In the ‘Wild West’ of CBD not all products are created equal — or even safe. CBD testing is attempting to keep up with the products boom.
The cannabinoid CBD is gaining traction for its therapeutic and non-euphoric effects as its products become more available in U.S. markets. CBD has been proven to be a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory agent, anti-anxiety supplement, seizure reducer and sleep aid. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even chimed in on CBD, stating that it has no abuse or dependence potential.
CBD products booming
The CBD market emerged as cannabis programs were approved on a state-by-state basis, and then went full force once hemp was federally legalized, which brought on a plethora of products.
CBD was initially seen as a medicinal cannabis product only to be found at cannabis dispensaries, but with the progression of hemp legalization, CBD is stocked up alongside multivitamins and essential oils on store shelves. U.S. consumer sales of CBD products are forecasted to reach around $1.8 billion by 2022. This occurs as large retailers such as CVS, Whole Foods and Kroger enter the market and provide ease of CBD access to consumers.
A public craving CBD info
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “CBD” outranked search engine queries for Jesus, Kanye West, NBA, Taylor Swift, and AOC in October 2019. As it pertains to health and wellness searches, Americans are looking up CBD on the internet more than acupuncture, meditation, veganism and exercise. Researchers found that an analysis of Google search data results for “CBD” and “cannabidiol” began to rise in 2014 and continued to grow almost exponentially.
In 2013, CNN chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta aired the network’s first cannabis documentary, “Weed.” The show followed the story of a then-4-year-old girl, Charlotte Figi, whose treatment-resistant epileptic seizures were relieved by a non-impairing, CBD-dominant variety of cannabis. The chemovar was later named “Charlotte’s Web” after her. This radical form of treatment paved the way for CBD and would soon become a trending product.
In 2019, a Gallup survey reported that one in seven adult Americans use CBD products, and 40% of those users consume CBD for pain relief as opposed to over-the-counter pain medications. This is due to the unwanted side effects that come with NSAIDs like Advil and analgesics like Tylenol.
CBD testing and sourcing
CBD can be sourced two ways: either from cannabis or from hemp. Although CBD is the same throughout hemp and cannabis plants, they are separated as hemp-derived CBD and cannabis-derived CBD. The ways hemp and cannabis are regulated contrast with each other.
The Hemp Farming Act was included in the 2018 Farm Bill and removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act along with all of its derivatives and components. As a result, hemp-derived CBD is federally regulated, allowing legal cultivation, possession, sale and distribution of hemp-based products.
The 2018 Hemp Farming Act requires products to be tested for cannabinoid content only to confirm it contains 0.3% or less THC. This is due to THC’s status as a Schedule I substance alongside cannabis and all its derivatives and components. Therefore, CBD products from cannabis are regulated under each specific state’s cannabis program, often requiring full panel testing beyond cannabinoid potency.
Cannabis and hemp absorb contaminants from the soil like toxins and heavy metals since they are bioaccumulators, also known as phytoremediators. This is why cannabis-derived products are required to be tested for pesticide levels, microbials, heavy metals and more. Ultimately, hemp-derived CBD products are not being screened as thoroughly when compared to cannabis-derived CBD products.
What makes a compliant CBD product?
If the CBD product is not a compliant cannabis product from a licensed dispensary, it is either produced from hemp or produced illicitly. This causes inconsistencies in the overall quality and standardization of the CBD market and its products.
There are cases of CBD products being mislabeled, and this poses a major threat to the consumer. In 2017, the University of Pennsylvania did a study on 84 CBD extract products purchased on the internet. The purpose of the research was to analyze and compare the cannabinoid concentration with what appeared on the label claim. The findings presented that 69.04% of the CBD products purchased online were mislabeled, 87.50% of CBD vapes were mislabeled, and there was less CBD than labeled in 26% of the products.
Surprisingly, THC was found in 18 of the 84 internet-purchased CBD products.
“With no oversight of CBD products, consumers are faced with a sea of false claims and hidden dangers,” said CEO Aaron Riley of CannaSafe, a California testing laboratory accredited in 2012 for compliance and regulatory requirements.
CannaSafe conducted a study on vapes during the EVALI (e-cigarette/vaping associated lung injury/illness) crisis. One of the samples tested was an alleged hemp-derived CBD vape purchased from a popular website. The label claimed the product contained 10% CBD; however, the lab detected only 0.42% of CBD. The CBD vape failed for high levels of lead, precisely 8.640 ppm, which is 17 times over the limit set by the Bureau of Cannabis Control in California. The online CBD product also contained more than 60% in additives like cutting agents and flavorings.
Testing and certificate of analysis
Even some reputable hemp brands do take the initiative to fully test their CBD products for contaminants and display test results on the official Certificate of Analysis (CoA) provided by a licensed testing lab on their packaging or website.
Prior to purchasing, consuming, or recommending any CBD product to a patient, check the CoA that proves the product is safe for consumption and that its label claims are correct.
Maha Haq is the education administrator at CannaSafe, the first accredited cannabis testing lab in the world, with a mission to define consumer safety and quality assurance standards for the cannabis industry. For more info go to csalabs.com.