze the initial concentrate rather than each individual product. While this may save the company money, it doesn’t give you any assurance as to the content of you specific product.
What to look for? On the company’s website look at the certificate of analysis for multiple products. If all the products you look at have the same certificate with the same date and same concentrations odds are they’re using this trick.
- They only had their first batch of product analyzed, but have not analyzed any successive batches. In the CBD industry it is a desirable marketing technique to say you products are third-party verified, but as we stated previously this analysis is not cheap. To give themselves a marketing edge, they’ll analyze their very first batch and post this online for their product, but in spite of producing new batches they don’t test them and just leave the initial report posted.
What to look for? Look at the date of the analysis. If the analysis was done more than a year ago, this might be the case. In addition, every product you purchase should have a “lot number”, and that lot number should be reflected on the certificate of analysis.
- Say the product is third-party tested, but don’t provide a certificate of analysis. If a company claims that their products are third party verified but do not provide these certificates of analysis online it is most likely due to undesirable results. This may be due to lower CBD content than claimed or the presence of harmful residues or heavy metals like lead. Or, may be due to high concentration of THC. In a study assessing the content of cannabinoids in CBD products, THC was detected up to a concentration of 6.43 mg/mL (Bonn-Miller et al. 2018). That means 1 milliliter of the product contained up to 6.43 mg of THC, or roughly equivalent to the typical amount of THC found in edibles sold at recreational dispensaries.
What to look for? This one is pretty easy, if they say they do third-party testing but don’t provide the certificates, you may want to rethink your choice.
Step 4: What type of oil is the CBD concentrate resuspended in?
Many different oils are used to dilute the initial extract to the desired final concentration. Some of the most common oils used are hemp seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil and MCT oil. When looking for oil-based products, we strongly recommend you purchase products that are suspended in MCT oil. The name of this oil stands for medium chain triglycerides and is refined from coconut oil. The reason this oil stands out above the rest is because it has been scientifically shown to be the most stable over time. In a study published in 2018, that MCT oil when compared to the other oils contained no lipid oxidation products (Pavlovic et al. 2018), meaning your CBD lasts longer and doesn’t accumulate potentially hazardous byproducts as quickly as CBD in other oils. So, how could this be?
Well, there are different lengths of fats (aka, triglycerides) present in oils: small, medium and long chain. The chemical structure of small and long chain fats allows them to react with other chemicals leading to the breakdown or “lipid oxidation” of these chemicals. In the case of CBD products these small and long chain fats can react with CBD and cause it to degrade over time. That means the content of a CBD product with long and short chain fats will decrease overtime, resulting in you not getting the most from your product. However, the medium chain fats are not reactive and do not cause lipid oxidation, meaning your product will be more stable over time. MCT oil is refined from coconut oil but has any long or short chain fats removed. So if you want to ensure that your product is as good on the last day of use as it was the first day, I suggest purchasing CBD products with MCT oil as the base.
You’re probably thinking right now, “Wow Jonny, that’s a lot of work that I have to do just to find a high-quality CBD product. Is there a product that you can recommend that already meets all of these qualifications?”
Yes!!! Have no fear. The products provided by 6° Wellness meet all of the requirements we already discussed. At 6° Wellness, customers are our main focus, our staff has Ph.D scientists that have a deep understanding of the science of CBD and use scientific research to produce the highest quality products for you. We are completely open, every product we sell has a unique batch I.D. on the bottom of the bottle. Simply enter this number into our certificates of analysis database and it will pop right up. Easy peasy! All of our concentrate is produced from organic hemp using CO2 extraction. This means you don’t have to worry about the presence of harmful residues and you are assured you’re getting the best product. Finally, because we want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your product we use MCT oil in all our products. This means your CBD oil will be as fresh on its last day of use as it was on its first day. Plus you have the added benefit of knowing that because of our “1 for 1” model you’re helping someone in need with every purchase.
Pavlovic, R., Nenna, G., Calvi, L., Panseri, S., Borgonovo, G., Giupponi, L., Cannazza, Cannazza, G., Giorgi, A. 2018. Quality Traits of “Cannabidiol Oils”: Cannabinoids Content, Terpene Fingerprint and Oxidation Stability of European Commercially Available Preparations. Molecules, 23(5): 1230.