While only a handful of states have legalized recreational and medical cannabis, only three states have outlawed CBD oil: Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota. If you live outside of those states, you can probably find some CBD products online or in stores. But why is CBD so much more expensive than other cannabis products?
This conundrum is especially mystifying when you consider the fact that CBD doesn’t have the psychoactive benefits that most folks seek from cannabis products. Let’s take a closer look at what CBD is and how it’s extracted from cannabis plants.
What is CBD?
For starters, CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is one of the dozens of chemical compounds that are found in cannabis plants. CBD can be extracted from cannabis plants and then mixed with an oil carrier (hemp seed oil or coconut oil) to create CBD oil.
The most important thing to know about CBD is that it’s distinct from THC, which is also derived from cannabis. CBD doesn’t create the “high” that most people associate with THC and cannabis. However, there is research indicating that CBD oil can have health benefits for people without the “high” of THC.
Various studies have suggested that CBD oil is useful in relieving pain, clearing up acne, reducing anxiety and depression, and alleviating the symptoms of cancer, among other claims. To some extent, the jury is still out, although the health and wellness community is becoming more receptive to the benefits of CBD oil.
Different Types of CBD Processing
The processing of CBD oil is one of the reasons for its high cost. The machinery used to harvest hemp and isolate CBD is expensive, so producing CBD oil is not a cheap endeavor for companies to undertake. There are also a few different methods of processing CBD that ultimately have an impact on both the quality of the end product and the price that consumers will pay for it.
Extracting CBD oil using carbon dioxide yields some of the highest-quality CBD available. Naturally, it’s also one of the more expensive ways that CBD oil is produced. It requires several machines (none of which run cheap) that use liquid carbon dioxide to act as a solvent for CBD.
The good news is that this method is tried and true, producing CBD oil that’s safe for consumption and incredibly potent. However, between the equipment and the lab setting required to work with liquid CO2, the overhead costs of such an operation are far higher than other extraction methods. The other downside is that carbon dioxide extraction produces a smaller amount of CBD oil than other methods, meaning the supply is more limited, which further increases prices.
Olive Oil Extraction
Extracting CBD oil using olive oil is another option. While CO2 extraction is more common with larger operations, olive oil extraction makes it possible for small cannabis businesses and at-home growers to produce CBD oil. This method involves heating the cannabis plant to activate its chemicals before mixing the hemp with olive oil and heating it for an hour or two at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
In lieu of olive oil many people also use coconut oil for its healthy fats, or regular dairy butter for its flavor. There are a wide variety of decarboxylation devices that make this process a breeze to do at home. Big consumer brands in this space include Ardent Nova, and more recently, Levo 2, a “smart” home solution for personal extraction.
The biggest pros of this extraction method are that it’s safe and inexpensive for small-scale growers. However, the results can vary, making it difficult to guarantee the end product will be high-quality CBD oil. It’s also difficult to create enough CBD oil to sell commercially; it’s more suited for growers who want to produce oil for themselves and a few friends.
Ethanol Solvent Extraction
Ethanol solvent extraction is one of the cheapest methods of producing CBD oil. Using ethanol as the solvent is a relatively quick process that yields a higher volume of CBD oil than carbon dioxide. The machinery used in the process is also far less expensive.
But because it’s a less-sophisticated process, there are safety concerns. There will also be residual ethanol solvent in the CBD oil, which can diminish the quality of the final product.
Full-Spectrum vs. the Cheaper Alternatives
For CBD oil users, it’s important to understand the difference between the “gold standard” full-spectrum oils versus the isolate oils.
What Is Full-Spectrum CBD Oil?
A full-spectrum CBD oil won’t be pure CBD oil. Rather, it will include a variety of elements found in cannabis plants. This will include other cannabinoids, as well as terpenes, fatty acids, vitamins, and small amounts of THC. With over 100 cannabidiol compounds in cannabis plants, people are more likely to feel the positive effects of CBD oil if it’s a full-spectrum product. Users may also benefit from the vitamins, fatty acids, and protein present in full-spectrum CBD oil.
Meanwhile, the amount of THC in full-spectrum products is so minimal that users won’t feel a “high” from it.
For people using CBD oil as a health supplement, full-spectrum products are often considered to be the gold standard. They are the best way to experience the full effects and benefits of cannabis plants. Of course, in addition to the high cost of extraction and the quality of full-spectrum CBD oil, the demand for full-spectrum oils contributes to the high cost of these products.
What Are Isolates?
Many of the available CBD oils are considered isolates, which isolate CBD from the other compounds in cannabis plants. Isolates are cheaper to produce than full-spectrum CBD oils because they don’t extract a lot of the other cannabinoids, terpenes, THC, and so on.
There are also broad-spectrum CBD oils, which fall somewhere between full-spectrum and isolates. Broad-spectrum products have undergone refinement to remove any traces of THC before the CBD oil is bottled and sold. Since they’re easier to produce and not as potent, broad-spectrum CBD oils are priced on the lower side as well.
The catch is that isolates and broad-spectrum CBD products are sometimes passed off as top-shelf, full-spectrum CBD oils to justify higher prices. However, studies show that the benefits of CBD isolates are noticeably less than full-spectrum CBD oils, which means that isolates shouldn’t be priced the same, even if companies try to market them as more potent CBD full-spectrum oils. Plus, it’s false advertising at best and a full-on scam at worst.
Third-Party Testing of CBD Oil
Third-party testing has become a critical part of the CBD oil market because it can determine what products are the most potent. Many companies are choosing to pay independent labs to test their products and then display the results on the bottle or in a public forum. This helps to give consumers confidence that the “full-spectrum CBD oil” isn’t an isolate or broad-spectrum product.
Independent labs will test specimens for a variety of cannabinoids, most notably CBD and THC. These are the two most important items to test. Needless to say, the amount of CBD measured during testing needs to match the amount that’s listed on the bottle. The levels of THC detected are also critical. Users of CBD oil don’t expect to get a “high” from the oil, so levels of THC need to be kept to a minimum to avoid any psychoactive effects.
Lab testing will also look at levels of terpenes, which contribute to the smell of cannabis plants, as well as some of their therapeutic benefits. The presence of terpenes will also be a strong indicator that the CBD oil is full-spectrum, as they are removed from CBS isolates during the extraction process. Therefore, if there’s an isolate being marketed as a full-spectrum CBD oil, third-party testing will expose the potential scam because the product will lack terpenes.
Third-party testing will also help to expose products that contain heavy metals or biological contaminants. Cannabis can be vulnerable to harmful compounds like lead, mercury, arsenic, or cadmium that are in the soil where the plants are grown. These heavy metals can do serious damage if consumed, so testing helps to detect any harmful batches of CBD oil. Labs can also detect bacteria, mold, or parasites that infected the cannabis plant and could be harmful to consumers.
The purpose of third-party testing is also to hold companies accountable for the prices they charge. The problem is that third-party testing isn’t a requirement for selling cannabis products. If consumers don’t look for a certificate of analysis or confirmed results from third-party lab testing, they may not be buying the product they want – or paying too much for it.
Since cannabis is federally illegal, there’s no FDA-approved CBD product (except for a single prescription treatment for epilepsy). So the consumer needs to be extra vigilant!
Organic CBD Oil
One good reason for the high cost of CBD oil is that many companies produce organic products. Some of the top brands that charge higher prices do so because their CBD oil is derived from organic hemp, meaning it’s free of GMOs and pesticides. Perhaps most importantly, organic CBD oils are more than likely going to be full-spectrum products. Even if you pay a high price for your CBD oil, with an organic brand, you can at least be sure that you’re going to get a potent and high-quality product.