Warning: Not All CBD is Created Equal — A Primer on the CBD Craze

CBD, a primary component of cannabis, has a variety of benefits, but it’s important to understand what exactly CBD is, where it comes from, and what exactly you’re getting.

You’ve probably heard of THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is one of the primary components of the marijuana plant, and the one known to get you high when consumed.

But the world is just now waking up to THC’s chemical cousin: CBD. Today, you can find a wide variety of CBD-only products on the market in an even wider variety of locations — primarily health and wellness stores, but you may even find CBD next to the Twinkies at your local gas station.

So, what exactly is CBD and why has it caught on in such a mainstream way? Obviously, with a product so new, it’s taken time for regulation to catch up. Suffice it to say, CBD is the Wild West of the cannabis industry right now.

Read on to learn more about this great new frontier and to understand what you’re getting when you buy that oil, balm, or edible — and what you’re not.

How did we get here with CBD?

CBD stands for “cannabidiol,” which is one of 104 known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD, along with THC, are the two components that interact with receptors in our bodies and create much of the feeling — both psychoactive and physical — typically associated with consuming cannabis. Chemically, the two are practically “identical twins,” according to CBD knowledge hub “Cannabis Origin.”

But as far as consumers need to be concerned there is one major difference between THC and CBD: THC gets you high, CBD doesn’t.

And while THC products and consumption methods have been at the heart of much public legal debate over the course of the past several years, CBD has been left on the sidelines, under-regulated in most states — perfectly legal to sell in some, completely illegal to sell in others — and slightly ambiguous at the federal level. Therefore, a flood of CBD-products has entered the market.

What type of CBD products are there?

There are CBD smoothies, hemp oils, energy drinks, teas, and on, and on, and on. These products are available in a variety of places — cafes, wellness stories, gas stations, online — largely dependent on where you live and how tolerant (legally and ethically) your community is when it comes to cannabis.

How do I know if what I am getting is good?

There are a few factors that go into choosing good CBD products. They are as follows:

1. How was the plant grown?

CBD, which is an extract of the cannabis plant that produces the products, usually comes from the hemp plant, because this plant naturally has lower levels of THC and higher levels of CBD as opposed to the marijuana plant. At the federal level, a plant that produces 0.3% or less THC can be considered hemp.

But CBD products aren’t always derived from hemp. If the CBD product you’re considering is from the marijuana plant, it likely has some THC content (remember: THC gets you high, CBD doesn’t).

You’ll want hemp-based CBD, and you’ll want to understand the sort of soil the plant was grown in, how it was cultivated, and how it was processed. All plants absorb nutrients from the soil in which they’re grown. Hemp and marijuana are no exceptions — in fact, they may absorb more. You’ll want to ensure the plants that produced your CBD extract did not absorb pesticides, heavy metals, or other toxins. Much of this information will be listed in the product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA). Your product doesn’t have a COA? Put it back.

2. How was the product manufactured?

Due to the relative newness of CBD, there are no regulations on how CBD is manufactured. Obviously, this has led to products with low-quality control sold cheaply.

CBD oil is extracted from the marijuana plant in a handful of ways, but if you view any given manufacturer’s website, the details of how the substance was extracted should be easy to locate. Try to ensure the extract was processed using ethanol and/or something called “supercritical CO2 extraction.” This method ensures the CBD maintains purity through the process. Again, check the COA.

3. How much CBD content is in my product?

This one is less about the product and more about your personal needs. CBD has become highly popular among athletes for its innate healing and anti-inflammatory properties. The extract has also been thought of as a natural alternative to Tylenol (perhaps closer to a Tylenol PM for good measure). In order to achieve the right effect, it is important to understand why you’re interested to begin with. Have a look at this table, from Leafly.

High THC, low CBD (e.g.,10-30% THC, trace amounts of CBD)

Balanced CBD/THC (e.g., 5-15% THC and CBD)

High CBD, low THC (e.g., 5-20% CBD, THC under 5%)

Obviously, you’re in the “higher-CBD” camp (or you wouldn’t be reading this article.) Make sure your product contains the right levels of what you’re looking for.

4. Where are you buying the product?

There are hundreds — possibly thousands — of CBD-products and providers out there in 2019. And just like any other product on the market, you’ll want to gravitate toward sellers you trust.

Health and wellness stores are a great place to start, as they’ll typically have a highly knowledgeable staff when it comes to their CBD products. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with CBD cafes, these are probably fine for similar reasons. But if you’re thinking about picking up that flavored oil from behind the counter of your local convenience store or gas station, you may want to think twice. When buying online, just be sure to have your facts straight (see items 1 through 3 in this list) before making the purchase.

5. How will you consume CBD?

There are CBD-infused food and drinks, oils, balms, edibles, and of course, it can be smoked or vaped. As with all cannabis products, it’s important to decide the consumption method that is best for you. Some approaches are faster acting than others, and some provide slightly different effects — though this is less pronounced with CBD as compared to THC.

CBD is flourishing right now. If you arm yourself with the right information and shop for good quality products from good retailers and manufacturers, you’ll soon discover what so many have already: CBD is a great way to enjoy cannabis without the buzz getting in the way.

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