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CBD Buyers Guide: How to Find Quality, Effective Products & Avoid the Junk

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If you're new to CBD, setting out to make your first purchase can be a daunting task. Today there are a large number of brands and products on the market and it can be hard to choose. In this article, we guide you through the process of finding a reputable brand selling quality products that meet your needs.

By the end of the article, you'll be an expert CBD shopper. You'll be able to help yourself and anyone you know choose high-quality, highly effective products.

Understanding Full-Spectrum, Broad-Spectrum, & CBD Isolate

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What makes CBD products special is the inclusion of an extract derived from hemp that contains special chemical compounds found in cannabis. Not all products contain the same compounds, however, which is why it's important to understand the difference between them.

The different product types are defined using some standard labels called spectrums. These labels define the chemical makeup of the hemp extraction used in a product. Specifically, these spectrums are used to describe the cannabinoid and terpene content:

Full Spectrum CBD Oil

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Also known as whole-plant extracts, full-spectrum products contain a wide range of cannabinoids and terpenes sourced from the original hemp plant. These products are known to offer the maximum potential therapeutic benefits as they contain the widest range of compounds available.

The issue with full-spectrum products for many is the presence of THC. While the THC levels are so slight that they won't get you high, they can still be an issue for those who are drug tested. Regular use of a full spectrum product can put you at risk of failing a test even though there are no psychoactive effects.

If you're not at risk of being tested and are comfortable consuming small amounts of THC, then a full spectrum product is a great choice, otherwise, you'll need to seek out an alternative spectrum.

Broad Spectrum CBD Oil

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As an answer to the THC issue with full-spectrum products, advances in hemp oil processing has resulted in the newest spectrum on the market: broad-spectrum.

These products contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the original hemp material. Through additional processing, all detectable amounts of THC are removed. The result is a product retaining the nearly complete therapeutic potential of a full spectrum product in an accessible THC-free form.

For the many who cannot or do not wish to consume THC, broad-spectrum is the ideal choice. This spectrum is considered superior to CBD isolate which was the only THC-free option on the market until broad-spectrum production technologies came online.

CBD Isolate

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CBD isolate is created by processing a hemp extract to remove all plant material and compounds except CBD. The resulting crystalline material is an isolated form of the single cannabidiol molecule. Isolates can contain up to 99% concentrated cannabidiol and are versatile in their use despite their limited therapeutic profile.

Before broad-spectrum products were introduced to the market, CBD isolate was the only THC-free option. Unfortunately, by stripping all the terpenes and cannabinoids, isolates don't take advantage of the entourage effect. As a result, these products require a higher and more specific dose to be effective when compared to full or broad-spectrum.

How to Choose Your Preferred Spectrum

As you browse the market you'll universally run into the three spectrums we outline above. Reputable brands will label the product spectrum clearly and back up these claims by providing lab reports that confirm the spectrum.

To make things simple, here is our advice for choosing the right spectrum for your needs:

  • If you're not concerned with THC consumption, choose a full spectrum or broad-spectrum product.
  • If you cannot or do not wish to consume THC, choose a broad-spectrum product.
  • Avoid CBD isolate based products when full or broad spectrum alternatives exist unless you're looking to use isolate for it's special uses like dabbing.

For a more in-depth look at product spectrums and example lab reports, head over to our article on hemp extracts which covers the topic top to bottom.

Choosing the Right Type of CBD Product

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Choosing the right type of product is important because the different methods of ingesting CBD have different levels of effectiveness, therapeutic properties, onset times, and durations. Below are the most popular major categories of products available today:

  • Consumables - This is the most popular type of CBD product on the market and usually our recommended place to start. You'll find the two most popular product types here: capsules and tinctures. These products work on a system level, impacting your whole body and mind through their internal application.
  • Topicals - For those with localized issues like sore muscles or skin issues, topicals are the go-to. You'll find CBD included in basic topicals like balms, or in all kinds of beauty products like moisturizers, masks, bath bombs, and patches.
  • Smoked / Vape - These products also work internally like consumables, but because you're inhaling the CBD and other cannabis compounds, they come on quickly and don't last quite as long as consumables do.
  • Pet Products - Like us, pets like dogs and cats can benefit from CBD use.
  • Specialized Products - The last group of products contains anything that doesn't fit in the above categories. You'll find unique products like energy drinks here, but also wild products like CBD infused pillowcases. We don't recommend starting in this category for the average user because the types of products and the effectiveness of those products vary widely.

Consider Emulsified / Water Soluble Products for Effectiveness & Value

One important factor to consider when shopping by product type is if the product is 'water-soluble'. This term is often used to refer to products that utilize a nanoemulsion or liposomal delivery method. For products that are swallowed, they offer superior onset times and overall effectiveness when compared to oil-based products.

As an example, when traditional oil-based capsules are swallowed, as little as 10% of the hemp extract actually becomes active in the body. Most of the active compounds are flushed from the body.

Graphic comparing oil, liposomal microemulsion and nano-sized microemulsions

When a process like nanoemulsion is applied to a help extract, the oil is broken into tiny particles, increasing surface area which helps aide absorption into the body. In the case of nanoemulsions, this can result in up to a 5x increase in absorption in the body. As a result, the onset times and effectiveness of ingested products increase, making them much more effective.

If you're planning on swallowing CBD, we highly recommend looking for a water-soluble product.

How to Select a High Quality, Reputable CBD Brand

Now that you know which spectrum and type of product will suit you, it's time to choose a quality brand that carries what you're after. The CBD market is booming and lacking regulation which makes the quality of brands vary widely.

As a new consumer, this makes picking the right brand very important. The guidelines below will help you identify when a company is doing things right:

Company Appearance

The first step in reviewing a business you're considering purchasing from is to look at the following aspects of their company:

  • Location - A company should provide the location that they operate from.
  • Contact Methods - You should be easily able to get ahold of a company via contact methods like phone and email with questions or concerns and receive a timely response.
  • Company Photos - A good, easy to use website makes for a great shopping experience, but look closely. Reputable companies will post photos of their staff etc. Running across a site with all stock photos should raise a red flag.

Hemp Sourcing & Extraction

Hemp Appearance

You'll want to be sure that the company discloses information about where they source their CBD. Every product starts with hemp, so the source plant material needs to be free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, molds, and other contaminants. This, coupled with high-quality, professional extraction will result in a clean, pure end product.

Reputable companies will publicly provide the following information about their hemp source and manufacturing:

  • Grow Location - Where in the world was the hemp grown? Generally speaking, domestic or locally grown hemp is best.
  • Growing Practices - Top companies are sourcing organically grown, GMO-free, pesticide-free hemp.
  • Extraction Method(s) - Look for CO2 and ethanol extraction with purity confirmed via lab testing.
  • Manufacturing Processes - Top manufacturers are producing in GMP compliant facilities.

Lab Reporting

CBD Testing in a Lab

Transparency is the key to trust and in the CBD industry, lab reports are the ultimate form of transparency. These screenings provide you a glimpse into the product and will help you confirm it's potency and purity:

  • Are Lab Reports Provided? - It has become standard practice to publish lab reports for CBD products, so if you can't find them, it's suggested to move on.
  • What Screenings are Provided? - There are many different tests that can be performed on a given sample. These screenings test for the presence of different compounds. You'll find screenings for cannabinoid potency, terpene potency, pesticide, heavy metal, mycotoxin screenings, and more. As a consumer, a fully screened product is always a better option than a partially screened one.
  • Are Labs at the Batch Level? - As a consumer, you should be able to find a lab report for the specific product you're consuming. In order to do this, leading companies will provide batch level reports so you can match up your product to a specific lab.

For more information on the topic, see our article on why CBD lab reports are important and how to read them.

Reviews & Recommendations

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If you've found a brand that passes the above audit, then you're probably good to go. You can take it a step further though, and look for validation from others that your choice is a good one. Look for product and brand reviews posted on independent, reputable sources that confirm your choices.

Find a Fairly Priced, High-Value Product

Effective Price Per Milligram Bang

The lack of regulation and unstable start to the CBD industry caused a lack of consistency in price and quality in the early days. As time has moved on, things are beginning to stabilize, but there are still good and bad deals out there to watch out for.

When shopping for CBD, you'll want to know how to calculate the price per mg of CBD content in a product. This is a measure that allows you to compare how much you will spend per milligram of CBD from one product to the next. You'll need to know:

  1. The price of a product
  2. The total CBD content in the product

Once you have these two pieces of information, simply take the price and divide it by the total CBD content of a given product:

Product Price / CBD Content in MG = Price Per Milligram of CBD Content 

For example, let's use our 1500mg CBD Tincture which sells for $99.95. Using the price per mg equation we calculate the following:

$99.95 / 1500 mg = $0.07 price per mg of CBD content

Easy right? All you need to do is use this simple equation as you shop, comparing the price per milligram of CBD of the products you're considering. Generally, anything less than $0.10 / mg of CBD is a good deal, but it does vary by product type. We've broken things down even further in our article on the cost of CBD.

Watch Out for These Red Flags

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Knowing what to avoid can be just as important as knowing what to look for. Here are some warning signs to look out for when you shop for CBD:

  • No lab reports - We covered it above in-depth, but it's worth mentioning again that lab reports are standard today. There are too many great companies providing lab reports that it just simply isn't a smart move to buy from one who doesn't.
  • Aggressive medical benefit claims - Companies using aggressive disease-specific cure-all claims should be scrutinized extremely carefully as this is often a sign of a scam or spam.
  • Free sample scams - There are many reported scams companies out there that use free samples to grab customer payment information and then re-bill. Beware of any company offering free samples and search around the web for specific reports if you find one.
  • MLM programs - The supplement industry, in general, has a tendency to attract multi-level marketing companies. There are a few well known in the CBD space. While these companies may offer fantastic products and pass the full audit above, they should be approached cautiously. Ensure that the seller has your best interests in mind.
  • Reports of synthetic products - There have been a number of companies that have been caught selling synthetic knockoffs. These products can be toxic to your health and should be avoided. Though auditing a company using our above guidelines will knock out most if not all of these offenders, it can still be worth looking around the web for reports if you're worried - most of the offenders are reported and shut down, but some continue to operate.

How to Buy CBD Locally

While buying from your neighborhood CBD retailer is a great way to stimulate the local economy, it can be a tricky thing to navigate when it comes to CBD. Shopping on the web directly from a brand offers the benefit of allowing for close investigation without feeling pressured. If you choose to shop locally, be sure you do your due diligence.

We suggest choosing a retailer that is trusted and known for providing quality products and recognizable brands. Ask questions and request lab reports for the products you're interested in, and just like when shopping online, if something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to pass.


Congrats on making it to the end of this lengthy guide. You should now have a complete understanding of why and how to choose a great CBD brand. Please don't hesitate to share this information with those you know! You can also find this same information in a condensed PDF format here which you can print for reference and share as you wish.

Here at Big Sky Botanicals, we strive to operate a business that we feel meets and exceeds these guidelines. We hope you'll consider shopping with us!

4 comments on “CBD Buyers Guide: How to Find Quality, Effective Products & Avoid the Junk

  • Jenn says:

    I recently started working at a local health food store where we sell CBD. I am so grateful to have found your website to educate myself so I can better help our customers. Thank you!
    In regards to your response to Pat above, if I see ingredients like MCT/coconut/other oil on an ingredient panel, does that mean the product went through lipid extraction rather than CO2/ethanol extraction?
    And I notice some ingredient panels list "hemp oil." Is that totally different than CBD oil? Is there CBD in "hemp oil"?
    Thank you so much!

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      Hello Jenn - Carrier oils like MCT/coconut etc are not indicative of the extraction method and are found in CO2/ethanol extracted products. These are added to CBD products to help the compounds in the extract absorb in the body and are often combined with the extract after extraction is complete. As for hemp oil as an ingredient, it's a broad term and needs further clarification to determine exactly what is in the product. Rather than explain that all here, I'll direct you to this article which explains the topic in-depth:

      Thank you for the kind words and I am glad our educational resources are helpful!

  • Pat says:

    Is there a major quality difference in Co2 extraction vs. Lipid? Very few use the latter but they do show 3rd party testing and lab results. Pricing is very reasonable because they claim the Co2 equipment is expensive. I have seen articles from Project CBD on extractions and they did not downplay Lipid method just said it's not used by most. What's your thoughts please.

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      Hi Pat - Lipid extraction pulls the compounds from hemp biomass into oils like MCT or veggie as a solution directly. CO2 and ethanol pull the extract as crude oil without additional lipids. As you mention, lipid extraction can produce clean extracts and some companies do use it. It is less proven than methods like CO2/ethanol and thus may be harder to produce at scale. Additionally, there may be issues around shelf life and further processing required to separate out the lipid source if you'd like to do anything other than an oil-based product with the extract. I'd agree with ProjectCBD and wouldn't downplay it, but those are some of the reasons why you're not seeing it as widely utilized as other methods. As you've done - regardless of extraction - always check the labs to verify the extract is potent, pure, and clean of residuals.

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