Thousands of the cannabis products line store shelves, but determining what’s safe is up to you
As head farmer at Veritas Farms in Pueblo, Colo., Rianna Meyer has two big concerns when growing her 100,000 hemp plants, a form of cannabis closely related to marijuana.
One is making sure that plants don’t absorb any of the potentially harmful chemicals that might be in the soil. The other is how much of the plant’s two key compounds they contain: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which gets users high, and CBD (cannabidiol), which is gaining increasing attention for its potential health benefits.
As it turns out, those are also two of the most important factors that consumers should consider when choosing among the thousands of CBD products now being sold across the country.
And those choices are soon likely to become even more confusing: The CBD market is expected to multiply at least sevenfold by 2021, to $2.15 billion, up from $292 million in 2016, according to the Brightfield Group, a market research firm that specializes in cannabis. Even Coca-Cola says it’s “closely watching” the growing interest in CBD and its potential as an ingredient in some of the company’s beverages.
Such demand keeps Meyer—vice president for operations at Veritas Farms (pictured above) as well as a retired fire captain and an Air Force veteran—on alert. For one things, she says, “If cannabis plants are stressed out by the weather, they’ll create more THC.”
That’s important to farmers like Meyer, and to consumers. When a plant contains 0.3 percent or less THC, the federal government considers it “industrial hemp,” and by Colorado’s and most states’ reckoning, can legally be formulated into oils, tinctures, topicals, and capsules, and widely sold to consumers. But if a plant has THC levels above 0.3 percent, the federal government considers it marijuana, and even states where it is legal sharply limit where the products can be sold.
In addition to THC, Meyer and consumers also need to worry about whether CBD products have contaminants. That’s because cannabis plants readily absorb heavy metals, pesticides, and other potentially harmful chemicals that may be in the soil or water, says Kyle Boyar, a cannabis scientist at Medicinal Genomics, a company that develops tests that help labs comply with state rules. To protect against that risk, cannabis plants should be tested frequently while they are growing, and finished products should be tested, using validated methods, too, Boyar says.
However, though 47 states have now legalized CBD from hemp, marijuana, or both (see map, below), many don’t require any testing. And among those that do, the details vary considerably. As a result, consumers need to take matters into their own hands and often have to rely on CBD manufacturers to self-police.
Meyer, at Veritas Farms, says consumers should learn as much as they can about CBD products they buy, including where they are grown and whether they were tested for both CBD and THC levels, as well as contaminants. “We’re trying to grow a plant that’s healthy, and healthy for you,” she says.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the factors to consider when shopping for a CBD product.