It’s no secret that CBD is pretty hot right now. The newly-famous cannabinoid is in everything from smoothies to eye cream and is being touted as a miracle cure for what ails you. It’s pretty easy to come by, too, even in cannabis prohibition states. But, since it’s not regulated by the FDA, the waters can be pretty murky when it comes to choosing legit CBD products.
Because of the lack of oversight within the industry, some less-than-conscientious folks are marketing CBD products that are substandard and, believe it or not, may not even contain CBD at all. So how can consumers know that what they’re getting is not only good CBD but even CBD at all?
The simple answer is to make sure lab results from a third-party independent lab are available. There is no requirement that companies have their products tested, but many do and make the results available. According to Chris Hudalla, founder and chief scientific officer of ProVerde Labs in Milford, MA, you should look for labs that are ISO 17025 certified. That means the lab meets at least the minimum standards for lab calibration and testing. Beyond that, says Hudalla, “Any Certificate of Analysis (COA) issued should display the name of the accrediting agency (PJLA, A2LA) as well as the accreditation number. The lab can be verified by going to the website of the accrediting body and look up the name of the lab.”
Because there are more than a few dishonest players in the CBD industry, some COAs aren’t legit so it’s important that consumers verify the lab results with the lab who issued them just to be on the safe side.
Now, you have lab results in hand, you’ve verified their authenticity, but what the heck do they mean and what should you look for?
Lab results are intended to show the potency and purity of a particular product. Several aspects of the compound can be tested — cannabinoid profile, terpene profile, heavy metal screening, microbe screening, pesticide screening, and solvent residue screening — but as we mentioned none are mandated by law.
This section of your lab results basically tells you if there is CBD in your product, how much, and if other cannabinoids are present. There are numerous cannabinoids besides CBD. A product containing most of them is referred to as full-spectrum; if it contains several cannabinoids but lacks THC, it’s a broad-spectrum product, and if it contains CBD and CBD only, it’s referred to as a CBD isolate. This is important because some studies have shown that cannabinoids work best in concert with one another, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
The cannabinoid profile also determines the concentration of each cannabinoid in the product which is important if, for instance, you’re purchasing a full-spectrum product (meaning it contains THC) but don’t want to get high.
Terpenes are the compounds within plants that give them flavor and scent. These compounds have medicinal properties of their own, so CBD products can be tweaked and adjusted to meet certain needs. If you know which terps do what, it’s easier to personalize your CBD treatment for your specific goals.
Heavy Metal Screening
Heavy metals, like arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, are found in soil and can be leached from the ground by plant roots. Heavy metal screenings are intended to show that your CBD product is free from contamination, but, as Hudalla explains, the screenings are not mandatory. ‘or most jurisdictions, there is no requirement to test for heavy metals. If a producer does test for heavy metals, and excessive levels are found, there typically are not regulations requiring destruction.”
Microbe and Mycotoxin Screening
These screenings verify the absence (or presence) of microbes like yeast, mold, and bacteria, like E. Coli and Salmonella. Extracts are also screened for mycotoxins, which are toxic chemicals released by fungi. Similar to heavy metal screenings, these tests are not required and there is no mandate to destroy the product if contamination is present.
Most hemp plants are grown using pesticides that, during the cannabinoid extraction process, are concentrated right along with the cannabinoids. “We see vape products on the (black) market that have extremely contaminated levels of pesticides, including one of particular concern, myclobutanil,” explains Hudalla. “When myclobutanil is heated (during vaping), the chemical compound myclobutanil degrades under the heat, with one of the resulting byproducts being highly toxic hydrogen cyanide (used in gas chambers in Germany).”
Solvent Residue Screening
Not all extraction processes are created equal. Some companies use harmful compounds to reduce cost during extraction and the residues remain in the product after extraction. “For most solvents, like ethanol, this may not be an issue,” says Hudalla. “However, to cut costs, some producers use solvents that are inappropriate and presented significant safety concerns, especially if there are residuals left behind in the product.” And some of them are just downright dangerous.
“One example, we have seen multiple samples that have been produced using Paint Stripper or Varnish Remover to extract the CBD. We still see significant concentrations of these toxic solvents in the products.”
Because the CBD market is still very much in its infancy, it’s up to consumers to do their due diligence when choosing products. Always go with well-known and established suppliers and always, always take a look at the lab results!