How to Measure CBD Quality

August 9, 2019

The CBD industry is getting big. And it’s about to get really big: a recent poll projects $22 billion in annual sales by 2022.


While this is indeed pretty awesome, the speed of such developments might leave new consumers confused. There’s information (and misinformation) of all sorts out there, and the intricacies of what CBD oil is and what it does can be hard to understand. What makes a particular CBD oil worth buying can be even more confusing!


So, we made a guide.


What follows are the primary factors to consider when finding the CBD oil that’s best for you. There’s a lot of junk vying for your attention within today’s CBD market…but with this profile, we hope to help you sort through it.


Without further ado, here’s our CBD Buying Guide!


Is your CBD ____________ ?

  1. Full-spectrum
  2. CBD isolate
  3. Using a clean carrier oil
  4. Affordable
  5. Third-party tested
  6. Traceable
  7. Cleanly extracted
  8. Transparent
  9. Sketchy
  10. USDA Organic
  11. State certified Organic
  12. Unique
  13. Vegan
  14. Well-labeled
  15. Palatable

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here! Let’s take a look at these factors one by one:


1. Is your CBD Full Spectrum?

Full spectrum CBD refers to any extract that keeps hemp’s native ingredients fully (or near-fully) intact. Though CBD itself is hemp’s most concentrated, most active ingredient, the plant also contains dozens of other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and more. The collective health impact of these molecules is greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, 1 + 1 + 1 = 12, not 3.


That’s right, conceptually speaking — a recent study found that full spectrum extracts are up to four times more bioactive than CBD isolate itself. Nature really does know best, and this truth is reflected in the synergy found among natural ingredients. In the case of hemp and the cannabinoids it contains, nature’s synergy is even more noticeable.


Just think — if you had to meet your RDI for vitamin C, would you rather take a capsule or eat broccoli? Taste preferences notwithstanding, the broccoli is a more effective choice.


2. Is your CBD an isolate?

So, why take a CBD isolate product when full spectrum CBD is so powerful? Good question! While full spectrum CBD is usually more effective than other options, there are several legitimate reasons.


For one, there’s the issue of taste. Some full spectrum products can get pretty earthy! CBD isolate, on the other hand, is virtually tasteless because it lacks hemp’s chlorophyll and terpenes.


CBD isolate is also fully free from THC. This can be great for people who may have a mental block against any amount of THC, and it can be critical for those who under drug testing for work.


3.Does your CBD use a clean carrier oil?

The quality of a CBD oil’s carrier oil is also surprisingly important. Your average CBD oil, with 250 milligrams of CBD in a 1-ounce bottle, is actually over 99% carrier oil by weight!


That’s not a bad thing. But it points to how greatly any carrier oil a company decides to use — whether MCT, olive, coconut, etc — impacts the overall quality of their CBD products.


Some companies have been known to mislabel cheap grapeseed oil as olive or hempseed oil; others allow their carrier oils to degrade, or ‘go bad’, through mishandling.


Considering that a person’s endocannabinoid system health depends on their intake of healthy fats, neither of those situations is good!


4.Is your CBD affordable?


Thankfully, overpriced CBD oil is becoming a thing of the past. But is your CBD oil affordable?


With the nation’s hemp supply continuing to develop and grow, there’s no reason for it not to be. You can gauge a CBD oil’s value by comparing its CBD content in milligrams to its total price. For example, a 250mg bottle may cost $39.99. That’s about 16 cents per milligram:


$39.99 / 250 = $0.159, or 15.9 cents.


Not bad — but not all that good, either. Look for an option that’s priced at 10 cents/milligram or less; in that case, your 250mg bottle would cost 25 dollars, not 40. At this price point, there are plenty of good options available.


5. Is your CBD third-party tested?

If not, you won’t be able to verify its quality. A brand that doesn’t have third-party lab testing results online for all to see probably only has something to hide.


On the other hand, some companies go above and beyond this quality standard by subjecting their products to both in-house and third-party lab testing. This allows for feedback along every stage of the production process, not just feedback from a final product.


Even authentic third-party lab testing has levels to it. Most good testing facilities offer a variety of cannabis & hemp-related analyses; including tests for:


  • Mold
  • Mycotoxin
  • Solvent
  • Cannabinoid, and
  • Terpene

…are just a few of them.


Though it’s pricey, all this product testing is definitely worth it. Overall, third-party testing is a sign of honesty, transparency, and premium quality.


6.Is your CBD traceable?

If you can, look at a bottle of retail-ready CBD oil. It may look all pretty and picture-perfect…but can you tell where it came from?


Probably not, unless the company that made it makes finding such info easy for you. There are several ways this can be done; QR Codes linked to batch-by-batch product details are one common way.


Companies that have a vertically integrated (think seed-to-sale) operation are usually a good choice. That’s because these companies have much more control over their supply chain.


While many companies won’t state whether they’re vertically integrated or not, you can look for clues: are there pictures of an actual hemp farm on the brand’s social media or website? Do they actually know their seeds, soil, and farmers? Do they use special in-house extraction machines (like one of our faves, Palmetto Harmony), or do they outsource extraction too?


7.Is your CBD cleanly extracted?

There are all sorts of extraction methods out there. Some are great, some are not so great…and the not so great ones often produce bigger yields of concentrated CBD.


Unfortunately, many brands succumb to this temptation and extract with butane or hexane instead of gentler solvents like ethanol or CO2. That’s just one more reason to check for third-party lab testing!


Even oils that are cleanly extracted may not be pure. How so, you may ask? If hemp has been sprayed with pesticides, those pesticides tend to find their way into the plant’s extract. Hemp that’s grown correctly, on the other hand, typically won’t need pesticides — certainly not any synthetic ones.


8.Is your CBD transparent?

Gauging a company’s transparency level is often as easy as browsing their website.


Once there, take stock— is the product information on said website easy to find and understand? Is info on the founders available? How about where the company grows their hemp? Ideally, lab tests (for all the things we mentioned earlier!) should also be featured.


Transparency is also revealed in how a CBD company chooses to label. Are its products clearly marked with nutrition info, quality certifications, etc? If not, why not? There’s probably a reason. In some states labeling each bottle with a QR code linked to lab tests is mandatory. Brands that take this extra step tend to score higher.


9.Is your CBD sketchy?

Hopefully not, right? But it’s unfortunately common for CBD brands to get a little too zealous with their branding. When facts have been entirely replaced with emotional claims, watch out. Getting to the bottom of things can be a headache!


If you see a website that’s just one long sales pitch with very little substance, run the other way. CBD websites that don’t have an about page, any educational material, or any contact info (it does happen!) also seem at least a little sketchy in our books. The founder(s) could be dropshipping hyper-cheap crude hemp extract from Alibaba, for all you know!


10. Is your CBD USDA-Certified Organic?

Getting USDA-certified is tough — but the list of CBD companies who’ve done it is growing. RE Botanicals, Palmetto Harmony, and CBDRx are just a few of them.


Commercial CBD products likely aren’t at risk of genetic modification yet, but the USDA organic certification is still a reassurance. Those with chemical sensitivities may find it especially important.


11. What about State certified Organic?

While it’s very difficult for manufacturers to get their product certified organic by the USDA, they can still get state-certified in many cases.


Other certifications lend credence to CBD products, too. For example, the US Hemp authority has begun to certify brands according to standards that go above and beyond those set by the FDA. Some certifications are even statewide, like Maine’s MOFGA (Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association) certification.


12. Is your CBD specialized?

While CBD itself is great for improving health and combating a variety of illnesses, some people may want a little bit more. For example, what if you feel great most of the time but just want help with your sleep? In cases like these, specialized CBD products are best.


Thankfully, such products are available…though they can be hard to find. A CBD oil sold specifically for relaxation may contain essential oils like lavender, or even be derived from hemp that’s unusually rich in CBN. Another promising novelty: water-soluble “nano” CBD.


In a market full of cookie-cutter products, the inclusion of ingredients like these indicates care and precision on the part of the producer. As good brands emerge and make an effort to stand out, look for a continued influx of new things into this market.


13. Is your CBD vegan?

For obvious reasons, this factor is another of the highly individualized ones. You might think all CBD is vegan, and in a way, you’d be right — but sometimes hemp is grown with not-so-vegan fish-based nitrogen fertilizers. Of course, only companies who remain traceable and transparent could rightfully claim vegan status too…


14. Is your CBD well-labeled?

This is a surprisingly important question to ask, and it goes back to transparency to some extent. Is your CBD clearly marked with nutrition info, quality certifications, etc?


If not, why not? There’s probably a reason. In some states, labeling each bottle with a QR code linked to lab tests is mandatory. Brands that take this extra step tend to score higher.


One more important factor: brands that are especially forward-looking might just label their products per serving as opposed to per bottle. After all, that’s the standard for most other supplements.


15. Is your CBD palatable?

The taste of CBD oil may or may not be a big deal to you. In fact, some people actually like the earthy, spicy taste of less-processed CBD — more power to them!


But while some CBD oils may taste earthy, they definitely shouldn’t taste awful. Taste that’s downright bad might indicate that extraction was rushed or even that low-quality hemp was used.


If you don’t want to go the unflavored, earthy route, we’d encourage you to find a CBD oil that’s naturally flavored. There are more options out there than ever before, with products naturally infused with mint, vanilla, strawberry and more.


So…that’s our CBD Buying Guide.

If these seem like a lot of factors to keep in mind as you search for the right product, don’t worry. We’re doing the work for you — we’ve got a lot in the works and you can check out our in-depth product reviews here.


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