Have you noticed that cannabidiol, or CBD, has been blowing up your feeds lately? That’s because of changes in United States laws. Specifically, the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bill legislation ushered in a revival of hemp farming, research, and hemp-derived products, including oils containing hemp-derived CBD. As a result, CBD oil has exploded on the wellness market in the past couple of years, and consumers looking for natural approaches to support wellness have taken notice.
If you’re looking to try CBD oil but don’t know where to start, like myself, here’s a comprehensive guide.
HEALTH Magazine picks were made with the help of Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN, who is a medical advisor at Remedy Review, an independent CBD review site. All of the brands recommended here have been vetted through third-party lab testing for quality and safety. It’s also important to keep in mind that CBD products are not regulated by the FDA.
- Strongest CBD Oil: Spruce
- Best for Anxiety: CBDistillery
- Best Full-Spectrum: FAB CBD
- Best for Pain: NuLeaf Naturals
- Best for Sleep: Charlotte’s Web
- Best THC-Free: Medterra
- Best Value: cbdMD
- Best Broad-Spectrum: Green Roads
Before going any further, here are some common questions & answers of CBD confusion—the “ABCs of CBD,” if you will.
What is CBD?
CBD is a phytocannabinoid, a unique compound found in the cannabisplant. Cannabinoids encompass a large family of plant-derived chemicals, including cannabis bioactives like CBD, THC, CBG, CBC, CBDA, and CBDV (to name a few of the 100+), as well as terpenoids and flavonoids. THC, the first cannabinoid ever discovered back in the 1940s, is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that induces a high. CBD has different actions in the body and does not provide a buzz.
CBD is an abundant cannabinoid in both hemp and marijuana, which are distinctly different varieties of the Cannabis sativa l. plant species. A major and important differentiator between the two is that federal statutes in the U.S. dictate that industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, or just trace amounts.
How does CBD work in the body?
CBD and other phytocannabinoids work through a complex signaling system known as the endocannabinoid system. We all have this vast, omnipresent biological framework in our bodies, but most of us have never heard of it.
Not discovered until the 1990s, the endocannabinoid system is the master regulatory system that mediates our physiological homeostasis, or balance. Research has revealed that cannabinoid receptors exist in most of the body. We’re talking about the brain, lungs, muscles, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive organs, cardiovascular system, immune system, spleen, liver, pancreas, bones, and skin—just to name a few areas.
This expansive footprint in the body explains why phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC, anecdotally and via research, have been reported to elicit wide-ranging health effects. Disruption in endocannabinoid tone (whether too high or low) is thought to have a negative impact on health and is linked to certain diseases. Indeed, targeted nutrition therapies like CBD oil phytocannabinoids from hemp can be leveraged to naturally support the endocannabinoid system.
What can CBD help me with?
A small but growing body of cannabinoid research points to CBD’s ability to positively modulate pain, anxiety, and sleep. These are the three areas with the most anecdotal support for CBD in health.
But in addition to these more studied applications for CBD, people buy hemp products to help with their mood, control nausea and appetite, offset the symptoms of migraines, and, through topical applications, treat psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions.
All these health benefits of CBD have some backing in research—either through animal tests or more broadly in the study of cannabis with THC—but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no scientific consensus. CBD works differently for everyone.
How do you take CBD?
CBD products come in many shapes and sizes. Along with oil, CBD gummies, capsules, and topicals are common delivery forms on the market.
CBD oil is most commonly delivered in a tincture format. To take CBD oil, place the desired dose into your mouth or under your tongue (which is thought to increase absorption amount and speed), holding it there for up to a minute. You can also mix CBD oil into food and drink.
Full-spectrum vs. broad-spectrum vs. isolate: What’s the difference?
CBD oil products come in three different formats. Full-spectrum CBD oil incorporates all of the compounds present in the hemp plant, other cannabinoids (including no more than 0.3% THC), terpenes, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids. This full spectrum of hemp bioactives is closest to nature’s design of the plant. It is often discussed alongside the “entourage effect,” a theorized phenomenon that describes the potential synergy that a full array of hemp plant compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) may provide. The entourage effect is beginning to be discussed in clinical research applications in, for example, mood and anxiety disorders.
Then there’s broad-spectrum CBD oil. By further distilling the hemp extract to remove traces of THC, broad-spectrum CBD products contain CBD, other cannabinoids that aren’t THC, terpenes, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids. Often referred to as “THC-free,” broad-spectrum products are, simply put, full-spectrum minus the THC.
And finally, there’s CBD isolate. As the name implies, CBD isolate contains just concentrated CBD, with no other cannabinoids, terpenes, or essential fatty acids.
How is CBD dosage determined?
Clinical consensus is lacking on CBD dosing, but generally, the prudent approach is to start low and go slow.
One rule of thumb is to take 1 to 6 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight—so a 140-pound woman might take 14 to 84 mg of CBD. The amount and/or frequency of CBD can be increased over time or spread out through the day.
Dosing for general wellness versus for sleep regulation or anxiety will vary. Anecdotally, CBD users often share that single, higher doses are useful for supporting sleep, while regular and lower doses are more helpful for combating everyday stress.
Can CBD oil be personalized?
Our unique genetics influence how we respond to all kinds of inputs, including the things we consume like food, supplements, and medications—and CBD oil is no exception.
In conjunction with your healthcare provider, the CBD approach can be flexed based on individual results. In the growing age of personalized medicine, healthcare practitioners have an exciting opportunity and unique ability to tailor therapies (including lifestyle strategies) to the individual patient to improve patient care.
How Experts Determined the Best CBD Oil Brands in 2020
To identify the best CBD oil companies, the scope was limited to brands using hemp grown in the U.S., where regulations for industrial hemp farming are in place. The transport of international hemp provides several opportunities for potential introduction of contaminants.
Next, independent third-party testing and transparency of lab results were paramount. Batch- and lot-specific results, preferably from the last quarter but definitely within the last year, needed to be available. This lab testing is critical as it ensures that the oil’s cannabinoid concentration accurately matches the label; that the “terpene profile,” or array of plant compounds present in the product, is available; and that the limits for “bad stuff” like heavy metals, pesticides, and microbial contaminants are not exceeded.
All of the CBD product recommendations below are from brands vetted for the quality parameters described above. For each CBD brand, the top CBD oil product pick, third-party lab information, and additional quality call-outs unique to the CBD company are provided.
Strongest CBD Oil: Spruce
Spruce has a worthy reputation in the CBD industry thanks to its third-party testing, lab-grade CBD oil, and strong relationships with its farmers and hemp suppliers. The brand focuses on small-batch CBD production, helping to achieve consistency and quality from product to product.
Spruce offers high potency, full-spectrum tinctures derived from organic hemp in two strengths: 25 mg or 80 mg per serving. It’s important to note that most people would graduate up to these doses over time. Things like body size and health impact (like the level of pain you’re trying to control) will help determine which Spruce variety is right for you. Third-party lab data from ProVerde Laboratories and ACS Laboratory is available here.
To buy: 750 mg CBD Oil Tincture, $89; takespruce.com
Best for Anxiety: CBDistillery
Are you stressed or anxious? If so, you’re not alone. A whopping 8 in 10 Americans report being afflicted by stress during their day. CBDistillery put time into asking customers whether their products are calming: In a questionnaire sent to 2,000 customers, 88% reported that CBD helped with mild or temporary anxiety, and 76% said they preferred CBD to alcohol when they needed to relax.
The brand makes several strengths, which allows people to personalize their dose and avoid drowsiness if taking CBD during the day. Buyers can choose from strengths ranging from 33 mg to 83 mg per serving, and the brand carries both full spectrum and THC-free tinctures.
CBDistillery tests all products through third-party lab Proverde, and you can find Certificates of Analysis for each product on its website.
To buy: 100 mg Full Spectrum CBD Oil, $60; thecbdistillery.com
Best Full-Spectrum: Fab CBD
If you are interested in a full array of cannabinoids and terpenes in your CBD oil, Fab CBD delivers with a comprehensive and creative line of full-spectrum CBD oils. Its tinctures include whole-plant hemp extracts from organically grown Colorado hemp that features a unique blend of cannabinoids and terpenes. Along with the clearly labeled bottles, the 1 ml dropper is marked with measurement guides for easy dosing.
With 4 strengths ranging from 5 mg to 40 mg per serving and 5 premium flavors (natural, peppermint, citrus, berry, and vanilla), you have lots of tincture choices. Fab CBD also offers gummies, topical CBD cream, and CBD dog treats. Fab CBD tests all of its products through ProVerde Laboratories, and third-party lab results are accessible online.
To buy: 300 mg Citrus Tincture, $39; fabcbd.com
Best for Pain: NuLeaf Naturals
NuLeaf Naturals packs a punch with a full spectrum of synergistic cannabinoids and terpenes in a high-potency formula. Each bottle delivers 50 mg of full-spectrum CBD per 1 mL of oil. This consistency across all of its CBD oil formulas allows you to easily find the dose that works for you. Then you can purchase the bottle size that aligns with your needs and budget—available sizes range from 240 mg to 4,850 mg of CBD per bottle. It was picked as the best product for chronic pain relief because it is a strong, full spectrum oil.
NuLeaf Naturals’ products are made with USDA-certified organic hemp seed oil, and they are free of additives, heavy metals, toxins, chemicals, and flavors. The company also offers a full-spectrum pet tincture. You can find product-specific third-party lab reports from ProVerde Laboratories on Nuleaf’s website.
To Buy: 725 mg High Grade Hemp Extract, $99; nuleafnaturals.com
Best for Sleep: Charlotte’s Web
Charlotte’s Web CBD oils feature whole plant extracts. This means in addition to terpenes, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids, they contain a range of cannabinoids. Users of Charlotte’s Web have said the brand’s combination of CBD, CBC, and CBG support healthy sleep cycles. The overall sense of calm and relief that its products provide are another benefit that could potentially aid in better sleep.
In addition to whole plant CBD oil extracts, Charlotte’s Web also has isolate tinctures, capsules, gummies, balms, creams, pet products, and even swag. The U.S. Hemp Authority Certified company has a long history of robust quality control, and it uses MS Bionalytical and various Eurofins testing labs to ensure products are of the highest quality. Its third-party lab test results are easily accessed online by entering the specific lot number from a CBD oil bottle or packaging. Without additives or dyes, these full-spectrum oils use natural flavorings like mint chocolate, lemon twist, orange blossom, and olive oil to meet the taste preference for a variety of palates.
To buy: Original Formula CBD Oil, $45; charlottesweb.com
Best THC-Free: Medterra
Looking for zero THC? Medterra’s CBD isolate products provide a THC-free guarantee, and they are also U.S. Hemp Authority Certified. This could be a great option for anyone who may have to undergo regular drug testing. Dosages range from 16 mg all the way up to 100 mg per serving.
Derived from Kentucky hemp, Medterra’s unflavored CBD tinctures are made with 99% pure CBD extract, as well as organic MCT oil. In addition to these CBD isolate oils, Medterra also makes broad-spectrum CBD oils, CBD capsules, topicals, and pet products. Medterra utilizes ProVerde Laboratories and Green Scientific Labs to test all of its products and provides access to these third-party lab results online.
To buy: 1,000 mg CBD Tincture, $56; medterracbd.com
Best Value: cbdMD
When shopping for CBD oil, you may notice that it can become very expensive, and cheap options may not have the same trusted quality as ones with higher price tags. At cbdMD, however, you get the best of both worlds with products that are truly high-quality but come at an affordable price. Its broad-spectrum CBD oil comes in a variety of strengths and flavors (like mint, orange, and berry) so you can personalize your CBD experience.
Choose from strengths like 10 mg, 25 mg, or even upwards of 100 mg of CBD per serving. If you want to switch things up or are seeking convenience, check out cbdMD’s gummies, capsules, topicals, or even bath bombs for a more immersive CBD experience. On cbdMD’s product pages, you can access third-party test results from SC Labs by clicking on the “COAs” tab.
To buy: 750 mg CBD Oil Tincture, $70; cbdmd.com
Best Broad-Spectrum: Green Roads
When it comes to broad-spectrum CBD oil, Green Roads has everything that you’re looking for. CEO and co-founder Laura Fuentes is a licensed pharmacist who formulates the products with innovation and quality, and the company ensures that each batch of CBD oil is thoroughly tested by third-party labs. You can easily scan the QR code provided on the packaging with a smartphone to access the lab results for your product.
These broad-spectrum oils are available in three flavors—natural, mint breeze, and apple kiwi bliss—and feature three easy-to-understand strengths: mild (10 mg CBD), moderate (25 mg CBD), and mighty (50 mg CBD). Green Roads also offers a 1-milliliter daily dose product for on-the-go convenience.
To buy: 750 mg Mint Breeze Broad Spectrum CBD Oil, $90; greenroads.com
Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN is the Senior Editor of Health & Wellness Strategy at Remedy Review, an independent CBD reviews site. Dr. Ferira completed her PhD in Foods & Nutrition at The University of Georgia, where she researched the role of vitamin D in pediatric cardiometabolic disease. The products featured in this article were tested at ProVerde Laboratories in Milford, MA and Avazyme, Inc. in Durham, NC.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice; it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before consuming or using any of the products mentioned on this site.