The ABCs of CBD

Get Smart About Cannabidiol

The volume, variety and availability of CBD and CBD-spiked products can be mystifying. Figuring out which products are right for you can trigger the anxiety CBD is supposed to relieve.

Nutritionist Laura Lagano knows about as much as anyone about the world’s current favorite cannabinoid. Her book, “The CBD Oil Miracle,” reviews the science behind the compound and more than 30 conditions it treats, such as anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inflammation and pain and skin disorders. Here’s an excerpt:

Deciding to integrate CBD into your lifestyle is an important step on your journey to health and wellness, a smart decision. Now what? How do you decide what type of product you need? What dose and timing are best for you and your specific needs? What are the differences among brands? These are just a few questions to ask as you set out to find your individualized path with CBD.

Hemp Oil versus Hemp Oil

Confusing, right? The CBD oil, or extract, that is made from the flower is what we’re covering. And then there is hemp seed oil that is used in cooking and on salads. These are two different products made from different parts of the hemp plant. These oils can be easy to differentiate, simply based on bottle size and price. The healing oil with CBD extract and other cannabinoids (known as whole plant) is typically in a smaller bottle with a dropper and costs more per ounce. Hemp oil that is in the food category has a lower price per ounce, similar in price to other cooking and salad oils.

Read the Label

A hemp-derived CBD label, which belongs in the dietary supplement category, can provide a lot of information. Look for:

  • Name of the product and company
  • Type of CBD—whole plant or isolate
  • Milligrams of extract in the total product and per serving
  • Source of the plant—organic, sustainable farm or not
  • Ingredients listed in descending order of amount
  • Supplement facts
  • Directions for use and the recommended dosage
  • Extraction method used
  • GMP, or Good Manufacturing Practices
  • Third-party testing verification

Consult with a cannabis practitioner to determine what is important for you specifically.


Choose Organic

Cannabis is a bioaccumulator, meaning it draws toxins from the soil. Any contaminants that are in the soil can be absorbed by the whole cannabis plant. Toxins are absorbed more into the seed than the flower. When CBD is extracted and concentrated, it too will contain pollutants that were present in the soil. So it is important for CBD products to come from plants grown on farms that use organic growing practices, free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, some whole plant CBD brands tend to throw the term “organic” around lightly; again, buyer beware. There is currently no USDA certification for organic cannabis.

Avoid Artificial or Unnecessary Ingredients

CBD does not require any chemical fillers, additives, preservatives or flavors. Check the label for harmful ingredients such as:

  • Artificial ingredients—colorings, flavorings, sweeteners
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • GMOs
  • Preservatives
  • Thinning agents, such as propylene glycol

Avoid Sweeteners

Select products that have zero or little sugar. Sugar contributes to inflammation, which is the exact opposite of what you want from a CBD product. Many cannabis edibles contain sugar, so be sure to read labels.

Ask for Lab Tests

Because whole plant CBD products are a totally new category, there is no standardization. CBD’s popularity has spiked in recent years and hemp can be legally grown commercially in only a few U.S. states, so a lot of hemp is imported from China and Eastern Europe, where standards may not be enforced, to keep up with demand. Buyer beware. Within the United States, hemp-growing laws vary from state to state where hemp is permitted to be grown, so quality control standards across the board are lacking.

It is vital that the product has been third-party tested and the manufacturer can provide a recent Certification of Analysis, or C of A. Typically, you would need to ask the manufacturer directly for that document. Of course, if you consult with a competent cannabis clinician, he or she can advise you about products and produce a C of A. Lab testing will provide results to ensure that your CBD product is free of contaminants such as bacteria, fungus, heavy metals, mold, pesticides and solvents.

Weigh Extraction Methods

To obtain whole plant CBD oil from hemp, it needs to be extracted from the plant. Buyer beware: Not all extraction methods are created equally. Avoid extraction methods that use unsafe solvents, such as butane or hexane, because they could end up in your CBD product. Other, safer extraction methods include:

  • Food Grade Alcohol This method utilizes high-grade grain alcohol, or ethanol, to extract cannabinoids, including CBD. Alcohol extraction has been used to process hemp and other botanical plants for centuries. Unfortunately, many brands use ethanol from GMO corn and hexane in the extraction process. Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline that is not safe for human consumption. When done properly and with care, alcohol extraction is an excellent method. It works especially well for tinctures taken sublingually and vape cartridges.
  • Supercritical CO2 This extraction method involves using carbon dioxide under high pressure and extremely low temperatures. Unwanted waxes and fats, which reduce shelf-life, often remain when using this extraction method. Although it is an easier process than alcohol extraction, supercritical CO2 is not always appropriate.

Keep in mind that different extraction methods are appropriate for different end products. The best scenario for shoppers is to ask the CBD manufacturer about how the cannabis is grown and how it is processed.

Excerpted from “The CBD Oil Miracle,” Castle Point Books, 2019

Laura Lagano is an integrative clinical nutritionist, educator, consultant and founder of the Holistic Cannabis Academy in New York. For more, go to lauralagano.com.

Photography by Frank Lawlor

Full Spectrum (aka whole plant)

Refers to the complete array of compounds in the plant—cannabinoids, terpenoids and more. Whole plant technically means that the product contains other plant matter such as fats, waxes and fibrous materials.

Hemp-Derived CBD, Marijuana-Derived CBD, Cannabis-Derived CBD

Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis. According to the US Farm Bill, hemp is the variety of the plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC and marijuana is the variety of the plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC. Hemp-derived CBD is extracted from the hemp plant and marijuana-derived CBD is from the marijuana plant. Cannabis-derived could technically be from either plant.

CBD Isolate 

Pure, extracted CBD without any other active compounds. For products that you consume by mouth, whole plant hemp oil is generally preferred to CBD isolate. For skincare and beauty products, CBD isolate is acceptable.