My journey to find a high quality CBD oil began with a friend recommending that I try “CBD” to help with my recent anxiety driven insomnia. So, I hopped on Amazon and tried to search for this “miracle supplement” – CBD. I was immediately overwhelmed by the various formulations, dosage labeling, and fancy, elaborate, marketing terms. I could not effectively differentiate between the products, the brands, nor able to glean a fulsome understanding of the product. So, as happens quite often, I end up not making a purchase and moving on with my day. (Turns out the labeling on Amazon is intentionally misleading in order for sellers to bypass policy.)
Well, CBD is now everywhere on my browser thanks to Google and Amazon’s nifty advertising and I even begin to notice CBD throughout the week, from the local convenient store to my yoga studio. Every time I happen to come across a CBD product, it is of a different brand and labeled “the best.” Each product also targeted a different audience by touting a different benefit. Is it possible that there are hundreds of brands? YES!, indeed it is possible and there are in fact hundreds of brands; maybe even thousands!
So, like any other diligent would-be customer trying to self-medicate, I found myself scouring through dozens of articles, reviews, and forums trying to differentiate between the brands. Attempting to use price points as a benchmark of quality led me down a rabbit hole that called for a deeper investigation! And here we are!
The below is the culmination of days of combing through websites and social media pages to identify and understand the most popular, user recommended brands in the U.S., speaking with customer service representatives at these companies, and speaking with local CBD experts Dan Watkins, Founder of SolCell, a NJ based international cannabis cultivation and processing company and Thomas Murphy, co-founder of Wholly Health, a start-up CBD company located in my hometown, Jersey City, NJ
Summary for those that want to get to the point:
The top 5 brands that offered exceptional quality at a great price were:
NuLeaf Naturals scored a top score and my top big-name recommendation due to having complete oversight from “seed to sale” of its “whole-plant extracts” sourced from licensed farms in Colorado. Nuleaf has one of the best CBD oils and is backed with 10,000+ positive user reviews and a comprehensive FAQ. This is the overall brand that I would recommend and personally use. Learn about Nuleaf here or shop here.
Jersey City’s Wholly Health offers a high-quality product at a bargain price. Wholly Health is one of many resellers who work with farms to create their own brands. Meeting with the founder and knowing that he designed this product for himself first and foremost and tests it independently (in addition to the quality tests at the farm and a newly granted approval by the U.S. Hemp Authority) makes me a believer. I also use this product daily. Using the link provided gives free shipping as a thank you for supporting local!
Charolette’s Web has a very positive reputation, thousands of reviews from loyal followers, a beautiful website, and a very extensive product offering, including topicals if you desire to use CBD to alleviate pain. CW has full control of the product from “seed to shelf.” CW IPO’d in 2018, making the company accountable to authorities and shareholders.
Endoca also has a very positive reputation, thousands of reviews, a beautiful website, and a very extensive product offering, however, is our only top brand to not grow their product in the U.S. The product is grown with high quality standards in Denmark and is an option for someone that seeks an alternative. Customer service responds to every review left on the website and there are thousands of them! Learn more here or shop here.
Please read our CBD basics blog post if you are unfamiliar with CBD.
This guide was put together to guide me and you in finding a quality CBD oil but can also serve as a general guide in finding other CBD products, such as softgells.
What qualities should you look for in choosing the right CBD?
There are three key boxes to check in determining whether a CBD product is of high quality:
- The quality of the hemp and CBD extraction method;
- The quality of the company; and
- Verification from third parties (labs and customers).
Like any other product for consumption, it is important to understand the source of the plant. Hemp grown in the U.S., with organic farming practices and without the use of pesticide is going to be the best option here.
Organic, pesticide free farming, is critical for hemp as the plant has properties that allow it to absorb contaminants from the soil while it grows. On a more practical level, anytime you choose to consume something in a concentrated form, quality is of highest precedence. Hemp is grown all around the world and soil quality, as well as, testing, varies greatly. Thus, U.S. organic grown is strongly preferred.
How the CBD is extracted is very important. Extracting oil from plants is not a new game in town (think extra virgin olive oil), and thus, a process known as CO2 extraction stands out as the best. CO2 extraction is used in a multitude of extraction processes, such as with coffee. The best CBD will be extracted using a chemical-free CO2 extraction process that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to pull the desired phytochemical (CBD) from a plant. This method is one of the most expensive, but also the safest plant extraction method in the world.
Finally, you are going to want to look for a “full spectrum” designation. Research has shown that there is an entourage, or synergistic, effect when all the components of the plant are consumed together. CBD is one of many cannabinoids and a “full spectrum” over the counter CBD oil will have traces of all of the naturally occurring cannabinoids.
Dan Watkins, Founder of SolCell shared that “CBD Isolate is probably the most concentrated source of CBD coming in at 99%+ pure CBD but loses lots of the other cannabinoids in the process of creating the isolate; subsequently losing the “full spectrum” designation. CBD Isolate is also difficult to dissolve without smoking it or making edibles.” Thus, finding a product made from a whole plant is ideal.
Personally, I did not put a lot of emphasis on taste, as I view this very much as a medicine. As long as the taste is not repugnant, it is satisfactory to me. Several of the big brands carry a natural flavor and other flavors, such as mint or orange. The natural flavor of the CBD oils tends to have a “nutty” or “earthy” taste.
Generally, and particularly when it comes to supplements such as CBD, you want to buy from an established company (at least 2 years) or from a source that you can individually validate; for example, a local company. Jersey City’s Wholly Health is a prominent local CBD brand. Customer Service was willing to speak to me during my research from all the big brands and the owners of Wholly Health did the same. Additionally, established companies tend to stand behind the product, offer product guarantees, and accept returns under normal circumstances.
Thomas Murphy, of Wholly Health, explained that he went through an 8-month process to find the right CBD product before deciding to sell to others. A long-time sufferer of anxiety, he reached a point where it became overwhelming and received the CBD recommendation from a doctor friend. CBD helped to significantly reduce his anxiety and he used himself as a guinea pig through the 8-month process of creating a high-quality CBD oil, sourced directly from a farm in Colorado. Once he had a product that worked for him at an affordable price point, and one that he could stand behind, Thomas teamed up with his brother and best friend to start Wholly Health. Wholly Health works with a farm based in Colorado, that grows organic Industrial Hemp and extracts the product via CO2. What really attracted Thomas to this specific farm is that they owned the entire “seed to bottle” process. His choice was validated when the source was validated by the U.S. Hemp Authority. Even with these qualifications and the independent test results provided by the farm, Thomas independently tests the product at a second lab. Wholly Health is what is known as a “reseller” of white labeled CBD product. The market will be saturated with these in the upcoming years as businesses want to offer their own (think water that says Hilton on it or CVS multivitamins). Once that happens, insights into the quality of the product may decline and thus knowing where you are buying from is paramount.
Dan Watkins, of SolCell, has helped to broker large isolate deals between farms and various companies over the last two years. He shared that “there really isn’t enough hemp in the U.S. to fulfill current demand or meet future growth predictions. As of the end of 2017, the U.S. was importing more than 50% of hemp foods and CBD from China, Canada, and South America with no regulation or standard for quality. Doctors cannot do much with a substance that is unregulated and has fluctuating or low content quality.” This statement really speaks to the need to validate both the product and the company.
Third Party Validated
Reputable companies have their product tested by independent labs. These labs validate the cannabinoid profiling, test for pesticides, perform a microbiological (mycotoxins) screening, a terpene analysis and test for residual solvent.
There are only four states that require cannabis stores to pass state-mandated lab tests to assure purity and potency. Those four states are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
One can argue whether the quality of the product source or company selling the product even matters if the third-party test results show no foreign chemicals and an overall quality product. My counter argument is that is you are only testing a sample and I, as would many, would prefer an all-around quality product, backed by a quality company, in addition to the independent test results. A recent investigation by the I-team at NBC New York found that products did not contain the advertised CBD quantities and that they tested for pesticides and heavy metals.
Additionally, most reputable companies will have several customer reviews on various websites or social media pages.
Summary of Qualities to Look for in a CBD Oil
So, after all the online research and discussions, I was in search for a full spectrum, third party validated, CO2 extracted CBD oil originating from a U.S. grown (specifically Colorado, Oregon, Washington, or Alaska), organic, pesticide free Industrial Hemp plant that is sold by a reputable company. Now that is a mouthful!
Dan helped to validate the criteria set and guided me in landing on a good oil for personal use.
Strength and Dosage
Before we get into the analysis of the different CBD Oils, it is important to understand bottle size and dosage. The standard bottle size is 30ml and is typically consistent regardless of the oil concentration level. One full dropper, which is included in the tincture, is typically 1ml.
The CBD oil labeling informs the consumer of the total CBD concentration in the 30ml. bottle. Standard concentration levels are 250mg, 500mg, 750mg, and 1000mg, but do vary depending on the company or brand and are also available in stronger concentrations.
These mg quantities represent the total concentration of CBD in the oil and thus one full 1ml dropper of the 1000mg bottle has a higher dose than one full 1ml dropper of a the 250mg bottle. One full dropper, or 1ml, of a 30 ml bottle (1/30) will yield 3.33% of the total bottle oil. So, if you have a concentration of 1000mg, this will be a dose of 33.33mg (3.33% x 1,000mg). Similarly, if you have a concentration of 250mg, the same 1ml dropper will yield a dose of 8.33mg (3.33% * 250mg).
This is very easy to figure out once you have a general understanding of the bottle. Just remember the formula: “Dropper Size” in ml divided by “Bottle Size” in ml times the “Concentration” in mg.
Assessment of Various CBD Oils
To accurately analyze all the CBD brands that I have come across through my various online searches and discussions with Dan Watkins, I developed a scoring system based on 7 criteria. Meeting the target criteria achieves a full point, while partially meeting the target achieves a half point. Here were the criteria:
To make the results easier to view, I color coded the scoring with green indicating a full point, yellow indicating a partial point, and orange indicating no points.
The maximum score that a product can
receive is a 7.0. I considered any product with a 6.5 or better an acceptable
product to analyze pricing and other supplemental materials to determine my
The below pricing analysis is of products that achieved a score of 6.5 or higher. It is important to note that these prices are full retail prices. Several of the companies do run promotions from time to time. Also, some of the mgs have been rounded for easier presentation.
The following table illustrates the number of milligrams per dollar spent (a.k.a. bang for your buck!):
After all the analysis, I narrowed it down to two brands, which I chose to use, personally.
NuLeaf Naturals scored a top score and my top big-name recommendation due to having complete oversight from “seed to sale” of its “whole-plant extracts” sourced from licensed farms in Colorado. Although the price point is not as favorable as other brands, the impressive 10,000 positive reviews available, experienced customer service representatives, and comprehensive FAQ provides a customer experience unlike the others. Nuleaf chose to use Hemp Seed oil as a carrier which includes Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, amino acids, fiber, and antioxidants. Nuleaf also offers an oil for pets. Learn about Nuleaf here or shop here.
Wholly Health offered the best price point for a quality oil, which makes sense given the brand is new and looking to establish itself. I enjoyed meeting founder Thomas Murphy and knowing that he created this product for himself, a life-long anxiety sufferer, is very reassuring. Prices at this level probably won’t last long! Wholly Health chose to use MCT coconut oil and sources product from a U.S. Hemp certified farm in CO. If interested in buying the Wholly Health CBD oil, shop at the included link, which pre-populates the coupon code for free shipping.
My current daily regiment consists of taking 1ml of Wholly Health 1000mg CBD in the mid-morning and 1ml of NuLeaf Naturals 725mg CBD in the evening, after dinner.
Other great brands that would be recommended based on this analysis and consideration of price points are:
CBDPure offers a 90 day guarantee and softgels, as well as, the oil. CBDPure uses Hemp oil in their CBD mixture. They have a no-frills website, although do provide extensive FAQs and details of their quality standards. CBDPure might be the best choice if you are hesitant about trying CBD and want the comfort of the guarantee. They also have a site dedicated to pets!
Charolette’s Web has an incredibly positive reputation with thousands of loyalists, thousands of reviews to accompany an extensive product offering, and an overall beautiful website. Their CBD extract is combined with a Coconut MCT oil and comes in several flavors. CW IPO’d in 2018, making the company accountable to authorities and shareholders. Charlotte’s Web also received a U.S. Hemp Authority seal.
Endoca, who grows their product with high quality standards in Denmark, offers a full product line, including edibles. Their website shows a dedication to details and there are thousands of reviews. Their manufacturing process is ISO certified. This would be a great choice for someone looking to purchase a product sourced from a country outside the U.S. that has a reputation for high ethical standards. Customer service responds to every review left on the website and there are thousands. Learn more here or shop here!
Rosebud is also a Hudson County, NJ based CBD company. The product is more expensive than others that offer a similar quality, but is one to consider if you want to support local! It is also female founded and led!
There is no way I could have reviewed every brand. If I missed one that you think should have been included, please comment below.
I did not include the following two popular brands:
Hempworx – too difficult to make a purchase and the website was very vague. It seems like an elaborate MLM that requires affiliates to make purchases.
Bluebird Botanicals – website is not user friendly, products are not marketed consistently with the rest of the industry, and I could not gather clear information on where the hemp is sourced.
Both of these brands were on the list of the first 13 companies to receive a U.S. Hemp Authority Approval for best brands. The awardees of these seals have demonstrated their commitment to assuring that consumers have access to safe and accurately labeled hemp-derived products, including fiber, seed and extracts, such as cannabidiol (CBD). The U.S. Hemp Authority is an industry group and not associated with the FDA. These are the first 13 to receive this particular award. This is not the only award and others, such as Endoca, have received ISO certification for good manufacturing process.
After completing this guide, I signed up to be an affiliate of the top scoring brands. If you found this article helpful and end up choosing a recommended brand, I will earn a commission. Proceeds will help keep this site and the instagram page running!