A quick google search on the problems in the CBD industry unearths a deep, dark web of connected issues related to the supply chain, source traceability and often, as a root cause: A lack of third-party batch testing.
Third-party batch testing means products are tested using independent third parties using industry benchmarked techniques. The laboratory examines the makeup of the products in respect to cannabinoid content, contamination of heavy metals, pesticides and microbes. You might be wondering why does it even matter, and why are we talking so seriously about this topic?
The CBD market is not directly regulated, and thus, product quality can vary significantly across brands. Now a global issue, affecting consumers across markets, regardless of location. In US states where the use of cannabis is legal, frameworks have been established to test product quality across a broad spectrum of benchmarks. Nonetheless, only a few select US states explicitly require third party batch testing across the range of parameters. Looking at this with a global lens, and the fact CBD is now consumed globally, often with little consumer foresight of the long term damage an untested product could do, we are in a worrying state of flux.
CBD is everywhere but as with any emerging high-growth industry, ambiguity breeds bad actors. Many CBD products on sale today don’t have source traceability, nor have they been put through robust quality control processes to measure CBD content and for the presence of contaminants. The UK Centre for Medical Cannabis released a (June 2019) report which tested the quality of 30 of the most popular CBD oils on sale in the UK, finding that “11/29 products (38%) actually had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content. One product had 0% CBD.” Worryingly, one of the items tested was on sale at a high street pharmacy and contained 0% CBD, suggesting the issue is wide spread regardless of reseller. The prevalence of these inferior products is creating terrible user experiences and resulting in a negative feedback loop. Inevitably, this will be hard to break once broader consumer perceptions about CBD are set.
Generalised regulation, such as trading standards and general food law applies to CBD in the UK. However, there are no specific requirements to carry out of tests ensuring product safety and quality. Products on sale today are not required to pass any third party tests nor are there any formal compliance requirements around CBD itself. Unfortunately, this ambiguity has led to bad actors flooding the market as companies look to gain from the ‘green rush’. On the more positive side, more trustworthy brands govern themselves, partially using benchmarks from regulatory frameworks introduced in US states where cannabis use is legal and well regulated.
Trusted brands operating in this sector are turning to specialised third-party laboratories, which examine the chemical make up of products on sale. These offer a defined benchmark in quality as a reputable third party lab uses pharmaceutical grade equipment using the same methods as employed in the US to test for cannabinoids and contaminants.
As an example, we have pasted a copy of one of our third-party cannabinoid test results from our latest batch below (also available here). You will notice a breakdown of all major cannabinoids and precursors below.
You are probably wondering which cannabinoids do I need to pay attention to in this analysis? For simplicity, ND means not detected.
Breaking down the major cannabinoids, we need to be aware of we have:
CBD: Cannabidiol, this is the most significant cannabinoid for the subject of this topic. Cross-check if the percentage in the test matches the expectation.
For example: Nature & Bloom 470mg CBD oil is said to contain 470mg (5%) CBD in a 10ml bottle, 470mg = 0.47ml. 0.47ml/10ml = ~ 5%. Hence, the CBD concentration advertised in this bottle is 470mg (5%) CBD, and the lab test result says it contains 469mg (5%).
Δ9-THC: Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC), the compound which gets users ‘high’. THC content is permitted to be up to or below 0.05% by UK law (<0.2% EU excluding UK / 1% CH / 0.3% USA). Cross-checking this value is easy as there is no calculation required. For example, Nature & Bloom 470mg CBD oil contains none detectable (0%) THC, which is at the <0.05% THC threshold, thus passing this check.
CBN: THC degrades into CBN on contact with air. In the UK, CBN content is required to be non-detectable in line with UK law. Similar to THC you can quickly take a glance at the field to cross-check.
CBDA: Cannabidiol acid, the precursor to CBD and is thought to have a similar effect as CBD. If you are buying raw CBD products, you will likely see a high CBDA percentage. This is because unprocessed hemp is naturally high in CBDA, and this compound turns into CBD when heated (decarboxylation). When buying a raw product which you expect to process through heating, you can add the CBDA and CBD figures together to obtain the ‘activated’ CBD percentage.
THCA: Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol acid, the precursor to THC and is non-psychoactive until it turns into THC. Similar to the above, if you are heating a raw hemp product, add the THCA and THC figure to obtain the active THC percentage
CBGA: Cannabigerolic acid, otherwise known as the mother of cannabinoids, and is the precursor to CBDA and THCA.
Hemp is a natural bio-accumulator, absorbing heavy metals and chemicals from the soil. Meaning the likelihood of heavy metal content in downstream production is higher in products containing hemp, vs other plant-based products. As a result, Nature & Bloom carriers out third party heavy metal tests at a batch level.
Reading a heavy metals report can be especially daunting, you are probably thinking what do all these numbers mean and what should I look out for?
CBD has been in use in the states for far longer than here in Europe. The fact cannabis is legal across several US states means the regulatory environment is much tighter. As a result, Nature & Bloom benchmark against the State of California regulation for heavy metals in Cannabis. Applied to CBD, this offers the most robust baseline available in the sector today. The current regulatory requirements are pasted below:
1 microgram (mg) equates to 1000 milligram (μg). Our third party lab provided the figures at a mg/kg level, which numerically the number is equal to μg/g level.
Cross-checking the test result against the California benchmark regulation indicates this check is a pass across all heavy metals.
A CBD test which does not display the brands’ name and cannot be easily verified is a serious red flag. Key levers to check include:
1) Is the brand name omitted from the results? Often, brands depend on suppliers to test the results and use these results instead of hiring a third party lab. This is a major red flag for customer trust, and if you notice this, ask them if they have a copy of a third party batch test.
2) Are the results in a different language with just the percentages visible? Again, this begs more questions than it gives answers. Why confuse your customers with a language they do not understand?
3) Are the results easily verifiable? Can you quickly check via a QR code or a phone number direct to the lab for a quick check? Sometimes, tests are not verifiable on the spot, and that’s okay. However, you should be able to contact the laboratory to check if necessary.
At Nature & Bloom, we understand all this is extremely frustrating. Each product is triple third-party tested at a batch level using three randomly selected samples from a single batch (to ensure product quality). The corresponding third party results are published clearly onsite, with links from each product page leading to the results from above the fold and making it as easy as possible to verify the results via QR code or a quick phone call.
Nature & Bloom strives to exceed the current bar in this industry through consistent transparency. If you have any questions about third-party testing, or in fact, anything else at all please drop us a note via email@example.com
Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nature & Bloom and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention for any disease. Nature & Bloom products have not been evaluated by the MHRA.