Signs You’re Overpaying for CBD Oil
Many factors contribute to the cost of creating cannabidiol products—the best way to avoid spending too much is to first educate yourself on what to look for when choosing a brand.
These days, everywhere you turn you’re bound to encounter CBD oil—aside from standalone bottles of oil, it’s also found in bath and beauty products, supplements, pet treats, over-the-counter ointments, and beverages and snacks. So where did this CBD surge come from? “The sale of CBD products sky-rocketed 706 percent from the passage of the second Farm Bill in 2018 to the end of 2019,” according to the forthcoming book The Essential Guide to CBD. Copyright © 2021 by Trusted Media Brands, Inc. and Project CBD. “The research firm Brightfield Group estimates that, by 2023, the total U.S. CBD market could reach $23.7 billion.”
If you’ve stopped to examine or purchase CBD oil (first: brush up on these CBD facts you need to know), you’ve likely noticed the massive discrepancy in pricing from one brand to the next—a practice that leaves many consumers wondering if “you get what you pay for” or if they should simply choose a budget-friendly option instead.
“The market always determines the price, and we are in the early stages of CBD production,” says Aaron Riley, CEO of CannaSafe, California’s leading ISO accredited cannabis testing laboratory. “As the wholesale prices of CBD come down, it will directly impact the cost of products. With the amount of hemp production in progress, I project that CBD prices will become much more affordable over the next few years.”
While that’s certainly good news for your future wallet, let’s explore what steps you can take now to ensure you’re paying a fair price for your CBD oil.
How much does CBD oil cost?
If you’ve started shopping around for CBD, you’ve likely seen some bottles for as low as $30 while others retail for upwards of $200. A recent report by Leafreport, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based educational platform with a mission to introduce transparency into the confusing CBD industry, compared the prices of almost 90 different brands and checked how they changed from 2019 (good news: 70 percent of brands lowered their prices in 2020). Prices are usually shown in dollars per milligram of CBD. The organization found that tinctures currently cost between $0.025 to $0.20 per mg of CBD, with an average of $0.09.
To most accurately compare costs across products, calculate the cost per milligram by dividing the cost of the product by the total number of milligrams in a bottle. For example, to compare a $50 bottle containing 500 mg of CBD to a $150 bottle containing 2500mg of CBD:
$50/500mg = $0.10/mg
$150/2500mg = $0.06/mg
In this example, the more expensive bottle is actually the better deal.
Why CBD oil is so expensive: potency
CBD pricing depends on a host of features, but the most important factor is potency. “Regardless of the brand or bottle size, the main difference in pricing comes from how many milligrams of CBD is packed into the bottle,” says Roger Brown, CEO and president of ACS Laboratory, the largest state-of-the-art cannabis and hemp testing facility in the eastern United States. “The higher the potency, the greater the efficacy.”
Why CBD oil is so expensive: raw materials and ingredients
“The simple answer is that it takes a lot of plant to make a little bottle of oil,” says Kristina Risola, MA, CRC, NBC-HWC, a national board-certified health and wellness coach with a focus in cannabis coaching who serves as lead faculty for Natural Wellness Academy’s Cannabis Coaching Program. “The average CBD dominant flower is somewhere around 10 percent CBD at dry weight. This means that a 1,500 mg bottle of CBD oil takes approximately a half-ounce of dried material to make. While this doesn’t sound like a lot of plant material, it is.”
Along these same lines, a “full-spectrum” will be more expensive than a product labeled as “isolate.” Why? “Commercial extraction processes often destroy the other medicinal compounds in the plant, like terpenes, leaving a CBD isolate behind,” says Risola. “Medicinally this is not the same as a full spectrum or whole plant extract. We need far larger amounts of isolated CBD, than when using products that include the full spectrum of medicinal compounds to achieve the same effects.”
Unfortunately, due to the lack of regulation, terms like “full-spectrum” are often slapped on labels as a marketing ploy and may not hold any merit.
Why CBD oil is so expensive: the extraction process
The extraction process also makes a difference in the final retail price. “Solvent-based extraction methods—which may use solvents such as CO2, ethanol, or butane—are the most scalable, and generally the least expensive,” says Brown. “These products are also generally safe. But solvent-based extraction can lead to harmful toxins remaining in the product, so brands must test for residual solvents to be sure.”
Alternatively, solventless extraction is more expensive because it’s the most resource-intensive process. “It’s also the most natural and most safe,” he says. “As more and more consumers learn about this method, we’re seeing demand increase despite the price point.”
Why CBD oil is so expensive: overhead
There’s quite a bit of overhead in producing CBD oil, and these costs get passed along to consumers. “Despite being legal, the CBD industry still faces many hurdles because it’s new and associated with cannabis,” says Lital Shafir, head of product at Leafreport. “As a result, it’s harder and more expensive for CBD companies to gain access to banking, insurance, payment processing, and investors.”
Plus, don’t forget about ensuring safety and efficacy, either. “Third-party testing is non-negotiable,” Risola says. “If the company isn’t doing testing and providing it to you for review, stay far away. Testing should include results for cannabinoid content in addition to screenings for residual solvents, heavy metals, mold, pesticides, and other potential contaminants.”
Does higher-priced CBD mean higher quality?
If you typically shop with the mentality of “it’s expensive, so it must be worth it,” it’s wise to abandon those thoughts when it comes to CBD oil. “There are plenty of products with eye-catching labels, hefty price tags, and poor-quality product—and even no CBD in it at all,” cautions Risola, who points out that “hemp seed oil” doesn’t contain CBD and definitely shouldn’t be listed as the first ingredient. “Much like food, knowing your source is the best way to higher quality. Some of the best CBD I’ve purchased has been online, from small farms, and very inexpensive.”
What should you look for when choosing a CBD oil?
“I would encourage people to focus on how the CBD was extracted, how did it test, and the quality of the other ingredients,” suggests Riley. He also recommends looking the brand up online, to learn about their story and their products. Here’s what you want to look for:
- If they post their certificate of analysis (COA)
- If their COA is from a credible lab
- If the label matches up to the COA
- If the COA is dated around the time of the batch you’re considering (Note: In cannabis, every batch has to get tested, but the same is not true for CBD. Often, a business will use the same COA for a year, so the product isn’t necessarily representative of the test they are advertising.)
Additionally, Risola says it’s important to know where the product was made. “If the person selling the product to you doesn’t know where it was grown, how it was processed, and how it got to their store shelf, it’s not worth spending money on—and certainly not worth putting in your body. There are a lot of mislabeled, white-labeled, and outright fraudulent products on the market.”
You might be paying too much for your CBD oil if it lacks any of the above safeguards.
Where should you buy CBD oil?
By now, you may be wondering if it matters if you buy CBD oil online versus in a retail shop. “If you can find a product from a reputable CBD brand in a retail shop then no, it doesn’t matter,” says Shafir. “That way, you can check the company’s third-party test results, reviews, and other info online before making your purchase. However, the issue is that retail shops often carry low-quality CBD products from brands that might not even have an online presence—so you can’t do any research to protect yourself. This is especially true for CBD oil sold at gas stations.”
Of course, you also need to be careful shopping online. “Consumers can also run into a plethora of online brands illegally shipping across the country that do not follow any state regulations,” warns Brown. “Consumers who decide to buy online, should do their due diligence and look for COAs associated with the products they’re interested in.” It’s also best to buy directly from the consumer’s website, versus big box stores or third-party sites to avoid knock-offs and scams—which also might jack up the price of the product.
So, how do you know if you’re overpaying?
“Everyone reacts differently to CBD, but consumers who buy potent, full-spectrum CBD oils and do not feel any effects should know they’re probably overpaying,” says Brown.
Hopefully, this marketplace uncertainty won’t last much longer. “I predict that we will have testing requirements and more transparency over the next couple years, which will lead to a more fair market for consumers,” says Riley.
In the meantime, to help consumers choose the most affordable and efficacious CBD oils, Leafreport surveyed over 3,500 products from 52 brands. The organization offers a buying guide based on price, purity of product, the potencies available, the transparency and reputation of each company, and their customer service. Their top picks include:
Next, read on to learn about CBD and dogs.
- Aaron Riley, CEO of CannaSafe
- LeafReport: “CBD Pricing: Why did prices drop in 2020? Does price equate to quality? Who are the most and least expensive within each category?”
- Roger Brown, CEO and president of ACS Laboratory
- Kristina Risola, MA, CRC, NBC-HWC, a national board-certified health and wellness coach
- Lital Shafir, head of product at Leafreport