There may only be 12 days of Christmas, but there are approximately 12 million CBD products trying to capture your attention. And most of them you shouldn’t buy.
It’s hard enough to get a handle on what CBD will actually do for you. Picking which product to buy amid the plethora of options — which face little to no regulation — adds an extra layer of difficulty. Then there’s the wrinkle of buying CBD as a gift. Any time you use a CBD product, you’re basically acting as a guinea pig. When you buy CBD for your mom for Christmas, you’re treating her as one, too.
As Martin Lee, the director of CBD advocacy group Project CBD says, “There’s good-quality products, and there’s a lot of crap out there.”
Here are eight things to keep in mind while shopping for CBD this holiday season.
1. Consider what you want the CBD to do
Before buying CBD as a present, consider why you think your mom should use it. Children experiencing debilitating seizures have gotten relief thanks to CBD, but will it help your mom with her arthritis or insomnia? That depends on who you ask.
Researchers have found CBD, a non-intoxicating compound in cannabis, shows promise when it comes to treating inflammation, specifically when it’s caused by arthritis, but plenty of scientists and health professionals warn more evidence is needed. It’s the same case for treating sleeplessness and anxiety.
When Colorado-based clinicians gave it to mental health patients and Brazilian researchers tested it separately on people with social anxiety tasked with public speaking, they both found it reduced anxiety. A majority of the mental health patients who took CBD also slept better. The FDA, which put out a new advisory about CBD earlier this week, lists drowsiness as a side effect. However, when given to healthy volunteers, University of Chicago researchers found CBD had “minimal behavioral and subjective effects.”
While research is being done on CBD’s effectiveness for a variety of symptoms, there’s room for much more. A lot of what you’ll hear about CBD’s prowess will be anecdotal or marketing hype.
2. Pay attention to where the plant is grown
With that said, if you still want to buy a loved one CBD, one of the first things you should look for is where the plant that the CBD came from is grown.
CBD products can be made from both marijuana and hemp, but hemp seems to be especially popular due to federal regulations. (Marijuana is legal in some states, but not federally. Confusingly, hemp is legal under federal law, but it’s not in all states.) Hemp is often used to clean soil; it was even tapped to suck contaminants out of the ground at Chernobyl. You don’t want the CBD you give as a gift to come from hemp grown in poor-quality soil. Look for CBD that was sourced organically, without pesticides, for the same reason.
If the product doesn’t say where the hemp was grown, ask a store clerk or email the website selling the products for more information. If they don’t know, or don’t provide a way to contact a human being for answers, shop elsewhere.
It’s also advisable to seek out CBD companies that get their hemp from states where marijuana is legal, either recreationally or medically. Those states are likely to employ more regulatory oversight than say, countries like China, which is a hemp juggernaut moving quickly to export CBD. In Colorado, for example, agricultural officials field-test hemp farms and work to curb the use of illegal pesticides.
“Pesticides, avoid that at all costs,” says Dr. Mitch Earleywine, author of Understanding Marijuana and psychology professor at the University at Albany, SUNY.
Companies that painstakingly decide where to source their hemp usually note in marketing materials that it’s grown in a certain state and is certified organic. Those are the ones you should gravitate towards, but it won’t be cheap. High-quality CBD oil can easily cost more than $100 a bottle.
3. Inspect the label and ask for third-party test results
If the product’s label doesn’t have ingredients, don’t buy it. If the product doesn’t say how much CBD is in a serving, don’t buy it.
If the product makes outlandish health claims, avoid it.
Ask to see third-party test results if they’re not immediately available. Some products will include QR codes that direct you to the tests (this is mandatory in Indiana, for example). If a company won’t provide you with lab results, move on to another that will. Once you get the lab results, check if the amount of CBD found in each serving matches what’s on the label and whether any solvents, contaminants, or heavy metals were detected.
4. Don’t buy CBD at a gas station
Not only is this a good rule of thumb for any gift for mom, but it’s especially so for CBD. It’s safest to buy CBD at a dispensary, if you’re in a state where marijuana is legal. If you’re not, you can buy it online or in CBD-specific stores. Get a feel for the place you’re shopping at; if it feels sketchy, back away. Same goes for the packaging. If it looks off, put it down. If the product makes outlandish health claims, avoid it. “It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement,” according to the FDA.
“One has to be a discriminating shopper just as one would be in the supermarket or at the health food store or at the farmers’ market,” Lee says.
5. Think about dosage
When it comes to how much CBD to take at a time, well that’s something you, or your mom, will have to figure out with some trial and error. Most CBD proponents advise to start low and increase the dosage over time. I’ve seen some CBD tinctures suggest using only 2.5 mg for your first dose.
For the scientific research mentioned earlier, the mental health clinic gave patients at least 25 mg of CBD a day, the Brazilian researchers gave participants 600 mg an hour and a half before the public speaking test, and the Chicago researchers used between 300 mg and 900 mg doses. That’s a lot of CBD. Vials of CBD oil tend to contain anywhere from roughly 500 mg of CBD to 1500 mg. Meanwhile, CBD gummies mostly range from 5 mg to 25 mg per serving. Dr. Esther Blessing, an assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, told the New York Times, one needs 300 mg to treat anxiety. (Lee of Project CBD, who also wrote Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, discounts her assertion.)
The negative effects of taking too much CBD may include upset stomach and diarrhea, according to the FDA, which also warns that CBD may potentially cause liver injury or negatively interact with other medications.
6. Vape pens vs. lotions vs. tinctures vs. edibles
The amount one takes may also depend on how the CBD is consumed.
For example, vaping 25 mg of CBD may have a different impact than eating a 25 mg gummy. CBD edibles pass through your liver before going to your bloodstream and lose some strength along the way. How much of those 25 mg become activated in your body after that journey is hard to say, according to a review of studies on the subject.
Vaping has a more direct route to your bloodstream, which speeds up the effects, but it’s not immune to diminishing returns. Importantly, you should avoid vape products that contain MCT oil, vitamin E acetate, vegetable glycerin, or propylene glycol. These oils can be dangerous to inhale, especially when heated. Vitamin E acetate particularly has been linked to the lung crisis rocking the vape industry.
Moreover, it tends to be easier to take a consistent amount of CBD when you consume it versus smoke it, according to researchers at the University of Turin in Italy.
Tinctures are generally known for speedily entering the bloodstream, but only when applied under the tongue. If you plop a few drops in a smoothie, for example, it’ll pass through your liver just like an edible.
Lee suggests avoiding edibles made with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. They’re signs of an inferior product in his mind.
Topical products like salves, lotions, and transdermal patches may be helpful for specific areas of the body you want to treat for inflammation, the Turin researchers wrote. But it’s possible that some products won’t even get past your skin to get to the muscle that’s aching. Or if you do feel some relief, it may be because of other ingredients in the salve, such as menthol or camphor. To top it off, you may also need lots of CBD for a topical product to work, which can drive up the cost.
Nanotechnology, basically shrinking the molecules to absorb more efficiently, has become a trendy buzzword in the CBD world. It’s being used to make products like CBD water, which Lee describes as bunk.
“If it’s water don’t even bother,” Lee says. “Buy the water to drink the water, but don’t buy it for the CBD.”
At the end of the day, though, which form of CBD you buy is a personal preference, says Earleywine.
7. Avoid brands caught cheating
Some CBD producers will lie about how much CBD is in their product. They can also be intentionally shady about what’s inside.
Cannabis reviewer Leafly recently tested 47 products and found that nearly half delivered within 20 percent of the advertised amount of CBD (getting within the 20 percent range is somewhat of an industry standard). Four, including Platinum X CBD Cherry Lollipops and CBD Living Water, delivered none at all.
“If a company promises 300 mg of CBD and actually delivers 300 mg, it’s probably not cutting corners in other areas,” according to Leafly.
Last year, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University unexpectedly found synthetic cannabis, which may cause psychoactive effects, anxiety, and confusion in CBD e-cigarettes made by manufacturer Diamond CBD. They also detected a cough suppressant, which acts as a sedative. A few months ago, The Associated Press tested 30 vape products sold as CBD both legitimately and on the black market and found a third included synthetic cannabis, commonly known as the dangerous street drugs K2 or spice.
While CBD proponents have called for more FDA regulation, the agency is slowly gathering data on the subject. It keeps a depository of warning letters sent to CBD marketers mislabeling products as health supplements and test results on its website.
8. Full-spectrum or isolate
A lot of the CBD products out there use something called CBD isolate, which means the compound has been removed from the plant and is flying solo. That’s because several states require less than 0.3 percent THC in a CBD product, and it’s easier to follow that rule when you avoid the THC altogether (or just use hemp rather than marijuana).
Plenty of cannabis advocates scorn isolate and trumpet full-spectrum. (Although there’s no industry-wide definition of full-spectrum beyond it contains more than one cannabinoid.) The CBD works best when interacting with other elements in the plant, they claim. Terpenes and flavonoids found naturally in cannabis (the compounds that impact smell and flavor) can also have other effects, like making one feel relaxed or tired. Again, more research needs to be done to provide greater clarity here, but evangelists of the so-called entourage effect point to this 2011 study to bolster their arguments.
The bottom line
When it comes to buying CBD, there’s a lot to learn. And none of it may work for your giftee at all. That’s why it’s worth your time to do the research before deciding to spend $45 on CBD gummies.
Earleywine suggests considering other less expensive items that may help with sleeplessness, arthritis, and anxiety before going the CBD route.
For sleep, he advises not looking at screens an hour before bed or going to bed at a regular time every night before “shelling out for any alleged sleep aid.” As for anxiety, he quips, “12 sessions of psychotherapy may be cheaper than a lifetime of CBD.”
That said, getting your mom a card that says stop looking at your phone before bed or a psychotherapy appointment may not go over well at Christmas dinner.
The information contained in this article is not a substitute for, or alternative to information from a healthcare practitioner. Please consult a healthcare professional before using any product and check your local laws before making any purchasing decisions.