By Gretchen Lidicker
There’s no doubt about it: CBD is everywhere. For consumers this means a lot of labels to read, claims to wade through, and endless options to choose from.
And unfortunately, not all bets are safe bets. To get the full benefits of the hemp plant, you need to take the right kind of CBD in the right way from the right brand. A brand that is going above and beyond in quality, safety, and transparency. In other words: Not all CBD is created equal.
There’s nothing worse than wasted time, money and effort - especially when you’re taking steps improve your health. But how do you know if you’re doing CBD the right way? And what are the most common mistakes? Here are some signs you’ve veered off the path on your CBD journey—and exactly how to get back on the straight and narrow.
Mistake #1: Using CBD isolate
When you’re first purchasing CBD, look for products that say “full-spectrum” instead of CBD isolate. A CBD isolate product contains only the CBD compound. That means it’s been isolated from the other cannabinoids and compounds that occur naturally in the hemp plant. In contrast, “full spectrum” means the product includes not just CBD, but other naturally occurring cannabinoids (like CBG and small amounts of THC), and terpenes and essential oils. On top of the health benefits this additional compound bring, this makes fora richer taste and smell. You might also see products labeled broad spectrum; this just means the THC has been taken out entirely but all the other beneficial compounds remain.
When you buy CBD oil, always choose full- or broad-spectrum CBD oil over a CBD isolate. The therapeutic impact of the whole hemp plant is greater than the sum of its parts. And research suggests when you isolate CBD, it becomes less effective, more unpredictable, and tricker to dose. In other words, you get less bang for your buck. In fact, studies suggest that CBD isolates require much higher doses to be effective and are more likely to interact with medications and cause adverse side effects.
Full-spectrum CBD oils have a better safety profile and a wider therapeutic window (meaning they work well at a wider range of doses). This is because cannabinoids work synergistically—a phenomenon coined the “entourage effect”—and are also bolstered by the terpenes and essential oils. Terpenes ( known for their anti-inflammatory properties), are of particular interest to researchers. In fact, some experts think terpenes are even more interesting than cannabinoids. One article written by Ethan Russo, Ph.D., a pioneer in cannabinoid science, concluded that “They [terpenes] display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.” The take home? You want more than just CBD in your CBD oil.
Stick to the more user-friendly full- or broad-spectrum CBD oils for everyday use.
Mistake #2. Buying CBD extracted by butane or hexane
Once you have your full- or broad-spectrum CBD oil in hand, it's time to do a little research on extraction methods, which are not all created equal. To get the best CBD for your money, look for a product that was extracted using CO2. In this method, the raw plant material is exposed to high-pressure, low-temperature CO2 gas. This isolates the cannabinoids and preserves them in the oil. CO2 extraction takes longer and requires expensive machinery, which some businesses are not willing to wait for.
On the flip side, seeing this method is a good hint that the people extracting your CBD have a legitimate operation going. If the brand can tell you about the ins and outs of the process either on their website or on the phone, it’s another sign they’re going above and beyond in terms of quality and transparency.
CO2 extraction remains the gold standard. But with these high production costs, come a higher price tags. Consumers looking for quality should be willing to invest though. Because other extraction methods, including butane or hexane, do a good job extracting cannabinoids from hemp but they can leave a residue behind that’s not healthy to ingest. And unless the product is being third-party tested (more on that under mistake #4), you don't know how much of that solvent residue is ending up in your oil that you might later consume.
Mistake #3: Buying CBD from conventionally grown hemp
Speaking of unwanted ingredients in your CBD oil, pesticides are another big concern. Hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning it absorbs chemical waste and heavy metals. It does this with such a vengeance that hemp is actually planted to detox land after it’s been contaminated. According to a paper published in Epilepsy & Behavior in 2017, “if large quantities of hemp are being cultivated to produce CBD, it is critically important that the quality of the soil is closely monitored and regulated.” The good news is, buying CBD that’s extracted from organically grown hemp can lower your risk of pesticide exposure and support the environment at the same time.
Ready for a little bad news? The key word in the sentence above is “lower.” Buying CBD extracted from organic hemp is a good start—but it’s not a guarantee that the product is contaminant-free and up to your standards. The only way to truly protect yourself is to make certain your CBD oil has been 3rd party lab tested, which brings us to mistake number four...
Mistake #4: Buying CBD without a lab test
As we just learned, pesticides are a big factor to consider when buying hemp-based products and a good reason to go organic. Unfortunately, that’s not where the contamination conversation ends. It surprises many, but other unsightly characters including heavy metals, fragrances, preservatives, solvent residues, mold, mineral oil, and microbes can also find their way into your product. (Yikes, right?) This is why lab testing is. absolutely. imperative. It’s the only way to really guarantee that you’re not ingesting harmful chemicals along with your CBD.
Lab testing is important for another reason as well: to make sure there’s actually CBD in the product you’ve purchased. This might seem silly, but when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lab tested CBD products in 2015, many of them contained significantly lower levels of CBD than stated on the bottle—and some didn’t contain any CBD at all.
A great CBD company will be open and transparent about their lab testing procedures on their website or product label. An added bonus is third-party lab testing, which means the testing is done by an independent company that’s not tied to the brand. It’s also a great sign if there’s an exact batch number on your product. This means the company is testing every batch of product instead of just every so often.
Mistake #5: Your CBD has low bioavailability
If you’ve managed to buy a full-spectrum CBD made from organic hemp that’s been tested for potency and purity—congratulations! You’re not making four out of the five most common CBD mistakes. The final mistake has to do with absorbability. Essentially: Will the CBD you ingest actually get where it needs to go in the body? If you’ve already put in the effort of avoiding the first four mistakes, don’t let this one trip you up.
To overcome absorption issues, scientists and product developers are experimenting with nanotechnology. This involves taking a substance like CBD and creating such tiny particles that they easily pass through barriers—like the skin, mucous membrane, or intestinal wall—so they can do more for your body. This increases the efficacy of the product, in some cases by as much as 1000%. The science on nanoparticle CBD is still in development, but it appears to be a promising way to make sure the CBD you’re buying is being put to work.
Sublingual CBD Oils
With this delivery method, the compounds absorb via the mucous membranes in your mouth. Just drop one serving under your tongue, swish it around for about 30 seconds, and then swallow the excess. You might feel the benefits in as little as 5 minutes but give it at least 20 to reach full effect. The sublingual oil is mess-free, refreshingly simple, and you can control your dose more easily than you can with other delivery methods.
Another highly absorbable way to take CBD is through inhalation. The lungs provide a direct line to the bloodstream and you can feel the effects almost immediately. At first glance, smoking CBD might seem extreme or dangerous. Doesn’t smoking increase your risk for lung cancer? According to a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, this is an incredibly common misconception. The report, written by leading doctors and researchers in the U.S., concluded that “There is moderate evidence of no statistical association between cannabis use and incidence of lung cancer.” So while smoking tobacco is still an extremely dangerous and detrimental practice, you can’t lump all “smoking” into one category.
Topical products are also great for taking advantage of CBD, just keep in mind they have the added hurdle of having to make their way through the skin to get to work in your body. Unless you’re using CBD for a topical issue or localized issue—like an inflammatory skin condition or knee pain, for example—it’s best to stick with another delivery method to make sure the CBD is making it all the way to your bloodstream.
Edible CBD products are a fun and delicious way to get your daily dose of CBD but pay close attention to the dosages. Many edibles only contain 5 or 10 mg of CBD, which is less than the average oil and not enough CBD for many people to feel the benefits. Like topicals, they also have a challenge before them—making their way through your GI tract to absorb into your bloodstream via the intestines. Because of this, they might require a higher dose and they will take longer, up to two hours, to take effect.
There’s a lot to consider as a CBD consumer and it can be overwhelming to think that despite your best efforts, you might be “doing CBD wrong.” But if you follow these five rules of thumb, you’ll be well on your way to finding a CBD oil that is safe and effective. Hopefully, in the future there will be more laws and regulations in place to make sure consumers are connecting with brands that really have their health in mind.
Until then, all we can do is keep reading up on CBD, learning from our mistakes, and making sure we ask the right questions from the brands we're considering. Cheers to using CBD the right way!