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?
A lack of regulation
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 CBD oil tested was on sale at a high street pharmacy and contained 0% CBD, suggesting the issue is widespread 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.
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, is the most significant cannabinoid for the subject of this topic. Cross-check if the percentage in the test matches the expectation.
Δ9-THC: Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC), the compound which gets users ‘high’. THC content has to be non-detectable according to UK law (<0.2% EU excluding UK / 1% CH / 0.3% USA). Cross-checking this value is easy as there is no calculation required.
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.
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? 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.