Millions of Americans are already using CBD, and that number is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years. However, there’s also a growing backlash against CBD beauty products and other infused offerings, as the general public becomes more adept at separating legitimate claims from marketing fluff — and it becomes more apparent just how widespread the industry’s quality control issues truly are.
In 2017, a randomized selection of online CBD products conducted by Penn Medicine researcher Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller found that 70 percent of the products tested were mislabeled in a serious way. A 2018 Italian study reported that 85 percent of the supposedly THC-free CBD products tested contained quantifiable amounts of THC, and that same year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning after finding that adulterated CBD products sickened 52 people in Utah in a four-month period. In lieu of FDA regulation, poor-quality CBD seems to be a problem that isn’t going away.
While some states are slowly coming around to creating their own regulatory regimes, for now consumers must develop their own defenses when buying CBD. Fortunately, there are a number of telltale signs that are easy to recognize — and avoid.
When you’re shopping for any CBD product, whether it’s a vape oil cartridge or a bottle of capsules, here are some red flags that should tell you to look elsewhere:
Making a good CBD product is expensive, and unfortunately, CBD oil that runs too cheap is probably indicative of a lack of quality. The raw cost of the biomass that CBD extract comes from runs about $0.004/mg, and high-quality processed extract generally sells for anywhere from $0.05–$0.50/mg. If the price undercuts those numbers by a considerable amount (for example, if a tincture with 500 mg of CBD costs $20) chances are that one or more of the following things are true: 1) the CBD was extracted in a sloppy or dangerous fashion; 2) the product didn’t undergo third-party lab testing, or; 3) it doesn’t actually contain as much CBD as it claims (if it contains any at all).
Unscrupulous sellers love passing off hemp seed oil as CBD for a number of reasons — the most obvious one being that you can sell 126,000 mg of the stuff for $14.99 and still turn a profit. Next on the list is the fact that hemp seeds have never been subject to the same prohibition as CBD and all other parts of the hemp plant — which means products containing them can be sold without the risk of running afoul of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other government agencies.
While hemp seed oil is a nutritional powerhouse, with more essential fatty acids than any other nut or seed oil and all nine of the essential amino acids that the body needs (but can’t produce on its own), it lacks the medical applications that CBD is valued for.
Although over 9,000 results come up when you type “CBD” into the Amazon search bar, odds are that not a single one contains more than trace amounts of CBD itself. That’s because Amazon’s “Drugs and drug paraphernalia policy” explicitly bans CBD — going so far as listing it first on the policy’s controlled substance list, and extending the ban to “rich hemp oil containing CBD,” “full spectrum hemp oil containing CBD,” and “products that have been identified as containing CBD by LegitScript.”
Legitimate brands will come up in web searches, on review sites and those of third-party sellers; illegitimate brands will often come up with the Google-generated suffix “scam” or not at all. Established brands tend to have websites of their own with proof of third-party-verified lab testing, and a phone number which will lead to an actual human on the other end. You should also be able to find a physical address for the company’s headquarters or production facilities — scammers usually omit those details.
While the FDA hasn’t approved generic CBD oil for the treatment of any diseases (currently, only an anti-epilepsy drug called Epidiolex has passed the administration’s approvals process), it takes an especially dim view of CBD producers who advertise their brands for the treatment of serious diseases like cancer, schizophrenia, and other conditions for which there is relatively little evidence to support CBD’s efficacy. The same holds true for products that claim to treat anxiety or depression. Be extra wary of brands which advertise help with things like “mental stability” and “emotional cleansing.”