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The CBD industry is seeing growth like never before. Let these experts help you sort the good stuff from the snake oil.

CBD is having a tremendous moment right now. A quick Google search will hit you with a deluge of websites, brands, videos, and products. There’s CBD made specifically for athletes. CBD made for people who suffer from chronic pain. CBD as a sleep aid. There’s even CBD for your anxious dog. But how do you know what you’re getting is actually the good stuff? Did you know there’s a difference between hemp oil and CBD? At first blush, it can seem intimidating, but let me assure you, there are a few easy ways to tell if the drops/gummies/softgels you’re getting are legit.

I promise I won’t get too pedantic or, ahem, lost in the weeds. So to help me out, I tapped a slew of experts — doctors, entrepreneurs, testers, and others — to sort through the snake oils and amiable branding, leaving you with only the best options in tinctures, edibles, mints, balms, and everything else. Now, let’s dive right in.

What exactly is CBD and does it work?
CBD is shorthand for cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound in hemp plants that has medicinal benefits (sleep relief, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-anxiety properties, etc.) without the psychoactive properties of THC. In short, you get all the benefits of marijuana with none of the negative side effects (paranoia, rapid heart beat, staying up way too late watching YouTube). For an even larger breakdown, check out our handy explainer about the differences of THC and CBD.

But does it work? Science and anecdotal evidence would all point to yes. The strongest evidence is CBD’s active role in helping children with epilepsy and adults with anxiety and sleep disorders. The latter came up plenty in my research. Dr. Cheryl Bugailiskis, a cannabis specialist at Heally, told me that “There are many options for helping with anxiety. One of our favorite CBD products to recommend to patients suffering from anxiety is Papa & Barkley’s CBD Hemp Drops.” Peter Stadniuk, founder of the CBD purveyor Seabedee says “Using a CBD anxiety blend tincture is an easy addition to a daily routine, and multiple studies have shown that CBD can be useful in the treatment and management of generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Seabedee’s anxiety relief tincture has a special blend of terpenes that are known specifically to help treat these anxiety ailments and help users relax.”

How do I know if I’m getting the good stuff?
This is where things can get a bit complicated, so I’ll try to break it down as simply as I can. All of the experts I consulted agreed it’s all about third party testing and reading about the lab tests (which any reputable brand will have on their site or packaging). Some popular trusted companies with great consumer feedback — and transparent testing data — include Highline Wellness, Healist Naturals, and Populum. Nancy Duitch, founder of Sera Labs — a science-based CBD brand — says “Before any purchase of CBD, the consumer needs to do their homework. Go online to review the company website as well as product reviews. All legitimate brands will have their Certificates of Analysis on the site to ensure the correct percentage of CBD and the THC levels, which must be below 0.3%”

Dave DiCosola, CEOof Half Day CBD, echoes her sentiment: “When choosing CBD products, find ones that have been tested through independent laboratories. Reputable CBD manufacturers will post their lab results on their website and also share where their hemp was grown, how it was processed and where it was manufactured.” These results should be easy to find and readily posted. However, understanding them is a different story. One thing you’ll absolutely want to look for is the amount of CBD in each product. According to Michael Bryce, co-founder and global CMO for Healist Advanced Naturals, “People need to pay very close attention to the quantity of CBD, not hemp seed oil or hemp extract, contained in their product. Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD and different quality hemp extracts can contain very different concentrations of CBD.”

Aside from making sure you’re getting the right amount of CBD, you’ll also want to pay close attention to lab tests. And though they can be intimidating at first, if you know what to spot, it’s much easier to understand. HempFusion CEO and founder, Jason Mitchell, N.D., stressed that “Lab testing should provide testing for pesticides and herbicides, heavy metal contaminants, cannabinoid and terpene profile, and should show more than just CBD. They should reveal residual solvent contamination, and microbiological safety. By having access to this information you can verify that the product contains what you want and is safe to consume by making sure what you don’t want isn’t there.”

The most consistent piece of advice I received from the experts was to do some quick preliminary research on any brand. Read the customer testimonials and reviews (and look for lab tests). Once you’ve done that you’re ready to move on to…

Gummies, drops, drinks, or capsules?
CBD comes in almost every form imaginable. The most popular, though, are gummies and tinctures. For an exceedingly in-depth breakdown on gummies, our friend and expert Janelle Lassalle gets into the nitty gritty. But the gist is this: start with a small dose (10mg – 15mg based on your weight/height), give yourself time to feel the effects (about 20mins to an hour), and then scale up accordingly. A couple brands of gummies I’ve tried with positive results have been from CBDistillery (which offers a variety of great options) as well as Highline Wellness.

Many experts recommend edibles rather than oils/tinctures simply because the effects last longer and give you a more accurate way to identify how the CBD is working for you. That said, tinctures are more popular than ever. Erin Stone, co-founder of Hinterland Co., tells me that “CBD oil is an obvious place to start. It offers you total flexibility. You can take it as drops, buccally (inside the cheeks) or sublingually (under the tongue), or add it to food or drinks. You have total control over the strength of each dose.” And to reiterate, you’ll want to make sure you check the CBD amount on the label. Popularity aside, there’s actually a lot of disagreement in the community about the effectiveness of tinctures. Justin Singer, the CEO and co-founder of CBD brand, Caliper CBD, offers this: “According to the WHO, up to 94% of the CBD in tinctures and capsules (today’s most popular product formats) will pass through the body without ever entering the bloodstream.” His company created a dissolvable powder which is absorbed much quicker and will give you more bang for your buck.

Drinks are a category that has been growing tremendously popular in the CBD space. After trying a few myself, I found one in particular to be especially tasty and effective: Kill Cliff. The drink may sound pretty intense (especially if your name is Cliff), but I really enjoyed it. Aside from boasting 25mg of CBD per can, it also hits you with caffeine and vitamins. Of course, drinks are not without their own controversy. In the same way many argue that oil and water don’t mix, many think drinking CBD just won’t give you the highest dosage possible. But all human physiology is different, and at the end of the day, it’s about finding what’s right for you. One way companies are doing this is by creating curated boxes. For instance, the company Cure Crate gives you the option to pinpoint your needs and receive a curated box every month with a regimen that’s tailored to you. It’s a great way for newbies to find their favorite types of CBD without committing to an oil or gummies.

Are we CBDone here?
As much confidence as all of this info should give you, the most important thing to do as a CBD consumer is to do your research. It’s not a perfect science and there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gleaned. Anecdotally, though, as someone with anxiety, I’ve been using CBD for a while and I find it has legitimate soothing effects. It helps me sleep at night and can calm me down if I’ve had too much cold brew. I prefer tinctures and gummies overall, but I’ll give anything a shot. That’s kind of the fun part about it: experimenting.

Of course, the CBD industry is exploding, and brands are going to great lengths to distinguish themselves, marketing to specific demographics like athletes, women, and the budget-minded. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I’ve pulled together a list of some of the most popular (and expert-recommended) brands out there. I’ve sampled products from most, and each one readily provides lab results to ensure you’re getting the real deal. Plus, most of them even have experts on hand well-versed in the science of CBD who are happy to answer any questions.

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