The three letters “CBD” have become recognizable worldwide by avid hemp and cannabis enthusiasts, and those who have yet to try these products for the first time. With so much growing interest in CBD products, and how they might affect a consumer, it’s important to recognize that not all products are equal in terms of health benefits and risks.

With a variety of vendors, good and bad, It is important to know how to distinguish the safe, reputable products from those that could pose potential risks. To do that, we’ve provided some questions you should ask when seeking the right CBD for you.

What Exactly is CBD?

First, let’s take a look at CBD itself. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the hemp and cannabis plant that’s reported to have many possible health benefits including pain and anxiety loss, seizure treatment and more, without even having the user “high” from marijuana. Widespread use of CBD resulted from the 2018 Farm Bill, a measure that completely legalized cultivation of hemp in the United States and opened the doorway for full-scale CBD production with countless brands that reach across the world.

Thus, with each of the many CBD businesses on the current market, the question needs to be asked: who will you trust for quality CBD? Now let’s get into a few questions you can ask to find the healthiest CBD products on the market.

How Was It Extracted?

There are numerous factors that contribute to how CBD products are formulated, all starting with the way the compound was extracted. Currently, there are three common extraction methods in which CBD is extracted from the hemp plant: butane (BHO), ethanol and CO2. While every one of these methods are effective in extracting CBD from the plant, there are possible differences in the level of health risks for consumers.

Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol): This extraction method utilizes ethanol to extract the compound in the hemp plant. While this is a powerful method for manufacturers, there are certain unknowns for clients that could possibly be detrimental to their health. For example, CBD manufacturers using this method tend not to use organic, food grade ethanol, but rather using denatured ethanol. While denatured ethanol is cheaper, these denaturants are chemical additives which may carry potential health problems when consumed on a regular basis.

Butane (BHO): This method utilizes the hydrocarbon, butane, as an extraction solvent. Though most of the solvent is eliminated from a final CBD extract, there are always residual chemicals that are left after extraction which are inevitably ingested by consumers. Not to mention is the most flammable extraction method which could pose risks for those trying to make these products.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2): For consumers, products created through supercritical CO2 extraction are likely the safest for regular consumption. This is a natural solvent without additives and a method that’s tried and true with absolutely no risk of residual chemicals. Because of this, CBD products extracted with CO2 are considered organic and environmentally friendly, frequently carrying the tagline “Clean and Green.” For this reason, customers looking for a healthy brand would benefit from limiting their search for brands using CO2 extracted CBD.

What Plant Components are in it?

When a CBD extract product is formulated, there are variations in the composition of the end products depending on what plant components are in it. There are plenty of reasons why these product variations are increasingly popular over the CBD market.

For example, one form of CBD product is called “CBD Isolate.” This kind of product only has CBD with no other cannabinoids, including THC (the psychoactive compound in mariujuana that is federally illegal and makes a user “high”). These products are often sought by those who’d gain from using CBD, but are concerned about the other cannabinoids in the product due to health or career concerns as products containing trace THC can cause a false positive on a drug test.

Next, we have Broad Spectrum. These products have all the naturally occurring compounds of the hemp plant, but are intentionally processed to remove THC. These products can potentially provide the consumer with a full range of benefits from the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids all the while relieving their concern about having THC in their product. The benefits from all of the cannabinoids interacting with each other (even without THC) is often referred to as The Entourage Effect. This phenomenon is being studied currently and, while more study is necessary, reports show this study is proving to be beneficial for some users.

Finally, there is Full Spectrum CBD products which will contain all of the naturally occurring cannabinoids and terpenes –  including THC, (though it is going to contain less than .3 percent due to federal regulations). This is the best way to explore the benefits of the full hemp plant extract and has the best opportunity to explore The Entourage Effect for yourself.

If a brand does not provide CBD merchandise of these three varieties, it might be an indication that customer health and wellness isn’t their highest priority and to look elsewhere for a healthier product.

What’s on the Packaging?

While this may seem like a lesser subject, the way a product is packaged can point to the quality of a product. Transparency is key, and a reputable brand should hold nothing back from its clients regarding what’s within their products. They will often have recorded the method where the item is extracted and formulated, whether it is THC-Free, Full Spectrum or Broad Spectrum, cannabinoids in the product, and other information that consumers should have access to right on the product packaging.

So, no matter if the packaging looks attractive, if a CBD product package is seemingly deceptive or vague, it could be best to avoid it. And, in the case of a CBD brand that claims that their product can cure, prevent, or cure any diseases or disorders, they are not the safest choice. Not only are they making an illegal claim, but it is a clear sign that the brand is only looking to coax customers into buying their products without concern for honesty.

Do they Care About Their Customers?

A CBD company considered to be reliable will do anything they can to provide their customers the best products with total transparency. So, like any other business, it needs to be simple to find a business who has high reviews in relation to customer service.

If a product is ineffective, faulty or less than that which has been promised, a brand that cares about its clients will refund or exchange their merchandise without hesitation. If they refuse, or claim to be unable to do this, it ought to be a red flag for any customer.

A respectable brand will also provide any information required to give the customer a full understanding of their company, their products and how they will affect their customers.

The CBD market is a young and expanding industry and knowledge of this cannabinoid and the products created from it are always changing. If a company is knowledgeable, honest, and they care about their clients, they will happily talk about the advantages of their product and any concerns their customers might have.

Can You Find Third-Party Test Results?

Because the market of CBD products is comparatively young,, there’s very little regulation, research and testing conducted that can cover the huge quantity of products on the marketplace. This has resulted in brands containing harmful materials, such as vitamin E acetate, for example. This additive has lead to intense lung disorders from vaporizer products within the last several years.

Before purchasing any CBD merchandise, it is a good practice to request suppliers for a certificate to show that the merchandise was third party analyzed. If the supplier is a reputable one, they should provide third party tests results that can verify a number of factors that result from the safety of a product including residual solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, and much more.

If a brand has issues with supplying a third party testing result, or provides a result that reveals any residual materials that could pose potential risks like those listed previously, it would be sensible to steer clear of their CBD products altogether. If, however, they have easily available third party results that show their product to be pure and clean, you can rest assured knowing that the product has been verified to be a healthy choice.

Jon Thompson, PhD, is a separations scientist and CEO of extraktLAB, an accredited engineering company for extraction, distillation and product formulation in the CBD, hemp and cannabis industries.