With the incredible surge of CBD products to hit the market in recent years, one can image a lot of low-quality and downright dangerous products are sold, too. It’s enough to make one’s head spin. That’s why we’ve put together this useful guide on how to evaluate high-quality CBD products. Namely, we want you to have access, understanding, and confidence when it comes to picking out high quality CBD oil, flower, and vape products.
One of the most popular forms of CBD, CBD oil is a concentrated dose of the chemical compound Cannabidiol. Because this substance is a manufactured version of the compound naturally found in plants, one may be apprehensive in putting it in their body. Fear not, there are many reputable vendors who make CBD oil that is not only safe, but also very high quality.
Among these evaluation criteria, we’ll look at source material (i.e. raw hemp), manufacturing process, purification method, whole plant or full spectrum labelling, carrier oil, and third-party lab results.
It’s important to understand that CBD is not made in a lab by combining various chemicals in a beaker. CBD comes from hemp plants grown in the ground. These plants are generally started from seed or by cloning mature plants for a faster harvest.
That said, there are many characteristics in the hemp growing process you should be aware of when evaluating high-quality CBD oil.
First, understand how the source product was grown. In this case, hemp will be either grown indoors or outdoors. The methodology behind both can vary greatly and impact the end product you put into your body.
For example, hemp grown outdoors is subject to the seasonal and environmental changes that take place around it. Potential soil toxins, pests, unsustainable farming practices, and a host of other factors. If you’re looking at a brand whose hemp comes from an outdoor grow, make sure it comes from an area where the soil is tested regularly.
On the other hand, hemp grown indoors matures under much more easily controlled conditions. There are still vectors for pests and fungus/mold on plants, but the grower is able to address those issues without having to work around the outside environment. Indoor grows may be more controllable, but they require much more energy consumption and fertilizers to maintain plant vigor and bloom at the appropriate stages of its growth.
While there is not better or worse method of cultivating hemp, you may have a preference. What’s more important is having visibility into what went into the plat before it reached you in a labelled bottle.
When evaluating CBD oil, make sure the manufacturer is transparent in communicating their growing methods and what nutrient sources they provide for their crops. If a manufacturer doesn’t share that information readily, it could be a red flag and give cause for pause.
Manufacturing CBD oil is achieved in a few different ways. Generally, the raw hemp plant is taken from the point of harvest to a processing facility. There, it is cut up and will be processed in one of a number of ways. The resulting product of any of these methods is referred to as crude CBD extract.
CO2 Extraction – this common method uses the different states of CO2 to extract CBD from the hemp plant. Processed flower and plant matter are placed in a pressurized extraction chamber and combined with liquid CO2. That liquid CO2 will then carry the extracted CBD oils into a second chamber where the CO2 and CBD oils are spun through a pressure release valve and become separated. The final chamber of this process condenses the oil, which forms into droplets and collects in a reservoir. The CO2 enters a gaseous state and is recycled into a CO2 tank. It will then be recycled in the next extraction. This method is probably the most expensive but also produced the highest quality CBD oil.
Ethanol Extraction – ethanol extraction is ac heaper method of manufacture that uses the chemical solvent ethanol to extract CBD. The FDA categorizes ethanol as ‘Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS)’.
This method will still produce CBD oil of generally high-quality through a more lengthy position process. Initially, ethanol extraction will produce a darker, more bitter and grassy tasting oil. This is due to ethanol’s propensity to also extract chlorophyll from the hemp plant during extraction. Post extraction filtering can reduce these undesirable qualities in the oil. This method of manufacture leaves more room for human error than CO2 extraction. So, if the production operator is knowledgeable, the product may be of comparable quality to CO2 extraction. If not, the resulting product with be of lower quality.
Hydrocarbon Extraction – this method of extraction utilizes light hydrocarbon solvents, like butane, acetone, and propane. This method of manufacture is less appealing to CBD users because it contains impurities from the solvent and retains CBD in lower concentrations than other methods, while retaining higher levels of THC. This is, of course, a negative characteristic for those looking for pure CBD oil or where CBD oil with a THC concentration of 0.3% or higher are considered illegal.
This method of extraction is cheap, potentially dangerous, and inefficient. This is why you should avoid CBD oils manufactured in this way. The resulting product is widely regarded as lower quality.Lipid Extraction – lipid extraction is a method of CBD extraction that uses a fatty carrier oil, like coconut oil, to extract CBD from hemp. This method is less often utilized but can result in generally high-quality CBD oil, though you will likely pay a boutique price upon purchase.
#3 Purification process
Purification and processing takes place once the crude CBD extract is created. It’s important to note that the purification process will result in the removal of hemp plant impurities. That’s the main difference in CBD isolate and full-spectrum CBD. The main methods of purification include winterization, distillation, and decarboxylation.
Winterization – when CBD oil undergoes the initial extraction, the resulting substance still contains fatty acids, plant materials, chlorophyll, cannabinoids, and terpenoids from the hemp source material. The winterization process will require CBD extract to be mixed 200 proof alcohol and then frozen overnight. This process will created a cloudy mixture that can then be passed through a filtration process. It is at this point the alcohol is removed via evaporation through a heating process. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than oil, the filtered oil will remain relatively unchanged while the alcohol is cooked off.
Short-path Distillation – We touched on boiling points in the above example. Within the resulting CBD oil there are several compound with varying boiling points of their own. These compounds can be removed through further refinement of short-path distillation. By understanding the differing chemical characteristics of each constituent compound, a manufacturer can cook of the undesired remnants and create a BD oil of higher purity. It’s important to keep in mind that not all those compounds are necessarily negative. Sure, residual solvents and pesticides can and should be removed through distillation. However, terpenoids, flavonoids, and other natural compounds in hemp are what are considered beneficial a full-spectrum CBD oil.
Liquid Chromatography – an intimidating word to most, chromatography is just a fancy name given to the process of separating compounds in a mixture. In the case of CBD oil, the extract is dissolved in a fluid and passed through a media, not unlike a reverse osmosis water filter. The different compounds and materials in the extract will move at different speeds through that media, making it easier to separate them. Chromatography is not just used in the manufacturing process of preparing CBD oil. It is also employed by third-party labs to test for purity of a CBD oil.
Decarboxylation – Without diving into the nitty-gritty science of why cannabis needs to be “activated” through decarboxylation, we’ll try to keep it simple. Basically, cannabinoids like THC and CBD need to first be activated before they can be “processed” within the human body. These two specific cannabinoids take another form before becoming THC and CBD. They are:
The decarboxylation process, generally shortened to “decarbing”, uses heat to remove that that acid molecule, leaving behind THC or CBD in a form we can use.
It’s really just a process of heating the compound to appoint that it stops being an acid and becomes “activated” for us to enjoy. This distinction is important because you may find CBD oil brands that offer oils with both cannabinoids in acid and non-acid form. Unless you’re looking at a product labelled as “Raw” CBD oil, you can generally be sure it has undergone the decarboxylation process and the CBD inside has been activated.
When it comes to high quality CBD oil, there is a lot to be said about the rising trend of isolate versus whole plant of full spectrum CBD.
In this case it may be more of a preference but an important distinction to make, nevertheless.
CBD isolate is a pure oil refined to the point that there is no discernable compound within the product beyond CBD. This product has been gaining popularity recently as a “more pure” counterpart to whole plant of full spectrum CBD.
The latter two designations above refer to a CBD oil that retains the flavonoids, terpenoids, plant material, and other naturally occurring hemp compounds. It’s important to consider that these compounds can bring benefit to users and should not be discounted entirely in favor of a more “pure” product.
While a brand’s marketing can claim just about any selling point they think customers may want to hear, it’s important for them to also be able to prove it. The easiest way to confirm the legitimacy of any CBD oil manufacturer’s claims is from the result of third-party lab testing.
These labs are experienced and capable of verifying the purity and content of a given batch of CBD oil. It’s a good idea to consider buying your CBD oil from companies that audit their own production quality through labs like this.
This is truly the only way to be sure that your CBD oil is everything it claims to be and within the legal boundaries in terms of THC content, CBD level, and level of impurities.