By Donna Gregory Burch.
If you’ve researched natural pain treatments, you’ve likely seen articles and advertisements for hemp CBD oil, an extract of the cannabis plant that reportedly eases pain without causing euphoria like marijuana. As a chronic pain patient myself, I understand how tempting it is to hand over your credit card number in hopes of finding relief.
But before you do that, know that all hemp CBD oils are not created equal! A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found nearly 70 percent of hemp CBD oil sold online was mislabeled. During the Penn Medicine study, researchers analyzed 84 products purchased from 31 companies. Around 42 percent of products were under-labeled, meaning the product contained more CBD than labeled. Twenty-six percent of products contained less CBD than indicated on packaging.
“Only 30 percent of CBD products purchased contained an actual CBD content that was within 10 percent of the amount listed on the product label,” reads a press release about the JAMA study. “While studies have not shown that too much CBD can be harmful, products containing either too little or too much CBD than labeled could negate potential clinical benefit to patients. Further, the variability across products may make it troublesome for patients to get a reliable effect.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began testing hemp CBD products in 2015 and has reported similar findings.
Hemp CBD oil is not regulated, creating a situation of buyer beware. Despite this, hemp CBD oil continues to be in high demand as a growing number of chronic pain patients look for alternatives to opioids and drugs with troubling side effects. With so many companies pushing their products, how can you ensure you’re purchasing a quality product that’s potent and safe to use?
There are actually two kinds of CBD, or cannabidiol, oil: hemp-based CBD oil and marijuana-based CBD oil. Both are derived from varieties of the cannabis plant. Hemp-based CBD products can be purchased online or at certain stores; marijuana-based CBD is generally sold by dispensaries in states where cannabis is legal.
According to experts I’ve interviewed over the years, a marijuana-based CBD oil is always preferable to hemp because it contains multiple cannabinoids and other compounds that work synergistically to provide better pain relief and healing. Dispensary products are also going to be safer because they are tested and grown in controlled environments.
“Essentially CBD is no different whether extracted from industrial hemp or from marijuana,” Lee explained. “What’s different is what else is in there. When you extract from industrial hemp, you’re not getting a lot of cannabinoids. You’re not getting much CBD. You’re getting very, very little THC. Because it’s a low-resin plant, you don’t have a lot of cannabinoids that are contained in the resin.”
Hemp CBD oil is basically a stripped down version of what you’d buy at a dispensary. It likely won’t be as effective, but some people do find it beneficial for pain and other conditions.
“The main overarching criticism we have with all CBD hemp products – even the good quality ones – is that they’re very limited,” Lee said. “They’re just basically one thing: a lot of CBD and very little of anything else. That can help some people sometimes but most people will find they need other options. There’s other cannabinoids you need – sometimes THC, sometimes THCA.
“What we know is that THC and CBD combined has a greater therapeutic effect than either one given alone,” Lee continued. “The best medicines to use are the medicines that have both THC and CBD. What we suggest to people – and I will emphasize we are not doctors – is that people should use products that have as much THC as possible, with the CBD, that doesn’t make them feel dysphoric or stoned.”
Hemp CBD products do have limitations, but they’re still an option for people who aren’t able to access marijuana in a legal state. For those who are interested in trying hemp CBD oil, below are some characteristics to look for when trying to choose a quality product.
Many hemp CBD products are made from industrialized hemp grown overseas. These countries may or may not have strong environmental regulations governing how and where the plant is grown. That can be a problem since both hemp and marijuana are bio-accumulators, meaning they suck up heavy metals from the soil in which they’re grown.
Depending on how the oil is processed, consumers may end up exposed to toxins and/or chemical solvents used to purify the CBD after harvest.
U.S.-produced hemp CBD products tend to be safer because of better growing and refining practices.
Choose hemp CBD products that are grown organically to reduce potential exposure to pesticides and other unhealthy chemicals.
“If you punch in ‘CBD hemp organically grown’ on Google, you’ll probably find a few companies from Colorado or maybe Kentucky, and I personally would lean toward those,” Lee advised. “You want to have as clean of a product as possible.”
Choose full spectrum
Look for a full-spectrum CBD product instead of an isolate.
Full spectrum means the product contains CBD plus trace amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes for better healing and performance. An isolate only contains CBD.
“CBD isolates can confer medical effects, but you’re going to need much higher doses of an isolate than you would of a whole-spectrum oil, so you’ll be spending more money on that,” Lee said.
Isolates are also more likely to cause drug interactions than full-spectrum products.
Beware of health claims
The FDA prohibits companies from making health claims about CBD products, so it’s best to avoid companies that claim their product can cure cancer or end pain forever.
“If a company is making medical claims, it suggests they don’t understand the rules,” Lee said. “It suggests something is amiss.”
Avoid unnecessary ingredients
Steer clear of companies that use thinning agents, flavoring or other potentially harmful ingredients in their products – especially those used for vaping.
“We would strongly warn against using a vaporizer to vape CBD hemp oil products because we haven’t seen one yet that doesn’t contain thinning agents that can be very toxic,” Lee said. “Thinning agents like propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol should not be in a product that you’re going to eat or inhale. Flavoring agents that are added to CBD hemp products should be a red flag. I think they should be avoided because the FDA hasn’t approved any of these flavoring agents for being heated and inhaled.”
Bottom line: “If a product is grown properly, and it’s made well, it should not require any thinning agents or any flavoring agents,” Lee said.
Don’t be afraid to call or email companies to inquire about their growing and refining practices. Reputable companies should be happy to answer questions about their products.
(Read more: What you need to know about CBD oil and fibromyalgia)
(Read more: How to use medical marijuana without getting high)
Now it’s your turn: Have you tried hemp CBD oil for pain? Did it help? Share your experience in the comments section!
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.