NSF Brings Needed Oversight to the CBD Industry

Do you really know what's in your CBD oil?
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NSF Brings Needed Oversight to the CBD Industr

In a time when there are more options for CBD oils, gummies, brownies, and even coffee than we can count, global health organization NSF international has launched independent testing and verification for consumer products containing hemp and hemp-derived CBD. Alongside NSF subsidiary Quality Assurance International, the organization will be testing hemp-derived products for contamination, active ingredient levels, and even organic certification.

“A lot of times, new industries have some growing pains for their quality: with the way they’re manufactured and just the purity of their products,” says Jesse Miller, Ph.D., NSF’s director of Applied Research. “We were founded to protect public health, and this industry needs us to help make sure these products are safe. That’s why we did it. It's mission-based work."

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized these products for use in food, but the explosion of different options on the shelves can be overwhelming, especially given that not all CBD products are created alike. In fact, the reality couldn't be further from the truth. While some companies proudly offer consumers Certificates of Analysis (COAs) to show exactly what's in their product, other companies' methods are elusive at best.

“This product’s being sold in gas stations, right next to some unknown packet of powder that’s supposedly going to give you energy,” says Miller. “That’s the reason why we exist: to test those and get them off the market, right?”

According to NSF, a few important elements need to be tested when it comes to foods and supplements containing CBD. The first is the presence of contaminants. Hemp is a natural bioaccumulator, which is part of what makes it such a fantastic tool for healing our soils. But since hemp pulls pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants from the ground, if this hemp is then consumed, all of those contaminants are consumed along with it.

Another important thing to test for is the level of the active cannabinoids in a product. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized full- and broad-spectrum CBD for use in food products. A finished CBD product, then, should test positive for both CBD (cannabidiol) and .3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or less by weight. Since THC levels are the only thing distinguishing hemp from psychotropic marijuana, an inappropriate amount of THC doesn’t just make the product illegal – it could make you test positive on a drug test.

(To find out more about this and other burning CBD questions, check out our FAQ to CBD.)

NSF International and QAI are currently offering various services, including raw ingredient verification, USDA organic certification, and label compliance consulting. Beginning in October, NSF International will also be prepared to offer testing for a to-be-determined upper safety limit for CBD in dietary supplements, an Miller explains that NSF is also currently working on creating testing methods for each individual type of CBD product on the marketplace.

“I can’t just use the same method I used for an oil on a granola bar; it’s going to give you poor results," he says. "So I develop a method for a granola bar, and then I test the granola bar. As we see more and more products coming in, as the marketplace evolves, as more and more types of products need to be tested, we’ll develop the methods for them.”

While Miller is excited by the number of companies that have already come forward to have their products tested, he does note that often, the companies that most need compliance testing are the ones that remain in the shadows.

“The reality is that a lot of those people are not going to come to NSF for testing, because they know we’re going to find out what’s in their products,” he says. “The really reputable manufacturers of a product are going to come and say, 'Hey, we believe in our products, we know you’re a good testing and certification organization, I want your mark on my product because it means something.'”

So be cautious when choosing your CBD products: look for a third party seal, like ones from QAI and NSF, or select your products from our vetted list of CBD oil brands we trust.

This important work comes in a time when NSF International is celebrating 75 years protecting and improving human health through independent verification.

“Consumers care about what’s in their food and how it was produced. That’s true for many different types of products, including ones that contain hemp and hemp-derived CBD,” said Sarah Krol, Director of Food Safety Certification at NSF International. 

“Independent certification from QAI and NSF gives consumers confidence in the products they choose because they know we’ve taken a very close look at those certified products and the way they were grown, processed or handled. Certification provides a level of transparency and trust that consumers simply can’t get any other way.”

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