Testing CBD Potency

What once might have been a fairly scarce offering in the marketplace has quickly turned into a product you can probably find in health food stores or gas stations across the country. THC continues to experience new levels of legality across the country, but its non-psychoactive counterpart, CBD, is the real mainstream hit.

One of the key issues facing CBD consumers or those who are CBD-curious is an ever-growing but unregulated market of products. As the health claims of these products and green-washed labeling contend for consumer attention, shopping for CBD can feel daunting for new buyers.

Research shows CBD has a bounty of health benefits, but its safety and effectiveness depend on the quality of the CBD and the active ingredients in each product. To help consumers navigate the new CBD market, we purchased 15 products from 15 different companies across several everyday locations – gas stations, grocery stores, and CBD shops – and had them tested at a lab for potency. Read on to discover our findings across several CBD products.

Quality Over Quantity

As with most purchases, you typically hope the product labeling is reliable. Where CBD is concerned, being critical of a product label and working to understand its terminology can help ensure you’re getting the quality you expect, especially when deciphering dosages of cannabidiol. But according to our findings, it is also useful to consider the purchase location as a quality indicator. We compared each product’s advertised dosage of CBD against our lab results, to calculate what percentage of the advertised CBD each product delivered. We then analyzed this by the purchase location to explore how reliable the product labels were at each:

According to our analysis, gas station CBD products delivered less CBD than was advertised on the label, including three CBD-infused beverages where no CBD was detected. In contrast, CBD products purchased at grocery stores were found to have more CBD than their labels advertised: 136% of the CBD advertised on average. Products purchased at grocery stores were also found to be consistently more potent than those purchased at CBD-specific retail locations.

If you go into a store that specializes in CBD, you might expect to get the highest-quality offerings. In reality, just 1 in 5 products from CBD retail locations contained the amount of CBD their labels advertised, while 4 in 5 contained less CBD than marketed. At gas stations, 3 in 5 products contained no CBD.

More (or Less) Than You Bargained for

A variety of CBD-infused products are available today – topicals, edibles, bath bombs, and beverages, to name a few – but the type of CBD you’re interested in might not always be all it’s promised to be.

Among the CBD-infused beverages analyzed, 3 in 4 were found to have no traces of CBD, while another 1 in 4 had less CBD than advertised. Edibles were just as likely to be misrepresented, although in different ways. While 3 in 4 edible CBD products had less CBD than indicated, another 25% had more traces of CBD than the packaging marketed. Topical CBD products were the most likely to be accurate, with 2 in 5 products revealed to have as much CBD as advertised. Just as many topicals had more CBD than advertised, and 1 in 5 had less CBD than indicated.

The Money Factor

The market for cannabidiol, CBD, is expected to grow nearly 32% in the next five years, reaching more than $1.2 billion by 2024. While cost can sometimes be an indicator of product quality, when it comes to delivering accurate dosages, we found that more expensive products were not as reliable as we assumed:

Half of the CBD products we purchased for $5 or less had no traces of CBD, and the other half had less CBD than advertised. Compared to products priced $20 or more, where just 1 in 5 had the amount of CBD advertised, 1 in 4 products between $10 and $15 had the same amount of CBD identified on their packaging. More expensive CBD products were also more likely to underrepresent the amount of CBD actually present.

Across all 15 products analyzed, those costing between $10 and $15 were found to have the most reliable labels, with just a 12-milligram difference, on average, between the advertised amount of CBD and the actual quantity. More expensive products had 71 milligrams more CBD than advertised, on average.

False Advertising

CBD products are currently banned from being sold or purchased through Amazon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean vendors won’t try to sneak their products in. In fact, you can still search “CBD” on Amazon and get search results for hundreds of products that tout similar benefits of CBD, though in “hemp” form. So we investigated hemp oil products on Amazon to see if we could find any with CBD:

Of the five Amazon products analyzed that were marketed as “hemp oil,” one was found to contain 968 milligrams of CBD! All of these hemp oil products were advertised as having similar benefits to CBD, and user reviews clearly indicated customers believed they were purchasing CBD oil instead. Hemp oil can have different properties and effects compared to CBD, a fact which new consumers may not be totally aware of. And although the term “greenwashing” has traditionally been used to describe brands attempting to dress themselves up as “environmentally-friendly,” the term is now being used in 2020 as a way to describe products riding the rising tide of CBD’s popularity, without actually delivering on the CBD itself.

Your Buying Guide

If you’re trying to decide which CBD products are right for you or where you should buy them, this chart can help guide your decision.

Separating Fact From Fiction

While it’s true you can find CBD just about anywhere these days, it’s important to recognize that not every label has the information you need to make the best buying decision. For the most part, CBD products found at gas stations were likely to contain no CBD. Location and cost isn’t always the best indicator of reliability, either. As we found, more moderately priced offerings had the most accurate labels compared to more or less expensive products.

At the CBD Awareness Project, we know the CBD market is still unregulated. So for consumers seeking the benefits of CBD, we aim to present the most accurate and reliable information all in one place, so consumers can make empowered purchase decisions, from understanding CBD laws in by state, or comparing CBD products. Even if you’re just curious about the uses of CBD, you can get all the facts at CBDOil.org, to start considering all of your health and wellness options.

Methodology and Limitations

We tested 15 CBD products for potency, as well as five hemp oil brands. We purchased products from different locations and at different price points to see how reliable CBD labeling is. We had three price categories going into the project: low, mid, and high. We purchased five products in each price category. We compared our test results to the advertised doses of CBD on the label and analyzed our data by “variance,” which is the amount of CBD our lab found divided by the CBD advertised. We found products delivered everything from none of the CBD advertised to over 100% of the CBD advertised. We used SC Labs in California for their potency testing services. This project was an exploratory look at potency by purchase location, price, and type of product, and sample size limitations apply.

Fair Use Statement

CBD isn’t going away anytime soon. Help your readers make informed purchase decisions by sharing these findings for any noncommercial use. Out of respect to our team of contributors, we ask that you include a link back to this page in your story.