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Potency testing looks at the total amount of cannabinoid content, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other phytocannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Find out how Agilent can help you with potency analysis & testing methods. Leafly tested dozens of CBD products to see how the results stack up to what’s on the label. A recent analysis of lab testing data has found that one out of four consumer CBD products is not tested for impurities including pesticides, heavy metals, and microbial contamination.

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

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.

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 below:

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

New Report Finds 25% Of CBD Products Are Not Tested For Purity

A recent analysis of lab testing data has found that one out of four consumer CBD products is not tested for impurities including pesticides, heavy metals and microbial contamination. The investigation also discovered that the vast majority of CBD consumer goods are not labeled with accurate information detailing the potency of the products.

In a report published last month, online CBD educational resource Leafreport reviewed the lab analysis data for 2,946 cannabidiol (CBD) products from 136 brands to determine how many companies test their products for purity and potency. The investigation also looked for discrepancies between the amount of CBD advertised on product packaging and the actual potency revealed by lab testing. With more and more consumers trying CBD to treat health conditions including anxiety, inflammation and pain, transparency in labeling can help them achieve the results they desire.

An analysis from Leafreport found that only 25% of CBD products are tested for purity.

The study relied on certificate of analysis (COA) reports published on each brand’s website for every product listed. Statisticians took note of the number of products offered by each brand, the percentage of products that have been tested for CBD potency, and the percentage of potency-tested products that tested within an acceptable variance of ± 10% of the labeled amount. The percentage of products that had been tested for purity was also noted, as were the percentages of products that were specifically tested for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals and microbial contamination.

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One In Four CBD Products Not Tested For Purity

Leafreport found that 25% of brands did not carry out any purity testing, noting that analyzing for contaminants is more expensive than potency testing. Only 13% of CBD brands carried out purity testing for at least 90% of their products to determine the presence of pesticide residue, heavy metals or microbial contamination. More than a third of brands (35%) published test results for only 10% or less of their offerings.

Dr. Stuart Titus, the former CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. and now a spokesperson for the family of hemp CBD brands, told Leafreport that all CBD products should be tested for contamination by an independent laboratory. Test results for the company’s brand HempMeds are available online.

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“Third-party lab testing is extremely important for the industry as wholesalers and consumers need to know the exact ingredients that make up a final, finished product that will be delivered to the market,” Titus explained. “The purity of the product – that there are no residual toxins, pesticides, heavy metals or other contaminants – makes for a consumer-safe product. Many children take non-psychoactive forms of cannabis and certainly doctors and parents want to know that the product is lab-tested and assured safe for the child.”

CBD products are used to treat anxiety, inflammation, pain and a host of other medical conditions.

CBD Potency Testing Also Important

The CBD industry as a whole is doing a better job of reporting testing results for the potency of the cannabinoid in their products. Leafreport’s analysis found that only 4% of brands listed test results for 10% or fewer of their products. Still, only 42% of brands test at least 90% of their products for potency and share their third-party lab results with consumers. The review also found that the potency determined by independent lab testing frequently did not match the strength advertised on product labels, with 84% of potency-tested products not testing within 10% of the advertised amount of CBD.

Titus said potency testing can help ensure that accurate information about the product’s cannabinoid concentrations is communicated to consumers.

“Potency testing is important as consumers want to know about the active ingredients – and how much they will be taking per serving,” Titus said. “Often, children with epilepsy will be “dosed” or served according to their body weight and will require a specific amount of product (likely CBD) to control seizure episodes.”

10 Transparent CBD Brands

The analysis from Leafreport also listed the 10 most transparent and accurate CBD brands, based on test results for potency and purity. Stuart Tomc, the senior vice president for business development for CV Sciences, says that his company’s PlusCBD brand made the list because they are tested multiple times.

“At CV Sciences, we do not cut corners. Our PlusCBD products undergo rigorous in-house testing for safety, quality, and consistency throughout the manufacturing process,” Tomc writes in an email. “In addition, all PlusCBD products undergo third-party testing to double verify what is in the bottle matches what is on the label, and we publish certificates of analysis showing results of in-house and third-party testing on our website.”

Transparency and accuracy from CBD brands aren’t only issues for consumer products. A separate analysis by Leafreport found that 56% of pet CBD products had inaccurate label claims.

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