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How do you know if your CBD oil is real or fake?

With so many CBD products on the market nowadays, it can be hard to know if the CBD you’re buying is real or fake. As the benefits of CBD are being talked about more in mainstream society, and with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing CBD products made from the industrial hemp plant, CBD oil has become so ubiquitous you might have even seen it for sale in gas stations!


Since there is currently no regulating body governing the sale of CBD products, the market has found itself filled with products claiming to contain CBD - but that’s not always the truth. Since 2015, the FDA has issued warning letters to over 60 companies fraudulently misrepresenting the amount of CBD in their products.(1) Similarly, Leafly tested 47 CBD products and found an acceptable variation in dosage in only 51% of the products tested. That means nearly half of the products tested had dosages outside of a 20% variance of the labelled dosage.(2) Some even had zero CBD, despite claiming that their products contained it.


How do you know if your cbd oil is real or fake?

So, when it comes to buying a CBD product, how can you make sure you’re getting the real thing? Here are some key things to look out for when you want to be sure that your CBD product is legitimate. Read on to learn more!


Certificate of Analysis (COA)

The Certificate of Analysis (COA) is one of the most important ways to evaluate a CBD product. A COA is an authenticated document issued by an independent laboratory that tests cannabis products for potency and purity. It reports on the composition of the CBD product, including the cannabinoids present, and their amounts. The company you’re purchasing a CBD product from should have the certificate of analysis readily available on their website, or by request. If they don’t, you may want to consider shopping elsewhere.


What to look for in a COA for CBD

The COA can contain a lot of information and it might seem overwhelming. Here are some important things to look out for in the document:



1. Third-party Lab

The name and contact information for the laboratory that tested the product should be easy to find. You’ll often see it in the header or footer of the report.

The lab should also have an identification number from a trusted accreditation body. This ensures that the lab in question follows certain standards, such as quality control and assurance measures. Accreditation bodies vary from state to state. In Oregon, cannabis testing laboratories must be both accredited by ORELAP and licenced by OLCC.

Why is it important for a COA to be from a third-party lab? In order to get an unbiased analysis of the CBD product, there needs to be no conflict of interest. If the people testing the product are the same people selling it (or are closely connected), they may be tempted to falsify test results.

If you're questioning the legitimacy of the lab or product, do your due diligence and trust your gut. You may want to visit the lab’s website or even give them a call to answer any questions you have.


2. Report Dates

The report should include the date the sample was received, the date the report was created, and the date the report expires.


3. Sample Information

The report should clearly state what the sample is (e.g. strain of hemp), the type of sample tested (e.g. flower or extract) and have a sample ID. This sample ID is used by the laboratory to track and retain the sample for at least one year, for the purposes of retesting should the product’s safety be questioned.


4. Amount of CBD and THC

The main values to look for are the percentages of total THC and CBD. They should be clear and easy to find.

In order for CBD to be legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, the hemp plant used to make a CBD product must contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC.(3) Since THCa is a precursor to delta-9 THC, and when heated, has a maximum theoretical THC conversation rate of 87.7%, labs will often report the total THC amount by multiplying the THCa concentration by 0.877 and adding the delta-9 THC amount.

You may notice that the units for reporting concentrations of CBD and THC vary by laboratory and by the sample provided. You will often see either mg/g or mg/mL depending on if the sample was solid or liquid. Additionally, the report may contain a more detailed breakdown of the cannabinoids present, including CBG, CBN, CBC and others.


5. Quality Control Data

In analytical chemistry, blanks, duplicates and spikes are used as quality control measures. These are essential for accurate test results, and no reputable lab will report data without them.


Blank: A blank is a sample that is treated the same as all the others, but contains nothing else. Blanks identify any contamination in the testing process. If a blank showed that it contained CBD, the results for the rest of the samples would not be trustworthy and the test would need to be repeated.

Duplicate: A duplicate sample is just like it sounds. Duplicates are used to determine the variance of the testing method; we expect the results for duplicates to be nearly identical.

Spike: A spike is a sample of a known concentration. Spikes are used to assess the performance of the measurement method and calibrate results by relating the measured amount to the known concentration of the spike. Spikes are used in both the sample material and blanks.

Laboratory Control Sample: A lab control sample (LCS) refers to a sample similar to a blank, but with a spike added.


6. Signature

Each report should contain the signature from a member of the laboratory, usually the director or manager of the lab. This shows that a specific human being is accountable for the test results.


7. Extras

Some COAs may include additional tests, depending on the farm growing the hemp and the process they use to manufacture the CBD product.


a) Pesticides

Pesticides are commonly used in agriculture to prevent, destroy or repel pests such as insects, rodents, fungi, weeds and other pests that may interfere with the growth of a crop. Many pesticides are legal to use, and are deemed to be safe at low levels. However, a number of recalls of cannabis due to pesticide contamination have highlighted the necessity of this testing.(4)

On a COA you’ll see results for pesticides with the safe limit of pesticide, usually in ppm (parts per million), and the “LOQ” which stands for Limit of Quantification beside the name of the pesticide tested for (called the analyte). A value below the LOQ means that the amount present (if any) is below the amount the analysis is able to detect. All pesticide results must show less than the listed safe limit in order to pass the tests.

Even a farm with certified organic practices should test for pesticides because it’s possible for pesticides used by nearby farms to drift over to the organic farmer’s crops.


b) Heavy Metals

The term heavy metal refers to metals with high densities or atomic weights - lead is a commonly known and toxic heavy metal. Other toxic heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium and mercury. These metals can interfere with how our bodies function and cause serious illness. The cannabis plant is remarkably effective at absorbing heavy metals from the soil, so testing to ensure the plants are free from harmful quantities of heavy metals is very important.

The COA will show the metal tested (called the analyte), the LOQ, the safe limit and whether the sample passed or failed the test. You should see results for all four heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury) in the COA.


c) Microbes - Bacteria, Molds and Fungi

When purchasing cannabis flower, seeing a COA is important because the inhalation of certain microbiological contaminants can cause infections, especially in immunocompromised people, as well as trigger allergies and asthma.(5) The COA will show the number of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) per gram for each microbe tested and list the safe limit.

For CBD oil, some extraction methods (such as ethanol extraction) may also serve as sterilization methods so microbes do not survive the extraction process. In Oregon, testing for microbiological contaminants is only required when requested by the Oregon Health Authority or Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Many producers selling oil only and using a sterilizing extraction method may not test for these microbes.


d) Residual Solvents

Solvents are substances that dissolve a solute. In the case of ethanol extraction for CBD, ethanol is the solvent and CBD is the solute. The process of extracting CBD from cannabis involves using a solvent of some sort to separate CBD from the plant material and then removing the solvent to leave purified CBD behind. Any remaining solvent is considered residual.

The health impact of residual solvents is dependent on the type of solvent used. The FDA lists ethanol as a Class 3 solvent, which is considered to be less toxic and of lower risk to human health than Class 1 and 2 solvents.(6) Class 1 and 2 solvents include benzene and butane, respectively. These solvents pose greater risk to human health, and if the extraction method uses them, residual solvents should be tested for.

The testing requirements for residual solvents vary by state. In Oregon, residual solvent testing for ethanol extracted CBD is not required.(7) If residual solvents are tested for, the COA should display the residual solvent(s) tested, the amounts present, the LOQ and the safe limit.


Natural vs Synthetic CBD

Cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), are naturally occurring compounds found in the hemp plant, and within our own biology (produced through the endocannabinoid system). Research has shown that these natural cannabinoids boast a number of positive health properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-seizure, anti-cancer, and anxiolytic (meaning they reduce anxiety) properties.

While cannabidiol can be synthesized in a lab, doing so means that it will lack the other cannabinoids, phytochemicals and terpenes from the hemp plant that contribute to the benefits of full spectrum CBD oil. In fact, a 2018 systematic review article found greater improvement, fewer adverse reactions and lower doses needed when patients with epilepsy were treated with CBD-rich cannabis extracts, such as full spectrum CBD oil, compared to purified CBD.(8)


CBD Product Labels

If you’re looking at a product labelled “Hemp Oil” and it claims to contain a specific amount of CBD, be skeptical. A reputable CBD producer will not be coy about their product by hiding behind the term “Hemp”. Usually, Hemp Oil refers to oil made from hemp seeds, which contain miniscule amounts of cannabinoids.(9) Learn more about the differences between hemp seed oil and CBD oil here.

Likewise, be wary if a product is boasting tens of thousands of milligrams of CBD in their product. Typically the total amount of CBD in the product is listed and will reflect doses ranging from 20 to 50 mg per mL. Meaning a 2 oz bottle of CBD oil containing a total of 1800 mg CBD has a dose of about 30 mg CBD/mL. This potency is to allow for gradual increases in doses, remember the motto for dosing with CBD oil is always “start low and go slow”.


Type of Container

An easy way to spot an untrustworthy CBD oil product is if it comes in a clear container. Cannabinoids, terpenes and phytochemicals are sensitive to light and oxidation, meaning that they can degrade over time when exposed to air and light.(10) Containers for CBD products should be dark and air-tight in order to promote longevity of the product. A reputable supplier will ensure that their product is protected by using an amber glass bottle or opaque plastic one.


Type of CBD Product

According to Leafly’s testing on 47 products in 2019, CBD tinctures were the most reliable in delivering the dose promised on the label. Edibles were the next most consistent in actual dosage. CBD water on the other hand, was found to not contain any CBD. Perhaps surprisingly, only 1 out of 4 capsule products tested contained a CBD dosage within 20% of the amount claimed on the label. So when you’re looking to buy real CBD products, consider oils, tinctures and edibles over CBD infused drinks and capsules.


CBD Dosage

If, after reading the tips above, you believe you have real CBD oil but still don’t “feel” anything, you may not have found the right dosage yet. Experiment by gradually increasing the dosage by 5-10 mg at a time and checking in with yourself 1-2 hours after taking it to note any changes.


Takeaway

There are some basic things to look for when you want to know if your CBD oil is real or fake. If an oil claims to contain CBD but is labelled as hemp oil, it is likely not real. If the quantity of CBD is in the order of tens of thousands of milligrams, be skeptical. If the container is clear, don’t trust the product inside. Finally, look for a COA from a third-party lab either on the product page itself or on the supplier’s website.


If you'd like to check out Blue Sky Oregon CBD's Certificates of Analysis, they can be found here.


References

  1. Office of the Commissioner. (2021). Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/warning-letters-and-test-results-cannabidiol-related-products

  2. Barcott, B. (2019, November 19). Are you getting the CBD you paid for? We put 47 products to the test | Leafly. https://www.leafly.com/news/strains-products/cbd-oil-test-results

  3. Office of the Commissioner. (2021). FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products: Q&A. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd#farmbill

  4. Oregon Liquor Control Commission. (2020). News Release OLCC Recalls Contaminated Marijuana Products Sold into Recreational Market. https://www.oregon.gov/olcc/Docs/news/news_releases/2021/nr_010621_MJ_PR_Medical_Marijuana_Recall.pdf

  5. McPartland, J., & McKernan, K. (2017, May 23). Contaminants of Concern in Cannabis: Microbes, Heavy Metals and Pesticides. Cannabis sativa L. - Botany and Biotechnology (pp.457-474). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318020615_Contaminants_of_Concern_in_Cannabis_Microbes_Heavy_Metals_and_Pesticides

  6. Q3C -Tables and List Guidance for Industry. (2017). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), and Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).

  7. Barcott, B. (2019, November 19). Are you getting the CBD you paid for? We put 47 products to the test | Leafly. https://www.leafly.com/news/strains-products/cbd-oil-test-results

  8. Pamplona, F. A., da Silva, L. R., & Coan, A. C. (2018). Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2018.00759

  9. Citti, C., Linciano, P., Panseri, S., Vezzalini, F., Forni, F., Vandelli, M. A., & Cannazza, G. (2019). Cannabinoid Profiling of Hemp Seed Oil by Liquid Chromatography Coupled to High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2019.00120

  10. Fraguas-Sánchez, A. I., Fernández-Carballido, A., Martin-Sabroso, C., & Torres-Suárez, A. I. (2020). Stability characteristics of cannabidiol for the design of pharmacological, biochemical and pharmaceutical studies. Journal of Chromatography B, 1150, 122188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchromb.2020.122188


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