It used to be that recreational cannabis users kept their habit on the DL, but now it seems that everyone is tuned into the magic of CBD, from your elderly neighbor using it for glaucoma to the woman in your book group 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, what can it do for you?
This is part two of a three-part series on CBD oil. Please check out part one, our guide to CBD health benefits, distilled, and the forthcoming part three, where we answer all of your FAQs about CBD oil.
- Most people take CBD for anxiety, sleep problems, and pain relief for inflammation.
- While the DEA considers CBD to be a schedule 1 drug, a number of states have vastly differing laws permitting the sales of CBD.
- As with supplements, the FDA does not review CBD products before they hit the shelves. The onus is on the consumer to do their research on sourcing, extraction methods and lab testing when purchasing CBD products.
- When 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.
- The best way to ensure you are buying clean CBD products is to buy from dispensaries that are licensed by the states that have legalized CBD. When buying CBD products online, it's up to consumers do their own research.
First of all, a bit of clarification in terms. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of the active compounds or cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. While there are hundreds of cannabinoids in cannabis, the best known is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound that makes cannabis users high.
While both CBD and THC are present in the cannabis plant, no matter what form it takes, there are only trace amounts of psychoactive THC in industrial hemp, the plant used to make hemp textiles, hemp seeds, and most of the CBD oil on the marketplace. Long story short: using CBD oil won't make you high. (For answers to more commonly asked CBD questions, be sure to check out our FAQ about CBD).
Following the legalization of cannabis in several states, a host of companies have begun producing CBD oil – which is both good news and bad news. Now, like with skin care and supplements, it can be tricky to navigate through the maelstrom of lower-quality phonies and pin down the companies that deliver top-notch product.
We’ve scoured the scientific research, reviewed the government regulations, and spoke with experts to demystify the most muddying aspects of CBD—and for those of you who want to hop on the bandwagon, we found the bona-fide brands that produce CBD oil worth investing in.
What Is CBD Used For?
Promising research into the medical benefits of CBD is ongoing.
In February 2015, the FDA sent warning letters to six companies selling CBD as a dietary supplement. The letters informed business owners that they could not sell CBD by promoting it as “intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” since it is not cleared for these purposes by the FDA. In 2016, the FDA sent letters to eight more companies.
Despite the inability of CBD oil companies to cite health claims linked to their products, people buy CBD oil for pain and inflammation, anxiety, and sleep problems, and some also give it to their pets for the same reasons. In a survey conducted of its customers, CW Hemp, a family-owned provider of lab-tested CBD products, learned the number-one reason people buy their products is for anxiety, and according to a study conducted by Brightfield Group and HelloMD, 70 percent of consumers who use CBD do so because they suffer from anxiety.
The study also found that 62 percent of CBD users cite sleep problems, and 54 percent cite joint pain and inflammation.
The Science Behind CBD Benefits
A number of health benefits of CBD oil have been tested in vitro (i.e., with cells and tissues instead of living beings) as well as via animal studies, and some have even been examined in human clinical studies. However, until a health benefit has been validated by peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies, it's impossible to know for sure if CBD – or any supplement – actually has the purported effect.
We at Organic Authority use a strict methodology to distill proven benefits of different supplements. Thus far, there are promising scientific links between CBD oil and reduced symptoms of anxiety and multiple sclerosis-related pain, though research is far from conclusive. Drugs are also currently being tested that purport to reap the benefits of CBD for the treatment of certain cancers and some forms of epilepsy.
For more information about the clinically tested benefits of CBD oil, check out our guide to the clinically tested benefits of CBD oil, distilled.
CBD oil is usually taken orally as a liquid, although it’s also available as a vape oil or inhaler. Some topical products are also on the market. If you purchase a CBD oil product, be sure read the dosing instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.
A good rule of thumb is to start out taking a small amount of CBD, gradually increasing your dosage until you’re satisfied.
“’More is better’ is the exact opposite of what we recommend,” advises Joel Stanley, CEO of CW Hemp.
If you’re considering CBD oil for a specific health condition, ultimately it’s best to talk to a medical doctor to ensure you start safely and carefully.
Is CBD Legal in the U.S.?
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers CBD, and all parts and derivatives of cannabis sativa, to be illegal under federal law. However, states have vastly different laws regarding CBD oil, as well as medical and recreational marijuana.
Currently, 16 states have “CBD-only” laws which allow possession of CBD oil for medical use. Twenty-nine states now allow medical marijuana, including CBD, and nine states (as well as Washington D.C.) have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
Technically, CBD, as a derivative of the cannabis plant, is scheduled by the DEA as a controlled substance, even though it has no psychoactive properties. In the U.S., CBD oil cannot currently be marketed to treat specific medical conditions, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, this could change very soon. Not only did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently tell hemp advocates in his home state of Kentucky that he would be introducing legislation to legalize industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity, but Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug intended for sufferers of LGS or Dravet syndrome – two epileptic conditions – was recently approved by the FDA.
If approved, this could open the door for the DEA to reclassify either CBD or cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that produces Epidiolex, expects that CBD will be scheduled as a Schedule 4 drug, like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin.
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. Where Does it Come From?
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. How is it 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. What's in It?
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.
Buying CBD Oil: Our Top 8 Picks
The CBD oil market is growing and evolving quickly, which is why it's so important to support brands that are transparent and are producing the product in the right way.
"Do your homework," warns Zoe Helene, founder and chief visionary officer of Cosmic Sister, an eco-feminist advocacy group promoting cannabis as a sacred plant for journeying and an 'ambassador plant' for moving the greater plant medicine conversation forward.
"Know what you're supporting when you purchase CBD oil (or any other cannabis product or natural product. The same core knowledge and skills you've acquired for determining the spirit behind other natural products also applies to this category."
"Consumer choices matter," she continues. "Your dollar has the power to influence positive change in any market, but at this critical juncture in cannabis liberation and 'industry,' entrepreneurs and investors are taking particular note of purchasing behaviors. So when you select a CBD product, think about the company culture you are supporting."
To compile this list, we culled social channels and other guides for the most popular brands among users, and then we went straight to the source. We reached out to individual brands for sourcing, extraction, and testing information, and we also checked for warning recalls and letters from the FDA as well as for third-party lab results to confirm concentration and contamination information.
Here are our picks for the top trustworthy CBD oil brands.
1. Ojai Energetics, Full Spectrum Hemp Elixir
Ojai Energetics produces water-soluble CBD tinctures made with organic hemp. This method makes the CBD more bioavailable than fat-soluble CBD products.
"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 CSU 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."
The company's products are safe for use with dogs and rabbits.
One 1-ounce bottle of Ojai Energetics Full-Spectrum CBD Tincture contains 250mg of CBD and costs $74.95.
2. PlusCBD Oil (Organic Authority readers can use promocode "OA" for 15% off!)
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 is a brand recommended by Kopelson as the only company that meets all of his requirements for pure, clean full-spectrum oil. The Danish company now produces its CBD oil using CO2 extracted certified organic hemp from Colorado.
The company has its products tested by the most trusted third-party lab in the cannabis industry, according to Kopelson: SC Labs. Lab results are clearly available on the company website, showing that CBDPure's CBD oil contains 107.39 mg/ml of total active cannabinoids, with 100.86 mg/ml of CBD.
One 2-ounce bottle of CBDPure Hemp Oil contains at least 10mg/g of CBD and costs $79.99.
Pure Spectrum is one of the nation's top CBD oil brands. Partnered with Colorado Cultivars, one of the rare USDA certified organic hemp producers, Pure Spectrum makes a vertically integrated CBD oil produced with certified organic hemp made in the United States.
Each batch is tested for purity and to ensure that it contains the promised amount of CBD.
"We aim to always either hit our mark or be above our mark," says Dan Huerter, COO of Pure Spectrum. "We think it's very, very important to test the product in all stages in the formulation of the product."
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 industry, spearheading a project to help farmers return the hemp plant to the U.S. economy.
Pure Spectrum sells full-spectrum tincture, vape, concentrate, isolate, salve, and lotion products. Pure Spectrum also recently acquired EndoPet, a company making wellness-focused products for animals.
Pure Spectrum's Hemp Oil Tincture, made with a combination of organic CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD oil, costs $28.88 for 250mg and contains 16.67mg CBD per ML of product.
Sagely Naturals tests its products three times: the raw cannabidiol is evaluated by extractors, then by another third party lab. Finally, when the company receives the final product, Sagely randomly selects bottles to test for the third and final time. These tests ensure that the product is devoid of GMOs, solvents, chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and THC.
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.
$49.99 for 30 capsules.
6. H. Hemp
The H. Hemp Company submits all of its products for laboratory testing by a third party for quality and safety, and its ingredients are sustainably farmed without pesticides. The CBD is infused into the hempseed or MCT oil to allow for slower, longer-lasting absorption through the gastrointestinal tract. All hemp is sourced from sustainable growers in Kentucky and Colorado.
The CBD Tinctures contain 8 mg CBD per full dropper in natural, lemon and peppermint flavors and are non-GMO and gluten-free. They are also safe for dogs.
$69.99 for 1 fl. oz.
This brand came out on top of Consumer Lab's most recent report as one of the least expensive and "by far" the highest CBD concentration of any oil tested: 4.8 percent, as compared to the .8 to 1.7 percent range for other oils. Bluebird Botanicals contains 22.3 mg of CBD per 15 drops, according to the recent Consumer Lab report tests; the same amount of oil contains about 1.1 mg of other cannabinoids.
Bluebird is committed to transparency, with a full set of third-party certificates of analysis for every bottle, which covers cannabinoid profile, microbes, mold, heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. Users can consult lab tests online by entering their batch number on the Bluebird Botanicals website.
Bluebird Botanicals Hemp Classic costs $109.80/1 fl. oz. [30 ml] bottle (approx. 60 servings), or about 82 cents per 10 mg.
Plenty is the forthcoming exclusive line of CBD oil products from PlentyPharma, a company that peddles a variety of vetted brands of CBD oils online.
"Most companies, when we put them through our vetting process, actually give up or just quit communicating with us," Cox explains. "While we don't have dozens of brands, we know we have safe, quality products, and that's what sort of concerned us over having dozens of brands on the shelf."
PlentyPharma seeks to target the needs of an individual consumer, looking to cater to his or her preferred modality but also to needs of a product that may be entirely devoid of THC.
"Most of our products have a small amount of THC. It is impossible to get high from our products," he explains. "But we do have other solutions for people who are, say, truck drivers, that are randomly tested for THC."
PlentyPharma sells Whole Pet, a CBD oil specifically designed for pets. Its various CBD oil products are available at a range of price points, and the company offers free 30-minute consultations to help consumers decide which product is best for them.
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.
Note from the Editor: Our team spends countless hours researching and vetting CBD products so that you can make a more informed purchase. To support our hard work, the affiliate links in this guide may earn us a commission. Rest assured, we independently vet our picks based on our standards for transparency, quality and safety. We frequently add or remove products based on our research. Let us know in the comments below of any brands you'd like us to look into or if you have new information on brands we feature.
Related on Organic Authority
These Hemp Oil Benefits Nourish You from the Inside Out
Increase Your Sexual Pleasure and Reduce Pain with THC Infused Personal Lubricants
You Can't Get High from Hemp Seeds, but You Can Get Healthy