CBD Buyers Guide: How to Find Quality, Effective Products & Avoid the Junk


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So you've decided to give CBD oil a try. Maybe you're seeking relief for a serious condition, maybe you just want to improve the quality of your sleep. You could have even tried a CBD product in the past, but found it did not meet your needs. Regardless of your situation, if you've identified that CBD is something that could positively impact your life, the critical next step is to set out and find a quality supplier that crafts products that most effectively meets your needs.

In this article, we guide you through what can be a confusing process of selecting a reputable brand selling quality products that will work for you. We will walk through the key points in understanding hemp oil contents, the various product types available, how to select a good brand, and what to look out for along the way.

It is also possible that you've landed on this article and you don't have any understanding of what CBD oil is and the benefits it can provide. If that's you, then we suggest you jump to our beginner's guide and look through the resources there before coming back to this article.

1. Understand Hemp Oil Extracts

What makes CBD products special is the inclusion of an extract derived from hemp that contains special chemical compounds that originate in the plant.

Unfortunately, oversimplification has led many people to incorrectly believe that CBD products all contain the same hemp-derived ingredients. This unfortunate misunderstanding then leads people to believe that any one product will provide the same therapeutic benefits as the next. This simply is not the case, and this misinformation often leads to unsuccessful experiences.

The reality is that the hemp oil extractions that provides the cannabidiol (CBD) content of a product can also contain a wide range of additional cannabis compounds that provide unique and synergistic benefits that CBD alone does not. The content of this extraction is influenced by two primary factors:

  1. The quality and strain of the hemp source.
  2. The extraction and processing methods used to create a given extract.

This is important to understand because these factors can have a massive impact on the effectiveness of the end product. Below we take this abstract concept and transform it into something easy to understand and apply.


2. Consider CBD Product Spectrums

Thankfully, there are some standard labels used to describe the various types of hemp extractions used in products on the market today. These descriptions focus on the chemical makeup of the hemp extraction used in a product. Specifically, these spectrums are used to describe the cannabinoid and terpene content of an extract.

For an in-depth review of all the compounds found in hemp, see our article which breaks down the chemical makeup of cannabis. You'll find links to explore the effects and benefits of all the various molecules. Also, see our article explaining the entourage effect which is the research-backed synergistic benefits of consuming these compounds together rather than alone.

Full Spectrum

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The king of all spectrums, a full spectrum extract contains the full profile of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the source hemp material. These products offer the maximum potential therapeutic benefits as they contain a whole-plant chemical profile.

The only issue with this type of extract is that it contains a trace amount of THC. While the levels are at non-psychoactive levels, this can still be an issue for those who are drug tested. Regular use of a full spectrum product can put you at risk of failing a test even though you're not getting high.

If you're not at risk of being tested, then a full spectrum product is our number one recommended choice.

Broad Spectrum

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As an answer to the THC issue with full spectrum products, advances in hemp oil processing have resulted in something we call broad spectrum. These products contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes with only the THC removed. The result is a product with the maximum amount of therapeutic benefits preserved without the risk.

For those who cannot consume THC for fear of being drug tested, this is our recommended choice.

CBD Isolate

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An isolate is a crystalline substance that is created through further processing of a full spectrum extract removing all plant material and compounds except CBD. The resulting product is an isolated form of the. Isolates can contain up to 99% concentrated cannabidiol and are extremely versatile in their use.

Before broad-spectrum products were introduced to the market, an isolate was the only way to consume CBD without also ingesting THC. Unfortunately, by stripping all the neighboring compounds, isolates don't offer the same benefits when compared to a product containing a wider spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Now that a superior THC-free alternative is widely available on the market, we only recommend isolates as an additive to increase the CBD content of an existing product - otherwise look for a broad spectrum product.

Confirming Spectrums via Lab Testing

With all of these extracts listed above, the key is not to rely on marketing claims but to actually confirm the classification and look for specific cannabinoid levels by verifying via 3rd party lab tests. We have more information on this below in the section on choosing a good brand. You can also read our article on hemp extracts which covers the topic of spectrums and extraction in more depth.

3. Understand Product Types, Method of Ingestion & Effectiveness

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Now that you understand the product spectrums available and have an idea of which one will suit you best, it's time to dive into the types of products available. The type of product is important to consider because the different methods of ingesting CBD have different therapeutic properties, onset times, and durations. These factors vary due to each different method of ingestions effectiveness of carrying the cannabis compounds into your bloodstream.

We've compiled a quick chart below which provides a quick overview of the varied product types, how they are ingested, how long the effects take to occur, and the duration of the effects. If you'd like a more in-depth dive into these topics visit our article which outlines the effectiveness of the various methods of consuming CBD and our product types article which dives into the specifics of each type.

You may scroll this table left and right to view the entire thing.

Product Type(s) Method of Ingestion Onset Duration
Capsules, Edibles Oral 30-90 Minutes Up to 7 Hours
Tinctures, Sprays Sublingual 20-40 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Vape, Smoke Inhalation 2-5 Minutes Up to 3 Hours
Lotions, Balms, Patches Topical 60-90 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Suppositories Anal 10-15 Minutes Up to 8 Hours

Unless you're after a specialized product type not listed above, all the types we mention should be easy to find in any spectrum. You don't need to be married to a specific product type at this point, you just need a basic understanding of the chart above. Many brands carry a wide selection of products making your life easier. The important thing is just to pick a great brand - which is our next step!

4. Select a Quality, Reputable CBD Brand

Now that you've selected the spectrum that is right for you and have an idea of the product type(s) that you'd like to try, it's time to start looking at CBD brands. Today the market is booming and new companies are opening up shop every day. You'll find everything from respectable brands selling high quality, high-value products to scammers selling synthetic, overpriced crap.

As a new consumer, this makes picking the right brand very important and extremely tricky at the same time. These reasons are a big part of why we've worked so hard to compile the resources we have here on IntelliCBD. The guidelines below are part of the process that we use ourselves when vetting brands.

Company Appearance

The internet has made it easier than ever to open a new business. With CBD being sold freely online, there is a rush of new brands throwing up a website and starting their new company. The first step in reviewing a business you're considering purchasing from is to look at the following aspects of their company:

  • Location - A company should provide the address or general location that they operate from, even if that is a PO Box.
  • Contact Methods - You should be easily able to get ahold of a company with questions or concerns. A phone number with a customer service rep on the other end is a good sign. A persistent answering machine during business hours is not.
  • Time in Business - Forthright businesses don't hide their founding year. A company that has been operating for many years is often a good sign. New businesses can be great too but should be scrutinized closely in other areas.
  • Company Photos - A good, easy to use website makes for a great shopping experience, but look closely. Reputable companies will post photos of their staff, at a minimum on their about page. Running across a site with all stock photos and no staff members should raise a red flag.

Hemp Sourcing & Extraction

Hemp Appearance

Next, you'll want to be sure that the company discloses information about where they source their CBD extracts from. As we've discussed above, the hemp source is very important when it comes to creating an effective CBD product. The source plant material also needs to be free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, molds, and other contaminants so that the end product is clean.

Reputable companies will publicly provide the following information about their hemp source:

  • Grow Location - Where in the world was the hemp grown?
  • Growing Practices - Organic, GMO-free, pesticide-free etc.
  • Extraction Method(s) - How was the hemp oil extracted?
  • Manufacturing Processes - Was this brand's product line made in facilities observing good manufacturing practices?

Lab Reporting

CBD Testing in a Lab

The CBD industry is currently unregulated meaning there are no regulations over the screening of the contents of any product. Luckily, industry-leading brands began the process of lab testing their products and providing the reports to the consumer. This is the only way to verify the contents of the hemp extraction that makes its way into these products.

It is important to note that a nutrition label is NOT a lab report. Look closely and you'll likely find an ingreditent labeled something like 'hemp oil'. The lab report provides a look into what that hemp oil contains - something that is not found on a nutrition facts label.

  • Lab Reports Provided - The first step is to ensure that a company provides lab reports at all. If they do, it's time to dig in and have a look. If they don't, it's best to avoid that company right away.
  • Reporting Source - Lab reports done by an independent 3rd party are preferred because the accuracy of the reports cannot be skewed and the 3rd party shares in the responsibility to provide accurate, original reports. There are some CBD manufacturers who also sell directly to the consumer that do their own testing and reporting. These 1st party reports are also acceptable, though not as preferred as a 3rd party tester.
  • Product/Batch Level - The end goal as a consumer is to be able to purchase a product and see a report specific to that product telling you exactly what is inside. In order to do this, product and batch level reports must be performed.
  • Screenings Provided - There are many different tests that can be performed on a given hemp extract sample. These screenings test for the presence of different compounds. You'll find screenings for cannabinoid potency, terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals and more. As a consumer, a fully screened product is always a better option than a partially screened one.

For more information about these reports, see our article which further outlines why CBD lab reports are important and how to read them.

Reviews & Recommendations

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If you've found a brand which passes the above audit, then you're probably good to go. You can take it a step further though, and look for validation from others that your choice is a good one. Look for product and brand reviews posted on independent, reputable sources that confirm your choice.

Things to Watch Out for

Knowing what to avoid can be just as important in choosing a brand. For that reason, we've outlined some of the warning signs that you should look out for when you're doing your research.

  • No lab reports - We covered it above in depth, but it's worth mentioning again that lab reports are standard today. There are too many great companies providing lab reports that it just simply isn't a smart move to buy from one who doesn't.
  • Free sample scams - There are many reported scams companies out there which use free samples to grab customer payment information and then re-bill. Beware of any company offering free samples and search around the web for specific reports if you find one.
  • MLM programs - The supplement industry, in general, has a tendency to attract multi-level marketing companies. There are a few well known in the CBD space. While these companies may offer fantastic products and pass the full audit above, they should be approached cautiously. The nature of these businesses means that the seller is monetarily compensated for each sale. This might not be a bad thing as long as the seller has your best interests in mind but tread cautiously to ensure that they actually do.
  • Reports of synthetic products - There have been a number of companies that have been caught selling synthetic knockoffs. These products can at best provide no value, and at worst be toxic to your health. Though auditing a company using our above guidelines will knock out most if not all of these offenders, it can still be worth looking around the web for reports if you're worried.
  • Buying locally - While buying locally is a great way to stimulate the local economy, it can be a tricky thing to navigate when it comes to CBD. The simple fact is that retailers simply might not understand the concepts we've discussed in this article. This means they could be selling poor quality products without even knowing it. As a consumer, this makes things tricky because you can't rely on the retailer to be providing quality products. Our recommendation is to only buy products from reputable brands that you've previously researched.

IntelliCBD Makes it Easy to Find Great CBD Brands

Congrats on making it to the end of this lengthy guide. You should now have a complete understanding of why and how to choose a great CBD brand. We understand that this auditing process can be lengthy, which is why we've put together some additional resources to help you find great companies.

We've used the same principles outlined above plus our wide-angle perspective on the available products on the market to craft a hand-selected list of brands that made the cut. You can follow this link to find our list of CBD brands, with our recommendations at the top.

Also, if you've found a great brand that you love, be sure to leave a review in our brand database to help others in their journey to a healthier, happier, more balanced life through CBD!


Originally Published: October 12, 2018 | Last Updated: October 22, 2018

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