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Is Your CBD Oil a Scam?

Christine Kielhorn PHD

Your CBD oil may not be what you think it is.

There are a large variety of plants in the Cannabis family. The plants classified as Cannabis sativa L. come in two major phenotypes: the fiber producing variety and the medicine producing variety. A phenotype is the physical properties expressed because of the interaction between the environment and the genetic makeup of the plant. You’re probably wondering what your oil is then, and where it came from?

What is Hemp Oil?

The term “hemp” usually refers to the fiber producing variety of Cannabis sativa. However, you can also create hemp CBD oil from this plant. Whether or not a Cannabis plant is medicine producing depends on the levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it contains. People often measure the classifications in a ratio of THC to CBD.  Hemp varieties should have a higher ratio of CBD to THC, medicine producing varieties have a higher ratio of THC to CBD.

Some groups have identified the varieties as “chemotypes” because of the different chemical expression of cannabinoids. These often include a third classification of plant. In these, the THC and CBD levels are relatively equal, or about 1:1. Many people call these “hybrids.”

Confusing terms

The terminology is confusing. And, Especially confusing because people often misuse terms. Even worse, there are no standardized definitions. It is also possible to mislead consumers by publishing the ratio of CBD to THC instead of the overall content. Hemp varieties have a very high ratio of CBD to THC, but that is not because CBD levels are high, but often because THC levels are extremely low. While some therapeutic effect may result, it is not nearly as efficient or effective as obtaining CBD from a variety cultivated specifically for high CBD levels by weight.

Some retailers may sell a “hemp oil” as a medicinal product. However, this is misleading. Technically hemp oil is a product of the hemp seeds. It typically has a very low cannabinoid content.

CBD oil is another commonly marketed product that consists of concentrated CBD dissolved in oil (which may or may not be derived from hemp oil). CBD oil is one way to take CBD for medicinal purposes, so the expectation is that the levels of CBD would be high in this product. In the US, different states have specified the THC or CBD content that could qualify a product as high CBD. However, these range from having CBD levels as low as 3% to 15% CBD by weight.

FDA Warns Dealers

The FDA has already issued several warning letters to dealers of CBD oil. This comes in response to their finding incorrectly labeled products, and many that actually have very low CBD levels. Some even have high THC levels. Consumers should be wary and ask to see actual numbers in terms of weight or percent by weight. There has been a call to standardize terms and products in the cannabis industry in order to address these issues. The ASTM has formed a committee to discuss cannabis products and propose a series of standards for the industry. They will be advised by groups that have been working on this issue for several years now such as the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS).

cbd oil scam

Different countries or regions have different legal definitions of hemp based on THC levels, expressed as percent by weight of plant material (flowers, upper leaves, stems). In Europe, those plants with no more than 0.2% THC are hemp. In Canada no more than 0.3% THC. At this time in the US, you can only grow hemp for research purposes with a special license. On top of this, it should have THC levels of no more than 0.3%.

What about Recreational?

Recreational and medicinal Cannabis are varieties that are bred for high levels of THC or CBD. Breeders have produced varieties of Cannabis with THC levels of over 15%. These treat severe pain or cancer. There are even some medicinal varieties with CBD levels of up to 20%. People primarily grow the hemp varieties of Cannabis for fiber and seeds. Hemp fiber is very tough and durable, and hemp seeds have exceptional health benefits. It should be remembered that while hemp varieties do tend to produce some CBD, the levels are typically too low to be therapeutic.

Christine Kielhorn
  • Avatar
    Barbara Miller

    What should I look for? I want buy CBD oil for my chronic pain and anxiety and get off the pharmaceuticals I take, but I never know what I am getting. I got the hemp one time and it does absolutely nothing. Then one time I had a cbd oil, but it was so expensive and I had to take so much of it to get it to work, it wasn’t worth it. I can’t figure it out. I am 60 years old, and don’t buy anything in my limited budget, because I don’t know what to buy.
    Can you please help me?

    March 30, 2018 at 9:17 pm Reply
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      The best CBD is derived from the whole cannabis plant. Look for cannabis oil at 26 mg/ml CBD and taking anywhere from 0.5-1 ml twice per day. You have to look for CBD derived from the whole cannabis or hemp plant and it is always worthwhile to get it from a GMP certified producer if you can. CBD oil from hemp seeds (versus the plant) does not contain much CBD at all. Just because a product is labelled CBD does not necessarily mean it contains any useful concentration of the cannabinoid. Hope this helps.

      April 2, 2018 at 2:35 am Reply
    • Jennifer Grant

      Hi Barbara – Full Extract Cannabis Oil is what you want to look for. Try to find a cannabis physician in your region to help you with dosing. You may benefit from a tiny bit of high THC oil for pain…but that can also heighten anxiety. Best to work with a doc close to you. Cannabis medicine can definitely be pricey. Find out if there are any “compassionate pricing” dispensaries in your area. They will be able to provide a reduced price, but you often do need to have a medical cannabis card/prescription to access them.

      June 10, 2018 at 3:05 am Reply
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    A former cancer survivor. Also, I suffer from osteoarthritis in which every joint in my body seems to hurt beyond description and to compound the pain I also have degenerated discs in my back, so needless to say not a day goes by that I can say is a good day. But my dilemma is I reside in Indiana, CBD is now legal (0.3%) would it be worth buying CBD oil for relief or would it be a waste of money because the content is not high enough to help? Also, could you recommend a viable product that would actually be worth the money and work? I’ve tried some and unfortunately the results were neal… Any honest feedback would be appreciated!
    Thanks, Ed

    March 31, 2018 at 3:48 pm Reply
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      Hi Ed – CBD derived from hemp seed oil has very little CBD content. The best CBD is derived from the whole cannabis plant. In Canada, patients are getting great relief from cannabis oil at 26 mg/ml and taking anywhere from 0.5-1 ml twice per day. You have to look for CBD derived from the whole cannabis or hemp plant and it is always worthwhile to get it from a GMP certified producer if you can. Just because a product is labelled CBD does not necessarily mean it contains any useful concentration of the cannabinoid.

      April 2, 2018 at 2:33 am Reply
    • Jennifer Grant

      Hi Ed – this is likely hemp oil which may not have enough cannabinoids to help with that level of pain. You can check out Mary’s Medicinals, who ship throughout the US. Many patients recommend this company as reputable.

      June 10, 2018 at 3:01 am Reply
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    Raymond Blanton

    I live in TX where cannabis is illegal, but CBD is legal. I am a chronic pain patient and would to supplement my pain meds with CBD. The problem is I cannot, CAN NOT, fail a UA, ever because I’m on a pain contract, and regardless of what folks may think, my opioids help me to live. So I need serious, professional, medical advice. What do I do?

    March 23, 2019 at 4:49 pm Reply
    • Jennifer Grant

      It is highly unlikely that you would fail the UA on CBD, but there is 0.03% THC even in hemp-based CBD oil. So, there is no guarantee. The test does not look for metabolites of CBD. Why are you not permitted to take a legal product (CBD)?

      March 24, 2019 at 4:14 pm Reply

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