Considering trying CBD but not sure where to start? Have you tried CBD and didn’t understand the hype? Overwhelmed by the options or fearful of selecting a bad product? Nervous you could fail a drug test? Find out how to safely and effectively begin or revisit CBD by selecting the right product.
CBD is an unregulated market. That means anyone can bring a “CBD” product to market without rigorous quality control. If you don’t know what to look for, you risk trying bogus or contaminated CBD products. Multiple studies by the FDA and independent scientists have revealed that many CBD products do not match their labels. Multiple products analyzed contained only a fraction of CBD advertised. Some products contained ZERO CBD, despite boasting hundreds of milligrams on their labels. Trusting consumers have wasted money on these mislabeled products. Even worse, laboratory analyses confirmed the presence of contaminants and toxins in some products. That means some consumers try CBD to improve their wellness only to end up ingesting harmful chemicals. Lastly, some products contained higher amounts of THC than disclosed on their label. This significant error could result in a failed drug test and jeopardize careers and livelihoods. These reports are alarming but eliminating the risk is very easy once you know what to look for. Rest assured that this guide will protect your wallet and your body. Follow it to enjoy the many benefits CBD has to offer, without any consequences.
1. OBTAIN AND REVIEW A CERTIFICATE OF ANALYSIS, OR “COA”
I know, this may sound like I’m assigning homework, but bear with me. Remember this is an unregulated market, and a COA is your insurance policy. Here’s what to look for in a COA.
A. It’s easy to obtain and readily available. Can you scan a QR code? Is it on the website? Great! If a brand makes you jump hurdles to get a COA, that’s a red flag. Transparency is key.
B. It’s easy to read: You don’t need a chemistry degree to interpret a good COA. Total CBD and cannabinoid content should be obvious. “Not detectable” should be clear.
C. It’s lot/batch specific. Check your product for a lot number. Match the lot number to the COA. Anyone can provide a COA or a product without a lot number on it, but that means nothing. Lot numbers confirm how that the COA actually reflects the product you hold in your hand.
D. It’s from a reliable third-party: The whole point of a COA is to have an objective, third-party confirm potency and purity. It’s not enough to have the manufacturer run tests. Also, the third-party laboratory should be trusted, meaning they are ISO certified in all of the analyses they are running.
E. It’s comprehensive: A good COA looks at potency and purity. You want to get what you paid for, and you want proof that the product is not contaminated. More on this below.
2. CHECK THE COA FOR POTENCY AND PURITY
Potency: Does the CBD content on the label match the COA? Is there THC in this product? If so, how much? Are there other cannabinoids (i.e. CBG, CBN, THCV, etc.) present in the product? Which ones and how much?
Purity: Hemp accumulates heavy metals and other contaminants from the soil. That is great for the environment, but not great for you if that leeches into your end product. The same thing goes for biopesticides, molds, microbes, and mycotoxins. High quality hemp is grown organically, without pesticides, but make sure to double check that claim in the COA. Also, CBD is removed from the plant through chemistry, which often means the use of solvents. A skilled manufacturer removes these solvents through distillation, and they confirm that in their COA. Bottom line: Make sure there are no residual chemicals in your end-product!
3. READ THE LABEL & LOOK FOR NATURAL INGREDIENTS
The CBD industry is unique in that products typically call out total milligrams on the label. That means a tincture labeled 300mg has 300mg in the whole bottle, not per serving. A pack of gummies may have 200mg in the whole pack, spread among 20 gummies. That means 10mg per gummy. The label should have a “per serving” on it somewhere, so you don’t have to do the math.
Read the label further to check for natural ingredients. Just as you would with any food or supplement you take, make sure the ingredients listed are ones you recognize and understand. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably artificial.
4. UNDERSTAND THE SPECTRUM
There are three different types of CBD products on the market. Decide which one is right for you. As always, confirm with the COA!
Full Spectrum: A full spectrum CBD product means it contains a small amount of THC in it. This THC is federally legal if derived from hemp, which can contain up to 0.3% THC. This level of THC is not considered high enough to intoxicate a person, but it is considered beneficial because it boosts CBD’s effects through something called the “entourage effect.” The entourage effect refers to the synergy CBD shares with THC and other compounds in the plant. Technically, a CBD product is considered full spectrum if there is any THC in it. But a true, full spectrum product will also contain other cannabinoids, terpenes, and botanical compounds in the plant.
Pros: All of these compounds contribute to the entourage effect. The benefit of the entourage effect is that you can use less and get the same or better results than with CBD alone. Essentially, you get more bang for your CBD buck with a trace of THC and other phytocannabinoids.
Cons: Drug tests look for THC. (Technically, drug tests screen for metabolites of THC, but you get the idea.) This means a full spectrum product could result in a failed drug test. It doesn’t happen often with hemp products and depends on a variety of factors, including body composition, activity level, dose, use frequency, etc. But it does happen.
Broad spectrum: Broad spectrum means your CBD product contains zero detectable THC (AKA. It is THC-free.). The absence of THC is complimented by the presence of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and botanicals.
Pros: You enjoy some of the entourage effect through the other compounds, just to a lesser extent than a full spectrum product. No THC means no risk of truly failing a drug test.
Cons: The entourage effect is present but less powerful due to the absence of THC. You may need to take more of a broad spectrum to achieve the same effect as a full spectrum. It is very unlikely but possible that broad spectrum could result in a false positive on a urine drug screen. This is due to something called “cross-reactivity.” Cross-reactivity means that the drug screen thinks it detects THC, but it really detects other compounds. This mistake can occur on urine drug screens, because they are not very sophisticated. If that happens, ask for a confirmation test. Confirmation tests, like a blood test, will reveal the false positive error and confirm a true negative.
Isolate: Isolated means CBD and only CBD. All other botanical compounds have been removed.
Pros: Truly isolated CBD will never result in a failed drug test. The risk of true or false positive drug screen is virtually absent with isolate.
Cons: There is no entourage effect. Most people need to take more isolate CBD to achieve their desired response, and the response may be blunted compared to full or broad spectrum. For example, you may feel 80% improved with 20mg of full spectrum, but peak at 50% improved with 100mg of isolate. You can still experience benefits from isolate, but likely to a lesser extent and with a higher dose.
There are a lot of brands out there and a lot of different types of products, so do your research, understand what you are buying and find a brand you are willing to trust.