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Is CBD legal? Here’s what you need to know, according to science
I’ve come upon it in pharmacy chain stores and gas stations. My dog kennel sells CBD (cannabidiol) gummies for pets, and multiple massage spas in the D.C.-metro area offer “CBD-infused relaxation” through lotions, oils and sprays. There are at least four cafes within a 15-minute walk of the White House that sell CBD coffee.
Yet here’s a strange fact about the overnight ubiquity of these products: Selling them is illegal. That’s true even though the 2018 Farm Bill removed legal restrictions on CBD if it’s derived from hemp plants.
What’s equally strange: Buying CBD products is legal…at least sometimes.
This paradox is one of many in America’s long history of both utilizing and criminalizing cannabis. As marijuana, cannabis has been a tool for relaxation, as well as an element of mass incarceration — but also for medical benefits, like to fight the side effects of cancer chemotherapy.
That tension is something two professors and their students are trying to better understand at the University of Connecticut, which launched the nation’s only college course on growing weed earlier this year.
While “there are all sorts of classes to train lawyers to understand cannabis law and programs for medical practitioners to learn how to dispense medical marijuana,” said Gerry Berkowitz, a 20-year professor of plant science who co-runs UConn’s new course, this is the first in decades to focus on questions like: How exactly does this stuff grow and how can we use it?
They’re among many in the U.S. who are peering through the fog of the clinical claims, legal quagmires and social stigma around weed.
Cannabis, which has been cultivated by humans for at least 12,000 years, is “one of the oldest plants on record as having been used for human benefit,” said Shelley Durocher, a UConn research grower who manages the hemp greenhouse for the class. It’s a fascinating plant that occupies a unique space in the natural world, Durocher said, one that has helped shape the modern existence of Western countries like the U.S.
As hemp, its fiber made the sails that carried European colonists across much of the known world. It was so fundamental to America’s foundations that its image was printed on money. George Washington was notoriously bad at growing hemp, though.
“Began to separate the Male from the Female hemp…rather too late,” Washington penned in his diary in August 1765. (We’ll get to why that’s a problem later.)
A cheat guide to CBD
If you’re looking for the abridged version of this story so you can pass your “pot” quiz, here are the main takeaways.
- The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and sale of hemp and its extracts. Hemp, by federal law, cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Anything with more THC is classified as marijuana, is considered a schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration and is federally illegal.
- A hemp crop can accidentally start growing marijuna packed with THC because of pollination and sexual reproduction. (Cannabis plants are typically either male or female). Unexpected pollination can easily happen in outdoor fields, given cannabis plants grow abundantly in the wild and their pollen can travel for miles. If your CBD comes from a marijuana plant, it’s illegal. If your CBD contains too much THC (more than 0.3 percent), it’s illegal.
- The extraction process for CBD and THC is essentially the same. As a consequence, CBD can be contaminated with THC, chemical solvents or pesticides if the extraction is done improperly.
- The only approved health use of CBD is the seizure drug Epidiolex, despite having many other suspected benefits. The FDA prohibits the sale of CBD in any unapproved health products, dietary supplements or food — which literally means everything except for this epilepsy drug.
- If CBD comes from a hemp plant with less than 0.3 percent THC, you can buy it under federal law — but some states still have legal restrictions on the possession of CBD.
Cannabis’ reputation has shifted significantly since then, from vital resource to societal ill to maybe something in between.
Berkowitz and professor Matthew DeBacco launched the class at UConn — called “Horticulture of Cannabis: from Seed to Harvest” — to fill a desperate need in the ever-budding cannabis industry, with U.S. sales expected to reach $80 billion by 2030. Three years ago, another of Berkowitz’s undergrad classes took a field trip to one of Connecticut’s medical marijuana producers.
“The owner said his head grower learned their trade by growing pot in their basement,” Berkowitz said. In pointing this out, he was not trying to throw shade on these employees, but rather emphasizing that many of the growing practices in the marijuana industry aren’t typically standardized nor backed by research.
Which brings us back to those CBD lotions and lattes — and how they can be both legal and illegal.
Due to the way cannabis plants naturally grow and breed, many CBD products in stores contain the same drug that makes marijuana federally illicit — THC or tetrahydrocannabinol.
And even if you make sure that your CBD is pure, some federal agencies and state laws still forbid it — even in places where medical or recreational weed is legal.
So before you add CBD to your routine, it might help us all to head back to school for a few science lessons that explain how cannabis is grown, how the compound is collected, and the ways it might benefit and harm your health.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis has many names, strains and varieties, including hemp and marijuana. But these days, they’re all considered one species: Cannabis sativa.
“Marijuana” is any cannabis plant with abundant amounts — technically, more than 0.3 percent — of the mind-altering drug THC. Though 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuna, this version of cannabis remains federally illegal and classified as a schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Hemp,” by contrast, cannot legally contain more than 0.3 percent THC. There are almost no restrictions on the hundreds of other compounds made by the plant, such as terpenes (which are responsible for weed’s “distinctive” aroma).
One noteworthy contradiction in weed law: Marijuana can also produce CBD. If your purified CBD comes from hemp plants, it is federally legal, but if it comes from a marijuana plant, it is illegal. That’s because marijuna plants themselves are prohibited by the DEA.
CBD versus THC
The most obvious hurdles to making pure and legal CBD arise from being unable to tell marijuana and hemp plants apart.
Just try it for yourself:
Hemp versus marijuana. Good luck spotting a difference. Image by Devin Pinckard
“So how do we make a distinction when … basically looking at the plant structure, you really can’t tell the difference?” DeBacco, one of the cannabis course professors, asked us on the campus quad after class (located in the university’s largest lecture hall, due to its popularity).
His answer: “You’ve got to go beyond what they look like to the chemical profiles.”
Scientists suspect cannabinoids protect the plant from UV rays, much like sunscreen does for human skin.
Both THC and CBD are members of a chemical family called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are plants oils, and cannabis comes packed with more than 100 versions of them.
Scientists suspect cannabinoids protect the plant from UV rays, much like sunscreen does for human skin. They think that because up to a quarter of a cannabis plant’s weight can come from just cannabinoids — and cannabinoid levels change with light exposure. “At the top of the plant, you’ll get more cannabinoids, compared to flowers that are at the lower end of the plant,” graduate student Peter Apicella said.
Cannabis makes most of its cannabinoids in its flowers, which are more commonly called “buds.”
“If they don’t get pollinated, the buds will essentially just keep growing and keep producing cannabinoids,” Apicella said.
This is true of both CBD and THC. The only chemical difference between them comes down to a couple of chemical bonds.
CBD and THC are like the “fraternal twins” of plant chemistry. They are basically identical, aside from a couple bond. Image by Adam Sarraf
All cannabinoids start out as a bit of sugar, which hitchhikes around the plants’ enzymes, changing its identity, bit by bit, with each ride. In some cases, this wandering sugar reaches a crossroads, where it can either can bum a ride from one of two enzymes: THC-a synthase or CBD-a synthase. One route leads to becoming THC, the other to becoming CBD.
But in hemp, THC synthase is genetically dormant, Apicella said. As a result, some hemp plants can make loads of CBD because there is no internal competition for making THC.
“With other highly valuable crops — like saffron or vanilla — you get a small percentage of the plant that’s actually usable yield,” Apicella explained. But with hemp, “it’s a huge amount.” Some strains have are upwards of 12 to 15 percent CBD by weight.
How a hemp crop can sometimes become marijuana
Thanks to the “miracle” of reproduction, a hemp crop can start off making only CBD and then unwittingly turn into a THC-laden field of marijuana.
Let’s just say that again because it is a bit mind-blowing. A hemp crop — that is federally legal and only makes CBD — can become marijunana. Studies have found that if two certifiable hemp plants hook up, most of their offspring will be able to make THC. In fact, some of these seedlings will ONLY make THC.
Cannabis is abundant in the wild — meaning an outdoor hemp field is one gust of pollen away from accidentally breeding marijuana.
The wild card for hemp growers is pollination. Most flowering plants boast both male and female parts. They’re hermaphrodites that can mate with themselves. But a cannabis plant is an exception, in that it is almost always either female OR male. And when the plants reproduce sexually, their traits mix and once dormant genes — like those behind THC production — can suddenly be replaced with active versions.
Any biological organism is going to fluctuate — a variable that farmers and growers are always really concerned about, Apicella said.
So to prevent sexual reproduction, UConn’s greenhouse smashes the (cannabis) patriarchy. You don’t want a male in your greenhouse, Apicella said: “If there’s a male, your whole crops can be destroyed.”
So UConn’s greenhouses only grows female hemp plants — all of them are clones. There’s even a small pistil — called a preflower — on young plants that allows horticulturists to identify females without a genetic test.
To grow an all-female group, “you snip a part of a plant off, and you put it in soil with a little rooting hormone and that cutting is actually genetically identical to that first mother plant that you took from,” Apicella explained, raising his arms and pointing to a long row of hemp plants. “So these are all genetically identical to one of the mother plants we have in here.”
Keeping a greenhouse all-female is easy, but it’s a different story growing hemp outdoors.
Cannabis is abundant in the wild — meaning an outdoor hemp field is one gust of pollen away from accidentally breeding marijuana.
The other way that THC can sneak into your CBD bottle
To collect CBD or THC from hemp, farmers harvest the plants and send them to an extractor, who collects the drugs and preps them for sale. The issue is that extracting CBD or THC is essentially the same process. If your supplier does it incorrectly, your CBD bottle might carry an illegal dose of THC.
“It happens all the time,” said Rino Ferrarese, COO of the medical marijuana extractor CT Pharma, who is frustrated by low-quality and tainted products flooding the CBD market. Under Connecticut law, Ferrarese’s company must ensure their products match the labels on their bottles — which they accomplish through pharmaceutical-grade extraction.
Ferrarese said many states across the country do not hold their CBD suppliers to the same standards and federal enforcement is lacking.
Cannabinoids are extracted as oils or resins, which can be gooey. Image by CT Pharma
“What a lot of consumers don’t realize is that the FDA, who’s charged with protecting our safety with respect to food and medicine in the U.S., are not on top of policing those CBD products that you see in the gas station or at the grocery store,” Ferrarese said. “A lot of these products are also not under the purview of departments of public health either.”
As a lark, he and others at the company keep tabs on the sloppy and sometimes illicit products flooding the CBD market. Ferrarese said the results vary widely, and rarely do these products ever meet the claims on their labels.
The math that’s fueling the CBD green rush
A little math can explain why farmers and suppliers are excited about CBD.
To make CBD, farmers can grow up to 4,000 hemp plants in an acre. A single hemp plant can make about a half kilogram of plant material for CBD extraction.
A half kilogram of this cannabis material can yield about 75 grams of CBD, according to Rino Ferrarese, COO of the medical marijuana extractor CT Pharma. That much CBD can make about 350 bottles of lotion, he said, which each typically hold about 200 milligrams of the compound.
That means a single acre of hemp can make about 1.4 million bottles of CBD lotion. If you sell each of those bottles for $30, that’s…a boatload of greenbacks.
“Whenever we see CBD at a gas station or in a retail location, we purchase it and we send it to our independent third-party laboratory,” Ferrarese said. “Sometimes it even contains THC in the bottle when it’s not supposed to. It’s really a crap shoot.”
Extractors can prevent THC from entering a CBD supply. To sap CBD or THC from plant material, all extractions use a chemical solvent. That sounds nefarious, but a solvent is any substance that can dissolve another. Water, for instance, is one of nature’s best solvents — but it wouldn’t be effective for something like this.
“In Connecticut, we’re limited to using only [liquid] carbon dioxide as a solvent for extraction or ethanol as a solvent, Ferrarese said. “In other states, such as Colorado and California, they’re allowed to use solvents like butane.”
Liquid carbon dioxide and ethanol come with distinct advantages. Carbon dioxide is very efficient at stripping cannabinoids from plants, but it must be kept at cold temperatures — -70 degrees Fahrenheit — to stay liquid.
Ethanol extraction, meanwhile, can be conducted at warmer temperatures in a process similar to making liquor, said Kimberly Provera, the operations manager at CT Pharma.
“There is a process called fractional distillation, where you can actually isolate different cannabinoids,” Provera said. “Each cannabinoid will separate based on a specific temperature…so you can isolate just CBD and THC.”
Once the gooey cannabinoids are separated, they add a little heat. The carbon dioxide and ethanol will eventually evaporate, leaving behind pure CBD or THC — but only if the extraction is done properly.
If your supplier makes a mistake, it might taint your CBD with THC — a consequence that can be problematic if your job randomly drug tests. Poor extractions can also leave behind the chemical solvents, which is hazardous in the case of butane, or even pesticides.
“There is a certain consumer expectation that we have here in America when we interact with our products, and cannabis should be no different,” Ferrarese said. “Cannabis, as a consumer packaged good, should have to meet those same standards for purity, identity and composition.”
Before you buy CBD, ask the store how its extracts were made and if they’re validated by a third-party tester.
Why you shouldn’t assume CBD is a cure-all
Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone state a version of the following:
“THC is psychoactive or mind-altering, hence it can make you high and why it is illegal. CBD, meanwhile, isn’t psychoactive.”
That’s not entirely accurate. CBD won’t intoxicate you, but from a neuroscience perspective, CBD is absolutely psychoactive, psychotropic or whatever adjective you want to use to say that it affects the mind and behavior. CBD just affects you differently than THC.
This lack of understanding has led to a lot of misconceptions about CBD, said Joseph Cheer, a neurobiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who specializes in cannabinoids.
The first thing you need to know is that our bodies make their own natural versions of these compounds called endocannabinoids.
Akin to dopamine and serotonin, endocannabinoids can operate like neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that activate or switch off our nerves. That, in turn, sparks or dampens the electric pulses that create our thoughts, behaviors and movements.
Why hemp seeds and their oils are typically legal
Cannabis pollination causes a plant’s flowers — its buds — to set seed and stop making cannabinoids. Hemp seeds and their oils have essentially zero cannabinoids and are only considered illegal if THC residue lands on them.
Cannabis pollination can also stunt the growth of female plants, which is problematic if you’re cultivating the plant for fibers. George Washington made the mistake of allowing his hemp crop to undergo pollination, and it ruined his harvest.
Our nerves receive those chemical messages through neurotransmitter receptors — think of them like radio antennas. Cannabinoids have two known receptors called CB1 and CB2.
This is where the mental effects of THC and CBD differ. THC makes us high because it has a strong affinity for the CB1 receptor, but CBD is the opposite. CBD does not typically interact with the CB1 receptor…at least not directly. Research shows CBD can elevate the body’s self-made endocannabinoids, and scientists are also hunting for a “hidden” brain receptor for the cannabis extract.
The other evidence that CBD is psychoactive? It can battle seizures.
The FDA has only approved one drug made from CBD: an epilepsy medication named Epidiolex. No one knows for sure how it works, but Cheer and other researchers suspect that Epidiolex tweaks how much calcium can get inside of our nerves.
Without going too far into the particulars, our nerve cells use calcium to carry those electrical pulses throughout the body. If a nerve cell has too much calcium, it will fire electric pulses at too fast a rate, which can cause a state of distress called excitotoxicity.
CBD appears to maintain a healthy balance of calcium in nerve cells, which wards off the electrical overloads and damage that happen during seizures.
Cheer said there is also strong support that CBD reduces anxiety and stymies addiction to opioids and marijuana. It may also offer sleep benefits to patients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
But FDA approval for these treatments, other medicines like lotions and foods may take years, and “the pace of discovery has already been significantly hindered by the scheduling of the plant,” Cheer said.
Most CBD products are illegal — but only if someone is checking
So if you buy CBD…and it came from a hemp plant…and it’s pure…then you’re in the clear…right? Not quite.
Yes, purchasing CBD is federally legal as long as it doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC, but some state laws have put restrictions on buyers. For example, Virginians can only buy and possess CBD if they have a prescription.
Federal provisions have a blindspot whereby a store can sell as much CBD as it wants, as long it doesn’t make any health claims about its products…
It gets more complicated for sellers.
The FDA has prohibited the sale of CBD in any unapproved health products, dietary supplements or food — which literally means everything except for the drug Epidiolex.
The FDA can officially go after any companies selling or marketing items that make health claims about CBD, especially if those products involve interstate trade of the cannabis extract.
But the agency has limited staff for enforcement. As of this writing, the FDA has only issued warning letters to violators, though it has hinted at pursuing broader enforcement with federal and state partners if the CBD craze continues. Local law enforcement in states like Iowa, Ohio and Texas have also raided hemp and CBD stores this year.
These federal provisions, as written, also have a blindspot whereby a store can sell as much CBD as it wants, as long it doesn’t make any health claims about its products, put it in food nor add it to dietary supplements.
University of Connecticut grad student Peter Apicella works with a cannabis plant in a UConn greenhouse growing THC-free hemp. Photo by Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/TNS via Getty Images
Connecticut’s road to a hemp industry
As PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien has detailed in past reports, marijuana research has been stymied by the plant’s designation as a federally illegal drug. And until recently, the same restrictions have applied to hemp and CBD.
The 2014 Farm Bill was the first piece of national legislation to permit hemp research, both for health and agriculture pilot programs. Last year’s updated law further loosened restrictions and expanded the grants available for such studies.
Connecticut is looking to capitalize. Legislation to start the state’s industrial hemp program was passed rapidly by state officials this spring.
“It solves a lot of issues for us in the state of Connecticut by creating an industry that can be quite lucrative,” said state senator Christine Cohen, who chairs the environmental committee that reviewed the bills. “The Connecticut Farm Bureau has been predicting $37,000 to $150,000 per acre and in gross value.”
Cohen said this green rush could help dairy farmers in Connecticut and across the nation. Nearly 3,000 U.S. dairy farms folded in 2018 alone.
A spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration told the PBS NewsHour that their agency would have a limited role with these infractions. Since the Farm Bill said CBD with less than 0.3 percent THC was no longer a banned substance, it’s no longer under DEA’s purview, a spokesperson said in an email.
“It is now regulated by the FDA, so we refer you to them for this request,” the DEA spokesperson wrote. Another factor: “DEA does not pursue individual users – we focus on larger-scale operations and drug trafficking organizations,” the spokesperson added.
All of this is important for CBD sellers and consumers because the FDA has a mandate to verify the safest dosage for the chemicals that we consume or apply to our bodies — whether they be applied to drugs, food and dietary supplements — under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The rapid legalization of hemp and CBD has put the FDA in a tough position. Under its mandate, the agency must validate the safety of foods, drugs and dietary supplements. But CBD products are already flooding American stores.
Cheer and the FDA caution “against all of the off-the-shelf CBD products” because the cannabis extract — like any compound you put in your body — can come with adverse side effects.
Human studies have shown that taking CBD can cause liver problems, diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue. Rodent research also suggests CBD can cause harm to male and female reproductive organs.
When it comes to CBD in the U.S., “whatever I tell you today may change significantly a week from today,” Cheer said.
Left: Even if your CBD is pure, some federal agencies and state laws still forbid it — even in places where medical or recreational cannabis is legal. The PBS NewsHour visited the nation’s only college course for growing weed — at the University of Connecticut — to explore the science and legality behind growing hemp to make CBD. Video by Nsikan Akpan and Jamie Leventhal. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty Images)
How to buy CBD oil online: 8 tips you should know
This summer, I was a hot mess with my mental health. Though I was finally off a 3-month waiting list for therapy, anxiety and depression had consumed me and I wasn’t sure of a solution. Though I’ve dabbled with cannabis, it was for pleasure purposes only (and I was prone to collapsing into an ill-placed nap after imbibing).
I had never heard of CBD by itself, but as my mental state gradually destabilized and my therapist kept pushing me to get on medication, I figured Google could help. Truthfully, I was searching for a black-market online site to buy weed since I didn’t have a medical card in Maryland, but instead I ended up finding CBD oil retailer sites with tons of different brands and forms, and the rest is history.
If you’re in a similar place, you’ve likely stumbled upon CBD as a potential supplement, but as with most things in a consumerist world, the options are somewhat stupefying. And if you’re an anxiety-prone type like me, you’re not sure about what you’re looking for.
Fear not! Below, check out my clarifying tips for finding high-quality and truthful CBD products.
Where to begin? CBD oil exclusive websites
CBD can get quite expensive over time, and who has all the time in the world to figure out which brand site to order directly? Sure, you’ll come across lists like these that give you a breakdown of the best CBD oils—or others—for your ailment, but each of those sites are devoted to their brands exclusively.
How can you compare? What if you want to try multiple brands at once?
If you already have a favorite brand, but they don’t offer vape oil or starter sets with vaporizers, large sites enable you to combine all your needs and experiment with new brands and CBD forms (edibles, wax, for example).
Check out the CBD dedicated sites below for a variety of offerings:
Should you trust large consumer marketplaces?
But what about larger sites like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy? The truth is that yes, you can get CBD on some of these sites. In the case of Amazon and Etsy, it may be listed under “hemp extract” or “hemp oil.” There are CBD sellers on eBay, but overall, I wouldn’t bother ordering from these sites. They can simply get away with too much—including claims that could be hard to fact check.
Who wants to put in all the work of determining that you’re getting what you’re paying for? Only consider CBD items that have enough positive reviews or ratings that you can trust.
Is educational information about CBD oil available?
Educating consumers is a sure-fire way of knowing how to trust a company. Especially if they are willingly giving in-depth information to ensure the best experience—instead of prattling on about their brand or shoving a product down your throat.
A helpful site almost always answers specific questions about CBD oil, be it about dosage, how much you should order, or suggestions on how to use multiple forms of the products in your daily routine. You are always a priority, and this proves you matter more than quick profits. So keep an eye on blog pages, FAQs, and other informative sections of CBD websites.
A low-key way in which companies instill trust is by allowing a variety of reviews and responding to them. Access to information is important for navigating a CBD oil e-commerce page, so being able to read reviews gives you a window into what your experiences may be like.
For example, when my mental state was completely out of whack because of anxiety, the quickest choice for me about buying a vaporizer was a kit with the highest rating. I knew absolutely nothing about vaporizers or how much CBD content I needed in cartridges. I just knew I needed something fast and effective for relief.
I am prone to trusting the experiences of customers. If you take the time to write a review (other than the company offering you discounts), it shows how positive or negative the product truly is.
How much THC does the product contain?
In order to meet the defining qualifications of hemp, CBD products sold online must contain less than 0.3% THC. With only trace levels of THC, you shouldn’t expect to achieve any intoxicating effects, although it’s important to take note when THC is present.
Some consumers prefer CBD products that contain at least small amounts of THC. The reason, in theory, is that products containing a wider diversity of cannabinoids may be more effective, depending on your purpose for use. Others may prefer products that contain zero THC for various reasons, one of which may be fear of even trace amounts of THC registering on drug tests.
Is quick and discreet delivery provided?
What may be majorly important to you is that they stated the packages were discreet. Though I have yet to see an offer for free or discounted shipping, the assurance that I would receive my CBD vaporizer kit in 2-3 days in a discreet and unassuming package was exceptional. I got that confirmation from the customer reviews.
Thus, when your life feels like it’s teetering on the edge, assurance of quick shipping and handling is a dream come true.
Is quality customer service available?
Before I had a successful ordered from Pure CBD Vapors, I stumbled across a separate site where I had put in an immediate order without researching the brand. Once I found out more, I was appalled.
The quality of CBD from this site wasn’t great, and the company had a questionable reputation, so I hopped back online to cancel my order—and couldn’t figure out how the hell to do it.
This whole fiasco turned into a quick, confusing skirmish email confirmations and spam folder adventures—which is telling in itself. I gave their customer service a call, and though they picked up quick, the drone-like voice of their rep solidified my desire to cancel.
I didn’t run into any special trouble with the cancellation and subsequent refund, but it drove home the need for great customer service.
Needless to say, trust the reviews folks make about customer service. If the company is responding to complaints or questions about products, understand that’s going to be your treatment as well. You want to feel a warm welcome in your time of need.
Does the site make it easy to buy CBD oil?
I am a shallow woman and also an artist, so site layout and design is vital to my making a purchase. Effective layout includes clear search options—other than categorizing products according to consumption preference, I want to be able to organize my options according to pricing, popularity, rating, and ailment.
I encountered the ailment search option on just one site. This is important if you’re looking for CBD that addresses chronic pain as opposed to insomnia.
Readability shows care in user experience.
Does the company offer assistance programs?
If you’re a veteran, long-term disability recipient, low-income consumer, and/or senior citizen, sites that offer discounts are a godsend. You want a site that offers regular sale discounts and puts your email address to use with that information.
If a multi-seller platform doesn’t overtly have an assistance program, I highly recommend that you contact them directly to see what you can get. There are many CBD brands that offer discounts via their direct sites which you can find here.
How to Buy CBD Oil Online
If you’re curious about trying CBD oil, you may wonder how to go about buying it. There are many options available, including buying it locally. For many people, going to a store to buy CBD oil can be overwhelming, especially if you are unfamiliar with all of the terms and jargon associated with CBD.
For this reason, buying CBD oil online is often a better option. When you shop online, you can take your time to comparison shop, look up words that you don’t understand, and even check out lab results on the manufacturer’s website. Doing this can help to ensure that you get a safe, high quality product.
At Green Wellness Life, we deliver lab-tested, high quality CBD products, each of which is derived from industrial hemp grown right here in the United States. While the research on CBD is still in its early stages, initial research suggests that CBD is a great complementary health support for adults, children, and pets. Of course, before adding anything to your diet, it is important to consult with your doctor and get their input on how a particular product may affect you.
Ready to get started? Check out our CBD Products Buyer’s Guide! This post will explain everything that you need to know about CBD and hemp products before you make a purchase. Whether it’s your first time buying CBD or you’re a seasoned pro, we hope that you find this guide useful – and that it helps you buy exactly what you need.
CBD Basics: Facts and Benefits of CBD
CBD is short for cannabidiol. It is one of hundreds of naturally-occurring compounds found in the hemp plant, which are known as cannabinoids. Hemp is a species of the cannabis sativa plant, and although it is related to marijuana, it is a distinct plant.
So what do you need to know about CBD? Here are the basics:
- Although CBD has health and wellness benefits, you don’t need a doctor’s prescription or a medical marijuana card to buy CBD Rich Hemp oils. It is generally a good idea to talk to your doctor before adding a supplement to your diet, however – including CBD.
- While the research is still emerging, CBD is associated with a number of health benefits, including reducing the symptoms of anxiety, pain and inflammation, depression, seizures, acne, and insomnia.
- CBD is not psychoactive, and won’t make you feel high or stoned. Another cannabinoid that is found in marijuana, THC, does have that effect. CBD derived from industrial hemp grown in the U.S. contains just 0.3% THC or less, while marijuana contains as much as 30% THC.
- Hemp-derived CBD is legal in the United States and in many countries throughout the world. All CBD products sold on our website are made from industrial hemp that complies with federal law and contains no more than a trace amount (0.3%) of THC. You can also purchase THC-free CBD.
Interested in learning more? We have broken this guide up into concise sections, for your convenience. We’ve also linked you to our intro video that talks you through the questions we would ask if you were on the phone with us rather than browsing the web.
Who can take CBD?
CBD is not a medication. Instead, it is a food supplement made from the hemp plant. It is generally considered safe, with few side effects.
Whenever you add any food supplement or vitamin to your regimen, you should consult with a physician before making a change. This is especially true if you are currently taking any prescription medication, as it may interact with CBD. At Green Wellness Life, we are not doctors and cannot diagnose, treat, or cure any symptoms or conditions.
Adults, kids and pets may choose to take CBD supplements after talking to their healthcare providers. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid taking CBD, as there is not enough research to determine how it will impact the child. Otherwise, any mammal may benefit from CBD, as we all have an endocannabinoid system that may experience a boost from taking a naturally-occurring cannabinoid like CBD.
What Types of CBD Products Are Available?
When shopping for CBD oil, you need to make three main decisions. First, you will need to decide what type of CBD you want: full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate. Second, you will need to decide what form of CBD you want to take. Third, you will need to decide how much CBD you want to take per serving.
Below, we break down the differences between these types and forms of CBD, and explain CBD serving sizes.
Full-Spectrum Vs. Broad Spectrum Vs. Isolate Products
If you have started to shop for CBD, you may have seen terms like “full-spectrum” or “CBD isolate.” These terms describe what type of cannabinoid you can expect in the product, as well as the level of processing that the product has undergone.
Full-spectrum CBD products contain all of the naturally-occurring compounds, including flavonoids and terpenes, found in the hemp plant. Full-spectrum is as close as you can get to the whole plant.
One of the main benefits of choosing full-spectrum CBD is that it may produce something known as the entourage effect. We know that the various compounds found in hemp – like flavonoids and terpenes – have beneficial properties. The entourage effect is a theory, backed by some initial research, that taking all of these compounds together will result in better results, particularly for conditions like pain and inflammation.
A full-spectrum CBD product will contain all the cannabinoids that naturally occur in the hemp plant, including up to .03% THC. This trace amount of THC isn’t enough to make you high, and won’t cause you to fail a drug test. However, if you are concerned about consuming any THC, then you may want to choose a THC-free CBD product instead, like broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate.
Broad-spectrum CBD is exactly the same as full-spectrum CBD, with one important difference: all of the THC has been removed. This means that you may still get the benefits of the entourage effect and all of the other compounds found in hemp – without any risk of feeling stoned or failing a drug test.
Finally, CBD isolates contain only pure CBD extract. There are no other cannabinoids, terpenes or flavonoids in an isolate CBD product. While you won’t get the entourage effect with a CBD isolate, you can typically get a much higher serving size of CBD. Isolates are tasteless and odorless, so they are often added to topical CBD products as well as CBD edibles.
The choice between full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and CBD isolate is largely one of personal preference. While there are a number of benefits associated with taking a full-spectrum CBD, if you are drug tested at work and want to avoid even a chance of getting a false positive result, you may choose a 0% THC broad-spectrum or isolate. Full and broad-spectrum CBD oils also tend to have a stronger taste and smell, which can turn off some people. With these considerations in mind, you can make a decision that is right for you.
What Form of CBD Should I Take?
CBD comes in a number of forms, including CBD oil extracts, tinctures, capsules, inhalers, edibles and topicals. Depending on why you are taking CBD, one product may be better for you than another. For example, if you have pain and swelling in your ankle, you might choose to rub a CBD balm on that ankle rather than take a tincture orally.
CBD Type Selection Chart
- You have allergies to additives
- You’re interested in making your own CBD products
- You want a quick onset
- You want more control over serving size
- You want a quick onset
- You want to avoid earthy flavors/smells (capsules are flavorless & odorless)
- You already take daily capsules (easy to work into your routine)
- You like to snack
- You have a sweet tooth
- You want a vape alternative
- You want a quick onset
- You want targeted relief
- You want a product that will improve your skin
CBD Rich Hemp Raw Oil Extracts
Raw CBD oil is extracted directly from the hemp plant. This oil is also used to make other cannabinoid products, but is processed in some way beforehand. If you want the pure, unfiltered form of CBD, pure CBD oil is the way to go. CBD oils also tend to be a great value, since you are paying for the CBD itself, and not other ingredients or processing.
CBD oil can be extracted from the hemp plant in a number of ways. We recommend products that are CO2 extracted, as other methods can leave chemical residues. These oils are primarily sold in oral syringes that allow the customer to dispense a very small amount of product at a time.
CBD oil is placed under your tongue, which allows for fast absorption into your system. This can make it a good choice for anyone seeking quick relief of their symptoms.
There are three main types of oil:
- Raw (Green) – This is as close as you are likely going to get to the plant growing in the earth. It will be composed of cannabinoids, plant terpenes, and plant matter. It’s generally a thick paste with a small recommended starting serving size of 1-2 grains of rice grain-sized servings per day. The taste will be very earthy or grassy.
- Decarboxylated (Blue) – Decarb is just a fancy way to say “heated.” In the decarboxylation process, the raw paste is heated and some of the plant matter is filtered out. This produces a stronger concentration of CBD. The finished product will still be a paste, but likely a little thinner in texture and lighter in color. The serving size will be similar to the raw.
- Filtered (Gold) – This is the most processed of the oil extracts. All plant matter is filtered out, leaving behind a much higher concentration of cannabinoids This oil has more of a gel texture and will be gold in color with a slightly peppery taste. The serving size will once again be 1-2 grains of rice-sized servings per day, or as directed by your physician.
CBD tinctures are a more palatable or tastier way to consume CBD oil. They are made by adding emulsifiers, a carrier oil and flavorings to the CBD oil. In some products, a sweetener is added to the mix. The resulting tincture is packaged with a dropper or spray top to make it easy to use.
CBD tinctures are a great starter product for new users. They are also a good option for anyone who doesn’t enjoy the earthier or grassier flavor of raw CBD oil. Some flavors, like spearmint and orange, will mask the hemp flavor, while others, like vanilla, will complement it.
CBD capsules offer the same benefits as raw CBD oil or CBD tinctures, but are much easier for many people to take. With a CBD capsule, you are getting a measured serving size of CBD. Because the oil is encapsulated or contained in a softgel, you also won’t have to deal with a taste that you may find unpleasant.
CBD edibles are exactly what they sound like: a food product that contains CBD. To make an edible, a manufacturer starts with a raw or decarb CBD oil, and then adds it to foods like chocolate, hard candy, gummies, or even teas and coffee. This is a good way to “sneak” cannabinoids into your diet in a fun way. CBD edibles can be delicious (the Koi gummies are so good!), but because they are more processed than other forms of CBD and contain lower amounts of CBD per serving size, they are not particularly cost-effective.
CBD / Hemp Topicals
Cannabinoids like CBD have been shown to help with a range of skin conditions, from acne to itchy bug bites. Although CBD oil can be used directly on the skin, it is generally more effective to use a specifically formulated topical that uses carrier compounds and ingredients that will allow the cannabinoids to soak into the skin more quickly. These topical balms, creams, and lotions often have a great scent or smoother texture, and are great for targeted pain or itch relief.
CBD for Pets
Hemp oil treatments aren’t only beneficial to humans. Any mammal may benefit from taking CBD, as our bodies all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Taking plant-based cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, may help our bodies – and those of our pets – in balance and alleviate certain symptoms. Many families have successfully used these tailored products for treating pain, stress, anxiety, and other symptoms in their pets.
What Serving Size Is Right for Me?
When shopping for CBD, you may notice that the bottle or package lists a total amount of CBD in the package. For some products, like CBD capsules or edibles, it may also list a specific amount of CBD per serving size. Otherwise, you can do some quick math to divide the total amount of CBD in the package by the unit of measure.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all serving size for CBD products, as each person is unique and may be affected in different ways by CBD. The best way to figure out a serving size that is right for you is to consult with your doctor.
Otherwise, you should start with a small amount (such as 10 to 15 milligrams, or mg, per day) and see how it makes you feel. Over time, you can gradually increase the amount of CBD that you take daily by 5 to 10 mg. When you find a serving size that seems to work well for you, continue taking that amount.
What about THC?
As noted above, some types of CBD may contain trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That is because hemp and marijuana are both part of the cannabis sativa family of plants. Under federal law, hemp may contain as much as 0.3% THC.
If you want to avoid THC entirely, you should choose a broad-spectrum or CBD isolate product. They may also be labeled THC-free or 0% THC. Keep in mind that the miniscule amount of THC found in hemp won’t make you feel high – and it is perfectly legal.
However, if a product contains more than 0.3% THC, it is considered marijuana, and is illegal under federal law. It may also be illegal in states that have not legalized the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Currently, a number of states make it illegal to use or buy marijuana. In the below-listed states, only CBD is legal:
- South Carolina
Keep in mind that in many U.S. states, marijuana has only been legalized for medical use. If you live in any of the states where marijuana is completely illegal or only legal for medicinal use, it’s important to make sure the THC content of the products you’re purchasing are below .3%. Even if marijuana is legal in your state, it’s generally beneficial to purchase products with low levels of THC so that you get all of the benefits of CBD without having an altered mental state.
Is CBD Oil The Same As Hemp Seed Oil?
As you shop for CBD products, it’s also important to understand that CBD oil is not the same as hemp seed oil (which is sometimes labeled hemp oil). CBD oil is extracted from the leaves, stems, bud, and flower of the plant. Hemp seed oil is extracted by cold pressing hemp seeds.
There are a lot of health benefits associated with hemp seed oil and products made from hemp seeds. Hemp seed oil is rich in omega fatty acids, vitamin E, and protein, so it is incredibly nourishing and works well as a topical. However, hemp seed oil contains little to no CBD. This means that you won’t get the benefits associated specifically with CBD if you purchase hemp seed oil.
On some websites, sellers will label CBD products as hemp seed oil or hemp extract oil to get around rules that prohibit the sale of CBD. This type of dishonest labeling doesn’t allow you to be exactly sure of what you’re getting – and should be avoided whenever possible.
How to Shop for Safe, High Quality CBD Online
These days, you can buy CBD almost anywhere – but that doesn’t mean that you should. Not every brick-and-mortar shop that sells CBD products knows what they’re doing. And far too many online marketplaces are simply untrustworthy.
Here is the secret that many of these stores won’t tell you: CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA. As a result, there isn’t a good way to quickly or easily figure out exactly what you’re buying. The only way to make sure that you are getting what you pay for (and nothing else) is to view testing results from an independent laboratory.
Below, we’ll break down the various places you can buy CBD – and whether it’s a good idea to purchase CBD from those physical or online locations.
Large Consumer Marketplaces
Let’s face it: it is way too easy to buy something from large online consumer marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. These sites have just about everything that you could need or want, although (as many of us have learned firsthand), they don’t always have the highest quality items. It isn’t surprising, then, that these websites aren’t the best place to purchase CBD products.
In fact, sellers are prohibited from selling CBD on both Amazon and ebay. Despite this restriction, many sellers have found a workaround: labeling products as hemp oil or hemp extract instead of using the word CBD. This can make it incredibly hard to know what your getting, and whether it is a quality product.
Hemp products on Amazon and Ebay are marked up at a premium, so you’ll actually receive better value products shopping elsewhere and you’ll have an easier time validating that you’re receiving a safe product.
CBD Sites That Make Big Promises
There are any number of online sites selling CBD. Many of them make outlandish promises about what CBD can do for you, or how it can cure certain conditions. You should avoid these companies at all costs.
The reality is that while the preliminary research on CBD is incredibly positive, we still have a lot to learn about cannabidiol. If a company is promoting CBD as a cure-all, it’s a good sign that you should exit out of it immediately and find a site that focuses on the science. At Green Wellness Life, we are excited about all of the promise that CBD holds – but we also know that the science is still emerging in this field. Our goal is to give you the research and information so that you can make an informed decision in conjunction with your doctor about whether CBD is right for you.
So How Can I Tell If a Store Is Trustworthy?
After reading the above, you may think that buying CBD is more trouble than it’s worth, with potential minefields everywhere. It doesn’t have to be that hard. There is a relatively easy way to buy safe, high-quality CBD online without worrying that you are being scammed or sold a bill of goods.
Want to know if a store or website can be trusted? Below are some factors to consider.
Does the store or site publicly post lab test results for their products, or provide them on request?
As noted above, CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA. This means that it can be hard to know exactly what you’re getting when you purchase a CBD product. The only way to know for sure is to review lab results.
Cannabis plants readily absorb heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals. During the extraction process, traces of harmful chemicals may also be left behind. Lab results allow you to see for yourself if the product you’re buying contains anything that you don’t want.
Results from an independent lab will also tell you exactly how much CBD and THC are contained in a particular product. It’s easy enough for companies to make big promises about what is in their CBD – but they can’t fake third party laboratory testing. If a store or website doesn’t offer or make these results available, avoid buying CBD from them.
How is the CBD in the products sourced?
CBD is legal in the United States – provided that it contains 0.3% THC or less. The best way to make sure that you are consuming legal CBD that has just a trace amount of CBD is to only purchase products that are made from industrial hemp grown in the United States. It’s also a good way to avoid potential contaminants that may be in the soil where hemp is grown in countries with less stringent environmental standards.
Does the site or store make big promises that it can’t keep?
CBD seems pretty miraculous to us at Green Wellness Life, but we are aware that the science on CBD is still emerging. Our team is happy to offer you information about our own experiences with CBD and links to the latest research – but we will never make wild claims about CBD being a cure-all.
If a site or a store does make these types of claims, you should avoid them. Yes, CBD has a lot of potential benefits – but if a company is claiming more than what the research has proved, it’s a major red flag.
What types of reviews does the store or site have?
In addition to looking for test results, make sure to read reviews for both the company and the product. Reviews provide complete transparency from real customers who have purchased in the past. If a company is taking the time to respond to complaints or questions on their reviews, it’s a good sign you’ll receive the same level of service and attention in your time of need.
Does the site or store offer resources for you to learn more?
CBD is relatively new in the U.S. marketplace. Companies that specialize in CBD tend to have a lot more knowledge about CBD than the average American – and should be willing to share that insight. After all, a reputable store or site would want you to make an informed decision about whether CBD is right for you, rather than enticing you to buy something that might not be the best choice for your particular situation.
Check to see if the company has a blog or resource section. If a company is willing to provide in-depth information on CBD and CBD products online, they are committed to keeping their consumers informed and making education a priority. Does the shop regularly post and update information? Do they provide relevant and authoritative sources for the information that they cite? If the answer is yes to both of these questions, and they also have reviews and lab results check out, then you’ve likely stumbled upon a trustworthy company.
Finding a Great CBD Brand
When shopping online for CBD on a trustworthy site, there are a few things that you should pay attention to when it comes to the brands that you buy. Specifically, pay close attention to how the hemp is sourced and cultivated and the method of extraction used.
Sourcing & Cultivation Details
A key factor in deciding what CBD product to buy is learning where the hemp used to make it was grown. Research the brand you’re considering buying from and see if you can find where their hemp is sourced from. Many reputable product manufacturers will include this information on their website. As an example, below is a statement from Medterra’s website:
If the CBD oil is made from homegrown, American hemp, then it’s coming from a regulated source. This means that your product will contain substantial levels of CBD and safe levels of THC.
On top of sourcing, you’ll also want to evaluate extraction methods. There are several different ways to extract CBD from cannabis. Extraction via the CO2 method is by far the safest way to extract CBD, because CBD and other ingredients are extracted using high-pressure carbon dioxide gas rather than chemical solvents. Extraction via CO2 removes possible solvents and harmful contaminants from the oil. The end result is a product that is pure and potent.
Extraction methods aren’t as readily available online, but if you contact the company you’re interested in buying from, they may be able to provide you with these details. The extraction method is sometimes also listed on the product label.
Products To Avoid At All Costs
First and foremost, unlike prescription drugs, CBD products cannot make health claims. Even claims for minor conditions like relief for migraines would be illegal. The more dramatic a health claim is, the more skeptical you should be. Products that claim to cure things like cancer or heart disease should definitely be approached with skepticism, as there currently isn’t enough medical research or testing to back those claims.
The FDA has cracked down on dozens of companies making sweeping health claims, but dozens more may still exist. As previously mentioned, if lab test results aren’t available, you should not purchase the product. You do not want to risk consuming heavy metals, pesticides, or other harmful chemicals.
It’s also recommended that you avoid purchasing CBD products at general stores like gas stations, beauty salons, and grocery stores. These stores are not experts in CBD and may not necessarily be selling trustworthy products. It’s highly encouraged that you purchase CBD products from a store that exclusively focuses on selling CBD products. These stores have dedicated their time and effort to research their brands and carefully select which products they sell. They know their products inside and out and they’ll be able to appropriately answer any questions you may have.
Legitimate & Trusted CBD Brands
There are SO many CBD brands out there! We carry only those that we have tried ourselves, and had tested at a third party lab. We want to make sure that all the good things (like an accurate amount of cannabinoids) are in there! And that all the not so good things (like psychotropic compounds, heavy metals, and pesticides) are not there. We also choose to work with those companies that service their customers just as we do. Here are some of our favorite (and best selling!) brands: