How to Buy High-Quality CBD: A Buying Guide
Let me guess…
For months, you’ve been hearing claims of CBD-infused “everything” to achieve wellness and treat ailments as diverse as anxiety and chronic pain.
CBD is everywhere you look, from the spa to the gas station, and all over the internet too. The market surrounding it is so passionately enthusiastic, they make it sound like the 8th wonder.
You’re seriously considering trying this in-thing substance.
Why not? Even the World Health Organization says it’s safe and you want something natural to help you feel calm and composed.
But you don’t want to be burned by products that can’t live up to the hype. And if you’re anxiety-prone like me, I bet you’re not sure where to start or what to look for.
Don’t worry, I have you covered. In this buying guide I literally lay it all out for you, here you will learn about the basics, safety and law of CBD in addition to my four-steps method to identify high-quality products before purchasing.
Ready to get started?
Table of Contents
The Nuts & Bolts of CBD
In case you’re new to CBD or just need a refresher, here are some basics. CBD is the moniker for cannabidiol, a component of the cannabis family. This fascinating plant is home to many chemicals, the most well-known are THC and CBD, also known as cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids are chemicals that interact with specific receptors in the human body.
Cannabis comes in many varieties, including hemp and marijuana, but they’re all one family: Cannabis sativa.
Marijuana is any cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC—the ever-so infamous psychoactive chemical that gets you high.
Hemp, on the flip side, doesn’t contain more than 0.3% THC but is rich in CBD.
Unlike THC, CBD is a non-toxic, non-intoxicating cannabinoid. Just so you know, CBD can be extracted from all cannabis plants but is most frequently extracted from the stalks and stems of industrial hemp.
The bottom line is that you can’t get high on CBD but it’s still cannabis. Most of the CBD goods you find online are hemp-derived, with minimum traces of THC, or none at all.
CBD is such a great source of healing because of its ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system, a recently discovered system that maintains balance throughout the body.
Think of this system as a communication network that regulates all the other systems present in your body to promote overall well-being.
Your body produces their own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids. When your body spots anything that’s “off,” it releases endocannabinoids to fix things.
When CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, it boosts the endocannabinoids production, which translates into benefits like enhancing your mood and memory, soothing anxiety and stress, reducing chronic pain and fighting inflammation.
But the jury is out on these benefits.
Ongoing research shows promising results in the treatment of major ailments like cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but they still aren’t fully proven by science. So, marketing CBD as a cure for cancer, for instance, is a bold statement that the FDA considers unlawful.
It’s important to note that CBD is not a cure-all miracle supplement and companies marketing it this way are doing you a disservice. Set your BS meter on.
Now that you’re familiar with the nitty-gritty of CBD, let’s get down to its legal framework.
CBD Legal Quagmire
“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
Even though hemp production was made semi-legal in the 2014 Farm Bill, hemp and all cannabis plants were still unfairly placed in the Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, until December 2018.
The Schedule 1 is the most restrictive class reserved for drugs like heroin that meet the following characteristics:
- High potential for abuse.
- Not currently accepted for medical use.
- Lack of accepted safety.
Thankfully, the Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act—aka the 2018 Farm Bill, which recognizes hemp and CBD as a non-controlled substance.
THC plays a key role not only in how the plant is used but also classifying it as hemp or marijuana. The more THC content, the more illegal the plant is considered.
Since hemp contains very few amounts of THC compared to marijuana—less than 0.3%—it made sense to remove it from schedule 1, but marijuana remains in this ultra-restrictive class, prohibited under federal law. Go figure!
The passing of the bill now allows CBD businesses and hemp growers to cultivate hemp for industrial purposes and to produce hemp-derived CBD legally.
So, if you purchase CBD that doesn’t contain more than 0.3% THC, you’re pretty much in the clear, right? Not really since the lack of federal guidelines has left a gap in the state’s laws, therefore, some states have put their own restrictions on buyers.
In Nebraska, and South Dakota, authorities see CBD as a derivative of marijuana and a controlled substance, and this is not changing until more laws and regulations come from the federal government.
In Idaho, the Governor vetoed the legalization, therefore, CBD is only legal if it contains zero traces of THC and is derived from one of the five identified parts of the hemp plant:
- Mature stalks
- Any combination of the mature stalks
- Fiber produced from the stalks
- Sterilized seeds incapable of germination
- Oil or cake made from the seed
Be cautious when buying CBD in Idaho because if you get caught with just the smallest trace of THC in your product, you will be facing charges.
In Iowa, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, you can only get CBD with a prescription.
In New York, CBD is legal but adding CBD to food or drinks is prohibited.
Following the same rule, California and Washington banned edible products containing CBD, which makes no sense. Both states legalized recreational cannabis, so psychoactive CBD from marijuana can be legally sold in foods and beverages at dispensaries, but hemp-derived CBD can’t.
Members of the US Military, the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines have been warned that despite changes to state and federal laws, the use of CBD is completely forbidden.
Hooray for Arizona that allows cops to use CBD!
Although you can still buy online with very few restrictions, proceeding with extreme caution is a must if you live in a no-CBD-friendly state. There’s still a chance that local authorities will treat you like a criminal if they catch you buying, selling, or simply possessing any CBD product.
CBD & the FDA
The enormous popularity of CBD has put a lot of pressure on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Remember the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp? Well, because of it, many vendors have the perception that there’s a green light to market CBD as a health or wellness supplement.
But the agency says that CBD in dietary supplements and foods is a no-go. The products you find on the market are NOT officially approved by the FDA. In fact, the only product that is approved is Epidiolex a drug to treat seizures in children, with CBD as the active ingredient.
Undoubtedly, CBD is swimming in murky waters. The Congress held the FDA’s authority to regulate this fast-growing market and ensure the veracity of the claims, as well as the safety and quality of the hemp-derived products.
However, with the lack of scientific resources, this process might take too long. In the meantime, the FDA is leveraging the health claims rule as a way to take control over the fly-by-night players.
Heads up: It’s unlawful to market CBD products to prevent, cure or alleviate any disease.
All CBD products are subject to the same laws and requirements as any other new supplement or drug. However, some vendors are breaking these laws because the FDA can’t police every label.
The "Wild West" of the CBD Market
With new hemp-based products springing up every week, learning how to choose the best one for you is more important than ever.
A loophole in hemp legislation has encouraged a “Wild West” sort of market for CBD, which leaves you confused and without guarantees.
Bad manufacturing practices jeopardize the true benefits of this wonder substance. It’s difficult to ensure what you’re buying is safe and effective when there are companies looking to make a quick buck, selling snake oils with no controls and posing people’s health at stake.
Research shows that nearly 70% of CBD products on the market are contaminated or mislabeled.
Until guidelines and regulations are put in place, you need to be savvy and make informed purchase decisions.
Let’s move on now to clarify tips for finding high-quality products and trustful brands.
How to Buy CBD in 4 Steps
The hemp-CBD market is in a grey zone with no regulation. Unregulated markets come with a risk, false health claims, products with dangerous impurities and pesticides, lack of oversight and watered-down products that don’t always contain what the labels say.
So basically, until the FDA creates rules for CBD—you’re on your own. Finding what is reliable requires taking a little time to educate yourself and being extra cautious about what products to trust.
No matter if you prefer to buy in a brick-and-mortar store or online, follow my four steps method to identify and buy high-quality CBD products.
- Find a reliable brand
- Read Labels
- Check the manufacturing process
- Pick the product that best suits you
Step 1: Find a Reliable Brand
You already know that about 70% of the products out there are unsafe so you may wonder, are there CBD companies that have proper standards and frameworks?
The answer is yes! Fortunately, there are trustful companies playing by the rules and willing to adhere to strict labeling standards.
Be your own regulating agency and look for brands that follow these parameters:
Education is the gateway of a long-term relationship between you and a CBD brand. You’re looking for easy-to-understand solutions that improve your quality of life.
A helpful site usually always provides in-depth information and the availability of resourceful content to ensure the best experience for their clients.
Remember, knowledge is a powerful tool. The CBD whole space is so new, unregulated and full of hype, so learning as much as you can will help you ensure that what you’re putting on or in your body is actually legit and safe.
Keep an eye on how much the brand knows about CBD, how much information they are putting out there and how much they are teaching to consumers.
Don’t skip FAQs, blog pages, and other informative sections of the brand’s website.
CS can turn you into a lifelong and loyal brand advocate or swear you off a product forever.
The main characteristics of a strong customer service include a rapid response time to service requests, responding to all types of customer feedback and an easy process for getting in touch with support.
Don’t be afraid to contact brands directly and ask questions. An exceptional customer care service will answer all your queries without friction. Something wise to ask them is if they provide a COA certificate for products.
CERTIFICATE OF ANALYSIS (COA)
This is basically a lab report created by a third party, which confirms that the CBD product you’re buying actually has all what the label says. Without a COA, labels can claim whatever they want.
Something to keep in mind when reading a COA is the batch number of the CBD product you’re buying. Products are made in batches, so matching the batch number to the respective COA will ensure that you can trust what’s on the CBD label.
Watch out for the THC content, it shouldn’t exceed 0.3%, also note the performance of the product on tests, the levels of contaminants found, the levels of CBD and its potency.
Finally, don’t forget to check that the lab providing the COA adheres to trustworthy scientific standards.
Third lab testing is definitely something you should request before you make your purchase. If the manufacturer doesn’t provide a COA, don’t be shy to ask for it. If you don’t get it, just pass, there are better brands in the market that are willing to provide it.
GOOD MANUFACTURING PRACTICES (GMP)
This system ensures that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. Creating high-quality CBD products requires high-quality facilities.
Look for the GMP logo to minimize the risk of buying a snake oil.
NO HEALTH CLAIMS
Although CBD has a massive potential to positively impact our health, nothing has been fully proven by science. So, vendors making unbacked claims are a surefire red flag.
The FDA has made plenty of public statements warning against these practices. Implying any CBD health claim is simply unlawful in the eyes of the agency.
For a legitimate brand, you matter more than quick profits. Allowing reviews and responding to them is a way to prove this.
Thoroughly check the comments from customers, however, don’t rely on reviews alone to judge a brand. It’s easy these days to fake customer reviews.
GOOD USER EXPERIENCE
You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate a site that looks good, it’s easy to navigate and includes clear search options according to pricing, popularity and rating.
As well as a secure online shopping experience. Good brands always make sure that your purchase process is easy and without risk.
POLICIES ON SHIPPING, REFUNDS, AND RETURNS
Professional ordering and delivery experience as well as fair terms for refunds and product returns are a must.
You need to know all the information about your shipping options, the cost of each and the carriers offered.
You should also know the brand’s returns and refunds policy before completing a purchase. A reliable brand should present these policies in a clear and easy-to-find way.
Step 2: Read Labels
Although there are currently no requirements for CBD labels—which often confuses consumers who want to know what’s in the product—the best brands aim for label accuracy to stand out as a sign of trust. These are the must-have requirements a product should display on its label:
- CBD dosage
- CBD purity and potency
- CBD concentration
- THC content
- Other ingredients
- Batch or lot ID
What’s the amount of CBD in milligrams? What’s the recommended serving size? How many servings are in the package? CBD dosage is one of the most important things a label can tell you and the first thing you should look for.
PURITY & POTENCY
It’s no wonder that the therapeutic benefits of CBD depend on how potent and pure the products are. Potency tells you the level of CBD in the product. Purity ensures that the CBD content is safe and effective for you to use. Look for these parameters in the product’s COA. If a product label says 600 mg of CBD, then this number should match the COA report.
It’s important to note that the purification process is a very difficult task. Getting anything to 100% purity is not possible without using nasty chemicals. A good quality product without the use of chemicals has a purity level of around 95-99%.
The label should tell you how many milligrams of CBD is in the product, but this is usually something that most people get twisted.
The concentration of the CBD depends on the strength of CBD you’re purchasing, but no matter what the concentration is, the total amount isn’t the same as the total serving size. So, if your CBD oil label says 750 mg, your serving size is much less than that because it’s diluted in a carrier oil to make it absorbable into your body.
The actual concentration of the product is how many mg of CBD are in it, in relation to the total volume. This way, if the label says 750 mg and the total volume in the bottle is 30 milliliters, you’re getting only 25 mg of CBD per ml of oil. If your serving size is 3 ml, then you’re taking 75 mg of CBD.
A very important thing to consider when you’re using CBD products is how much THC they actually contain. This should be specified as well as if the product you intend to buy doesn’t have any THC.
Remember that more than 0.3% of THC is considered marijuana, which is illegal in most states.
Most CBD products come with other ingredients, beyond CBD. Depending on the product, different chemicals are added to enhance flavor or absorption. Oils are mixed with carrier oils to make it easier to absorb. Vapes usually contain potentially dangerous chemicals to produce less gunk. Tinctures come with added flavors and glycerin. Gummies contain flavors and sugars.
It’s always wise to check on these ingredients on products’ labels.
BATCH OR LOT ID
Batch and lot IDs are numbers assigned to a group of products used to track them throughout the receiving and sales process. They’re mandatory on CBD items as a sign of accountability to know where and when they were made.
This number should match what the COA says to make sure the lab report corresponds to the product you intend to buy.
Step 3: Check the Manufacturing Process
These are the top of mind factors:
HOW IS THE CBD SOURCED
CBD sourcing should be second to none. How was the hemp grown, where does it come from, was the hemp grown in pesticide-soaked soil? These queries are all worth asking when purchasing your CBD.
You should find this info in the batch testing results of the product’s COA.
Hemp harvested outside the US might contain pesticides, herbicides, or heavy metals. Look for CBD that’s organic, non-GMO and preferably grown on areas that require soil testing like FDA-compliant farms.
HOW IS THE CBD EXTRACTED
Extracting CBD from a hemp plant requires a lot of work. Once the cannabis has been farmed, the CBD must be extracted from the plant and converted into a finished product. It’s a long and highly complicated process, and a large amount of hemp may turn into a small amount of CBD oil.
There are different methods and all of them have an impact in the final product, the most common ways to extract CBD are CO2 and ethanol extractions.
This is the best way to extract CBD because it’s non-toxic. The result is a high-quality, nearly pure CBD oil with no contaminants and no solvents. This extraction tends to be costlier because the production process requires exact science and powerful extraction machinery.
CO2 extraction can be subcritical and supercritical, the latest is considered the best one for hemp derivatives. Supercritical CO2 pulls all of the essential cannabinoids, terpene oils and waxes out of the hemp plant and keep them almost intact.
Because of the lack of chemicals and the preservation of other important compounds like terpenes and flavonoids, supercritical CO2 is the most popular extracting method between brands at the top of the industry.
Ethanol extraction breaks down the hemp plant with alcohol. This method is more cost-effective as it requires less heavy-duty equipment, also because larger batches of oil are produced as a result.
Even though ethanol-derived CBD products cost less, they show lower potency and a higher risk of nasty chemicals present in the final product.
IS THE CBD WATER OR NON-WATER SOLUBLE?
CBD is a non-water-soluble molecule and we live in watery bodies, which means we don’t easily absorb CBD. So, to make your CBD more watery-friendly, companies go through a process called emulsification. There are 3 types of emulsification: Standard, liposomal and nano-emulsion.
This method consists of adding carrier oils to dilute the CBD and other components of the product, to make it safe to consume and easier to carry in your bloodstream. Typical carrier oils are coconut oil, MCT, hemp seed oil and olive oil.
This method uses liposomes as carriers. A liposome is a protective fatty bubble that gets attached and encapsulates CBD molecules. They can make CBD easier and 4 times faster to absorb than regular carrier oils.
This method refers to extremely small or nano-sized drops of CBD oil. Nano-emulsified CBD can deliver higher levels of CBD quickly into your bloodstream, meaning that you’ll absorb much more of the final product.
Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, there are some downsides, for example, some emulsified CBD products are manufactured with chemicals you might not want in your body like propylene glycol.
You may also find deceit among the nano CBD companies taking advantage of the fancy “nano” term to draw attention with products that contain bigger than nano-sized molecules.
Step 4: Pick the Product that Best Suits You
To make your purchase decision easier keep in mind these factors:
- Type of CBD
- Method of administration
TYPE OF CBD
Hemp has many therapeutic compounds beyond CBD, all of them work together in synergy, increasing their individual strengths to further enhance the way each compound benefits your body.
Hemp-derived CBD products fall under these 3 categories that refer to the components present in the content and they are
Full-spectrum products are made from whole hemp plants. Nothing is added or removed from the hemp’s natural chemical composition. These products contain THC, usually less than 0.3%. These extracts are usually more expensive.
Broad-spectrum products account for whole plant THC-free stuff; they go into a distilling process that removes the compound that gets you high.
As its name says, Isolate formulas only contain CBD. These products are the most affordable option among all three types of CBD.
Most people prefer full and broad-spectrum products because they seem to work better. But if you’re drug tested often, you live in a state with tight restrictions or your body is too sensitive to THC, an isolated product might suit you better.
This speaks to how fast you want your body to absorb CBD. Each method of administration has a different rate of bioavailability, this is measured by percentage %. The greater the bioavailability the faster CBD kicks in.
The faster a product brings you relief the smaller amount of time it will last. Now just decide if you want a quick relief or a slow-burner that lasts longer.
METHOD OF ADMINISTRATION
CBD comes in all sort of forms, flavors and applications, the most popular you find in the market are:
- Inhalation: Smoking and vaping
- Mucosal: Sublingual drops—oils and tinctures—nasal sprays and suppositories
- Oral: Edibles and capsules
- Topical: Transdermal patches, lotions and creams
Here’s the bioavailability of each method:
If CBD is inhaled, it goes directly from the lungs to the heart. Inhalation is fast because of the huge amount of capillaries in the lungs. As a result CBD takes only a few minutes to kick in but the effects won’t last long. Inhalation includes both smoking and vaping.
Body cavities have mucus-secreting membranes full of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Capillaries have tons of pores that allow molecules like CBD to easily pass through and get into the bloodstream, avoiding the first-pass metabolism.
The fact that capillaries help transport the CBD mollecules make the mucosal route a great and relatively fast way to ingest the compound.
OILS & TINCTURES
If CBD is ingested orally, it has to pass the first-pass metabolism. So, the compound gets to the stomach, passes into capillaries in the gut, and then travels to the liver, where it’s metabolized by enzymes, before getting into your bloodstream.
This long journey makes bioavailability rates low. Low bioavailability means that CBD ingested orally takes longer to kick in. You’ll have to wait an hour or more to see effects, but these effects are very long lasting. It also means that a higher dose of CBD is needed withing edibles or capsules to produce the same effect from other ingestion routes. All this factors make oral CBD products the less cost-effective.
CAPSULES & EDIBLES
Although the skin barrier is difficult to overcome, some CBD products are specifically crafted to be able to pass through the small spaces between the cells of the skin. But the bioavailability rates of these topicals are very low. This method is used for local relief only, because the dermal barrier doesn’t allow the active compound to enter the bloodstream.
Although the skin barrier is difficult to overcome, some CBD products are specifically crafted to be able to pass through the small spaces between the cells of the skin, this is the case of transdermal patches.
They deliver CBD bypassing the digestive tract which increases their bioavailability up to 40%. Another interesting feature is that patches can last for several days.
LOTIONS & CREAMS
There’s more to look at than simply comparing the price of two different CBD products. Price-wise, the cost-per-dose is what really tells if you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
To do the math, just divide the price of your oil by the total dosage in milligrams. For example, if a bottle of 30 milliliters of oil with a concentration of 500 mg costs $50, the price per mg of CBD is around $0.1.
It’s important to stress quality over price. You can certainly find cheap CBD products online, but there are diverse factors that contribute to the cost of CBD and many of these bargains are usually rip-offs.
So, don’t forget to look at the COA report. Specifically, note how the product performed on tests and observe the levels of contaminants found in the Microbiological Testing section.
We already saw how to calculate the amount of CBD you’re actually taking on each serving size, it’s now over to you to decide the strength you want your product to deliver.
On the market you can find oils with concentrations starting at 100 mg and up to 1500 mg per bottle.
Make this decision depending on your condition and how much CBD per serving is really effective to show relief.
For many people, taste is a relevant factor when purchasing a CBD product. Raw hemp has and earthy, and no pleasant bitter taste and some just can’t bear with it. If you’re grossed out by the hemp taste and aroma, there are options on the market with added flavors that can make your CBD experience more pleasant.
- Oils, tinctures and concentrates have a strong hemp taste due to the high concentration of CBD.
- Vapes can come with added flavors like chocolate, mint or peach. However, these additives are chemicals that can be harmful for your body.
- Edibles are fun treats with cool flavors, but they also have added sugars.
- If you want to completely avoid the taste of hemp, capsules and topicals are your best pick.
Now that you have a complete method to find high-quality CBD products you still need to take into consideration…
Where to Buy Your CBD Products
Shopping options are simple: online vs. offline. But which one is better in terms of CBD? Well, the answer is also simple, the option that better suits you.
BUYING CBD ONLINE
In our fast paced world, online shopping makes life easier. No wonder why this option is so popular especially when looking for CBD products. The advantages of buying online are:
- Easy access to lab reports
- Better prices
- Easy price comparisons
- A higher number of available products
BUYING CBD OFFLINE
Buying from brick-and-mortar retailers offer different advantages that shouldn’t be overlooked. But make sure you’re looking for CBD in a licensed store or dispensary. Avoid cafes and gas stations, you won’t find high-quality there.
The main reasons to buy CBD in physical licensed stores are:
- Direct interactions with CBD connoisseurs
- Physical inspection of products
- No shipping waiting times or fees
One last thing that’s worth bringing into your attention….
Don't Look for CBD on Amazon
CBD is currently approved as a drug to treat epilepsy, and rightfully, drugs are NOT allowed for sale on Amazon. But the titan of e-commerce has also put a ban on CBD through a disclaimer placed on their website, meaning CBD can’t be sold there.
However, with a little search you will find hemp-derived products labeled as:
- Hemp seed oil
- Hemp extracts
HEMP SEED OIL
Hemp seed oil is NOT the same thing as CBD oil. This cannabinoid isn’t present in the seeds of the hemp plants. Hemp seed oil is like olive oil, it’s nutritious, has omega-3 and is good for health.
It also helps as a carrier for CBD oils, but there’s very little, if any, CBD in it. This oil is heavily marketed on Amazon and can confuse people.
Takeaway: Don’t look for CBD on Amazon, you will more likely end up buying hemp seed oil.
Since Amazon has banned CBD for selling on their platform, vendors are labeling their products as “hemp extracts” with X milligrams of CBD, just to play it safe.
These extracts may contain CBD, but they don’t provide third-party reports, their labels are confusing, and their ethics are shady—so buying from them is a risk.
Now, you’ve got the more helpful tips to find affordable and reliable CBD products on the web. Compare your options and don’t settle for a cheap price. Look for the value and quality of your CBD products first and remember that health is your greatest wealth and cheap can be ironically expensive.
Are you ready to purchase your CBD? Did you find this info helpful to make your purchase decision? Drop some lines on the comments below.
Happy CBD shopping!