How to Select the Right CBD Product

In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its blessing to Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical containing 99% pure CBD, for the treatment of severe pediatric epilepsy. Soon after, Congress passed the Farm Bill, which removed cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC from the definition of marijuana.

So, CBD is legal…right? Well kind of.

Still, now in 2021, many issues around the regulation of CBD are unresolved. FDA still maintains that CBD is not allowed in food or supplements, evidenced by its August 2021 rejection of two New Dietary Ingredient Notifications (NDIN’s) CBD products intended as dietary supplements. These notifications were on well-characterized products supported by safety studies.

Recently, I have also reviewed more than 200 studies relating to the safety of CBD myself. There still remain minor questions, such as long-term use of CBD at higher dosages, especially in people who are pregnant or have medical concerns. But the answer to CBD safety at lower dosages for most people has been answered more strongly than many other supplements (and even some drugs) which FDA has allowed or approved.

As a member of several technical committees working to set standards for hemp and CBD product quality, I know that while there are many CBD brands doing the right thing, there are many brands who are not. And the lack of FDA oversight certainly doesn’t help.

The truth is that many hemp-derived CBD products are mislabeled. A 2017 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that 69% of 85 products surveyed had an incorrect amount of CBD and/or THC on the product label.

When a product is mislabeled, or has typos, or doesn’t look like labels of similar types of products – you can only suspect the label is only the tip of the iceberg of their issues.

There are many high-quality CBD products available. Which products meet the mark? Here is my own “expert scorecard” or litmus test to picking high-quality CBD products. We really need to have all the following

  1. Brands that are well-known across the U.S. and have been in business for at least three years.
  2. Brand website and social media accounts do not make claims to treat, cure or prevent disease.
  3. Product label appears appropriate for the type of product. a tincture (liquid in a dropper bottle) should have a label format that’s the same or similar to the label format from major supplement brands.
  1. Product label lists all hemp ingredients in a standardized “Facts Panel”. Any non-hemp ingredients should be listed on the label as well.
  1. Product label lists the exact amount of CBD per serving, the serving size and the directions for use.
  1. A Certificate of Analysis (COA) from an independent testing lab listing cannabinoid content and other contaminants is available at the brand’s website. This COA should list a lot or batch number matching the number on the bottle you are going to buy. Look for products with a QR code on the bottle linked to the COA.
  1. Products may be labeled as “full-spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” or “isolate.” Some people may prefer one type over the other, and they do provide some indication of how the material was made and the level of THC (ranging from < 0.3% THC down to not detectable, typically less than 0.01%). However, there are no established definitions for these terms (although the new AHPA Hemp Lexicon I helped to develop includes proposed definitions). Until the definitions are codified and followed, I don’t consider them nearly as important as the other items on the scorecard.
  1. Google the name of the brand and FDA. (For example, “Joe’s CBD FDA”). This simple search will show whether your brand has received a warning letter or other enforcement action from FDA for their claims.
  1. Look for an actual physical address on the brand label or their website, then google the address. If the company name is not listed at the provided address in Google Maps – or it is a PO box – then you probably want to do some more digging to make sure it’s not a ‘fly-by-night’ type of brand.
  1. Do not buy your CBD at gas stations, or any other place where the store staff are not knowledgeable and cannot answer basic questions about the product. I always prefer locally owned, established health food stores, or established health food or supplement chain stores, over other types of retailers for CBD products.
  1. Do not be afraid to contact the brand directly and ask lots of questions. If you do not get good and prompt responses, then move on.

In order for me to be confident in a CBD product, it has to score high on all of these tests.

Selecting the right CBD product is a bit of insider knowledge, but it is also mostly common sense. Until the regulators get their act together, CBD products are still ‘buyer beware.’

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Blake Ebersole

Blake Ebersole is President and Founder of NaturPro Scientific LLC, a scientific consulting firm offering decades of experience in R&D, product design and development, sourcing, and quality assurance of natural products for the dietary supplement, food and beverage, and related natural products industries, such as cannabis and hemp. Blake supports product development from concept to shelf. As one of the few consultants with strong background in both the science and the business of natural products, Blake has helped numerous start-ups, growth-stage and multinational firms in the natural products space achieve their goals. As a subject matter expert in the chemistry and quality of natural products, Blake participates on a number of standards-setting technical committees and expert panels, including ASTM International, AOAC International, American Herbal Products Association and the U.S. Hemp Authority. Blake loves to collaborate and help his clients create the best natural products, foods, and supplements possible. Visit the NaturPro website at www.npscientific.com for more information.

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