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It seems that everyone is tuned into the magic of CBD, from your neighbor using it for better sleep to your coworker using it for chronic pain relief to the folks at the dog park helping Rusty tone down his anxiety. But what is this magic substance, and more importantly, which CBD brands can you trust?
We've already covered CBD health benefits and even did a roundup of FAQs about CBD oil. This guide identifies brands that are dedicated to sourcing organic ingredients, effective formulations, and implement best practices for quality control.
What You Need to Know
CBD is short for cannabidiol, one of the many cannabinoid compounds found naturally in marijuana and hemp. In the U.S. CBD products are made from industrial hemp (not Marijuana) and must contain less than 1% THC (the psychoactive compound found in Marijuana).
The research into safety and potential therapeutic benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids, while promising, is still under review. The FDA has stated that it will not allow products to be marketed or labeled as dietary supplements nor will it give the "Generally Recognized as Safe" (a.k.a GRAS) designation to CBD products until more research is completed.
If you see a brand tout their CBD oil as "proven by science" to address a particular disease, health condition or to provide a specific health benefit, they are asking for a warning letter from the FDA. At the moment, CBD can only be marketed and labeled for general wellness.
People need to know that hemp plants are "bioaccumulators", meaning they are very effective at absorbing heavy metals and other chemical waste from the soil. This makes it imperative for consumers to pay attention to whether CBD companies source their hemp from certified organic hemp farms.
As past tests and warnings issued by the FDA have shown, not all CBD brands follow the rules and some products don't even contain the levels of CBD stated on the label (or any CBD at all).
If you are looking to use CBD to help you sleep better, treat anxiety, or manage chronic pain - amongst other uses - consult a medical professional.
If you do end up shopping for CBD online and are wondering which brand is best, read the labels and look for organic certifications. Also review the brand's website for information about their production practices. At the end of the day, if they don't provide third party lab test results for each batch of their product, look elsewhere.
CBD Brands We Like
Our criteria for picking brands were developed through consultation with industry experts, reading reputable resources online and culling the internet for popular brands to evaluate. When we reached out to CBD brands, we asked about their sourcing, production and quality control practices and whether they had certifcations to verify their claims. We also checked for warning recalls and letters from the FDA as well as for third-party lab results from independant third parties.
Below you will find CBD brands that source organic hemp and follow FDA guidance on Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). These brands can back up the quality and safety of their products through Organic Certifications and by providing third party test results for every product they sell.
1. Palmetto Harmony
About Palmetto Harmony
Founded by Janel Ralph in 2015, the company's origin is rooted in a mother's desire to help alleviate her daughter's debilitating seizures. Traditional pharmaceuticals had failed her daughter and the lack of regulation on hemp derived CBD products only led her to impure and ineffective formulations.
Today, Palmetto Harmony sets the gold standard for transparency and best practices, as they are USDA Certified Organic - a rare accomplishment in the industry. Vertically integrated from seed to sale they use combative pests in lieu of chemicals as pesticides (remember that hemp is highly effective at absorbing chemicals from the soil). Every batch they produce is tested for not only cannabinoid content and terpenes, but also mold, pesticides, heavy metals, microbials, herbicides and residual solvents. Their facilities are also certified for Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) as laid out by the FDA - something not all companies can claim.
2. Ojai Energetics
About Ojai Energetics
Ojai Energetics stands out for their formulation. They produce water-soluble CBD tinctures made with organic hemp. This method makes the CBD more bioavailable than fat-soluble CBD products. The company claims that because CBD oils are fat soluble, 90% of what you take doesn't survive your harsh liver and stomach enzymes in your body. In fact, if you eat 20mg of a regular CBD oil, only 2mg of CBD gets absorbed. That's where their water soluble formulation cracks the code.
"Our product takes about 30 seconds to begin reaping the benefits, whereas a regular CBD that's fat soluble takes about 30 minutes," explains Will Kleidon, CEO of Ojai Energetics, who notes that clinical studies proving this are in the works.
A third-party lab, StepOne Health, has already performed one clinical test, showing that the product contributed to "marked improvements" in three major inflammatory markers for heart disease in 15 individuals who began taking the product.
"We saw marked improvements of between 12 to 15 percent in all three markers," writes StepOne. "Having had high aspirations of a three to four percent improvement, the actual results are astounding."
While all of the ingredients used by Ojai Energetics for its oils are certified organic, the product itself cannot be for one simple reason.
"No one set up a CO2 extraction that's certified organic," explains Kleidon, who expresses confidence that this will happen within the year. "As soon as that comes on, we'll be the only water-soluble, full-spectrum, certified organic CBD."
The company performs third-party batch testing for every batch to ensure that the product is devoid of heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and microbials and that it contains the appropriate amount of CBD.
"That's really important to us," he continues. "Full transparency and only sourcing clean product every single time."
3. RE Botanicals
About RE Botanicals
The brand was founded by John W. Roulac, who also founded Nutiva. The company is dedicated to environmental stewardship of the land and donates 1% of their sales to support farmer education and implementation of regenerative agriculture practices.
While we have found other brands that source organically, RE Botanical is one of the few national CBD brands to be USDA Certified Organic. They are also certified glyphosphate residue free, certified vegan and GMO free. On their website, they provide third party lab test result for all of their products.
4. Bluebird Botanicals
About Bluebird Botanicals
Bluebird Botanicals is a family-owned business that is committed to minimizing negative impacts on the enviromnent. Taking advantage of Colorado's pristine soil and sustainable greenhouse practices, they partner with local farmers to breed and grow hemp for optimial terpene and cannabinoid contents. During the extraction process, they use environmentally-friendly alcohol or CO2 extraction systems. Bluebird’s final products are made in accordance with Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). They test every batch using third party labs and make the results available on demand.
In Consumer Lab's most recent report (paywall), Bluebird Botanical Hemp Classic 6x was the most highly concentrated (4.8 percent CBD) and least expensive (per mg of CBD). Other brands tested at 0.8 to the 1.7 percent of CBD and were relatively more expensive per mg of CBD sold.
Note that full spectrum formulation contains more than just CBD and typically contains other cannabinoids from the entire hemp plant (including terpenes), a carrier oil, plus any essential oils that may be added to enhance the formulation. If you want assurances that you're buying a CBD product with actual CBD plus other cannabinoids and not just olive oil, you can't go wrong with a bottle of Bluebird Botanical Hemp Classic 6x.
5. Pure Spectrum
About Pure Spectrum
Pure Spectrum, founded by Brady Bell, is committed to transparency and doing the right thing by not cutting any corners in an, as of yet, unregulated industry. They are committed to producing broad spectrum (THC free) CBD products that even drug tested athletes and service men and women can trust. What sets them apart is that they own their entire supply chain. From soil-to-oil, they are able to ensure sustainable and organic farming practices, clean extraction and formulation, and consistent production quality because they control every aspect of the supply chain.
Each batch is tested by an independant lab for purity and to ensure that it contains the promised amount of CBD. The company's commitment to consistency is aided by its closed-loop system which, Huerter explains, allows Pure Spectrum's products to easily boast the same flavor profile, the same cannabinoid profile, and the same terpine profile in every batch.
"We try to mirror the regulated cannabis products, here in Colorado," he says. "We try to mirror their testing procedures, and voluntarily do that to ourselves to make sure the customer knows what they're getting."
Pure Spectrum is also working to grow the CBD industry and ensure that farmers that follow sustainable practices get their fair share of the hemp economy.
6. PlusCBD Oil
CV Sciences is currently one of the only CBD oil companies also working on a CBD-based drug (pending FDA approval) in addition to an industrial hemp-derived CBD oil. In the case of CV Sciences, this drug is intended to help smokeless tobacco users kick the habit. Its CBD oil, marketed under brand name PlusCBD Oil, is the number one hemp-derived CBD oil on the market, according to data from SPINS, and CV Sciences is currently seeking GRAS self-determination for the product.The Relief & Recovery Capsules are water-soluble (which means your body can absorb and use them more efficiently), as well as gluten-free, preservative-free, vegan and kosher. There is 10mg of CBD per capsule.
For this company, transparency has always been key.
"We're one of the few companies that, from day one, told you exactly how much CBD you got per serving," explains Stuart Tomc, Vice President of Human Nutrition at CV Sciences. "There's no reason to hide what it is you're bringing to the market unless you're not prepared for the inevitable regulatory compliance battle."
Made with hemp grown in Europe, PlusCBD Oil is tested in a state-of-the-art in-house laboratory for CBD levels; these findings are then validated by a third-party lab, which also tests to ensure that all Plus CBD Oil products are free of pesticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, and residual solvents. A third lab uses advanced testing methods to ensure that all batches are free of heavy metals.
"Just like wine," says Tomc. "Every single batch is going to be different."
CBDPure states that they follow strict Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) to provide the high quality CBD products. On their website, they also mention that they source certified organic-standards industrial hemp grown in Colorado. They back it up by making available their third party certified lab tests for each lot number and batch.
The company has its products tested by the most trusted third-party lab in the cannabis industry, according to Evan Kopelson (a consultant in the medical cannabis industry): SC Labs. Lab results are clearly available on the company website.
8. Nuleaf Naturals
About Nuleaf Naturals
NuLeaf Naturals products are derived from sustainably sourced and organically grown hemp plants on licensed farms in Colorado. They use whole-plant extracts to get a full-spectrum formulation using a safe CO2 extraction method. Their formulation is potent and simple as it contains no flavorings, emulsifiers, or preservatives, or additives. It's just 100% organic cold-pressed hemp oil (as the carrier oil) and their full spectrum CBD concentrate (cannabinoids and terpenes).
They test their CBD oil in house and with multiple third-party labs, including Steep Hill in Berkeley, California, and ProVerde in Milford, Massachusetts, to confirm their CBD products are free from pesticides, herbicides, mold, fungi, heavy metals, and mycotoxins. Their testing procedures also ensure that their products contain the optimal amount of cannabinoids and terpenes.
In addition to providing third-party lab tests for their products, they also have a Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) certification, scoring a 100% on an audit conducted by Eurofins.
9. Calm by Wellness
About Calm by Wellness
Calm by Wellness checks off all the boxes when it comes to transparency. They source organically grown hemp from Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota. When it comes to extraction and formulation, they use a safe CO2 extraction method and a proprietary blend of naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes for a full profile of the hemp plant. Their laboratories and manufacturing facilities are also ISO09001 and cGMP certified, which they claim to be the highest level of food grade safety certification possible. While their website provides certificates of analysis for the CBD used in their products, a representative confirmed that they triple test every batch and will soon provide lab test results for every batch of their product soon.
How to Pick the Right CBD Products
Sadly but not surprisingly not every product claiming to contain CBD has the percentage they claim—and some may contain no CBD at all.
As with supplements, the FDA does not review CBD products before they hit the shelves. At this time, CBD oil quality is not regulated in most states. Only states that have legalized marijuana for adult use have regulated laboratory testing for CBD sold in dispensaries. Currently, these states are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, as well as Washington D.C.
The FDA conducted a laboratory test in 2015 and 2016 to determine the percentage of CBD in certain products marketed and sold as containing CBD. Several of the brands they tested were found to contain absolutely no CBD oil.
"If a product says it contains a certain amount of CBD, it may be more, it may be less," cautions Joseph Nathan, Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Long Island University.
When purchasing CBD, therefore, you can't be afraid to ask questions. Here are some good ones recommended by our experts to help you suss out the brands worth spending money on.
1. Understand Best Sourcing Practices
CBD oil companies should be able to offer you clear traceability with regards to the origin of the hemp used in the product, which should be grown organically and be pesticide-free.
"I think the first thing to do is ask the manufacturer of the product that you're buying where their CBD is coming from," says Caitlin Moakley, lead buyer and manager of the Body Care department at Cambridge Naturals. "If they can answer that question for you, you're on the right track."
Stormy Simon, former CEO of Overstock.com turned cannabis champion, notes that this is the first thing you should look for on the label.
"There are farms in the U.S. that are certified by state departments of agriculture, and I would trust those," she says.
Hemp produced in Europe is generally of good quality, according to Evan Kopelson, who has been a medical cannabis industry consultant for the past eight years. He notes in an article on Linkedin that until recently, when the USDA began allowing hemp to be certified organic, buying from Europe was the only way to be sure that CBD oil was pesticide-free. While laws have since allowed American companies to certify their hemp organic, some great CBD oil companies still source from Europe, so don't count them out of your search.
2. Understanding How It's Made
CBD oil is not all extracted in the same way.
"When it comes to extraction, there are multiple processes being used," explains Simon. "One is with butane, and the other with propane. Those aren't my top preferences."
Kopelson notes that butane is not allowed for use in the extraction of medical cannabis in California, though it is allowed for recreational manufacturing.
"There are two processes to look for," Simon continues. "One uses an organic, pharmaceutical-grade ethanol. Ethanol is considered the safest method of extraction for human use. The other method extracts with CO2, which is more of a refined, expensive process that ensures the CBD holds its purity throughout."
Choosing CO2 or ethanol-extracted CBD oils, then, is your best bet.
You should also keep an eye out for "full-spectrum" oils, which contain not just CBD, but a full range of cannabinoids – including trace amounts of THC. This won't be enough to make you high (and shouldn't even be enough to show up on drug tests), but it will allow you to reap the benefits of not just CBD but the "full spectrum" of cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, producing what some experts have begun calling "the entourage effect."
"It’s been shown that THC and CBD, when combating the myriad of symptoms and disease states, have a synergistic relationship," explains Steve Looi, Director of Origination at White Sheep Corp., a Toronto-based cannabis commercial operator and strategic investor with holdings in Canada and the US. "The compounds are more effective in each other’s presence than they would be if taken alone."
3. How to Look at Lab Tests
CBD oil companies should also perform regular lab tests to ensure that their CBD contains everything it should – and nothing it shouldn't.
"If a company is confident in their product, and if they really want customers to believe in their product, they should be able to provide that information for you," says Moakley.
The certificate of analysis or lab report will show you several things: first, that the oil does contain the amount of CBD the company claims it does, and second, that it is devoid of pesticides, herbicides, and solvents.
"Hemp is a bioaccumulator," explains Chris Cox, founder and CEO of PlentyPharma. "So it picks up heavy metals, pesticides, anything in the soil, it could pick up, and that could end up in the final product."
The lab test will also let you know if the CBD oil has been decarboxylated, a process of gently heating the oil in order to convert CBDa and THCa molecules into CBD and THC.
"You won't always see the word 'decarboxylated' on a CBD oil company's website," warns Kopelson, though you will be able to see it on a lab test.
"When you look at the lab test results for your CBD oil," writes Kopelson, "You can tell the oil is decarboxylated if you have all four ingredients (CBDa, CBD, THCa, and THC) with the CBD amount being much higher than the CBDa and the THC amount being much higher than the THCa."
Most good brands will not just provide one set of lab tests, but rather will test each individual batch to ensure that the same standards are upheld every time.
"Continually having those lab results done on the raw oil and of course on a batch basis allows us to be completely transparent," says Cox, who notes that PlentyPharma's end goal is to eventually be able to allow users to search their batch number via a database directly on the company website.
Where to Buy CBD Oil
Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy CBD oil in a dispensary. This is Nathan's recommendation, whenever possible, as it allows you the highest level of traceability.
"My suggestion would be to stick with products that are dispensed by dispensaries that are licensed by the state in which you live," says Nathan. "I think just purchasing CBD oil that's sold online or elsewhere – you're taking a chance."
This isn't an option for most people, however. According to Brightfield Group, a market research firm based in Chicago, in 2007, only seven percent of people bought their CBD oil from dispensaries. Most – a whopping 65 percent – purchased the product online.
Six percent of people, meanwhile, opted for health shops, while 21 percent purchased their CBD oil in smoke shops, and less than one percent purchased CBD oil from doctor's offices.
If you cannot gain access to a dispensary, you'll need to do more homework to ensure that your CBD oil lives up to what it says on the package. Luckily, we've done that for you.
Before Taking CBD Oil
Always consult your doctor before attempting to treat a health condition with any supplement, including CBD oil. Once your doctor has signed off – and you've found a CBD oil that you can trust – be sure that you follow dosage instructions on the product labels or by your doctor.
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