October 05, 2020 16 min read

CBD is being touted as a potentially effective treatment option for various mental and physical ailments, like pain or anxiety. Thanks to the massive amount of anecdotal evidence in their support, people are searching high and low for the best CBD products available.

But the CBD industry is still widely unregulated, and the massive amount of misinformation directed at consumers can make buying CBD a risky task.

If you want to get your hands on CBD that works for you, you'll need to understand the basics, like the different hemp formulas and dosing techniques, as well as the testing routes used to hold manufacturers accountable for the quality of their product.

You could definitely research these things individually, but you'll likely find a confusing consortium of information riddled with biased opinions.

If you just want the facts on how to choose the best CBD for you, here's what you really need to know:

Table of Contents
What Should I Look for in a CBD Product?
What Types of CBD is Right for You?
Full Spectrum CBD
CBD Isolate
Broad Spectrum CBD
Which CBD Dosing Method is Best?
CBD Tinctures
CBD Edibles
CBD Vaporizers
CBD Flower
CBD Topicals
What CBD Dosage Do I Need?
Identifying a Quality CBD Brand
CBD Oil vs Hemp Seed Oil
Other Considerations When Buying CBD
Resources

Key Takeaways

  • Because the industry isn’t well regulated yet, buying CBD can be a risky task (if you don’t know what you’re doing).
  • You’ll still need to choose from a slew of different hemp formulas, dosing methods, potencies, and brands.
  • Each hemp formula offers unique benefits and drawbacks, like potential cannabinoid synergy that boost’s CBD’s effects or trace amounts of THC that may not be appropriate for everyone.
  • Similarly, each dosing style has a unique purpose. The way that you take CBD determines its onset, intensity, and duration of effects.
  • Checking the hemp source, looking for the third-party lab analysis, and feeling out the brand’s customer service capabilities can help you determine which brands are trustworthy.

What Should I Look for in a CBD Product?

Because the FDA has yet to step in with their regulations on CBD use in food and dietary supplements, there's virtually no limit to the type of CBD formulations you can find in today's market. Many products boast powerful and effective doses of CBD, but others are diluted, overpriced, and potentially even contaminated with pesticides, mold, heavy metals, or synthetic cannabinoids.

And even when you narrow it down to the highest-quality CBD products available, there are so many different dosing methods, potencies, and hemp formulas that it's difficult to know which one may be best for you.

To make it simple, here are a few key things you should consider before choosing a CBD product:

  • Hemp formula: Different formulas may offer different effects, and some formulas may include certain risk factors for some people, like small doses of THC or added allergens.
  • Dosing method:There are multiple different dosing methods available, and the way you take CBD affects the onset, duration, and intensity of CBD’s effects.
  • Dosage:The amount of CBD you need may vary from the next person, and the type of product you choose limits the amount of CBD you can take in each dose and how easily you can increase or decrease dosage as needed.
  • Brand/Manufacturing Process:Every brand has their own method for making CBD, and some outshine the rest. Looking at important factors like hemp source, extraction techniques, and test results can help you separate high-quality CBD brands from those that cut corners and blur labels.

What type of CBD is right for you?

One of the most controversial topics surrounding CBD is the comparison of different CBD formulas. Many people argue that some formulas are generally more effective than others, while others propose that the best formula depends on the type of condition you wish to treat.

Ultimately, there is very little evidence comparing different CBD formulas, and each formula may serve its own unique purpose.

You’ll find multiple different types of hemp formulations when you’re shopping for CBD, and it’s important to know the difference in order to decide which one is the best choice for you.

The most common CBD formulas you’ll find in today’s market are:

Full Spectrum

Full spectrum CBD infographic

Full spectrum CBD products are likely the most popular formula on the market.

These hearty formulas contain the “full spectrum” of compounds available in the original hemp material. This usually includes a prominent amount of CBD combined with a trace amount of other cannabinoids, like THC, GBG, CBN, and CBDa, as well as a variety of other plant compounds from hemp, like terpenes.

Many people argue that Full Spectrum CBD is better based on the widely-accepted Entourage Effect theory. The theory is multidimensional and suggests that CBD may balance some of the negative effects of THC, but also that THC and other plant compounds may boost the benefits of CBD.

Some suggest that the boosted efficacy of Full Spectrum CBD comes from the addition of terpenes (the aromatic compounds found in plants, including cannabis) because many terpenes have thoroughly studied therapeutic benefits.

Keep in mind, however, that evidence available to support the Entourage Effect theory is limited, and more evidence is needed to determine the full interactions between different hemp compounds inside the human body.

Despite Full Spectrum CBD’s popularity, there isn’t much in the way of research comparing the efficacy of benefits of Full Spectrum CBD to other formulas, either.

One study suggests that Full Spectrum CBD may be better for large doses because efficacy seems to increase with dose. The study compares this to isolated CBD formulas, which were shown to have a bell-shaped response curve in which higher doses were actually less effective.

Critics of Full Spectrum CBD argue that CBD without THC may be better for anxiety. This is based on limited evidence that suggests that THC may cause paranoia incite anxiety in some people, but it’s unknown whether trace amounts of THC cause these effects.

Plus, evidence regarding CBD’s potential for inhibiting the effects of THC suggests that any negative impact caused by trace amounts of THC would be offset by the high CBD-content of full spectrum products. Many people have even found that moderate doses of CBD alongside high-THC cannabis products can help prevent uncomfortable side effects.

Ultimately, Full Spectrum products may be the best choice for anyone who isn't THC restricted, or those who want to experience the benefits of whole-plant hemp extract.

 Pros Cons
  • Benefits of the “entourage effect” or cannabinoid synergy
  • Vast selection of products available
  • Less refined, more natural formulation
    • Contains trace amounts of THC, which some people may be sensitive to.


    CBD Isolate

    CBD isolate infographic

    CBD isolate is a type of hemp extract where the cannabidiol (CBD) molecule has been isolated from other plant compounds. True CBD isolate is completely free of the other cannabinoids (like THC) and terpenes found in the hemp plant.

    The purest form of CBD Isolate is a fine crystalline substance that has no taste or smell. CBD Isolate crystals are generally graded at 99% purity or higher and may be ground into a fine powder for easy consumption.

    The most obvious benefit to CBD isolates is the total absence of THC.

    Many people choose isolates because they are subject to drug tests for work or legal obligations and they fear even trace amounts of THC can cause a positive test result, though these claims are mostly unfounded.

    Despite the popularity of the entourage effect theory, many people have reported tremendous benefits from isolated CBD.

    The pharmaceutical industry also recognizes the potential of CBD isolate, and CBD isolate is usually the type of product chosen for children with epilepsy.

    The first FDA approval to a cannabidiol-based pharmaceutical went to Epidiolex, an epilepsy drug made from active CBD isolate.

    Ultimately, CBD isolate powder can offer powerful, potent doses of CBD, even to users who are sensitive to THC. The powder can also be used to make other products and dosing styles that are THC-free and offer a range of different potency options.

    Pros Cons
  • THC-free, so may be useful for those who are THC-restricted
  • Tasteless and odorless
  • Will not provide benefits of the entourage effect
  • Some sources suggest it may be less effective

  • Broad Spectrum CBD

    Broad Spectrum CBD infographic

    Broad spectrum CBD fits in somewhere between Full Spectrum and CBD isolate products. This type of CBD is made from whole-plant hemp extract that has been carefully refined to remove all traces of THC. This makes it a competitor to CBD isolate for THC-restricted consumers.

    However, unlike CBD isolate products (which are usually made from 99%+ pure CBD), some broad spectrum extract material preserves the hemp’s natural state, offering a range of non-psychoactive cannabinoids similar to that of Full Spectrum products.

    Some products labeled "Broad Spectrum" are actually CBD isolate with added terpenes. While this formula is not touted to be as "natural" as whole-plant hemp extract, many people find it to be an effective dosing option. Certain terpenes may boost certain attributes of CBD, so terpenes are often used to create "targeted" products designed specifically for inflammation, anxiety, or some other specific ailment.

    While there is limited evidence regarding Full Spectrum and CBD Isolate formulas, there are virtually no studies that specify the use of Broad Spectrum extract. The term "Broad Spectrum" can be used to describe many different things, and you may need to look deeper into the product if you're looking for a specific terpene or cannabinoid ingredient.

    In general, Broad Spectrum CBD is the least common form of CBD found on the market. In theory, however, it offers the widest range of benefits and balances to the most people, including people who want full spectrum benefits without the risks of THC consumption.

     Pros Cons
  • THC-free
  • May provide benefits of cannabinoid synergy
  • Harder to find
  • Some sources suggest that THC is an important part of the entourage effect, making broad spectrum CBD less effective

  • Which CBD Dosing Method is Best?

    To complicate things further, these different hemp formulas can each be used to make a variety of different types of CBD products. Although the massive selection of formulas and dosing options can be confusing, we like to think of the benefits—it's very likely that at least one hemp CBD product will meet all of your needs.

    Each type of CBD product poses a different dosing method and a different range of benefits and drawbacks, and many people find that a combination of products is the best way to combat severe ailments.

    Generally speaking, CBD products can be broken down into two categories:

    Some CBD products are taken internally. These are considered "systemic doses," and may be the best option for combating internal symptoms and imbalances or conditions that affect the entire body.

    Other CBD products are applied on the skin. These products are great for targeting localized issues, like muscle pain, or various skin complications that need to be treated at the source.

    Before you choose a CBD dosing method, you'll need to decide if you may benefit from oral doses, topical doses, or a combination of the two. For more information on how CBD interacts with the skin, nervous system, and brain, read "How Does CBD Work?"

    The most common CBD dosing methods include:

    CBD Oils and Tinctures

    A close up of a CBD oil tincture

    CBD oils and tinctures are a liquid product designed to be taken by mouth, generally by dropping the product under your tongue, a method referred to as "sublingual dosing. Thanks to this dosing method, tinctures are thought to take effect more quickly than some other CBD products.

    This liquid form of CBD can be measured incrementally, which makes it easy to control dosing and may make it a suitable option for new CBD users.

    CBD oils come in all different forms, including Full Spectrum, Isolate, and Broad Spectrum formulas, and a wide range of different potencies. They may also include added ingredients, like essential oils, botanicals, flavorings, and more to alter the taste, consistency, and effects.

     Pros Cons
  • Easy to measure incrementally to slowly increase or decrease dosage
  • Fast acting
  • Can be added to food and drinks
  • Sublingual doses may have greater absorption rate
  • Some people don’t like the taste
  • Must be measured every time
  • Can be messy

  • CBD Edibles

    A close up of a CBD lollipop

    CBD edibles also offer plenty of variety, including Full Spectrum, Isolate, and Broad Spectrum formulas and a wide range of potency options.

    Edibles may include multiple different food items, ranging from cookies to candies, but CBD gummies are the most popular.

    Some edibles need to be digested before they will take effect, which means the effects may not kick in for an hour or more. On the other hand, many people suggest that CBD edibles offer more prominent and longer lasting effects. There isn’t much evidence available to back up this claim, but if it's true, it’s in line with the way that cannabis edibles work, too.

    Other edibles are designed to blur the lines between edibles and sublingual dosing. These CBD edibles, which usually come in the form of hard candies, lollipops, or lozenges, are designed to melt in the mouth so that CBD can be absorbed by the mucous membranes under the tongue, similarly to tinctures. This type of edible may take effect more quickly than those that need to be swallowed and digested.

     Pros Cons
  • Pre-measured doses are convenient
  • Ultra portable
  • Disguises the flavor of hemp
  • May have longer lasting effects than other dosing styles
    • Some edibles make it difficult to adjust dose


    CBD Vaporizers

    A ready to use CBD vape pen

    Vaporizers are another common CBD dosing method that offer a variety of different formula and potency options. The main benefit to CBD vaporizers is their fast acting effects. Because the CBD is inhaled directly into the lungs, it is absorbed into the bloodstream almost immediately.

    However, vaporizers make it more difficult to control your CBD dose, since there’s often no way to tell how much CBD you are inhaling each time.

    Plus, many CBD vaporizers are made with controversial ingredients that earned them a bad rap. Of course, if you find a CBD vaporizer made with ingredients you are comfortable with, it may be a fast and effective dosing option.

     Pros Cons
  • Fast acting
  • Portable
  • Sometimes contain questionable ingredients
  • May be difficult to measure dose

  • CBD Flower

    A close of of CBD hemp flower

    Hemp flower chosen for it’s high CBD content can be smoked to reap the benefits of CBD, similarly to how cannabis is smoked to reap the benefits of THC.

    Like vaporizers, CBD flower is inhaled directly into the lungs and takes effect quickly. Hemp flower, however, is all considered full spectrum and is the most natural way to consume hemp’s full profile of cannabinoids and terpenes.

    Even though hemp flower is considered to be more natural than vaporizers, research has shown that there may be negative effects when smoking anything. The combustion (burning) necessary to smoke flower results in the release of carcinogens. Some people suffering from certain breathing or lung related ailments don’t respond well to smoking flower, either.

    Of course, hemp flower is a great alternative to high-THC cannabis without the psychoactive effects, and many people claim that hemp flower is a very efficient way to dose.

     Pros Cons
  • Full-spectrum and unrefined
  • Fast acting
  • Difficult to measure dose
  • Not discreet
  • Smoking may have some negative effects
  • Not suitable for those with respiratory conditions

  • CBD Topicals

    A close up of CBD lotion

    CBD Topicals also utilize different formulas, but many brands use CBD isolate for topicals in order to offer potent, cost effective products.

    Topicals come in many forms that may be appropriate for different uses. For instance, a CBD lotion may be a good choice for coverage of a large area or some skin ailments, while a roll-on or cream may be the best option to target large joint or muscle areas.

    Topicals may also include other ingredients to help target effects. A CBD topical designed to soothe the skin may include chamomile or lavender, while a muscle relief CBD rub may have menthol or arnica.

    Topicals usually take effect quickly to help manage discomfort, but for many people they are only one part of the puzzle. CBD topicals may work best in conjunction with a regular systemic dose of CBD. They offer an option to help “bridge the gap” of the longer onset times of oral products, like CBD edibles. Topicals may help take the edge off of pain while waiting for a systemic dose to kick in.

     Pros Cons
  • Best for topical ailments
  • Fast acting
  • Portable
  • Cannot easily measure dose
  • Not effective for internal ailments
  • Cannabinoids are not easily absorbed through the skin

  • What CBD Dosage Do I Need?

    Before choosing a CBD product, you should consider your dosing needs in order to choose a product type and potency that works for you.

    Unfortunately, there is no straightforward dosing scale that helps consumers figure out the perfect CBD dose based on weight or another rigid factor. The way that CBD interacts with the body is tricky, and the amount of CBD necessary for complete relief will vary greatly by person.

    The best method for figuring out your CBD dose is to start with a low to average dose and increase your dosage as needed until you experience relief from targeted symptoms.

    Although dosing varies, many people find that 10mg to 25mg per dose is the "sweet spot."

    Others claim that while they need more than 25mg of CBD per day to keep symptoms at bay, they have better luck with frequent, smaller doses instead of one large dose. In other words, even if you find that you need 50mg of CBD to get relief, you may benefit from two 25mg doses spaced out during the day.

    Some theories suggest that CBD may build up in the body's fat content similarly to THC, and that the body can pull CBD from this "reserve" when needed.

    Although not proven, this theory mostly applies to CBD edible products that are processed by digestion, where the body can separate and store fat soluble molecules.

    CBD edibles pose a significant benefit, especially for new CBD users, because they are pre-measured, convenient, and discreet. Many CBD edibles feature moderate doses that will work well for most people, and there's no guesswork, like when measuring tinctures or isolate powders.

    Whether you choose CBD edibles or another dosing style, you should plan to monitor your dosage amount, frequency, and the effects closely until you workout a regimen that works well for you.

    Identifying a Quality CBD Brand

    After you’ve determined the CBD formula and product type you need, you may think that the job is done, but that’s not quite the case. You’ll still need to find a supplier that offers what you need, and unfortunately, not all CBD brands are made equally.

    In other words, just because the brand offers the CBD product you’re looking for doesn’t mean that it’s the best quality. With the industry’s current lack of regulation, terms like “full spectrum,” “pure CBD,” or “high potency” can be thrown around with little to no backing. You can’t believe everything you read on the label.

    Instead, investigate the brand a little deeper. There are a few indicators of a high-quality, consumer-forward brand that you’ll want to look for:

    How to find the best cbd brand infographic

    Provides Education and Information

    When shopping around a brand’s website, don’t stop at the product pages. It’s easy for brand’s to put these pages front and center and use shiny, descriptive words to hype up their products to make you want to buy.

    Instead, shop around the website and look for background on the brand. There are no specifics to look for here, but if a brand has a totally blank webpage with a few products listed, that’s not a good sign.

    One key indicator that a brand is consumer-friendly is offering educational sources. The brand may have a blog or other educational resources to help new consumers learn about CBD, how it works, and why their products are the right choice.

    Clean Hemp Source

    The brand’s hemp source is important, since the quality of the hemp material used to make each formula will shine through in the final product.

    Hemp is great at leeching things from the soil, so hemp that is grown in poor quality soil may end up contaminated. You may want to look for a brand that uses hemp sourced from the U.S. where the soil is less riddled with contaminants than many oversea farms.

    If you’re looking for specific cannabinoids or terpenes, the hemp strain used may also come into play, but keep in mind that these things can also be added to the final formula.

    Some brands use a different hemp strain each time, which isn’t a big deal, but you’ll want to ensure that the hemp used is industrial hemp, a legal classification for hemp containing less than 0.3% THC. Industrial hemp is legal and protected by the 2018 Farm Bill.

    Safe Extraction Method

    The extraction method used also affects the quality of the final product. Some brands may use more than one extraction technique to formulate different types of products, but in general most brands choose one method that they stand behind as “superior” to the rest.

    There isn’t much research to evaluate the differences in different methods in terms of safety, potency, or residual solvents, but some issues are clear. Certain extraction methods may leave behind solvents that may be unsafe for consumption, like butane extraction. Other methods may just be ineffective and likely to result in a low-potency formulation, like oil extractions.

    Still, the “best” extraction method is a matter of opinion. Just know that the method used directly impacts the quality of the final product. To learn more about different CBD extraction methods so that you can decide for yourself, read about it here.

    Third-Party Lab Tests

    Lab testing is not required by the FDA or any other regulatory agency for CBD products. However, third-party lab testing is becoming the standard for proper quality control and brand transparency throughout the industry.

    Look for a brand that offers third-party lab tests for each batch. These tests can be used to verify that the information on the label is authentic. Brands that have performed lab tests with passing results are always eager to share them with consumers. Those that don't offer the Certificate of Analysis from their lab tests may have something to hide.

    Accurate Labeling

    Once you have a chance to view the lab tests, ensure that the label on the product matches the results. It's normal for the CBD content to be slightly rounded up or down, but the numbers should be close. If there's a large discrepancy, that's a good sign that the brand may not be trustworthy.

    Other Quality Ingredients

    After ensuring that the hemp and CBD itself is of good quality, take a look at other added ingredients. Each unique CBD formula may include different additives and ingredients to alter the flavor or create targeted effects.

    At Vida Optima, we use tried and true plant-based ingredients and select vitamins to enhance CBD's wellness benefits, like Elderberry for immune support and vitamin B12 for increased vitality in our Vitamin CBD Gummies.

    Preferences and dietary needs vary by person, but just ensure that the ingredients added align with your views. Also check for potential allergens if you have food allergies. Coconut oil and some other allergens are popular additives in CBD products that you may need to look out for.

    Good customer service

    Last but not least, ensure that the CBD brand you choose is prepared to offer adequate customer service if and when you need it. Look to see if the brand has a phone number listed or another mode of contact, like through Facebook messenger. Sometimes, the brand may have a "contact" form on their website.

    You may also look the brand's website over to see if it feels inviting and supportive. If there is no mention of a way to contact them if something goes wrong with your order, steer clear.

    CBD oil vs Hemp Seed Oil

    As a quick note, ensure that the product you're purchasing is CBD oil and not hemp oil. Hemp oil is most frequently extracted from hemp seeds, which contain a high fat content but little to no CBD. 

    CBD oil is specifically manufactured to include a specific amount of CBD, while hemp oil may contain no CBD at all. Hemp oil is also useful in many ways, like for cooking or skincare, but will not offer the same wellness benefits as CBD.

    Hemp Oil is often much cheaper to produce, and is frequently not subject to the same costly lab tests as high-quality CBD. Less-than-trustworthy brands have been known to pass off hemp oil as CBD oil to unsuspecting consumers, selling it at a major markup. The label of the product should list the potency, and the lab tests should verify that potency.

    Other Considerations When Buying CBD

    Finally, you should consider certain safety factors before you start your CBD routine.

    CBD's safety profile is still being explored, but leading organizations have suggested that there are no known public health risks associated with CBD. Some CBD products may contain THC, which may not be appropriate for all people.

    Like all supplements and medications, CBD may cause certain side effects for some people. Side effects are rare and usually mild, and may include diarrhea, appetite changes, or tiredness. If you want to learn more about the potential side effects associated with CBD and how to identify them, read this.

    Also consider the possibility of drug interactions. CBD may interact with some medications when taken at the same time, and you should always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement, especially if you already take other medications.

    Resources

    1. “Overcoming the Bell‐Shaped Dose‐Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol” https://file.scirp.org/pdf/PP_2015021016351567.pdf
    2. “Study sheds light on link between cannabis, anxiety and stress.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200113111141.htm
    “FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy” https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms

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