The Ultimate CBD Oil Product Buyer’s Guide

If you have questions regarding how CBD works, the benefits of CBD, and why you should incorporate it into your daily wellness lifestyle, please view our CBD 101 guide here

This guide is intended for those:

  • who understand the basics of CBD,
  • are eager to incorporate CBD into their lifestyle
  • are ready to buy and
  • may have some outstanding technical questions regarding what brand to choose, how to understand a brand’s CoA (Certificate of Analysis), and how to choose the right type of CBD extract (full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate).  

For answers to such questions as... 

  • What’s full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate? 
  • What are the benefits of full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate? 
  • Should I buy full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate CBD products? 
  • What’s a CoA? 
  • Where do I find a brand’s CoA? 
  • How do I read a brand’s CoA? 
  • How do I choose the right CBD product and brand? 

...read on below! 

Understanding Extract Type
  1. Marijuana vs. Hemp
  2. Decarboxylation: Why It Matters
  3. Extracting CBD from Hemp
    Full Spectrum vs. Broad Spectrum vs. Isolate
    1. Plant Parts: Terpenes & Flavonoids
    2. Full Spectrum CBD
    3. Broad Spectrum CBD
    4. CBD Isolate
    5. Entourage Effect
      How to Choose a CBD Brand
      1. Understanding a Brand's CoA
      2. Finding the CoA
      3. Reading a CoA

        Understanding CBD Extract Type 

        CBD products can be categorized in two ways. All CBD products come from Cannabis sativa, a plant. You may otherwise know this plant as marijuana, cannabis, hemp, weed, etc. Although these terms have come to mean different things for both makers and consumers in the cannabis industry, the plant’s scientific name is Cannabis sativa.  

        What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana?  

        In truth, both marijuana and hemp are the same thing. Both are Cannabis sativa. However, hemp and marijuana have come to mean two very different things for both makers and consumers in the cannabis industry. 

        Marijuana

        Marijuana, commonly also referred to as cannabis or weed, is THC-dominant. THC is the psychoactive compound of the plant. This is what gets you high. The plant itself doesn’t get you high; THC gets you high. More specifically, THC that exceeds 0.3% of the plant’s composition, gets you high.  

        Marijuana is not considered legal on the federal level. Some states, like California, have made THC-dominant cannabis legal both recreationally and medically; other states, like Florida and New York, have made THC-dominant cannabis legal medically.  

        Hemp

        Hemp is legal federally. Hemp is defined as cannabis with 0.3% or less THC. Hemp is often rich in other phytocannabinoids like CBD, CBD-A, CBG, CBN, and so on. 

        Believe it or not, CBD products can actually be derived from either hemp or marijuana. However, all Alter Native products (whether from third-party brands or our own brand) are derived from hemp.   

        Wait, what? How do you derive CBD from hemp? 

        Well, that’s a question that requires a long and complicated answer weighed down by a lot of heavy vocabulary. To keep things simple, let’s remember:  

        All CBD comes from the plant cannabis, and in our case, all of our CBD comes from the “hemp” variety of the plant cannabis.  

        Decarboxylation  

        That means that all CBD product starts as raw hemp flower. This raw hemp flower is then turned into an oil through a variety of methods.

        Usually, the raw hemp flower first undergoes the process of decarboxylation. This is the scientific name for drying the flower out at a high temperature to activate its beneficial ingredients like THC or CBD or CBN by transforming its precursors (THCA into THC, CBDA into CBD, and so on and so forth).  

        When we smoke or vape hemp flower, the hemp flower automatically undergoes the process of decarboxylation. There are a variety of benefits to precursors such as CBDA or THCA, of course, but that is a topic for another blog post. 

        Extraction 

        Decarboxylation can occur before or after extraction. The basic idea here is that before your hemp flower becomes CBD oil, a solvent is passed through the plant material (the hemp flower) in order to separate out the desired active compounds (CBD, other phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and so on).  

        There are several extraction methods. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Extraction methods are often determined by cost (some extraction methods require very, very expensive equipment) and the kind of extract you are looking to end up with (full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate).  

        Okay. I think I get it. So my product starts out as raw hemp flower, which is then dried and/or passed through a machine where its beneficial parts are separated and then re-added into one final product: hemp oil.  

        Yes! You’re getting it. 

        So what’s the difference between full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate CBD? 

        The cannabis plant has LOTS of parts! CBD is just one of them. CBD is a phyto (latin for “from a plant”) cannabinoid. THC, CBG, CBN and others are also phytocannabinoids. Scientists have so far identified 113 phytocannabinoids in cannabis and any given hemp strain can have a number of these interacting with each other.  

        Terpenes 

        Cannabis also has terpenes (or aroma chemicals).

        • Terpenes are found in other botanicals and are the reason why essential oils have the benefits they do.
        • Terpenes are also the reason why a particular hemp strain smells the way it does.  

        For example, all citrus fruits have the terpene limonene. Lavender has the terpene linalool; chamomile has the terpene bisabolol; pine needles have the terpene pinene. And yes, all of these terpenes can also be found in the cannabis plant. Scientists have found 200 terpenes in cannabis so far!  

        Flavonoids  

        Finally, scientists have identified about 20+ flavonoids or flavor chemicals in cannabis. We don’t know much about these just yet or what they can do on their own, but early research indicates that just like terpenes in essential oils, flavonoids affect our bodies in many beneficial ways.   

        Full Spectrum CBD 

        Full spectrum, sometimes also known as “whole plant” extraction, is pretty much as it sounds: it’s the whole plant.

        • With full spectrum CBD, you aren’t just getting CBD.
        • You’re also getting the other phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids present in the plant.
        • That also means you are getting trace levels of THC.  

        All hemp-derived CBD products (like ours!) that are marketed as whole plant or full spectrum will have less than 0.3% THC. That means they won’t get you high; far from it! However, because full spectrum CBD products DO have trace levels of THC, they WILL show up on a drug test, especially if consumed daily.  

        Entourage Effect 

        The benefits of whole plant extraction are many!

        When the whole plant is preserved, you experience the entourage effect.

        • All of the parts of the plant interact with each other, helping each other out, amplifying each others’ beneficial parts and diminishing each others’ negative parts.
        • A great example of this is the interaction between THC and CBD. There are a LOT of benefits to having trace levels of THC, especially for brain health.
        • Funny thing is, CBD actually blocks the absorption of THC in the parts of your brain that associate THC with feeling high.

        So when you put CBD and THC together, you essentially get the benefits of THC without the high, because CBD stops THC from acting on the parts of your brain that would recognize THC as something that would make you high to begin with! 

        Broad Spectrum CBD 

        Broad spectrum CBD is, in essence, the same thing as full spectrum CBD minus the THC. This is the perfect solution for those of you looking to receive whole plant benefits without the risk of CBD showing up on a drug test. 

        CBD Isolate 

        Isolate CBD is CBD only; no terpenes, no phytocannabinoids, no flavonoids. There’s a lot of benefit to consuming CBD only. However, it’s no coincidence that A LOT of CBD isolate products are infused with essential oils that are rich in terpenes!  

        Choosing a Brand (COA) 

        Now that you know a bit about where your CBD product started and what its extract type means, you probably feel a lot less overwhelmed about the variety of CBD product options. 

        You know the kind of extract you want.

        But what about choosing a brand? 

        • One of the major benefits of going through a CBD retailer like us is that we do a lot of the brand vetting for you.
        • For those of you who are still unconvinced or would like to do your own research, read on! 

        Even though it’s not required, most brands today have something called a CoA, or a Certificate of Analysis, as a sign of good faith and transparency.  

        The CoA will tell you:

        • how clean the product is (levels of trace metals and pesticides),
        • if the product is what it says it is (how much CBD it has and what kind of extract it is),
        • and whether or not you can trust the brand (if it’s tested, and tested regularly, by a 3rd-party lab). 

        Where can I find a CoA?   

        A lot of products have QR codes that you can scan with your phone.

        • The QR code will automatically lead you to the product’s CoA.
        • For products that don’t have QR codes, you can typically find the CoA directly on their website.

        The CoA is usually located in the main dropdown navigation, under About Us, or in the footer section of the website. If you can’t find the CoA, don’t write off the brand just yet. Try to contact them first. 

        How do I read a CoA?   

        A CoA should have the following things: 

        • A main page listing the brand, the product name, the batch number, the lab that did the testing, and an overview of the results found on the following pages 
        • Phytocannabinoid and terpenoid analysis 
        • Testing for trace metals and pesticides 

        PLEASE NOTE! Some labs only readily provide the first page for consumers of the brand to view.

        • Don’t despair if that’s what you see; contact the brand and ask them for the full report. We’re sure they’d be more than happy to share it! If they don’t share it, then you can start feeling wary. 
        • Also note, some brands may not be able to afford to get all the tests. A single test can cost thousands of dollars!

        CoA: Things to Look For 

        Once you’ve located the brand’s CoA, here’s what you want to look out for. 

        • Identify the lab that tested the product. Is it in any way associated with the brand itself? The most reputable brands are 3rd-party lab tested. That means that the lab that tested the product has no association with the product’s brand outside of testing it.  
          • (!) This is important because in-house labs have every reason to fake reports to make their products look better than they really are. 
        • Identify the company name. This seems self-explanatory, but it’s something a lot of us miss. What company is on the lab report? Is it the brand whose product is being tested? 
        • Identify the product name and batch number. Is there one? If the company is small, just started, or only has one product, lack of product name or batch number shouldn’t be too worrisome.  
          • The rule of thumb is that a reputable brand should have a CoA for every product and every batch of product they produce. Brands that don’t have this may not have the funds to test frequently, yes. Or they may be trying to conceal the fact that their most recent batch isn’t as good as the batch they produced previously. 
        • Identify the date of the lab report. Is it recent? If you’re buying a product in 2020 and the lab report is dated 2017 or 2018, that’s an issue!  
        • Identify the type of extract the brand says the product is. Is it full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate? The CoA should support this.  
          • Full spectrum CBD products should be rich in terpenes AND phytocannabinoids with a presence of THC or THCA.  
          • Broad spectrum CBD products should be rich in terpenes AND phytocannabinoids with NO presence of THC.  
          • Isolate products should have no other phytocannabinoids and no other terpenes, although isolate products that are infused with essential oils may and probably should show the presence of terpenes found in those essential oils. 
        • Identify the amount of CBD the product says it has. Typically, a CoA will present the CBD amount (and the amount of other phytocannabinoids like THC or CBN or CBG) in one of the following three ways: milligrams (mg) of CBD in the full product; milligrams (mg) of CBD per gram (g); milligrams (mg) of CBD per milliliter (mL).  
          • If the CoA uses the first method, no math necessary! Just check that number against the number advertised on the product. 
          • If the CoA uses the second method (amount of CBD in mg per gram), identify the amount of grams in the product. If you can’t find this on the product itself, check the CoA. The math is easy from there.  
            • If a product weighs 25 grams and has 300 mg of CBD, we divide 300 mg by 25 grams and get 12 mg of CBD / 1 gram of product. This would tell us that the CoA should list the CBD content as 12 mg of CBD per gram.  
          • If the CoA uses the third or last method (mg of CBD per mL), the same concept applies. Remember: 1 oz = 30 mL. Most tinctures or CBD oils are 30 mL.  
            • If the product in question has 30 mL and 1000 mg, we divide 1000 mg by 30 mL and get 33.33 mg of CBD / 1 mL of product. This would tell us that the CoA should list the CBD content as 12 mg of CBD per gram.  
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