Beyond reviewing available tests offered by brands, independent third-party testing which the company commissioned on these products revealed:
- 84% of potency-tested products didn’t measure within the acceptable variance of up to 10%;
- Only 42% of brands test almost all of their products for potency (90-100%) and share their third-party lab results with consumers;
- Only 13% of brands tested almost all of their products for microbial content, pesticides, or heavy metals;
- For purity testing, 35% of brands published results for only 0-10% of their products.
The analysis found companies that offered seven products or less were more likely to test most of their products for both potency and purity, and companies that offered 40 or more products were less likely to do the same.
A Representative Market Sample
“Our report covered 137 brands and our website currently has 155 brands. We cover all of the major known and largest brands in the industry, so in terms of market share it’s the majority of the industry,” Lital Shafir, head of product at Leafreport, said. “There are of course many other small brands which we don’t have and it’s important to remember new brands are opening all of the time. However, we believe since we covered over 130 brands and thousands of products, a representation of large and small brands, form U.S. and Europe, with the biggest names in the industry being included, that we have a representative picture of the industry’s situation in terms of transparency.”
These findings come on the heels of a previous study Leafreport carried out which found that only one in four CBD topicals actually contain the amount of CBD on the label.
“The buzz around CBD has seen a largely unregulated industry explode into existence, with little guarantee that consumers are getting what they pay for,” Emma Francis Stone, PhD, said. “Fortunately, the competition in this nascent market is driving CBD companies to prove the integrity of their product via independent third-party purity and potency testing. CBD products that have been third-party tested offer consumers the most assurance with respect to quality, safety, and cannabinoid content.”
Potency testing is used to verify the cannabinoids content in any given CBD product. The industry standard, according to Leafreport, is for a given product to match a concentration seen on a product label within a 10% variance, with Certificates of Analysis available for consumers to view. Without this test, consumers can’t be assured that a given CBD product isn’t completely deficient in the active ingredient advertised. And without third-party verification, consumers can’t be assured that a product was tested by a party that didn’t have a financial stake in the lab results.
Testing Ensures Consumer Safety
Purity testing is extremely important, especially for a CBD consumer using any single product regularly. “A comprehensive cannabinoid test includes checking for any level of mycotoxins, molds, heavy metals and residual solvents,” Eloise Thelsen, RN, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, said. “All of these elements are concerning, especially if they are consumed daily, as those levels will build up and accumulate. Patients who are immunocompromised are the most vulnerable and need to take the highest level of precautions.”
Consumers may also face unique risks depending on the untested product they use, whether it be a broad-spectrum CBD extract, or a CBD isolate, Thelsen said. “The risk depends and can be different for those in different situations. For example, those who cannot afford to test positive for THC may be at risk with a broad spectrum and full spectrum product that could have trace amounts of THC in it. Or someone who is sensitive to THC may not be able to tolerate a full spectrum product where the THC levels may be higher in the final product. While the research is still in its infancy, CBD isolates appear to require higher amounts to achieve symptom relief and that could increase side effects and costs for the consumer.”
With the fact that purity and potency testing are the only devices available to consumers to ensure that CBD products are efficacious and safe, Jill Ellsworth, CEO and founder of cannabis/hemp decontamination tech company Willow Industries said that while testing can be expensive and availability may be limited, “It should be required. This is a consumer good and medicinal product that needs proper labeling. Companies need to be transparent and honest with their products as it will continue to maintain the integrity of the industry.”
Based on the extent to which companies tested their products, and the methods by which they made Certificates of Analysis, Leafreport made available a list of 10 companies it considered to be the most transparent and accurate in both potency and purity, as well as a compilation of the top 40 transparent brands that tested at least 95% of their products for potency. With the best-performing brands in potency and purity transparency in mind, Leafreport still believes that “there is still abundant room for many CBD brands to improve on transparency. While it’s commendable that brands are making steps in the right direction to establish transparency to consumers, unacceptable potency test results and a lack of purity testing indicates that many brands have considerable work to do to hold themselves accountable and deliver high-quality, accurately-measured products to consumers.”
With a market still unregulated, largely due to the fact that FDA considers CBD can’t be legally marketable as a dietary supplement ingredient, little enforcement for third-party quality and safety tests exists within the category.
“The market is still very unregulated with not enough supervision of brands opening and selling products with CBD,” Shafir said. “This fact along with the fact that there is a large demand for CBD creates a problem of many brands simply trying to capitalize on the gold rush. They are selling products without third party lab test results, unclear where their hemp comes from and other issues consumers are not aware of enough. That’s why we’re working to help educate CBD users with our market reports, brand reviews, and educational articles. We think it’s important that users know to only buy CBD from reputable brands and always check themselves for third party lab test results. We prepared a video guide about how to read a COA in order to help users understand lab results.”
“In the U.S., the standards can vary from state to state and there are several different agencies in charge of standards,” Dr. Zora Degrandpre, a naturopathic medicine practitioner and scientific writer and editor with Leafreport, said. “The USDA can regulate hemp production, but the FDA has not yet provided clear regulations or guidance on manufacturing and marketing—and ‘health claims.’ This has resulted in a ‘patchwork’ system that is not benefitting anyone, especially the consumer. We are getting closer, but without some form of unified regulations/guidance, the consumer has to rely to a large degree on the integrity of the business they are purchasing from.”
“While many do not want to see CBD and other cannabinoids become subject to DSHEA rules, in my opinion, this would be the best way to provide protection for the consumer and growth for the industry,” Degrandpre continued. “There has been a recent push into legal ‘grey areas’ with cannabinoids like delta-8-THC, which induce less intoxication or psychoactivity than delta-9-THC. Overall, this is more likely to cause more regulation rather than less and, for the industry, be self-defeating.”