There’s no doubt about it: cannabidiol (CBD) products like CBD oil are more than a trend. With the legalization of hemp in 2018 and the research on the benefits of cannabinoids piling up, you can barely go to your local grocery store without seeing at least one product claiming to help you sleep better! Feel calmer! Heal faster! It can all feel rather hype-y. What’s a consumer to do? Read this guide, ofc!
By: Nicolle Mackinnon
IN THIS POST:
- What IS CBD?
- Questions to ask when you’re buying CBD oil
- Label decoding: breaking down the components of a CBD package
- Quick tips: a fast guide to shopping for CBD
I’ve been a CBD user for a few years now, since one of the proclaimed benefits is internal body balance and I have a history of inflammation and autoimmunity. When someone was like, THIS could help your pain and get your body back to homeostasis, I was like WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
Fast forward five years and I’ve tried a lot of CBD products on the market—skincare, capsules, gummies, tinctures in oil, tinctures in alcohol, sparkling water, topical pain lotions…the list kinda feels endless. And for someone with access to brand founders thanks to my #worklife, I still find shopping for my own CBD products confusing (despite seeing some real benefits to using them).
So I asked Jessica Assaf, co-founder and chief education officer at Prima, to help me craft a shopper’s guide to CBD oil. Jessica’s expertise has been super helpful to the TOG team as we navigate the world of CBD everything, and this guide is no exception. Keep reading for the most common questions consumers ask when shopping for CBD—and how Jessica answers them.
What IS CBD?
First off, let’s establish what even IS CBD. It’s a naturally occurring compound in the cannabis plants hemp and marijuana. Along with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), it’s one of the two primary active ingredients in cannabis.
What are the benefits of CBD oil?
According to Jessica, CBD works synergistically with the body to regulate stress and promote balance. “We have an entire body system dedicated to cannabinoids called the Endocannabinoid System that is a cellular receptor network,” she says, “so cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors to promote homeostasis, both on the skin and internally.”
That means benefits can include:
- Better sleep
- Calmer mood
- Internal balance
- Reduced pain
- Reduced stress levels
And the proof is in the (CBD-infused) pudding. From new research about how they can help increase mobility in those with multiple sclerosis to the fact that the FDA has approved a CBD-based drug for the treatment of severe forms of epilepsy, cannabinoids are gaining respect in more than just the supplement and skincare world.
CBD shopping guide: questions to ask when buying CBD
Jessica was kind enough to answer all our queries on how to shop for CBD. Her expertise is in each answer to our FAQs.
Q: I’ve never bought a CBD product before. What should I look for when I buy my first product?
A: When evaluating a CBD product, it’s important to look for three things: source, science and standards.
Source: Firstly, where is the CBD sourced from? Good hemp starts with good soil, so it’s important that a company uses a single-origin and organic source of hemp and a clean extraction method.
Science: Next, how are the products designed to be effectively absorbed by the human body? Because cannabinoids like CBD are oil-based compounds and our bodies are made up of mostly water, it’s important that CBD products are optimized for bioavailability.
Standards: Look for brands that share their third party testing results to ensure their products contain the CBD listed and are free of toxins and harmful solvents and unwanted synthetic ingredients.
Q: What third-party standards or testing should I look for on CBD packaging?
A: Because CBD isn’t regulated at the federal level, it’s up to a brand to ensure purity, potency and safety. Look for Certificates of Analysis (COAs) to be available to the public. It’s also important that transparency and purity testing and safety are certified by third party groups and agencies like EWG VERIFIED™, MADE SAFE®, The Detox Project and Leaping Bunny.
Q: Can CBD be USDA Certified Organic or certified organic to another standard?
A: USDA Certification for CBD products finally started last year. Until then, it was up to the farm or the brand to create safety standards and adhere to them. Many hemp farms may grow hemp organically without the USDA certification, but there are finally farms that are certified USDA Organic, which is a very exciting milestone in legitimizing the industry.
Q: Can CBD be GMO? Or should I only be looking for non-GMO CBD?
A: Because the FDA doesn’t regulate CBD products, there is a possibility that a CBD product could contain GMO ingredients.
Check packaging for that info, and if it’s not labeled, contact the company for more info (or choose a brand that labels theirs non-GMO).
Q: What are some examples of “clean” extraction methods?
A: Prima uses supercritical CO2 extraction to avoid solvents and heat and maintain the integrity of the plant as much as possible. CO2 is considered a safe extraction method, but other “clean” extraction methods include steam distillation and using a clean solvent like olive or coconut oil to extract the active compounds.
Q: I see “hemp seed oil” or “raw hemp oil extract” or “hemp-derived crystalline” or “hemp cannabinoids” on ingredient lists. Which of these actual CBD? What active ingredient(s) should I be looking for?
A: Hemp seed oil doesn’t traditionally contain CBD, as it comes from the seeds of the plant, whereas CBD and hemp extract comes from the flowers. CBD is a hemp cannabinoid—hemp and cannabis contain over one hundred known cannabinoids, including THC (the only known intoxicating cannabinoid) and all cannabinoids are thought to contain therapeutic properties.
Q: When it comes to CBD, is there a difference between “broad-spectrum” and “full-spectrum”?
A: Full-spectrum is cannabis oil that contains a spectrum of cannabinoids, including CBD, while broad-spectrum contains a range of cannabinoids, but no THC or only trace amounts.
Q: What’s the difference between broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate?
A: CBD isolate is thought to be less effective therapeutically than whole plant CBD-rich extract. We believe in the “entourage effect” where mixtures of cannabinoids and their co-occurring terpenes and flavonoids have a greater positive effect than just CBD alone, so our products will always be whole-plant hemp extract with naturally occurring CBD.
Q: What’s the most effective delivery method—gummies, capsules, an oil-based tincture or a water-soluble formula?
A: When looking for the right CBD products, it’s important to choose products that are “bioavailable.” Bioavailability refers to how much, and at what rate, something gets absorbed by the body. One of the things that impacts the bioavailability of CBD is the format in which you consume it. There are many ways to take CBD, from softgels and topicals to gummies and tinctures. Each of these methods has different bioavailability.
CBD and cannabinoids are oil-based compounds. Our body is made up of mostly water (up to 95%!) and oil and water don’t easily mix. So if you think about ingesting CBD orally in an oil-based format, it’s not the most bioavailable because your body can’t access a lot of the benefits that oil has to offer. Many CBD products on the market, especially oil-based tinctures, are not bioavailable because they are digested and processed through the liver.
That’s why we recommend a microencapsulated softgel. Microencapsulating tricks your body into thinking the CBD is water-soluble so that your body can absorb more of it. AKA you’re going to get more out of that milligram than through a standard oil-based tincture.
Q: Are there any red-flag ingredients in CBD products that I should avoid?
A: Assess CBD products like you assess all of your personal care products—look for purpose-driven brands from founders you trust and products that contain safe and effective ingredients. With CBD products, make sure there are test results or COAs available to ensure the product actually contains CBD and the cannabinoids promised.
RELATED: TOG’s top beauty products of 2021.
Q: What if I can’t find all this information on the packaging of a CBD product?
A: You can always reach out to the brand for more info—they should be eager to share details with you! If they aren’t, skip that brand.
Q: I see “600mg per bottle” or “250mg” on a CBD capsules label. What does that mean and how do I know how much to take?
A: CBD is individualized, so the most important thing to consider is if the CBD is optimized for bioavailability so it can be effectively absorbed by the body. We use a microencapsulation system for our supplements to ensure that the product is designed for effective absorption. We found that a good starting dose (assuming the CBD is bioavailable) is about 20-25 mg, which is why our Daily softgels contain 25 mg per serving. Start slow and take CBD for at least a week before assessing its effectiveness. The benefits are gradual, and sometimes it’s easier to realize what you don’t feel, compared to what you do feel: like less stress, better mood or sleep, or more energy.
Breaking down a CBD label
So how can you apply any or all of this to an actual CBD product label? Like this. 👆 And this 👇:
- Supplement label: Where you’ll find the info on the active ingredients in the product. This is where you’ll look for ingredients that play well with CBD and find out what kind of CBD is in the product.
- Additional ingredient info: Where you’ll find the additives / inactive ingredients. Look here for ingredients you want to avoid (parabens, fragrance, unnecessary solvents).
- Warning statement: The FDA’s required statement for consumable products that cannot make nutrient nor health claims.
- Additional product information: This can include marketing language crafted by the brand, details on alleged benefits, info about what the product does not contain and more.
- Amount of CBD per serving: On the front of the package, this indicates the amount of CBD you’ll get per recommended dose.
- Amount of total CBD per bottle: Indicates the total amount of CBD in the bottle (the total you’re paying for, pretty much).
- Product name: What the brand calls this product.
- Brand name: What company creates the product.
- QR code for batch testing info: Where you can scan with the camera on your smartphone to see the brand’s clinicals for this batch of product (COAs will live here).
- Certification label: If a brand has a third-party certification, you should find it on the packaging.
At a glance CBD shopping guide: quick tips
Screenshot the below for a quick-tips guide next time you’re shopping for CBD oil.
TOG Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TOG uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TOG stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.