At first glance, measuring the strength of a CBD oil seems simple. Read the label to see how much CBD a product contains, and voila. But because CBD oils can be isolates, distillates, or broad-spectrum, determining strength can be a bit tricky.
Moreover, some product labels can make it harder to know exactly how strong a product is, or how potent a dose it provides. So we'll start there, with the product label of a CBD oil itself. Then, we'll take a look at how testing labs measure the strength of a CBD oil, and how that connects with what's on the label. “When you're talking about strength, you're talking about potency,” explained Adie Rae , a science adviser to Weedmaps News and an academic researcher with a Ph.D. in neuroscience who has been studying cannabinoids since 2004. “And that means how much CBD per volume.” As Rae explained, you could have two CBD oils, both in 30 milliliter bottles. But one contains 3,000 milligrams of CBD and the other contains 6,000 milligrams of CBD. In this example, the stronger oil is the one with 6,000 milligrams of CBD per 30 milliliter container. In fact, it's twice as strong, so you'd have to take twice as much of the less potent oil to achieve the same dose.
And if the stronger CBD oil is less than twice as much as the weaker version, you're saving yourself money by going with the more potent bottle. Makers of cannabidiol (CBD) oils have not settled on a standard measurement for concentration. Some labels will list purity, while others will list percentage by volume (Photo by Shutterstock) Sometimes, however, packages will tell you what percentage of CBD contained in the oil. A label may say that the CBD in the product is 99% pure if it contains a CBD isolate, or 70% if it contains a distillate. This tells you the strength of the CBD in the oil, but it doesn't tell you how potent the CBD oil is by volume. And that means you won't be able to tell how strong a dose is, so it's important to find where the package indicates how much CBD it contains in milligrams. From a lab technician's perspective, however, determining CBD oil strength looks a little different. According to Myron Ronay, CEO of BelCosta Labs , manufacturers test for strength at every stage of the supply chain. They test the industrial hemp plants for CBD potency, then the initial “crude” oil and again at each stage of distillation. CBD oil manufacturers do this to ensure quality, consistency and legal compliance. But it's a test of the final product that determines what gets printed on the label. Most of the time, labs like BelCosta use High Performance Liquid Chromatography ( HPLC ) to measure CBD oil strength. For the technically curious, the test produces a table of wavelengths that act as the chemical fingerprints of various cannabinoids. This allows lab technicians to identify which compounds a sample contains as well as their relative quantities. When testing for CBD oil strength, BelCosta analyzes for 14 different major and minor cannabinoids, including CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol ( CBN ), and cannabigerol (CBG). The results show the percentage of CBD and other compounds in the sample. Reliable CBD oil companies will provide these results on their websites or product packaging. Undeniably, today's CBD market places a premium on potency. A dose that works for one person might be totally ineffective for someone else. Our individual bodies and metabolism, the bioavailability of different consumption methods and myriad other factors make experiences with CBD highly subjective and variable. Still, CBD consumers aren't completely in the dark. Strength does matter, and in a few very important ways. First, strength matters from the standpoint of efficacy. The stronger a CBD oil, the higher its potency, the more effects it's going to produce. In the view of Rae, the cutoff for a “high potency” CBD oil is 35 milligrams per serving. Anything below that, and consumers are likely to have immeasurable blood levels of CBD. “For me, when I'm buying hemp oil, I go for 50 milligrams CBD per milliliter,” Rae said. That's a fairly high concentration of CBD, and one you won't find in most CBD oil products below the $100 mark.
But potency (mg/mL) is only part of the larger strength equals efficacy equation. Research is still ongoing, but most experts agree that CBD on its own is going to be less effective overall than a full-spectrum oil containing roughly the same amount of CBD. “No matter how much CBD isolate you're taking, it's not going to be as therapeutically beneficial as a broad-spectrum product,” Rae said. BelCosta Lab's Myron Ronay echoes Rae's preference for broad-spectrum CBD oil over isolates. He said CBD is most effective when it can take advantage of the entourage effect , which is its interaction with other cannabinoids and terpenes in the oil. To bind with the cell receptors of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and therefore produce therapeutic effects, CBD might need the help of THC and minor cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and others. “Ratio is more important than strength in absolute terms,” Ronay said.
And that's usually the difference between a broad-spectrum and a full-spectrum” product: full-spectrum cannabis oil contains THC.