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Are you getting the CBD you paid for? We put 47 products to the test

November 18, 2019

Our national love affair with CBD has hit a rough spot. America, we have trust issues.

After a flurry of excitement about the wellness benefits of the newly legal cannabinoid, consumers are finding that all products are not created equal.

Some have too little CBD. Some have too much. Some have none at all.

CBD companies are thriving. But so are scammers and fraudsters. So we put 47 products to the test.

Congress’ decision to end federal CBD prohibition in late 2018 opened the door to hundreds of new companies marketing thousands of products. CBD soda, lip balm, gummies, vape pens, and capsules can now be found in supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores across the United States.

CBD companies are thriving. But so are scammers and fraudsters.

“People have started to see the market grow and there are some fly-by-night companies trying to make a quick buck,” Marielle Weintraub, president of the US Hemp Authority, told the Associated Press recently.

So how can you sort the legit products from the junk?

The CBD industry is so new that most people don’t know which brands to trust. There’s no Apple, Coke, Gillette, or State Farm. Planet CBD is flat: All brands hold equal value in the minds of most consumers.

At Leafly, we were puzzled too. So we did something about it.

Related

Seven ways to make sure you get the CBD you paid for

Take it to the lab

Over the past three months we worked with Confidence Analytics, a Washington state-licensed cannabis lab and founding partner of our Leafly Certified Labs Program, to test an array of CBD products. We wanted to see which brands delivered what they promised—and which did not.

Our three-part series starts here with a look at the test results from those 47 products. In part two, we examine why CBD is so challenging to deliver in exact doses, and in part three we offer seven tips for getting the CBD you paid for.

Test results: From zero CBD to way too much

Products delivering within 20% of advertised CBD are highlighted

Of 47 products tested, 24 delivered a reasonable amount of their promised dosage. Testing conducted by Confidence Analytics. (Leafly)

Is the label accurate?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to regulate CBD products, but until those rules are in place, CBD manufacturers are free to put whatever they want in their products.

The FDA is preparing CBD regulations, but until the rules are in place CBD makers can put whatever they want in their products.

A few sketchy operators have added synthetics like K2 or spice to CBD products, while others don’t bother to screen out pesticides or heavy metals.

In this unregulated era, label accuracy stands out as a first sign of quality. Industry experts we talked to were clear: If a company promises 300 mg of CBD and actually delivers 300 mg, it’s probably not cutting corners in other areas. Consumers, too, told us their first question is this: Am I actually getting CBD in this bottle?

So that’s where we started.

What we tested, and why

To find out who’s actually delivering the CBD promised on the label, we purchased 47 products from a variety of sources.

We noted the products that popped up in Google searches for terms like “best CBD products” and “cheap CBD,” and purchased many of them online. We picked up other products at national drugstore chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.

We shopped independent grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. We even found one product at a surf shop.

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What we found

Here’s the good news: Most of our tested products actually delivered CBD. The bad news: Most products didn’t deliver the exact dosage promised. Some came close. Many were in the ballpark. A few straight-up cheated their customers.

Here’s how the data broke down:

  •     51% of products (24 of 47) delivered the promised CBD within 20% of the labeled dosage.
  •     23% of products (11 of 47) delivered some CBD, but less than 80% of the dosage promised on the label.
  •     15% of products (7 of 47) delivered more than 120% of the promised CBD.
  •     11% of products (5 of 47) delivered no CBD whatsoever.

CBD Potency test results

State of the industry: Room for improvement

When it comes to today’s CBD products, very few manufacturers can precisely deliver the dosage promised on the label. CBD companies don’t advertise that, but it’s a fact.

This is also a fact: These products are getting better. Full federal legalization is only 11 months old and manufacturers are improving their processes every day.

Shop trusted CBD brands on Leafly Market and enjoy 30% off for a limited time

In 2015, the FDA tested 18 CBD products. None contained CBD. In 2016, the FDA repeated the test with 22 products and found 77% contained little to no CBD whatsoever. Only four products even came close to delivering the labeled dose.

Today, more than half the products we tested delivered their labeled dose. It’s worth noting that “delivered” is a term of art. Almost no brand can produce absolutely perfect CBD dosage in every batch.

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A fair benchmark

To be fair to the manufacturers, we adapted the FDA’s guidelines for label accuracy regarding small amounts of nutrients in dietary supplements, which is the category CBD products most clearly resemble.

The FDA considers a supplement misbranded if it delivers a nutrient at a dose at least 20% below or 20% above the value declared on its label.

A 20% label variance is a fair benchmark for CBD in 2019. But that's not saying much.

We think that’s a fair standard for CBD in 2019. So for our purposes, a product that promises 300 mg of CBD but delivers 241 mg will be considered accurately labeled. A 300 mg product that delivers 239 mg will be considered mislabeled.

Is that an uncomfortably wide variance? Yes. If we paid for 300 mg and only got 241, we’d feel shortchanged. But right now, a 20% label variance is the best you’re going to get in the CBD space.

As the CBD industry matures, consumers should demand to an ever-closing gap between CBD promised and CBD delivered. And know this: A 20% label variance is not likely to fly with the feds. When FDA regulation of CBD arrives in 2020, federal rules will likely force these companies to deliver 100% of what they’re promising or go out of business. 

The trends we discovered

As we sorted through the data, a number of trends stood out.

CBD tinctures and solid edibles are among the most reliable formats for delivering CBD, according to our test results. (Leafly)

Tinctures and gummies were the most reliable forms.

All seven tinctures we tested delivered at least 85% of the label dosage. Five of the seven came within 10% of the promised dosage. With gummies, five of the six tested brands delivered at least 84% of the promised dosage. One brand only delivered 62%, while another brand delivered the promised 25 mg per gummy exactly.

Water was the least reliable form factor.

Three of the four water brands we tested delivered no CBD at all. The fourth brand delivered only 70% of the CBD promised. Based on our tests, most “CBD water” should be more accurately labeled “water.”

Capsules delivered way more CBD than promised.

All four CBD capsule products we tested contained more than 100% of the potency on the label. Three of the four tested at or above 140% of the label potency. That’s generous but not necessarily good. Patients using CBD for medical conditions need reliable dosages, not bonus CBD.

Vape pens and topicals were all over the board.

The ten vape products we tested ranged from no CBD at all to 95% of the promised dosage. Two vape brands delivered less than 10% of their promised dosage. Six of the ten delivered less than 80% of the promised CBD. Topicals delivered a range of 37% to 152% of their promised CBD dosage. Three topicals delivered more CBD than promised, while three others delivered almost the exact dosage specified on the label.

“Hemp extract” doesn’t always mean CBD.

CBD is no longer federally illegal, but it still exists in a murky legal space. Some brands are playing it safe by promising “hemp extract,” not CBD. Yet their labels use the same dosage metric as CBD (mg, or milligrams). That confuses consumers into believing they’re getting CBD when they may not be.

Further questions (and answers)

Now that you know the promise and perils of the CBD marketplace, you have questions. Like, why can’t more companies deliver consistent doses? How do I find the ones that do? In part two of our series, we take a look at why it’s so hard to deliver label-accurate CBD, while in part three we offer tips on how to make sure you get what you pay for.

 

Next up: 

Part 2: Why it’s so hard to deliver a consistent dose of CBD 

Part 3: Seven ways to make sure you get the CBD you paid for 

Photos: (Hemp: torstengrieger/iStock)

Bruce Barcott, Ian Chant, and David Downs's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott, Ian Chant, and David Downs

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

Ian Chant is Leafly’s Senior Content Manager and a writer, editor, and producer whose reporting on issues in health, science, and technology has appeared in Popular Science, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and a host of other publications.

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for Leafly.com. He's written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including 'Marijuana Harvest' by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

View Bruce Barcott, Ian Chant, and David Downs's articles

  • Rick Schettino

    Does the testing method detect CBD that has been nanoencapsultated? If not, that explains the CBD water issues and potentially others.

    • Ryan

      This was my first question as well and I’m glad you brought that up. What was the minimum threshold for detection used during these tests? Most nano-CBD products are being measured in nanograms, not milligrams. This is especially the case with water soluble cannabinoid products in general.

      • Paulo

        The droplet/particle size is measure in nano-meters… milligrams should yield whatever they put on the package no?

  • justadbeer

    I’m kinda disappointed that they didn’t test one of the top seller’s “KOI”. Most of these I’ve never ever heard of.

  • dennisworthen

    Why didn’t you include Hempworx? The purest, most powerful CBD oil available, and they post their lab test results online for all to see? That’s the only reason I came hear to see your list, to see how they looked compared to a bunch of others, and they aren’t even here. Shame Leafly, shame.

    • justadbeer

      Right on bro!

    • 360dunk

      Just stop complaining……there are hundreds of CBD products out there and Leafly is doing a good job as a consumer advocate.

    • David Merchant

      Hempworx is the worst. Not a CBD brand as they only produce these hemp derived products from hemp seed oil which contains virtually no cannabinoids.

  • Maybe it is just me, but I cannot see what companies these results are from. It is confusing at best. I buy flowers, those are inhaled. Is it just oils for vape pens tested?.For example, I bought suver haze from 2 different growers. Not that you reviewed it but how would it be the same from 2 different farms?

  • Jon Youngdahl

    I do not see the brand Herb Strong listed and am constantly getting advertisements from them. They get rave reviews on their product in their forum but I’d like to know where they stand in context with your study. Any chance of testing their product.

  • Susie N Nick Nichols

    Yes.. my question also. Why didn’t you include Hempworx? I don’t know how good, or powerful their CBD is, but was hoping to see it in your test results, or list, so I could have some idea, of how good.. or not good, this product actually is. And if their claims were accurate.

  • Anthony Burkett

    Why didn’t your investigation include an analysis and comparison of “Barleans extra strength Ideal CBD oi”?… Which btw is the way is one of the top level recommended brands… Just so you now know. Together with a the rest of the comments below… I must also say… Shame on you, Leafly!

  • Susie N Nick Nichols

    What is the difference between CBD made from hemp, and Marijuana?

    • 1Reasonable1

      CBD from hemp is “single molecule” CBD meaning it only contains the CBD cannabinoid. CBD products from high CBD medical cannabis are usually “full spectrum” meaning they contain additional cannabinoids (CBG, CBC, trace THC…). Full spectrum extracts provide some of the entourage effects noted in medical cannabis and are usually considered more effective for symptom control.

  • J.G. D’Amico

    At least they are doing “some” Testing…

  • William Menke

    The product I use was 106% yeah!! don’t buy swansons

  • William Menke

    thanks for the tests

  • BadWolf

    I’ve never heard of any of these brands. We use NuLeaf out of Colorado and so far not disappointed. I would love to see a random test done on that brand to make sure it’s not all in my head. How did they choose these brands and what was the criteria for the choices over the most sold brands? Seems very skewed and random brands that are not that high sellers. In utah they have some seriously shady CBD companies claiming all kinds of crap. Most CBD companies in southern utah are crap brands using pyramid schemes and Avon type sales gatherings. I guarantee 90% are bullshit. Utah also has very few consumer protections so people get away with a lot and are not held responsible. As long as the church gets a cut of the members earnings they really don’t care how the money is made or the lies that are told. A better research and testing would be by state in 2 or 3 cities with the highest CBD usage. Just my 2 cents.

  • viper643

    20% is a huge variance. Of course companies will cheat to increase profits 20%. My 12oz. bag of Folgers coffee only measured 11.7 oz. on my scale. They ALL cheat eventually.

  • 360dunk

    I’ve been using CBD and CBG for two years now, twice a day (and smoking pot for 50 years). All tinctures that I buy claim to be 3rd party tested, which hopefully is true. Seems to be reducing inflammation as well as providing sound sleep. By the way, I never had the urge to move on to hard drugs (are you listening, Joe Biden?). Find the right brand of CBD and stick with it….your body will thank you.

    • Susie N Nick Nichols

      Seems to be reducing inflammation? I would have thought that after two years of using this product, one would know? Also.. is it possible you are getting sound sleep from the pot you are smoking?

      • 360dunk

        Good questions….I live in Vegas where the humidity can vary quite a bit. When it’s around 7%, the body’s inflammation is naturally reduced so it’s sometimes hard to tell how much of the good feeling comes from CBD and how much comes from the climate…add a variable like diet (eating certain foods also reduces inflammation) and it’s hard to tell which is helping exactly how much. But overall, I’m in better physical condition than before CBD came along. BTW, taking a few puffs of weed doesn’t hurt either.

  • David Merchant

    Should try out Maine Coast Hemp, i have them available as they are a locally sourced from a farm that produces real CBD oil organically, and they use the ENTIRE hemp plant. http://www.nhhempstore.com

  • Shuki Greer

    This is a fascinating but predictable problem with the growing CBD industry. As long as there is no centralized certification system in place, operators have no real incentive to ensure proper dosage. I think we need a carrot and stick approach. First, we need a reputable third-party certification system, something that brands will be proud to display on their packaging. It will greatly benefit a company to say “look, our product is clearly legit, we’ve got the XYZ certification!” At the same time, a centralized licensing or quality assurance review could issue negative reviews, financial penalties, and harmful press to companies who haven’t been accurately labeling their products. This dual pronged approach would ensure that people have incentives to comply, while also providing penalties for not doing so.

  • It is truly the wild west right now. The claims and what is being sold is not even CBD most of the time. Alibaba sells CBD/Hemp oil for private label usage at less than $3 a bottle and sells hundreds of thousands of units for anybody that just wants to put a label and try to create a new brand. Most of these companies will go out of business soon.

  • Watch City

    Why on earth did you not include using flower in the CBD study? Many people can not digest edibles in any way shape or form, I am one. Vaping is for the birds as it is a dilution vs a concentrate. This was too focused on the edibles. Thumbs DOWN for you. I have used high CBD strains including Sour Tsunami, ACDC, Four Lights, CBD God, etc. All in flower form. Why are you not including flower in this study?

    • CBDvapeKing

      I agree! There needs to be an all flower cbd guide for people who enjoy flowers! The only flower I saw was the Pure Hemp Farms Special Sauce CBD preroll. Sure it doesn’t count as “flower” but if you take it out of the paper it’s flower lol. Only around 4% less than the advertised cbd, I’m might be thinking of trying it. Do you yourself have any recommendations for cbd flowers? Preferably ones that can be bought online. The most recent one I’ve tried was the Sour Space Candy from Gameupnutrition which is the company of the ufc fighter Nate Diaz.

  • Alex

    Charlottes Web balm does not make a CBD claim, so I’m confused why you tested it for CBD. “Full spectrum” hemp extract is around 50% CBD. You are also paying for other compounds in there. An oral product is formulated above the label claim as is required by law. Also it is worth noting that while many of these products are within 20%, many of the samples came inbelow 100%, meaning they are not passing their specification according the 21 CFR part 111 (the code CBD will be regulated under once the FDA makes a ruling). They must have at least but not less than the specified amount, unlike the pharma regulations.

  • asoldierstory

    cbd infused water- beverage is the next trend to catch fire, I have a question about nano-Tech infused water and eatables. can you explain the difference between Nano-Tech and other water solvable infusion

  • Ian Shannon-Garvey

    This is why i only buy from CBDfx. Everything is lab tested by third party labs and they update their lab reports often.

  • David Landsman
  • Donald Armstrong

    I applaud Leafly for trying to keep a newly emerging industry honest … but I think that you have done a disservice to at least one brand. You state that Hempzilla promises 300 mg. in their Juul-compatible vape pod and delivers only .8 mg–which seems like an incredible rip-off. That is not, however, an accurate representation. I have a Hempzilla pod box in front of me, and on the back it clearly states (admittedly in small print): “2 Zilla CBD Pods cartridges – .07 ml. Made with our proprietary 300 mg vape formula.” In addition to the CBD blend (full spectrum), the pod contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and natural flavorings. In sum, they didn’t promise or advertise 300 mg of CBD … they promised .7 ml. I don’t know how to make the conversion from milliliters to milligrams, but it seems that you missed what was actually on offer.