The CBD medical oil industry is exploding. In fact, experts estimate it will be as profitable as the $13 billion National Football League. Cannabidiol (better known as CBD), a compound found in the Cannabis sativa L. plant species, offers a host of health benefits. For instance, CBD oil reportedly reduces pain, inflammation, seizures, and brings about balance within our bodies. However, unlike the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no psychoactive properties whatsoever.
Because of its amazing efficacy, this natural medicine is sweeping the nation and being sought out by sick patients who want an alternative to pharmaceutical painkillers or other medications that are not only addictive, but go hand-in-hand with harmful side effects.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of transparency and regulation that currently exists in the marketplace. Driven by the desire to turn a quick buck, producers use misleading marketing and deceptive advertising, banking on the fact that people are ignorant and in need. Read: not all brands are reputable.
“Barely in its infancy, the CBD medical market is still largely unregulated; quality control is meager at best, and consumers are largely unaware what to look for when shopping …,” explains Carlos Frias of the Texas Wellness Center. Frias, who has been with the cannabis industry for more than 15 years, has seen, firsthand, the shadiness that exists in the CBD market.
While it’s surely a good thing to make products rich in cannabinoids available for people worldwide, it’s important to know what criteria to use when assessing products.
Here are 4 standards to look for when purchasing CBD medical hemp oil.
1. Extraction Methods
To obtain CBD-rich oil, you need to extract it from the cannabis plant. There are a handful of methods used, but typically this isn’t something customers know to ask about.
Not surprisingly, many companies use cheap methods that involve nasty toxic solvents such as propane, hexane, pentane, and butane, which are flammable hydrocarbon gases found in petroleum. Do you really want to consume this, especially if you are ill?
“Cannabis oil made with neurotoxic solvents like butane and hexane may leave unsafe residues that compromise immune function and impede healing,” explains Constance Finley, founder and CEO of Constance Therapeutics.
Beware of companies who try to convince you that using a hydrocarbon method stays the most true to the plant. Butane is illegal for a reason.
“Butane extraction is cheap and efficient but is toxic to make and use,” adds cannabis and medicinal plant expert Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham. “Inhalation of butane residue can cause cardiac and respiratory problems.”
Some industry insiders argue that organic, pharmaceutical-grade ethanol, which is a grain alcohol, is optimal and eliminates certain toxins and residues in the raw plant material itself. But others say that while this extraction method yields a high amount of cannabinoids and is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for human consumption, it destroys the plant’s waxes, leading to a less potent oil.
Conversely, to preserve most of the plant’s trichromes – these are the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids – look for Supercritical (or subcritical) CO2 extraction. This method uses carbon dioxide under high pressure and extremely low temperatures to isolate, preserve, and maintain the purity of the medicinal oil. While this method is more expensive and involves complex equipment and expertise, it ensures quality.
“The CBD oil obtained through supercritical extraction is a full-spectrum cannabinoid-rich product,” says Elizabeth Moriarty, Clinical Herbalist and Formulator at Luminary Medicine Company. “This method also produces a cleaner taste, and meanwhile, mycotoxins cannot survive this process.”
It’s also eco-friendly and non-flammable, creating a safer laboratory and manufacturing environment, as well as better product control, says Gabriel Ettenson, licensed physical therapist and general manager of Elixinol, an organic Hemp CBD Medical Oil company.
Finally, olive oil or coconut oil can also be used to extract cannabis oil. According to Dr. Arno Hazekamp, director of phytochemical research at Bedrocan BV, which supplies medical cannabis for the Dutch Health Ministry, this method is both safe and inexpensive. “You won’t blow yourself up making cannabis-infused olive oil.”
With that said, cannabis-infused olive oil — whether CBD-rich or THC-dominant — is perishable and should be stored in a cool, dark place.
The quality of CBD oil is really based on its source; where was it grown, how was it grown, and what is the species of cannabis (e.g., sativa, ruderalis, or indica).
“The soil, climate, plants growing on the farm next door, the flowers in the farmer’s garden, etc. are all reflected in the final essence of the plant,” says Finley.
The main reason why hemp’s cultivation environment is so important is because the cannabis plant is a “hyperaccumulator,” meaning it easily absorbs contaminants from the soil while it grows. In fact, it’s used in bioremediation, a cost-effective plant-based approach to clean the environment of toxic heavy metals and organic pollutants.
“This is sadly why industrial hemp grown in non-food grade conditions is falsely being sold as CBD medicine over the internet,” says Finley.
So if the soil is polluted with heavy metals, then that plant will likely contain high levels of lead or mercury. According to Frias, there have been instances where children have almost died taking hemp extracts that were high in lead.
Essentially, “those companies have given the rest of the CBD industry a black eye because they were more interested in profiting off the sick instead of creating a quality product and testing it.”
Look for brands who source their cannabinoids from organic-certified, hemp-grown farms in pristine regions of Europe. “The German regulatory system is strict and enforced, providing confidence in the superiority of their harvest, processes, and extraction quality,” adds Moriarity. Organic hemp grown in Europe must also adhere to EU’s strict organic standards, which are stricter than in the U.S. and highly audited. Also, look for ingredients that are certified organic and wildcrafted.
“While certainly a subject of debate among hemp experts, the general consensus is the best hemp extracts are found in plants from where growing hemp has been legal for generations and the environment is well-preserved, like in Europe,” agrees Ettenson.
Meanwhile, independent testing by accredited laboratories with globally accepted analytical methods ensures the organic extract is intact from pesticides, heavy metals, or microbiological contaminants. And reputable CBD companies have lab results from independent labs available on their websites, this can also be used as an indicator for consumers about what companies are providing high-quality CBD.
When it comes to the “best” genotype, it really depends upon what one is hoping to treat or effect.
Unfortunately, there have been instances where products claiming to have CBD in them tested at zero percent in a lab attempting to verify the results. In fact, in 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested products and fined companies that did not include any CBD despite reports. This also gives the industry a proverbial black eye.
So let’s say you are dealing with a product that contains CBD, the amount that actually enters the body and central nervous system is still a gray territory. In food products, cannabinoids are subject to degradation and reduced bioavailability, depending on overall formulation/delivery.
“The industry is pushing for more research here, as these studies on cannabis are relatively very new,” explains Joe Santucci of Solstice, a commercial cannabis production company. “CBD can be an amazing, but a very expensive solution for those that need it, so maximizing bioavailability is going to be essential to lower the cost for people.
“In terms of ingestion, the general consensus is that sublingual (under the tongue) and/or rectal delivery provide the highest levels of bioavailability,” says Ettenson. Some believe that vaping also produces high bioavailability as well. “Topical and ingestion (through soft gels for example) have lower levels of absorption,” says Gabriel.
If you are vaporizing CBD-dominant strains of cannabis, bioavailability is through the alveoli, tiny sacs in the lungs, clarifies Kilham. If you are taking CBD strain capsules, he suggests eating some fat or oil, like a handful of nuts or some full-fat yogurt, to improve absorption and bioavailability. Cannabinoids are fat-loving molecules. They are taken up readily into the small intestine with a bit of dietary fat.
“The need for enhanced bioavailability of the CBD phytonutrient is paramount”, adds Moriarity, “but tricky to accomplish without synthetic chemicals.” Most CBD products do not offer any bioavailability optimization, so 90 percent of the CBD is lost to first-pass effect, a phenomenon of drug metabolism whereby the concentration of a drug is greatly reduced before it reaches systemic circulation.
Meanwhile, the products that do engage in optimization efforts “are generally using a synthetic chemical soup of solvents, surfactants, and emulsifiers — none of which must be disclosed on the label since they are characterized as ‘processing aids,’” says Moriarty, who co-formulated our Superior cannabinoid oil, the market’s leading solution.
The formulation, however, offers optimized delivery via mucosal membrane permeability in tandem with precision production/formulation methods. Her company, HERBOLOGIE, reduces the particle size of the cannabinoids and immerses them in a matrix of exclusively natural ingredients that work synergistically to enhance absorption through oral membranes. When cannabinoids are transported through membranes and directly into the bloodstream, the phytonutrients are delivered more quickly, and crucially, avoiding first-pass degradation in the liver.
“We know the manufacturing process can also influence bioavailability,” says Ettison. “For example, reducing the size of the CBD compound through the use of liposomes improves absorption and bioavailability.”
“When purchasing a CBD product, keep in mind that a transparent company’s CBD milligram (mg) strength is reflective of the actual active CBD in that particular product,” states Farias. “If a bottle says 250 mg of CBD, then that product should contain 250 mg of actual active CBD. However, a lot of companies currently in the market will list the mg dosage of their CBD hemp oil without publishing the strength of their actual active CBD.”
Ideally, look for CBD products that proportionately offer 4 or more parts CBD to 1 part THC, for maximum relief and minimal or no storage issues.
4. Greenwashing Tactics
Upon investigation there are companies that engage in the use of “window dressing.” For example, one popular brand brags that they use the superfood moringa. This of course lures people in. But keep in mind that for added antioxidant benefit, you would need to ingest 7.5 g (7,500 mg) within the context of a meal or beverage. The entire 30 ml bottle of said brand contains 33.3 mg; so at the recommended dose of 1 ml daily, the daily dose of moringa would only be 1.11 mg.
“The truth is that the gray zone of medicinal cannabis invites lots of shady characters into the burgeoning industry,” says Finley. “A lack of critical thinking, quality business practices, transparency about products and plants, all have been part of the black market.”
“When the conditions are “primed” in these four areas, you set a high standard of quality for the whole plant efficacy, and CBD can provide outstanding health benefits for longevity and wellness in high grade medicinals used for health repair,” says Cherie Arnold, Founder and CEO of MediQI Energetics.
Look for products that are sold legally, with full transparency.