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

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Are you new to CBD oil looking for your first product? Maybe you're seeking relief from soreness, maybe you just want to improve the quality of your sleep, or maybe something different altogether. Have you tried a CBD product in the past, but found it did not meet your needs?

Regardless of your situation, if you've identified that CBD is something that could positively impact your life, the critical next step is to set out and find a quality supplier that crafts products that most effectively meets your needs.

In this article, we guide you through the process of finding a reputable brand selling quality products that meet your needs. We will walk through some basic CBD information, how to select a quality high-value brand and some things to avoid along the way.

By the end of the article, you'll be a CBD expert, ready to navigate your way through any CBD shopping experience you're faced with. You'll be on your way to helping yourself and anyone you know to choose high-quality, highly effective products. Let's get started!

Step 1: Understand CBD Product Spectrums

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What makes CBD products special is the inclusion of an extract derived from hemp that contains special chemical compounds that originate in the cannabis plant.

Unfortunately, oversimplification has led many people to incorrectly believe that all CBD products contain the same hemp-derived ingredients. This simply is not the case, and this misinformation often leads to unsuccessful experiences as the product contents play a significant role in the therapeutic benefits.

The reality is that the quality of the hemp source and the extraction processes play a key role in the resulting compounds found in a CBD product. Specifically, the cannabidiol (CBD) content of a product can also contain a wide range of additional compounds that provide unique and synergistic benefits via the entourage effect.

Thankfully for consumers like yourself, there are some standard labels used to describe the various types of hemp extractions used in products on the market today. These descriptions focus on the chemical makeup of the hemp extraction used in a product. Specifically, these spectrums are used to describe the cannabinoid and terpene content of an extract:

Full Spectrum

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Also known as whole-plant extracts, full-spectrum products contain the fullest possible profile of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the source hemp material. 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 a trace amount 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.

Broad Spectrum

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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 our recommended 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, an isolate was the only way to consume CBD without also ingesting THC. Unfortunately, by stripping all the terpenes and cannabinoids, isolates don't take advantage of the entourage effect. As a result, they offer a stunted therapeutic profile when compared to a full or broad-spectrum product.

Now that broad-spectrum products offer a superior THC-free alternative to isolate, we only recommend isolates as a standalone product. Beware of products like capsules or tinctures that use CBD isolate to provide their hemp content as they offer limited therapeutic potential. Seek a full or broad-spectrum alternative based on your THC tolerance/desires.

Choose Your Preferred Spectrum & Confirm via Lab Testing

To make things simple, we recommend the following when choosing a spectrum:

  • 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.

As you browse the market you'll universally run into the three spectrums we outline above. Reputable brands will label the product spectrum clearly. Less desirable brands may not label the spectrum. This may be done out of naivety, but more often it is done to cover up for the fact that their products are the less effective isolate-based breed.

Regardless of labeling, it's important to verify any marketing claims by verifying product contents via lab reports. You should always understand what is in the products you're taking to ensure you're getting a safe, clean, effective experience!

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.

Step 2: Choose Your Preferred Product Type(s)

CBD Product Types Feature

Now that you understand the product spectrums available and have an idea of which one will suit you best, it's time to dive into the types of products available. The type of product is important to consider because the different methods of ingesting CBD have different therapeutic properties, onset times, and durations. These factors vary due to each different method of ingestion's effectiveness of carrying the cannabis compounds into your bloodstream.

We've compiled a quick chart below which provides a quick overview of the varied product types, how they are ingested, how long the effects take to occur, and the duration of the effects. If you'd like a more in-depth dive into these topics visit our article which outlines the effectiveness of the various methods of consuming CBD and our product types article which dives into the specifics of each type.

You may scroll this table left and right to view the entire thing.

Product Type(s) Method of Ingestion Onset Duration
Capsules, Edibles Oral 30-90 Minutes Up to 7 Hours
Tinctures, Sprays Sublingual 20-40 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Vape, Smoke Inhalation 2-5 Minutes Up to 3 Hours
Lotions, Balms, Patches Topical 60-90 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Suppositories 10-15 Minutes Up to 8 Hours

All the types we mention should be fairly easy to find in any spectrum.

The general rule of thumb when choosing a product is that supplement-like consumables (capsules, tinctures, sprays) and topicals provide the most direct benefits. Products like edibles, candies, bath bombs, drinks, etc are often more novel uses and may not provide the same direct, potent, cost-effective benefits.

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. These products 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.

Dive into this topic in-depth in our article on water-soluble CBD.

Step 3: Select a Quality, Reputable CBD Brand

Now that you've selected the spectrum and product type(s) that you'd like to try, it's time to start looking at CBD brands. Today the market is booming and new companies are opening up shop every day. You'll find everything from respectable brands selling high quality, high-value products to scammers selling synthetic, overpriced crud.

As a new consumer, this makes picking the right brand very important and extremely tricky at the same time. The guidelines below are a go-to process that you can use to filter out the bad actors:

Company Appearance

The internet has made it easier than ever to open a new business. With CBD being sold freely online, there is a rush of new brands throwing up a website and starting their new company. 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 address 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

Next, you'll want to be sure that the company discloses information about where they source their CBD extracts. As we've discussed above, the hemp source is very important when it comes to creating an effective CBD product. The source plant material also needs to be free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, molds, and other contaminants so that the end product is clean.

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

The CBD industry suffers from a lack of regulation, especially when it comes to screening products for potency and purity. Luckily, industry-leading brands began the process of lab testing their products and providing the reports to the consumer and this has become standard. This is the only way to verify the contents of the hemp extraction that makes its way into these products.

It is important to note that a nutrition label is NOT a lab report. Look closely and you'll likely find an ingredient labeled something like 'hemp oil'. This generic term can be used deceivingly and the lab report provides a look into what that hemp oil contains - something that is not found on a nutrition facts label.

  • Lab Reports Provided - The first step is to ensure that a company provides lab reports at all. If they do, it's time to dig in and have a look. If they don't, it's best to avoid that company right away.
  • Product/Batch Level - The end goal as a consumer is to be able to purchase a product and see a report specific to that product telling you exactly what is inside. In order to do this, product and batch level reports should be provided so you can confirm the product contents and purity.
  • Screenings Provided - There are many different tests that can be performed on a given hemp extract 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.

For more information about these reports, see our article which further outlines 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.

Step 4: Choose Fairly Priced Products

Effective Price Per Milligram Bang

When CBD exploded onto the market around 2013, high demand, no quality control standards, lack of education, and legally restricted access created a situation where pricing fluctuated wildly. Consumers were hungry for anything labeled 'CBD' and companies took advantage - many selling sub-par products at astronomical prices.

As time has passed, all the factors that led to these pricing issues have been addressed by the industry. Supply chain improvements, reputable brand presence, and legal progress have created a situation where prices are normalizing to the benefit of the consumer.

Despite all this progress, it is still important that when shopping, you review the prices for the products you're purchasing. Below we walk you through how to calculate the effective price per milligram of a product and we also provide a quick-check chart to compare against so you know if the deal you're looking at is good or not.

How to Measure Price Per MG of CBD

Price Per Milligram is the quickest and easiest way to determine the value of a product relative to another on the market. Find this number by dividing the retail price + shipping by the CBD content in milligrams.

The following chart will help you quickly determine the value of a product:

Value Price Per Milligram Product Price
High Value Less than $0.08/mg Less than $80 per 1000mg
Average Value $0.09/mg - $0.12/mg $90 to $120 per 1000mg
Poor Value Greater than $0.13/mg Greater than $130 per 1000mg

Water-Soluble Products Add Value, Save You Money

Advances in technology have begun to address the biggest issue with consuming CBD: the effectiveness of a given product. Specifically, the rise in water-soluble products has increased the rate and quantity of a product that is absorbed into the body. In simpler terms, water-soluble products offer similar effects as their traditional oil-based counterparts at much lower doses.

As a result, you'll need to consume fewer MG of CBD for the same effects. Some studies show that swallowing water-soluble capsules can be up to 5x as effective as an oil-based capsule. As a consumer, this means you can spend 1/5th of the money on the same effects.

Traditional price per milligram calculations don't take this into effect, so be sure to look out for water-soluble callouts on the products you're browsing. You can also take things a step further and calculate the effective price per milligram of a product, which takes absorption technologies like water-soluble CBD into account.

Watch Out for These Red Flags

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Knowing what to avoid can be just as important in choosing a brand. For that reason, we've outlined some of the warning signs that you should look out for when you're doing your research.

  • 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.
  • 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 at best provide no value, and at worst be toxic to your health. 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.
  • Buying locally - While buying locally is a great way to stimulate the local economy, it can be a tricky thing to navigate when it comes to CBD. The simple fact is that retailers simply might not understand the concepts we've discussed in this article. This means they could be selling poor quality products without even knowing it. As a consumer, this makes things tricky because you can't rely on the retailer to be providing quality products. Our recommendation is to only buy products from reputable retailers that sell brands that you've previously researched.

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!

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, but either way, we hope this guide helps you find a great product option wherever you choose to shop.

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

  • 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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